3AW, Melbourne - interview with Neil Mitchell

  • Transcript, E&OE

NEIL MITCHELL: (Introduction) JulieBishop, good morning.

JULIE BISHOP: Goodmorning. I'm currently in Samoa, so about as far removed from the conflict inSyria and Iraq, but I am returning to Australia this evening and I'm happy totalk to you about the reasons why we're doing this.

NEIL MITCHELL: Thank you, I appreciatethat. Do we accept that it's likely to end here, this commitment? That it mustbe an open-ended commitment initially?

JULIE BISHOP: Well what we must do is support the Peshmerga people whocurrently can't defend themselves against this wave of atrocities beingperpetrated against them. Our contribution will continue to be coordinated withthe Government of Iraq, the United States and other regional countries.

But the situation in Iraq represents a humanitarian catastrophe, it's apotential genocide and we are helping to protect innocent civilians against theatrocities of ISIS. We just can't stand by while people are being slaughtered bya terrorist group that has amongst its members a number of Australian citizens,indeed it seems that a number of Australian citizens are figuring prominently inthe leadership of this terrorist organisation.

NEIL MITCHELL: But this is aboutAustralia's security as well as a humanitarian issue is it not?

JULIE BISHOP: Of courseit is. We are working to make our country as safe and secure as possible and therise of violent extremism and terrorism in Syria and Iraq and elsewhere remindsus that Australia is not isolated from potential threats - these horrific imagesof the beheadings and the crucifixions and mass executions and slaughter by agroup that appallingly has a number of Australians among their membership.

We know that at least 60 Australians are known to be fighting with terroristgroups in Syria and Iraq, about 100 Australians are known to be funding orfacilitating these groups. So the threat of their return to Australia and thepotential for terrorist activity in Australia is real and is growing.

We do know from previous experience with Afghanistan, when we had peoplebeing trained with extremist groups in Afghanistan, some of them returned toAustralia and did carry out terrorist activities in Australia. So I find itterrifying to contemplate the current scenario where Australian citizens areactive in groups that are carrying out these mass executions and killings.

NEIL MITCHELL: Is it likely, I noticed theUnited Kingdom has increased its terrorism alert, is it likely we'll do thesame?

JULIE BISHOP: Well weremain in close contact with the United Kingdom about the threat from terroristgroups active in Syria and Iraq and from returning foreign fighters, indeed wehave been discussing that for some time with other countries. I visited Lebanonand Jordan earlier in the year and discussed with their leadership the issue offoreign fighters travelling through their country or indeed the rise of foreignfighters in their countries.

Our National Terrorism Public Alert System level remains at medium, thatmeans "a terrorist attack could occur", but the level is under constant reviewby the Australian Government. We base it on the advice we receive from oursecurity and intelligence agencies and they are plugged into networks across theworld so I can assure your listeners that the Government will take all necessarysteps to keep Australia and Australians safe.

NEIL MITCHELL: Minister is the ultimateaim of what we're doing here to wipe out ISIS?

JULIE BISHOP: Theultimate aim is currently humanitarian, to prevent the killings and to ensurethat people are safe but what we have to do is contain this terror threat andultimately eliminate it and that means destroy its structure, destroy itsorganisation. We're trying to prevent Australians going overseas and becomingradicalised and undertaking activities with this terrorist group so we are doingwhat we can through cancelling passports, through reaching out to the community,through working within the law to stop people becoming members or supportingthese terrorist groups.

But the air strikes by the United States have had some impact. The UnitedStates has now asked that Australia help to transport stores of militaryequipment as part of this multi-nation effort to ensure that the Peshmergapeople can defend themselves, but we don't want to see the likes of terroristorganisations like ISIS flourishing. We want to see the end of this kind ofideology.

The United States Secretary of State John Kerry is calling for a globalcoalition to use all the resources and tools available, political or military ordiplomatic, intelligence – whatever moral arguments we can mount to challengeISIS and its ideology. Its ideology is a genocidal vision to wipe out anybodywho opposes them.

NEIL MITCHELL: This is a prettysophisticated organisation – it's got money, it's got a level of organisation,even a level of self-promotion that exceeds something like Al Qaeda. This is nosimple fight is it? This is a very sophisticated organisation to eliminate it,as you say, it's going to take a long time.

JULIE BISHOP: Well whenI say eliminate the structure, as happened with Al Qaeda, you can take away theleadership, you can take away the structure but it's like a cancer, itmetastasises. Al Qaeda was dismantled in Afghanistan but then you see offshootsof it in Yemen and other places in the Middle East and I fear that that willoccur with ISIS.

It is a very sophisticated organisation in the sense that they're nowclaiming territorial rights and they've claimed an Islamic State so it's notlike other terrorist organisations that carry out their attacks from aheadquarters somewhere. This outfit actually see themselves as having the statusof a nation. So it is a very complex and sophisticated situation we're facing.That's why..

NEIL MITCHELL: [Interrupting] That's mypoint, it's a long…

JULIE BISHOP: …yes it isa long haul, of course it is. This is embedded in their ideology and theirideology is to wipe out anyone that disagrees with them and that would of courseinclude many nations around the world. That's why Australia is working withother nations, supporting Iraq, the United States, Canada, Italy, France, theUnited Kingdom and we're calling on the Arab States to also be involved intrying to counter this appalling terrorist threat.

NEIL MITCHELL: Final issue I guessMinister is – do we have to accept that sending this aircraft in with, orwithout, SAS troops but sending the aircraft in with the weapons is in factdangerous? It is a dangerous mission for our people?

JULIE BISHOP: Yes thereare risks. It is a dangerous mission and there are risks but these have beencarefully weighed by all of the nations involved including Australia. Our roleis clear and proportionate, our objective is clearly humanitarian. As our Chiefof Defence Force said the bigger risk is not to do anything. When these peoplecan't defend themselves in the face of the most brutal and barbaric attacks –beheadings and crucifixions – we can't just stand by, we must do what we can tohelp them and particularly where Australians are involved in this terroristorganisation and potentially could come back to our country and carry outterrorist activities in Australia.

NEIL MITCHELL: Thank you so much for yourtime.

JULIE BISHOP: It's beenmy pleasure. Thanks Neil.

NEIL MITCHELL: Julie Bishop, ForeignMinister, in Samoa at the moment. And that sort of echoes what I'm saying, andPeter Jennings was saying earlier in the program. It is a long haul, the aim ofit – although initially humanitarian will be to, as she says, eliminate thestructure of ISIS and it is an increasing terrorist risk at home that's why Isay we have not got an option.

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