7:30 Report, Canberra - interview with Leigh Sales

  • Transcript, E&OE
16 July 2015

LEIGH SALES Adam Harvey with that report and the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop joins me now from our Parliament House studio in Canberra.

Thank you for joining us Minister.

JULIE BISHOP Good evening Leigh.

LEIGH SALES We are a year on from MH17. If the investigators haven't yet been able to find enough evidence to prosecute anybody, isn't the chance for that dwindling?

JULIE BISHOP That is not the case Leigh. In fact there have been three investigations underway since the plane was downed 12 months ago, and those investigations are yet to be concluded. We expect the final report of the investigation into who was responsible for the downing of MH17 to be released in October.

The first report, and there was a preliminary report on the mechanical aspects of it, was it a mechanical failure, and essentially that was ruled out. The second investigation is the major one, the most sensitive one, and that is to find out who was responsible, which person or persons, which entities, which nations may have been responsible for this and that's still underway, and then there is also an investigation into the civil aviation aspects of it.

We are one of the five countries of the joint investigation team and we have called for the United Nations Security Council's support in establishing an International Criminal Tribunal to prosecute those who were responsible for the downing of MH17 and we are working with the Security Council now to seek their support to establish such a tribunal so that when the report is released in October there will be a framework in place that can take up the investigation and the prosecution.

LEIGH SALES You say it will be released in October. Do you know already where the finger in that is going to point? JULIE BISHOP No, I don't Leigh, because it hasn't been made available to me or to the Government, except to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau as one of the accredited investigators under the Dutch Safety Board.

You will recall that almost 12 months ago, we got unanimous international backing through the UN Security Council resolution 2166 which called for a number of things, including an investigation be set up, an independent investigation and that has been done. It also demanded that those responsible be held to account and that all States co-operate fully with establishing accountability. So this is the next stage, if you like, of resolution 2166.

LEIGH SALES If we can turn now to Islamic State, when the White House national adviser Susan Rice released America's Security strategy in February this year, she cautioned against alarmism and said that "While the dangers we face may be more numerous and varied, they are not the existential nature we confronted through World War II or the Cold War. We cannot afford to be buffeted by alarmism". Yet in an interview last week you said that IS as a security threat is more dangerous and complex than we have seen before. Why do you hold a different view to the US National Security Adviser?

JULIE BISHOP I hold the same view as Secretary of State John Kerry who has said that he does view Islamic extremism and organisations like Da'esh as an existential threat. I hold the same view as David Cameron who described Da'esh as representing the battle of our generation. He likewise described Islamic extremism as an existential threat to the British way of life. I note Susan Rice's statements have been the subject of much commentary in the United States, including in editorials of the 'Washington Post' and the like but I have spoken with many world leaders, I've had briefings from our intelligence agencies, our security forces as well as those internationally and I form my view on those reports and those briefings.

LEIGH SALES You are of the view that the national security adviser to the President has got it wrong?

JULIE BISHOP She says quite rightly that we should not exaggerate the rate the threat and I don't believe we are. We have spent the last 70 years building a global rules-based order that is founded on the principle that you don't take territory, you don't invade other countries, you don't redraw boundaries unilaterally yet Da'esh is challenging that very global rules-based order by its territorial claims and when it takes towns and cities and when it claims a caliphate over northern Iraq and Syria, it is a direct challenge, a direct threat to the global rules-based order and indeed to modern democratic societies.

LEIGH SALES You say you don't think it is an exaggeration when the Prime Minister says Islamic State is coming for every person and for every government?

JULIE BISHOP I think you have to put it in context but the Prime Minister is quite right to be deeply concerned about the threat that Da'esh poses. You cannot underestimate its territorial claims.

I was in Baghdad last year and there was a genuine fear that Baghdad was about to fall to Da'esh, a city of four million people, and that Da'esh was going on to take Damascus. Until the Coalition air strikes intervened, it appeared to be an unstoppable momentum on the part of this brutal terrorist organisation whose ideologies are unprecedented in recent times.

LEIGH SALES If it's a brutal terrorist organisation and if you agree with David Cameron and John Kerry that it does indeed pose an existential threat, isn't Australia being grossly negligent in sending only 700 non-combat troops to contribute to this mission?

JULIE BISHOP I just said that the global rules-based order focuses on the fundamental pillar of national sovereignty..

LEIGH SALES You have said it's an existential threat.

JULIE BISHOP Just a moment. We are in Iraq at the request of and with the consent of the national sovereign Government of Iraq and so we are not going into Iraq without the permission, the support, the consent of the Iraqi Government.

LEIGH SALES You don't think Iraq would like a little more help?

JULIE BISHOP I have met with the Iraqi PM, indeed I was present at a conference in Paris in June where Prime Minister al-Abadi was asked if he required more support from Australia and he did not take up the suggestion.

LEIGH SALES Sorry to interrupt but if you think it's an existential threat, would Australia not be begging him to allow us to send the fullest military contingent we possibly could?

JULIE BISHOP All countries in the Coalition asked Prime Minister Abadi if there was more they could do and he said he would continue to work with the Coalition and if he required more support, he would ask for it. He has not asked Australia...

LEIGH SALES My point is there is an inconsistency in the messaging, you are saying this is a grave threat and an existential threat and on the other hand they haven't asked us to do any more so we are just sitting back.

JULIE BISHOP Well I don't put it that flippantly. What I'm saying is we cannot go into Iraq without the consent of the Iraqi Government, and so we and other members of the Coalition are working closely with Iraq. We are involved in air strikes, we are involved in training the Iraqi Security Forces, we have 300 Australian Defence personnel in Iraq working on a Building Partner Capacity program and that is training the Iraqi Security Forces to take back the territory that's been claimed and secure the citizens of Iraq.

This is the beginning of this level of Islamic extremism and I believe that we need to take action, as we have done, as the Coalition is doing. But at the end of the day the Iraqi Government has to invite us in and consent to our presence.

LEIGH SALES If we can turn to domestic politics in your capacity as deputy Liberal leader. As we heard earlier the Speaker Bronwyn Bishop has paid back the money that she used to take a helicopter to a Liberal fundraiser. Did she need to do that? Did the helicopter pass the 'sniff test' to use Joe Hockey's terminology?

JULIE BISHOP I'm not aware of the specific details of the trip, but all Members of Parliament are accountable to the public for the use of taxpayer funds. I note that Speaker Bishop says that her trip was within the guidelines, that's her belief.

LEIGH SALES Would you do it?

JULIE BISHOP I don't know the context or the circumstances in which the trip was undertaken so I'm not going to pass judgment, but what I do know is that she has decided to repay the amount, including a penalty. So I think that should be the end of the matter.

LEIGH SALES We have had Bronwyn Bishop's helicopter, we had Joe Hockey telling people housing affordability is not a problem if you have a decent job, we had Tony Abbott knighting Prince Philip. Is it a fair assumption for Australian voters to think this Government is out of touch with the values of ordinary people?

JULIE BISHOP I don't see the connection between the three, they are all separate matters. Of course the Australian Government is very much in touch with the concerns of the Australian people. One of the first things we did coming into Government was to get rid of the carbon tax because that was imposing a cost on electricity and that is a matter for each and every household, every family in Australia. So we are very conscious of matters like cost of living, cost of electricity. That's why we got rid of the carbon tax. We are very conscious of ensuring Australia is an attractive place to do business so we can provide jobs, particularly for young people. That's why we got rid of the mining tax so we would be internationally competitive. That's why we have put in place a one-stop-shop for environmental approval so major projects can go ahead which provide jobs for thousands and thousands of Australians. We are very much in touch with the concerns of the Australian people but we can always listen more, we can always hear their concerns and that is what we are seeking to do, each and every day.

LEIGH SALES Minister thank you very much for your time this evening.

JULIE BISHOP It's been my pleasure.

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