7.30 Report, ABC - interview with Leigh Sales

  • Transcript, E&OE

LEIGH SALES It's rare for an Australian Foreign Minister to directly criticise the leader of our closest ally, the United States. But Julie Bishop has taken aim at a speech that Barack Obama delivered in Brisbane during the G20 where he put the heat on Australia over climate change, emphasising the threat to the Great Barrier Reef.

The Foreign Minister says there was an issue with his statement and that the President may have overlooked Australia's efforts to preserve the reef.

Julie Bishop's intervention caps differences between the two nations over climate change, on display in the leadup to the G20 and during it.

Before we hear from the Foreign Minister, let's back up for a reminder of exactly what the President said to annoy his Australian hosts.

BARACK OBAMA, US PRESIDENT Here in the Asia Pacific, nobody has more at stake when it comes to thinking about and then acting on climate change. Here, a climate that increases in temperature will mean more extreme and frequent storms, more flooding, rising seas that submerge Pacific islands. Here in Australia it means longer droughts, more wildfires. The incredible natural glory of the Great Barrier Reef is threatened. ... All countries, whether you are a developed country, a developing country or somewhere in between, you've got to be able to overcome all divides, look squarely at the science and reach a strong global climate agreement next year. ... Because I have not had time to go to the Great Barrier Reef and I want to come back and I want my daughters to be able to come back and I want them to be able to bring their daughters or sons to visit. I want that there 50 years from now.

LEIGH SALES Well Australia's Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, is in New York to chair Australia's last meeting as President of the United Nations Security Council. The key topic of discussion was the threat posed by Islamic State and the spread of foreign fighters around the globe and we started our discussion there.

Julie Bishop, today you've chaired a meeting at the UN on counterterrorism. Is there any sort of new plan to limit the flow of foreign fighters across borders?

JULIE BISHOP Leigh, this was the reason for our meeting today of the UN Security Council, which I chaired during our presidency for the month of November. We're looking for a broader and increased and accelerated role of all member countries to ensure that we can co-operate in disrupting and dismantling ISIL, al-Nusra, al-Qaeda and all other terrorist organisations. And this means a co-ordinated effort to starve terrorist organisations of foreign terrorist fighters and funding and finance as well as taking away any legitimacy that they might claim.

LEIGH SALES The week before last, the US President Barack Obama said he was asking allies to consider how they could supplement their existing commitments to the mission against IS. What's Australia gone back to him with?

JULIE BISHOP We have already given our commitment and this was at the invitation and with the consent of the Iraqi Government and that involved supporting air strikes and our planes and our pilots have been involved in a number of air strikes, which I understand have been successful in Iraq. We have committed to providing Special Forces. They are now in Baghdad and our Special Forces are working with the Iraqi Security Forces to build their capacity and their capability to defend Iraq. But I think President Obama was directing his request to other coalition countries that might not have provided resources within Iraq or within Syria.

LEIGH SALES He was asking for a supplement, so that would indicate he wants more from people who do have commitments.

JULIE BISHOP We haven't been asked to supplement our resources by the Iraqi Government and I do point out that we are in Baghdad at the invitation of and with the consent of the Iraqi Government. We're working with the United States and with other countries, but it really is a matter for the Iraqi Government. Should President Obama put a specific request to us, then of course we would consider it, but that hasn't been made of us at this stage. And I believe the support that we're giving is significant, it's proportionate and it takes into account the fact that there are Australian citizens who are fighting with ISIL in Iraq and adding to the misery and the suffering of the people of Iraq.

LEIGH SALES Is this some sort of snub to President Obama because there's a perception that he embarrassed the Australian Government with that speech in Brisbane last week referring to climate change?

JULIE BISHOP There's absolutely no connection between the two issues and I'm surprised that you would seek to make a connection. President Obama has been extremely effusive in his praise for Australia's efforts in Iraq. There's been absolutely no criticism of Australia at all by President Obama or the US administration in any way.

LEIGH SALES The Queensland State Government was reportedly incensed at that speech on the weekend. Was it a speech that embarrassed the Australian Government?

JULIE BISHOP There was an issue regarding his statement about the Great Barrier Reef and I can understand that the Queensland Government is concerned because the Queensland Government and Australia have committed significant resources, funding and effort to preserving and conserving the Great Barrier Reef. Indeed, I believe that we are demonstrating world's best practice in working with the World Heritage Committee to ensure that the Great Barrier Reef is preserved for generations to come and I think that President Obama might have overlooked that aspect of our commitment to conserving the Great Barrier Reef.

LEIGH SALES When you look at the language and priority given to climate change as an issue, is it a logical conclusion that Australia and its closest ally, the United States, are on different pages?

JULIE BISHOP No, I don't believe that's the case at all. The United States is proposing to take direct action, as Australia is, to reduce emissions. The United States has set a target for emissions reduction post-2020. Australia is on track to meet, in fact exceed its target of a five per cent reduction on 2000 levels by 2020 and we will announce our targets for post-2020 next year in the leadup to the Paris conference. So I believe that our actions are quite similar, certainly in principle and the way we're approaching the issue of climate change. For example, President Obama hasn't announced a carbon tax on the emissions, and most certainly, Australia has now repealed the carbon tax that had been imposed. So, the approaches are quite similar.

LEIGH SALES Before you go, let me ask you about something in your capacity as Deputy Leader and as a West Australian MP. Iron ore prices have sunk to a five-year low overnight and this year they're carving billions of dollars off the budget bottom line. You are inevitably going to have to cut spending further or increase taxes, aren't you, to rein in the shortfall?

JULIE BISHOP Iron ore prices are a matter of supply and demand and I think it's reflecting the reconstruction of the Chinese economy. I'm an optimist. I have great faith that the Chinese economy will continue to grow and that the market forces will drive the iron ore prices. They will fluctuate from time to time, but I'm hoping that they recover to previous highs. I call upon Labor to again support the measures that we're trying to get through the Senate so that we can ensure that our budget can return to surplus and that we can reduce government debt.


Media enquiries