882 6PR Perth Mornings - Interview with Gareth Parker

  • Transcript, E&OE

JOURNALIST: I want to talk about reports in the West Australian and in News Corpnewspapers this morning that a whole bunch of characters, people who have leftAustralia and taken up arms in Syria and Iraq on the side of ISIS are nowreturning to this country. Now, that's a problem that the government hasforeseen, they've been aware of this for a while. They've been anticipating it,how are they managing it though? Let's find out with the Acting Prime Ministerof Australia, Julie Bishop. Good morning. This issue of foreign fighters returning,we've spoken about it in the past, you've warned that this is a looming issue,it does appear though that there are people, potentially dangerous people, walkingthe streets in Australia.

JULIE BISHOP: Gareth, as the Coalition has more success in defeatingISIS in Syria and Iraq, there has always been a concern that the foreignterrorist fighters who have taken part in the conflict there, they seek toreturn home, that means to our region and also to Australia. We believe thatsome 40 foreign terrorist fighters have returned to Australia, some are beingheld in detention, others are being monitored, and that's why we're working soclosely with other partners in the region to detect and monitor those whosurvive the conflict in Syria and Iraq and seek to return home.

JOURNALIST: So some are in detention, can you say how many?

JULIE BISHOP: I won't go into the details Gareth, but we are awareof the 40 that have returned over time. They are all being monitored, some arebeing held in detention. I obviously have to keep certain informationconfidential on the basis of security and the concerns we have there, but I havebeen speaking for some time about the challenge of ensuring that we monitor andtrack all of those who have fought for a terrorist organisation in the MiddleEast and are seeking to return home.

JOURNALIST: Are you confident that the Government has a handle onall of the people who are in that category who might be back in Australia?

JULIE BISHOP: The Government is working very hard with our security andlaw enforcement and intelligence agencies to ensure that they have the resourcesand the legislative backing to carry out the work they need to do to keep ussafe. I'm assured that our people have tracked the 40 who have returned, are beingheld in detention, or being monitored more generally. But it's an ongoing process,we have to ensure that others that seek to come to Australia to carry outattacks here, we work with our equivalent partners in Indonesia and Malaysiaand elsewhere to ensure that anyone who has been working with, or supporting,or fighting for a terrorist organisations is monitored and tracked.

JOURNALIST: Is there a process of sort of intervention with peopleto ask them about what their attitudes are towards the cause that they werefighting for? Whether it's something that they seek to continue, or cause theycontinue to pursue in Australia?

JULIE BISHOP: ….ask questions of those who have been overseas,gathering evidence is very difficult as you could imagine. We don't have anEmbassy in Syria for example. The situation in Iraq has been very complex, butwhere we are able to detain people we of course seek to interview them.

JOURNALIST: When we have discussed this issue in the past on theprogramme, many listeners have made the point or I guess asked the question,why is it that we have to let those people back into the country? Is there anyway that they can have their passports revoked? The government has talked aboutthose sorts of things, what's the situation?

JULIE BISHOP: We have revoked passports in the past. I have theauthority to take away a person's passport based on the advice of ourintelligence agencies and so that does occur. I have removed passports frompeople who are seeking to go overseas and we believe join with, or fight with aterrorist organisation. So we are actively involved in tracking their movementsand doing what we can to keep Australians safe.

JOURNALIST: Okay, what's the situation in the Philippines with Marawiwhere we know that ISIS siege took place for many months. It's sort of right inour backyard, it's flown a little bit under the radar, is there a concern thatthe Philippines could emerge as a regional base for ISIS by terrorists?

JULIE BISHOP: We have been concerned for some time that as thecoalition to defeat ISIS had more success in Syria and Iraq, that ISIS wouldseek to set up a headquarters, a caliphate elsewhere and there was a concernthat in the Philippines, in Marawi, ISIS or terrorists supporting ISIS wouldseek to take advantage of the volatility in the region and join up withexisting criminal networks and militants and others fighting in the southern Philippines.In fact, there was a self styled Emir, a head of ISIS by the name of HapilonIsnilon and he self-styled himself as the head of ISIS but he was then killedin Marawi, as were other terrorists, but the Philippines government is makingsignificant progress in defeating these fighters in Marawi. In fact, in recenttimes the Australian Government has provided even more support to help trainthe Philippines army to deal with this kind of countering surge in in urban warfare that's being undertaken bythese ISIS inspired fighters.

JOURNALIST: With your Foreign Minister's hat on, in the earlyhours of this morning there has been another incident overseas, in New York, itappears as though it is a terrorist motivated attack, that's what theauthorities in New York have said. It's a van that appears to have driven intopedestrians. The latest we have is that eight people have been killed, 12injured. Do you have any information about that attack as we go to air?

JULIE BISHOP: I have spoken to our Consul General in New York andour authorities here are in touch with authorities in the United States. Itappears to have the hallmarks of a terrorist attack, but we are still waitingfor confirmation from the authorities in the US. It is Halloween in the UnitedStates, according to our Consul General here are children everywhere in thestreets, there was going to be a parade down Sixth Avenue, so there are manypeople in Manhattan at present. The State Department has advised us that atthis stage, they do not believe any Australians are affected, but the situationis still unfolding and some reports are still to be verified. We have accountedfor all our consular staff in New York, and we have confirmed that they aresafe, but the details of this are unfolding.

JOURNALIST: Okay, closer to home and to sort of domestic politicalissues, there was I think some belief that perhaps the worst of the citizenshipcrisis may have passed, albeit that the former Deputy Prime Minister BarnabyJoyce was facing a by-election. Now it emerges that Stephen Parry, thePresident of the Senate, a Liberal Senator, has serious reason to questionwhether he in fact is caught up in this whole mess. Should Stephen Parry havecome forward some months ago? He clearly had suspicions that he may be a Britishcitizen.

JULIE BISHOP: I have spoken to Stephen Parry and he believed that hewas an Australian citizen, as was his father. But when he read the High Courtdecision last Friday he sought advice to clarify his position and he's still awaitingthat advice.

JOURNALIST: Okay, but he obviously had….what are you suggesting thatStephen Parry first became aware he might have had a problem after the HighCourt challenge? Because it sounded to me as though he was fully aware that hemight have h ad a problem, but wanted to wait and see what the High Court did.

JULIE BISHOP: Well there have been numerous changes to ourcitizenship laws since the Constitution was adopted in 1901. It's a very complexarea, particularly on dual citizenship. Section 44, the relevant section of theConstitution has now been clarified and members and senators current andprospective must comply with it. But the important thing is the governmentretains 75 of the 149 seats in the House of Representatives. We have sufficientcrossbench support to ensure that we have supply, we can guarantee supply, thatis the funds that support the functioning of government and the crossbenchcontinue to give us the confidence that we need of the House. So the work ofthe Parliament goes on. Barnaby Joyce is seeking to return to Parliament thougha by-election and we are very hopeful that he will receive strong support fromthe people of New England and then the composition of the House ofRepresentatives will be back as it was after the last election.

As for Senators, those foundto be ineligible will be replaced through an established process that doesn'trequire another vote, appointed through casual vacancies, or through recountsof votes at the last election.

Senator Parry understoodthat he was an Australian citizen, when he read the High Court decision hesought advice and he's now still awaiting that advice.

JOURNALIST: Okay and he said he will resign if it comes back thathe is a British citizen. You say the work of the Parliament goes on, but thepublic regard this, surely, as very unsatisfactory. It's got to be time,doesn't it, for the major parties to just bite the bullet and order some sortof audit here of all MPs so we don't continue to get this drip feed ofsurprises.

JULIE BISHOP: Well obviously the Government didn't plan to be inthis situation and would prefer not to be, but we do retain the 75 seats in theHouse of Representatives and the work of the Parliament will go on. The HighCourt has now given reasons clarifying Section 44 and everyone has a responsibilityto ensure that they are eligible……

JOURNALIST: Okay, but why not call an audit?

JULIE BISHOP: Because each person is now able to read the details ofSection 44 and each person can take the personal responsibility to ensure thatthey are eligible to be a member of Parliament, or a Senator.

JOURNALIST: Is the honour system effective enough, because againthe revelations keep dripping out?

JULIE BISHOP: Well I'm not aware of any other person, they haven'traised it with me. It is a matter of personal responsibility to ensure that youare eligible to stand in the Parliament. Now I'm not aware of any Labor, orGreen, or other Liberal National members who might be in this position, butthey have a responsibility to ensure that they are eligible to sit in theParliament.

JOURNALIST: Julie Bishop, you are Acting Prime Minister this week,I presume you are enjoying that role. I know you've been asked about this alreadythis week whether you have aspirations for the top job and you said you'rehappy with the job that you're doing as Foreign Minister. Do you rule out anytilt at becoming Prime Minister?

JULIE BISHOP: Gareth, I love the job that I'm doing. I'm ForeignMinister, Deputy Leader of the Party, I stood to be elected as Deputy Leaderwithin our Party room on numerous occasions, and I've been honoured with thesupport of my colleagues as Deputy Leader and that will continue. I'm happy inthis role.

JOURNALIST: Julie Bishop, thanks for your time this morning.

JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure, thanks Gareth.

- Ends -

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