3AW Mornings Show - interview with Nick McCallum

  • Transcript, E&OE

NICK MCCALLUM There's a lot to talk about with the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on how we deal with ISIS fighters when they return, on her call for Australians to better value our over-60s; but we'll start with the breaking overnight on Australian journalist Peter Greste. Minister, good morning and happy New Year.

JULIE BISHOP Same to you Nick, good to be with you.

NICK MCCALLUM Your interpretation of what happened in Cairo overnight to Peter Greste - is it good or is it bad?

JULIE BISHOP There are some positive aspects to it. His appeal was upheld, that's good news; his conviction overturned, and that's good; a retrial was ordered but that isn't surprising; he's now an accused person again facing a retrial, rather than a convicted person facing seven years in jail. Egyptian law has changed since he was detained, and so there are now more options and avenues available to his legal team, and I understand that they're pursuing them.

NICK MCCALLUM Do we know how long this process is and whether there is any likelihood he can be released on bail?

JULIE BISHOP The application for bail couldn't be made to the appeal court, as I understand it; it has to be made to another court and I understand his legal team are pursuing that; and then the formal judgement has to be handed down from the appeal court, that's still some days away, and then steps for a retrial. But there are also avenues, including under a prisoner transfer arrangement. Now this is a change in Egyptian law, it's only been recently introduced, and so that's another option that his legal team are looking at.

NICK MCCALLUM And is there anything further the Government, the Australian Government, can now do in terms of talking to the Egyptian Government, or, you know, light pressure, however diplomatically, under the process?

JULIE BISHOP Yes, we continue to engage at every level. I'm waiting to hear again from Foreign Minister Shoukry, I've spoken to him many times about this case and I'm hoping to have another conversation with him, because if there is a possibility to pursue a prisoner transfer arrangement, then the Australian Government wants to play its part. I have spoken to our Ambassador to Egypt, Ralph King, on a couple of occasions now overnight. He was present for the appeal, he's been with the Greste family and their legal team, and he's been providing me with some pretty detailed analysis of the implications and what this means for Peter Greste and his family.

But we will continue to engage at every level that we can - politically, legally, diplomatically, bureaucratically, and administratively. From time to time the Egyptian Government representatives have made some public statements, they've made many private statements, and I gather that they want this case to be dealt with as quickly as possible; but they've also underlined the fact that you can't interfere with Egyptian court proceedings.

NICK MCCALLUM Okay. Let's move on to a story that was reported, certainly in the Herald Sun, and I presume around Australia as well, that there are now more than 20 foreign fighters of ISIS or Islamic State that have now come back but can't be arrested because the laws did not come into place while they were overseas, and are now wandering around Australia. What can be done about them?

JULIE BISHOP Well I can't comment on individual cases, but I can confirm that if we have evidence that someone has been fighting with a terrorist organisation in Syria or in Iraq, that they've been supporting them or advocating this barbaric cause in some way or another, then they can be investigated. And if we have the evidence, they can be arrested and prosecuted. I do point out though, it's difficult to gather proof from Syria and Iraq; it's a very hostile environment and there aren't too many bystanders watching what's going on. But we also don't have a diplomatic mission over in Syria, so it's difficult to collect evidence. But nevertheless, we did change the laws to put in place a whole series of measures to ensure that anyone supporting terrorism here or overseas can be investigated.

For example, I now have the power to declare an area off-limits - the Al-Raqqah province in Syria, which is ISIL's headquarters - if any Australians citizens are there they have to have a very good reason for being there, otherwise we should draw the conclusion that they're supporting ISIL.

NICK MCCALLUM I suppose Minister what we're talking about though is the people who were over there before the change of the laws, and there is a fear they've slipped through the loop hole, so how do you pick up them?

JULIE BISHOP If we have the evidence that they have been engaged in these activities, and of course they can still be investigated, they can still be people of interest to our security agencies, law enforcement agencies. And I have no doubt that our law enforcement agencies will be doing their job - we've increased the resources, we've added an extra $630 million to ensure that our security and intelligence and law enforcement agencies can pursue these people. We are absolutely determined to ensure that Australians and Australia is safe from people who would otherwise do us harm, and people who pose a security threat to us.

NICK MCCALLUM And if you don't have the evidence, there is still grounds to monitor them? There is still ability to monitor them?

JULIE BISHOP Well of course I won't go into the details of what our law enforcement and intelligence agencies do, but I can assure you that they have the resources, and the funding, and the political backing to do whatever they have to do to ensure that Australians are safe from people who are taking up with terrorist organisations and seeking to carry out terrorist activities.

It is inconceivable that young Australians would go overseas and try and fight for the terrorist organisation. Indeed, we've seen our first suicide bombers in 2014, which is truly shocking. And these people have been duped by these terrorist organisations. They're not going over there for a noble cause at all; all they're doing is putting their own lives at risk for no purpose, and then they are adding to the misery and the suffering of the people of Syria and Iraq.

NICK MCCALLUM Now, outside of your portfolio, something I read that you had said in the papers this morning, which I have to agree with, and that is you want Australians to value those over 60 more?

JULIE BISHOP Well how old are you, Nick?

NICK MCCALLUM You have me at disadvantage, because I know how old you are. You put me to shame. I'm 53.

JULIE BISHOP There you go; you're an over-50. Look I just think it's important from a productivity perspective to ensure that we get as many age cohorts as possible to participate in the formal labour markets. We want young people, but we also want people who are, say, over 60, who generally can be very productive workers and they have much to offer; and I think with experience comes wisdom, and we should encourage employers to value older workers. Our economy needs it, our society should demand it.

NICK MCCALLUM I know- it's reported in the paper that you're 59, so obviously there's self-interest…


NICK MCCALLUM Oh. You're about to be. You're 59 this year?


NICK MCCALLUM Oh dear. I could be in trouble there. But Minister, I know obviously - because I feel the same way - the point you make is that experience in so many workplaces, and certainly in areas you've been involved in and certainly areas I'm involved with the media, experience doesn't seem to be valued as much as it should.

JULIE BISHOP Well I was in the legal profession before I went into politics, and I found that some of our best legal minds were just hitting their straps in their mid-60s, and people were absolutely at the top of their game. And I think in politics - we see it around the world - older politicians still have a lot to contribute. In the media I have in the past made a comment that it seems there are very few over-60 newsreaders or people on television over 60. There are some exceptions - Susannah Carr in Perth for Channel 7 does a fabulous job, she's gorgeous, and I can't imagine the nightly news without her.

So I think that we need to change some of our outdated attitudes. I mean the idea that you retired at 65, or that the pension kicked in at that age, was set back in the early 1900s. Life expectancy has changed so much, people are living longer, healthier lives, and so they have more to contribute to the workforce, the formal labour markets, and we do need more taxpayers in this country. So I think it's a positive message.

NICK MCCALLUM And also, I suppose it's linked in some way that the Government's Restart program, which was designed to actually incentivise employers, keeping older employees or hiring older employees, it hasn't really been grabbed with great gusto, has it?

JULIE BISHOP Well not as much as we would like, but we will continue to promote this because we want to encourage employers to hire or retain mature age Australians. I was Minister for Ageing back in the Howard Government, and I remember at that time having a lot to do with seniors' organisations who lamented the fact that there seemed to be this view that there was a use-by date for particular workers, just because they hit a certain age. Well, that couldn't be further from the truth. Of course, on an individual basis, some people might not want to continue working, and others might not be well enough to do it; but if you're fit and healthy, and you're enthusiastic and you've got a lot to offer, well then it's up to the employers to recognise that the value that they can add not only to that business but to the economy more generally.

NICK MCCALLUM Do you think the fact that the Restart program has not been embraced as well as it is, is that due to the attitude you're referring to?

JULIE BISHOP Well I think that the take-up should increase as employers become more aware of the program, and so we will continue to promote it. But we do need to change attitudes towards older workers. I know that people still think well there's a particular use-by date, once they've hit that then some people think they should leave the workforce when in actual fact they've got a lot to offer. And we want to encourage employers to take a fresh look at older workers. Now of course many businesses and organisations are doing that, but across the country we want to increase participation in the workforce, we want to increase our productivity as a nation; and I think older workers make a great contribution to that.

NICK MCCALLUM I agree with you on that. Something I've got to ask you, because I know that you're very keen on fitness, and I've seen some fantastic images of you running. No doubt you've read in the front page of The Australian the unfortunately-named Dr Killer, who has been a prime ministerial doctor for many years, has said he would prefer Tony Abbott did not ride his bike as a form of exercise. What's your thought on that?

JULIE BISHOP Good luck with that one, getting Tony to change his mind! I don't think so. The Prime Minister is a great role model for people - he's fit, and he's active, and he says it puts him in a great frame of mind; it's a positive thing for him. And of course you can have injuries from any sort of exercise, but the Prime Minister's a very experienced cyclist, and I'm sure that sensible cycling is a pretty low-impact sport and yet it keeps him very fit. I mean, goodness, I could trip over while I was jogging or drown while surfing. So, you can suffer injuries from many forms of exercise, but it doesn't mean you don't do it just because there's potential; you just get better at doing it. I'm encouraging the Prime Minister to continue on his bike rides.

NICK MCCALLUM How do you think he'd go if he went with a jog with you?

JULIE BISHOP There's a competition!

NICK MCCALLUM Because you're both pretty competitive people, aren't you?

JULIE BISHOP The Prime Minster and I have jogged together; we've jogged around Parliament House, we've jogged for causes, when we were overseas at one point we went jogging together; and he's a stayer, he's a very fit person. So, I'm not suggesting that I could beat him in a race, but, I think I could keep up.

NICK MCCALLUM I can just imagine. And the other thing, also on a lighter note, he said yesterday he wasn't much of a cricketer, he couldn't bat, he couldn't bowl, he couldn't field, but he could sledge. Did that surprise you? Have you been on the back end of a few sledges from the Prime Minister?

JULIE BISHOP No, not at all. We're really good mates. I was at the cricket afternoon tea for the Australian and the Indian test teams yesterday, and I heard the Prime Minister say that and I laughed, because I thought it was a very funny way of putting it. And no, he's been a delight to work with and will continue to be so.

NICK MCCALLUM Julie Bishop, thank you very much indeed for your time.

JULIE BISHOP My pleasure, thank you.

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