6PR Mornings, Perth - interview with Gareth Parker

  • Transcript, E&OE

GARETH PARKER: Foreign Minister, good morning.

JULIE BISHOP: Good morning Gareth. Good to be with you.

GARETH PARKER: Thanks for joining us. If we could start with Numan Haider – the 18-year-old man shot dead by police in Melbourne this week after he stabbed two police officers. There are reports that Numan Haider had his passport cancelled and this may have played some role in his aggression toward Australian Federal Police and to ASIO. What can you tell us about your role in that case?

JULIE BISHOP: I don't comment on individual passport matters but I do have the authority within the Government to cancel passports or refuse to offer passports based on a negative security assessment. In the last few months I have cancelled almost 50 passports, seven just in the last month and these cancellations are all based on assessments by our security agency as to the likelihood that this person, the passport holder would present a national security risk to Australia, but I don't comment on the individual circumstances.

GARETH PARKER: 50 passports cancelled, seven in the last month. Is that an uptick?

JULIE BISHOP: Yes it is. Since the 1st of July last year around 60 passports have been cancelled and I have cancelled about 47 of them, so seven this month, that is an increase. I've also seized the foreign passports of about half a dozen people as well - that is people who had dual passports and again that's based on the assessment of our security agencies that these people posed a security risk to Australia and in many instances it was apparent they were either heading overseas to take part in the fighting in Iraq and Syria as foreign fighters or they were on their way back from fighting in Syria and Iraq with the murderous terrorist organisation ISIL and its ilk.

GARETH PARKER: Julie Bishop how do we interpret that uptick? Is it evidence that Australia is becoming more dangerous or is it evidence, somewhat to the contrary, that the intelligence agencies and the government have got a good handle on these people and they are on top of the problem and are doing the things they need to do to keep Australians safe and secure?

JULIE BISHOP: I think that we have to recognise the success, if I can put it that way, of the recruitment campaign of these brutal, barbarous terrorist organisations. They are using social media in a horrific, terrifying way and in some circumstances this seems to attract people - people who are obsessed by death, executions, killings and murder want to join this murderous cult. So the use of social media in this instance has been very damaging as a tactic, as a recruitment tool and I just cannot understand how young Australians in this country where we embrace freedom and diversity and tolerance would want to join a murderous death cult as the Prime Minister calls them - to be suicide bombers, to put themselves in harm's way with the very real likelihood that they will be killed.

GARETH PARKER: If I can turn to New York, you got back into Canberra yesterday just in time for Question Time and you're back today in Perth I think. What is it that was the prime focus of your New York visit?

JULIE BISHOP: I went to New York for the United Nations General Assembly Leaders' Week that occurs every year in September. The United States is the President of the Security Council for the month of September and they called a number of special meetings of the Security Council. One last Friday was called by Secretary of State John Kerry to focus on the issue of Iraq. And about 40 countries were represented at that meeting and there was universal condemnation of ISIL and the atrocities that have been carried out in Iraq against women and children and ethnic groups, in fact anyone that opposes their brutality and extremism. And at that point, the worldwide reach of ISIS through foreign fighters from over 80 countries, it was evident that there had to be global action and global cooperation.

I also attended a meeting of a global counter-terrorism forum that brings together countries to discuss their counter-terrorism activities - whether it's domestic laws, law enforcement, security and intelligence cooperation and the like. Then the Prime Minister of course attended the special meeting of the Security Council called by President Obama on Wednesday and there was a resolution, a unanimous resolution, to ensure that we can stop people leaving these countries around the world and taking up arms to fight with ISIL and the other brutal and barbaric terrorist organisations that are operating in the Middle East and Syria and Iraq particularly.

GARETH PARKER: I spoke to my colleague at the West Australian and Federal political editor Andrew Probyn on the program yesterday and he said that it was his opinion that one of the roles that Australia had played around the Security Council table was to 'stiffen the spine' of the collective response to terrorism. You and the Prime Minister have been very direct and forthright in your language about Islamic State and the other associated threats. Was that a deliberate role – did you want Australia to be out at the forefront of these condemnations?

JULIE BISHOP: Australia has been at the forefront in that we announced very early our response to the request by the Iraqi Government to support it in its fight against terrorism within Iraq. We said that we're prepared to provide aeroplanes to support airstrikes into Iraq. We've said that we're prepared to provide Special Forces to advise and assist the Iraqi Defence Force and build its capacity to defend the country and we're one of the first countries to do this. But I'm pleased to say that many other countries have stepped up to the mark, indeed a number of countries from the Arab League, the Arab World, have been quite vocal condemning ISIL and taking part in actions to disrupt and degrade these terrorist organisations.

You will have seen that some Arab countries took part in the airstrikes in Syria recently with the United States. I've meet with the Foreign Ministers of a number of these Arab countries – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Kuwait, Qatar and they have all been determined to stop the spread of this poisonous ideology and have all been determined to play a part.

And so Australia has been at the forefront of saying we must take collective action because there's now a pool of radicalised and battle hardened terrorists across Syria, Iraq and beyond and the threat is not just to those countries but to all of us so we have to combat this threat on every front.

GARETH PARKER: I've got Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on the line. Minister, you and the Government have announced that Australian forces will be joining the response in Iraq. Is there any chance at this point - is it likely that involvement will extend to Syria?

JULIE BISHOP: We have said that we are prepared to take part in operations within Iraq but we won't do that until there is a specific request for it and it does come back to the National Security Committee of the Cabinet and then before Cabinet.

We have said what we're prepared to do. We think it's a clear and proportionate role but we've not yet agreed to take part in any particular operation so there's another step yet. In terms of Syria, it is a different situation. In the case of Iraq we have been asked by the Government to assist the Government in its efforts to destroy, degrade ISIL in its operations within the Iraqi borders. The United States has gone further and is conducting air strikes into Syria and it does pose an increasing threat to Australia because of the foreign fighters leaving Australia and going to both Iraq and Syria but we don't recognise the Syrian regime and we've not been invited by the Assad regime to go into Syria. So our role has been confined to Iraq because that's where we've been requested to take action.

GARETH PARKER: Minister there's reports around that you're actually considering personally travelling to Iraq to check out the situation for yourself. Can you confirm those reports?

JULIE BISHOP: I have been invited by the Iraqi Foreign Minister to visit Baghdad and areas around Baghdad and I have agreed to do that. I think before Australia commits to operations in Iraq we should have a very good idea of what's happening on the ground. Senator David Johnston, our Minister for Defence, has been in Baghdad over the last few days. Things are changing on a constant basis in Iraq and so at some point I will travel to Baghdad to meet with the Government and to see for myself the situation on the ground. I know that the humanitarian situation is dire. I've spoken to Valerie Amos, she's the coordinator of the United Nations on emergency matters but she's been in Baghdad recently and she painted a horrific picture of people leaving their homes in fear of ISIL. Even before ISIL has gone into an area, people are fleeing because they are aware through social media of the executions, beheadings, rape and sexual assault of women. So it's a very frightened, terrified population and this escalating security crisis in Iraq of course poses a threat to Australia because we know there are about 60 Australians involved directly in the conflict over there and of course we know that about 20 have already come back to Australia. History shows that they have a propensity to carry out terrorist activities here because they have been trained and hardened as a terrorist overseas.

GARETH PARKER: Minister, can I ask you this question – the last time you were before the Security Council it was to lead the response to the MH17 tragedy. We learned last week that it seemed as though Russia was making some move to try and discredit or undermine the efforts to have an independent investigation of that matter. What's the latest you can tell us about the MH17 situation?

JULIE BISHOP: In fact Russia called a special meeting of the Security Council last Friday morning and I attended that meeting, and you're quite right, Russia was attempting to discredit the independent investigation into the airline crash, the shooting down of MH17, but it backfired because the United Nations itself said it was confident that the investigation was independent, impartial and gave their vote of confidence in the investigation.

The Dutch Government, represented by Foreign Minister Timmermans, set out in detail what the Netherlands was doing in pursuing this independent investigation and all of the countries who had an interest - that is the countries who had lost citizens in this appalling, horrific tragedy all said they had confidence in the Netherlands to carry out the investigation. Now the Dutch Safety Board has provided an interim report into the airline itself, meaning they checked out whether the airplane or crew were responsible for the crash and they determined that they were not. And of course the findings of that interim report were consistent with what the Australian Government had said from the outset and that was that Malaysian Flight 17 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile in the Ukrainian area held by the Russian-backed separatists, probably by Russian supplied equipment. And we expect that the findings of the independent investigation will be consistent with that. Nothing I've seen or heard since we made our decision, or our assessment, back on the 18th of July has changed my view.

GARETH PARKER: Minister when do you think that the families of those loved ones can bring those loved ones home?

JULIE BISHOP: This process of body identification is slow, it's complex, but it is progressing and a number of families have been able to receive home the remains of their loved ones, but it is painstaking. The process is still underway, I got an update from Frans Timmermans, the Dutch Foreign Minister, that the work is continuing but it may still well be weeks before we can confirm that all of the remains have been found. The Australian Government is keen to go back onto the crash site but it's currently not safe to do so and I have called on Russia repeatedly to stop supplying arms and fighters and resources to the separatists so we can have a ceasefire that enables the investigators to go back onto the crash site before winter sets in.

GARETH PARKER: Julie Bishop we are out of time. Good luck at the North Melbourne Grand Final breakfast tomorrow.

JULIE BISHOP: It's a shame that the mighty Eagles aren't going to be there but at least Matt Priddis won the Brownlow - so I won't be rubbing that in very much!

GARETH PARKER: I bet! Who is your tip?

JULIE BISHOP: I think it will be a repeat of 2012 – so the Swannies.

GARETH PARKER: There you go, alright, carn the Swans.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop thanks very much for your time this morning.

JULIE BISHOP: Thanks Gareth.

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