7.30 Report, Paris - interview with Leigh Sales

  • Transcript, E&OE

LEIGH SALES Australia's Foreign Minister is currently in the Middle East and Europe for talks about global terrorism, among other things. She's just finished an historic visit to Iran and is now in Paris, from where she joined me earlier.

Foreign Minister, you're about to start a series of the meetings with leaders in Europe where the radicalisation of youth is also a serious problem. Is it simply a matter of time until we see the sort of large-scale, coordinated, home-grown attacks like we saw in Paris last year happen here in Australia as well?

JULIE BISHOP Well, Leigh, I am in Paris at present and I will be holding meetings, not only with the Foreign Minister Fabius, but also with their Education Minister, who is implementing countering violent extremism programs here in France, where there is a significant issue of home-grown terrorism and also foreign terrorist fighters leaving France to fight in Iraq and Syria.

We have a number of Australians who are likewise seeking to leave Australia, or have left Australia, to take part in this conflict on the side of a terrorist organisation in the Middle East. So it is in the interests of many nations to come to together to share information, to share experiences and to collaborate so that we can counter this radicalisation and this violent extremism that seems to be taking hold in some segments of communities across the globe.

LEIGH SALES You mentioned that your meeting with the Education Minister, so clearly they have a focus on getting these programs into schools. Is that something we could look at doing more of here in Australia?

JULIE BISHOP I'm certainly gaining as much information as I can from countries in Europe, indeed, also from Iran, about what they are doing to counter this radicalisation, whether it's in schools, whether it's in universities, in communities, in religious centres.

LEIGH SALES Speaking of Iran, you've announced that in the military campaign against Islamic State, Australia's now sharing intelligence with Iran. A decade ago the Government was telling us that Iran was part of the Axis of Evil. How is it that we're now sharing intelligence with them?

JULIE BISHOP Since the emergence of Daesh, this violent, brutal terrorist organisation the likes of which we've not seen before, a number of countries are now supporting the Iraqi Government to defeat Daesh and drive this terrorist organisation out of business. We have a specific interest in this because, as I said previously, there are Australian citizens who are supporting this violent terrorist organisation, either by seeking to fight with them or supporting them in other ways.

Iran and other nations want to stem the flow of foreign terrorist fighters into their region. We want information on the Australians that are seeking to travel to Iraq and Syria or indeed are there. And should they seek to return to Australia, we need the evidence of what they were doing in Iraq and Syria, because they could well be in breach of our criminal laws. Indeed, for an Australian to be in Mosul in Iraq or in al-Raqqa province in Syria without a legitimate reason, can be a breach of Australian law. So we want information on who the Australians are in Iraq and Syria, and of course Iran wants to stop the flow of terrorist fighters into their region. So, it is an informal arrangement to share information.

LEIGH SALES But Iran is a well-known state sponsor of terrorism. Tehran is the primary financial backer of Hezbollah. It's responsible for various human rights atrocities and torture inside its own borders and inside Iraq. How is this a country that we consider a reliable partner?

JULIE BISHOP Our intelligence agencies analyse information from whatever source it comes. That's what they do, that's their job. They verify whether the information is accurate, whether it can be relied upon. So it's in our interests to gain as much information as we can on those Australians who are seeking to take part in terrorist activities in Iraq and Syria and beyond.

LEIGH SALES But to put it very simply, why would you trust Iran?

JULIE BISHOP Well that's what our intelligence agencies do; they gather information from all sources and it's their job to look at the accuracy of it, to verify it, to determine what's credible and what's not. I don't want to be accused of ignoring some information that would have been of use to us because it came from a source that we otherwise have significant differences with. We need as much information as we can and our intelligence agencies are sophisticated enough - indeed, they are amongst the best in the world - to determine what information will be of use to us.

LEIGH SALES Have any representatives of the Israeli Government made representations to Australian officials, including yourself, to express dissatisfaction at our cooperation with Iran?

JULIE BISHOP The Israelis are well aware of the reasons why I visited Tehran. They understand that there are a number of bilateral and regional issues that we need to discuss and resolve with Iran and they understand the purpose of my visit. There are many who are concerned about Iran's negotiating tactics, Iran's position in relation to the P5+1 nuclear discussions, but I was there for other purposes. We are not a negotiator, we are not a stakeholder in the nuclear program discussions, but we obviously have an interest in the outcome of them.

But my purpose there was first to focus on our troops in Iraq, to ensure that the Iranians understand absolutely clearly what we are doing in Iraq; that we are there at the invitation of and with the support of the Iraqi Government; that our role there is limited to military training and taking part in air strikes and that we have no misunderstanding with the Shia militia in particular as to the role of the Australian forces in Iraq. And secondly, I discussed the issue of Iranians who come to our region claiming asylum who are found not to be refugees and ways that they can return to Iran.

LEIGH SALES On another matter, Foreign Minister, if I can ask you briefly about the tragedy in the Mediterranean where as many as 700 people could be dead after an asylum seeker boat capsized. Given Australia's experience in boat interceptions and rescues, is it able to offer any assistance currently?

JULIE BISHOP This is a terrible tragedy of horrendous proportions. It highlights why the Australian Government was so determined to dismantle the people smuggling trades that prey on vulnerable people and lure them in many instances to their death by getting them to pay for a journey to a destination on often unseaworthy boats across dangerous stretches of water. And we know that about 1200 people died trying to get to Australia via the people smuggling trade and we were determined to put an end to that and we have done so. We have managed to stop the flow of people via the people smuggling trade, but we have to be ever-vigilant. And so we are happy to share our experiences. We are concerned to share the details of the legislation that we put in place, the actions that we've taken, the policies that we have, but each country will obviously have to deal with this on a national basis and often on a regional basis.

LEIGH SALES Foreign Minister, we're out of time. Thank you very much for joining me.

JULIE BISHOP It's been my pleasure.

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