ABC 720 Mornings, Perth - interview with Geoff Hutchison

  • Transcript, E&OE

GEOFF HUTCHISON: The Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has returned to Perth, albeit briefly, and she joins me on the program.

Minister good morning.

JULIE BISHOP: Good morning Geoff.

GEOFF HUTCHISON: Do we expect Cabinet to sign off early next week on Australia's military involvement in Iraq?

JULIE BISHOP: We haven't yet been asked to participate in any particular operation but given that the world leaders are meeting in New York at present, I would imagine that there will be discussions about Australia's role and the role of other countries as the world unites in taking strong and targeted action against foreign terrorist fighters and against ISIL and its ilk.

GEOFF HUTCHISON: Is it well established in your mind what our responsibilities will be or should be?

JULIE BISHOP: Yes it's quite clear in my mind that we have a prudent and proportionate role and this is particularly given the number of countries that have joined the international coalition to condemn ISIL and to rid the world of terrorist organisations like ISIL. Australia has already set out what we would be prepared to do in supporting military action - that is airplanes that could join in air strikes. We've offered Special Forces to advise and assist the Iraqi Government.

But our role must be in response to a request from the Iraqi Government and the United States and that specific request has not yet been made, although we've made it clear that we're prepared to cooperate in such an effort, as have many other countries around the globe. In fact, I've just come back from New York and what was heartening was the response of the nations in the Arab World. They are committed to ensuring that the world is safe from the likes of ISIL, al-Nusra, al-Shabaab, the various offshoots of al-Qaeda and other terrorist organisations.

GEOFF HUTCHISON: The US President has made it pretty clear that he expects those Muslim countries to make a greater contribution. Are you confident as the situation invariably gets hotter that they will respond as they have suggested, or perhaps promised they will?

JULIE BISHOP: They have already responded. You'll note that about five countries joined the United States in the airstrikes in Syria and I have spoken to the Foreign Ministers of a number of Gulf countries, Arab League countries and they were all united in their condemnation of ISIL and their determination to contain and then rid Iraq and Syria of ISIL. They fear that it will spread, the ideology will spread, the territorial ambitions will go beyond Syria and Iraq. Indeed we have seen evidence of that and they were determined to take action. So I've seen it in the sense they've spoken to me about it, pledged support, we've witnessed it in that they've taken part in the air strikes and they are providing humanitarian support as well. Saudi Arabia for example has already provided half a billion dollars for the support of displaced persons in Iraq.

GEOFF HUTCHISON: You spoke about the Australian response being prudent and proportionate but as time goes on, and again you commented that there is the prospect of Australia contributing on two fronts or more. A week and a half ago no one was really asking whether Australia would have a role to play in Syria, but that question is a pertinent one today. Do you sense that that is something we should be prepared to accept? That there will be the potential for Australian involvement beyond Iraq?

JULIE BISHOP: If there were not so many countries responding to the Iraqi Government's call for assistance, responding to President Obama's call for a coalition then that question may well have arisen. But there have been so many countries, I think over 40, that have committed to support the Iraqi Government, support the United States, even if it moves into Syria that I think our role will be as proportionate as we indicated at the outset. And that is we responded to a specific request from the Iraqi Government for us to help bolster the capacity of the Iraqi Defence Forces to be able to defend the country, defend the citizens.

So, as more countries commit and as we see the Arab State countries are prepared to undertake airstrikes in Syria, then there is a less of a need for Australia. So I'm hoping that coalition will hold, I have every expectation that it will, and from the commitments that were given publicly and privately from countries across the globe, I feel sure that we'll have the support in the coalition that everybody can take a proportionate role.

Of course the United States as the world's greatest military power will have the lead, the burden of the majority of the military action, but they are being supported by some countries that you might have otherwise have been surprised to see them on the list of the coalition.

GEOFF HUTCHINSON I sense having flown back in to Perth for no doubt a pretty quick trip there's a sense of reassurance.

JULIE BUSHOP Yes, I think that's right and I certainly spent time in New York during the United Nations General Assembly Leaders' Week meeting with the Foreign Ministers of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan and they were all shocked, determined to stem the flow of poison that ISIL is spreading throughout the Middle East and absolutely resolute in the backing of the United States. Now that is a very different scenario than in the past. So I think the number of foreign fighters has alarmed people.

President Obama said in the United Nations recently that he thought there were about 15,000 foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria, add to that the locals and that's a significant army of terrorists. And what we're facing is radicalised and battle hardened terrorists across Syria and Iraq and beyond that threaten, not just those countries, but all of us.

And the atrocities against women and children and ethnic groups, in fact anyone that opposes their brutality and extremism, together with this worldwide reach of foreign fighters from over 80 countries, demands global action, demands this level of cooperation.

GEOFF HUTCHISON: How do you manage it at home? I know the Senate has passed the first tranche of legislation that will give ASIO stronger powers, but out on the streets of this country and in your home town, we spoke to an Imam yesterday who spoke of kids on school busses not wanting to wear the identifying badges of the school that have the word Islam on it, of women saying they feel uncomfortable going out by themselves, these are Muslim women, because of how others might react to them. How do we keep balance and perspective here?

JULIE BISHOP: You're absolutely right, it is a question of balance and perspective and as we have made clear in all of our public statements – this is not a war against Islam, this is not a war against a state. This terrorist organisation is degrading the name of Islam and it's not a state, it doesn't have the responsibilities of a government that looks after its citizens. These are terrorists in a death cult, as the Prime Minister has dubbed them, and so we have to be very, very vocal in saying it's not about someone's religion, this is not about people in Australia being targeted because of their religion, this is an extremist form of terrorism, radicalised people who are in fact abusing the name of Islam in their quests to execute and kill anyone who stands in their way.

No one is safe in their presence so we just have to keep saying that this is something that the Government is determined to beat. That we are determined to keep Australians safe and that we are reaching out to all communities that are affected by this and encouraging them to work with the Government, to work with everyone to ensure that young people in particular are not radicalised. We're reaching out to religious leaders, to parents, to communities, to schools to ensure that we can get the message across that there is nothing good to come from radicalists, a radicalised group, or an extremist group and that we want to make sure Australians are safe from this kind of extremism. It has no place in Australia.

GEOFF HUTCHISON: Finally, Foreign Minister, tomorrow you represent the Prime Minister at the North Melbourne Grand Final Breakfast. That's a little change of pace isn't it?!

JULIE BISHOP: This is the wonderful thing about my job, I'm also the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, so I come home from New York and I do what's important in Australia, and that's go to the Grand Final.

GEOFF HUTCHISON: Thank you for your time this morning.

JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.

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