7.30 Report, ABC - interview with Leigh Sales

  • Transcript, E&OE

LEIGH SALES: Foreign Minister, thank you for coming in.

JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure. Good to be with you.

LEIGH SALES: You just heard the Russian Ambassador say that he thinks the action against Russia is unfair and inconsistent with international law. What do you say to that?

JULIE BISHOP: Leigh, we did not take this decision lightly, but we stand in solidarity with the United Kingdom and 23 other countries who have also expelled Russian diplomats for the deployment of a Russian military grade nerve agent in the United Kingdom as part of an attempted assassination and we have to remember that this deployment could have affected the lives of hundreds more people.

It is a blatant breach of international law and Russia, as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, should be upholding international peace and security rather than deploying a nerve agent on European soil. In fact, the first time that a chemical agent of this nature has been deployed on European soil since the Second World War.

LEIGH SALES: Were the Russian diplomats who were expelled from Australia spies? You heard what the Ambassador just said about that.

JULIE BISHOP: We have called them "undeclared intelligence officers" but they were working here as diplomats and we take advice from our security and intelligence agencies on such matters and I have great faith in the advice that we have received.

LEIGH SALES: So is "undeclared intelligence agents" another word for spies?

JULIE BISHOP: That is a way of putting it, yes.

LEIGH SALES: You said earlier that further action could be taken against Russia. You specifically singled out the football World Cup. What did you mean by that, because the Football Federation of Australia has sought clarification?

JULIE BISHOP: I was asked a question about the World Cup. The Australian Government is not considering a boycott of the World Cup. What I was referring to was the fact the British Government, for example, has taken steps to announce that the Royal Family, for example, will not be attending the World Cup, but the Australian Government is not considering a boycott of the World Cup.

LEIGH SALES: The Russian Ambassador said, as you would have heard, that he'd like to meet with you. Are you open to that and what would your message be?

JULIE BISHOP: Of course. I am expecting to meet with him and my message would be that Australia condemns the use of chemical weapons any time, anywhere, by any country; that Russia has a particular responsibility as a member of the Security Council to uphold international law; that Russia has conducted a series of egregious breaches of international law in recent times, including cyber-attacks, interference in the sovereignty of other nations, political assassinations, and that this conduct by Russia has consequences.

This latest example of an attempted assassination in the United Kingdom cannot be tolerated and hence the United Kingdom and 23 other countries have expelled Russian diplomats, as Australia has done today.

LEIGH SALES: Let me put to you his point, how do you know Russia did that? It's unproven.

JULIE BISHOP: The United Kingdom has provided us with a compelling case that either the Russian Government was behind the attempted assassination, or indeed, Russia has lost control of its illegal stockpiles of this nerve agent. I do point out that Russia has failed to declare its stockpiles of this military grade nerve agent to the Organisation for the Prohibition Against Chemical Weapons, so Russia is already in breach of its international obligations.

As a permanent member of the UN Security Council that cannot be tolerated.

LEIGH SALES: On another matter, seven backbenches reportedly raised the situation in the Party Room meeting today, about South African Farmers, arguing they should be given – or they should be eligible – for asylum in Australia. What's your view on that?

JULIE BISHOP: Both Peter Dutton and I agree on this point. We have a humanitarian visa class and people can make application to Australia under this visa and that is available to people now. We have expressed our concerns to the South African Government about the proposed land reforms that could lead to greater tensions in South Africa. We have expressed our concern at the high murder rate in South Africa, but the point is, our current visa scheme for humanitarian applications can accommodate, on a non-discriminatory basis, those who believe that they should seek refuge in Australia.

LEIGH SALES: Australia recently used its first session on the UN Human Rights Council to argue that it will promote human rights around the world. How can we have any credibility on that when our own Home Affairs Department argued against allowing a ten year-old refugee boy on Nauru, who made repeated attempts to kill himself, to come to Australia for medical care?

JULIE BISHOP: Leigh, I'm not going to comment on individual cases. Australia has a strong record on human rights. We were elected onto the Human Rights Council by a vote of about 176 nations, we have put forward very credible issues that we want to discuss and debate in the Human Rights Council, and we will continue to do so. Australia has a very strong record on human rights. In relation to Manus Island, we are working with the PNG Government in connection with any particular cases, but I'm not going into the individual circumstances of any case.

LEIGH SALES: And just finally, if I can ask you as Deputy Liberal Leader, barring a turnaround, Malcolm Turnbull is about to lose his 30th Newspoll in a row, the same benchmark that he himself set for ousting Tony Abbott from the Prime Ministership, how safe is he from a tap on the shoulder before the next election?

JULIE BISHOP: Well in fact, the benchmark related to our economic narrative and economic outcomes –

LEIGH SALES: We all heard what he said at the time.

JULIE BISHOP: I'm talking about a member of the Party, a member of the Party Room. Malcolm Turnbull has shown that under his economic policies we are seeing record jobs growth, the seventeenth consecutive month of more jobs, jobs growth. We are seeing strong economic growth across the Australian community and this is why Malcolm Turnbull will lead us to the next election, because his narrative and his actions, and his policies, on jobs growth and opportunity for Australia, are proving to be absolutely correct.

LEIGH SALES: Well, if he's doing such a good job, why doesn't the Australian public seem to see that?

JULIE BISHOP: We have plenty of time between now and the next election to continue to point out the failings of a Labor Government and their disastrous economic policies that will cost jobs, that will cost economic growth and the positive plans of the Coalition that are creating the environment for more jobs, more opportunity for Australians across this nation.

LEIGH SALES: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Thanks very much for joining us.

JULIE BISHOP: Thanks Leigh.

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