ABC 720 Perth, Mornings, interview with Geoff Hutchison

  • Transcript, E&OE

GEOFF HUTCHISON: Good morning to you.

JULIE BISHOP: Good morning Geoff.

GEOFF HUTCHISON: Foreign Minister, if the situation in Iraq deteriorates further will any consideration be given to sending Australian troop there?

JULIE BISHOP: The security situation throughout Iraq is very volatile at present. It could deteriorate further with little warning. However, we talk to the United States about this situation, there's been no indication at all that the United States would like us to help, or indeed no indication from the Iraqi Government.

Our focus at present is on protecting Australian citizens and our interests in Iraq and to that end I have been calling on any Australians in Iraq to leave immediately and by commercial means if it's safe to do so because the international airport in Baghdad is still operating, commercial flights are still operating. Those who choose to remain should make arrangements in line with their own circumstances.

But because of the very challenging security environment, Australia is unlikely to be able to provide the level of consular assistance in Iraq at the current time that we might otherwise have been able to do.

GEOFF HUTCHISON: What do you understand of the numbers of Australians still in the country and the kind of work people are doing there?

JULIE BISHOP: There are only about 90 or 100 people registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade but we are aware that there are many more Australians there. Most of them working with businesses, mostly in the south, and as you will appreciate the major conflict is in the north and the west, but they're working with oil companies and other service companies. Now obviously corporate businesses are making arrangements for their own staff, they're putting in place contingency arrangements, indeed some of them are running them past the Embassy for our input, but in terms of actual numbers it's rather difficult to tell at this stage but we do know that there are Australians there. That's why I've been asking them to leave by commercial means while it's safe to do so.

GEOFF HUTCHISON: It seems the Iraqi Government has to some extent quelled the pace of the ISIS move in the country. What kind of a threat do you think this group poses?

JULIE BISHOP: This group is a particularly brutal terrorist group. It's an offshoot of Al-Qaeda in Iraq but it's even too extreme for Al-Qaeda. They've parted company over ISIS's activities in Syria. It is a threat not only to Iraq, but it is very active in Syria. It is a threat to the stability of the region as it seeks to form an Islamic state across Iraq and Syria and also Lebanon.

Hundreds have been killed and also the fighting between ISIS or ISIL and the Iraqi Security Forces had been particularly fierce. It's estimated that about 500,000 people are fleeing Mosul and other cities in North West Iraq. There are already about 225,000 Syrian refugees who've crossed the border into Iraq to escape the conflict in Syria and we understand about 300,000 displaced people within Iraq from conflicts earlier this year in the Anbar Provence. So it is a diabolically complex and challenging security environment at present.

GEOFF HUTCHISON: It's 8.54, my guest is the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

Foreign Minister, yesterday you described as a complete and utter overreaction the response to the Government's decision to stop calling East Jerusalem the'occupied territories in preference for disputed territories. Where's the overreaction come from?

JULIE BISHOP: There was no decision by the Australian Government. There was no change in policy. Australia is committed to a two-state solution whereby the Israelis and the Palestinians can live in peace behind internationally recognised and defined boundaries. That is the subject of the peace negotiations that the United States have been seeking to broker.

So Australia does not seek to buy into the specific issues in dispute and that includes the status of Jerusalem. That is one of the fundamental issues to be resolved, not by legal interpretation, or legal determination but by a political solution between the parties. Just as we don't buy into other territorial disputes, we don't use language like Occupied East Jerusalem! And so we were restating what is already policy. There was no change. And so..

GEOFF HUTCHISON: Can I just be clear of that though? It has been referred to as the occupied territories for something like 47 years.

JULIE BISHOP: No, no, I'm talking about East Jerusalem. There are other territories – the West Bank, Gaza and of course Israel's now pulled out of Gaza. There are other territories we call the Palestinian Territories but in the case of East Jerusalem we don't think it is helpful and have never thought it's been helpful, to call it as a pronoun, the proper noun 'Occupied East Jerusalem', which is what the Greens were trying to assert in the Senate Estimates that its name was 'Occupied East Jerusalem'. Capital O, capital E, capital J. Well we don't subscribe to that and never have and we made the self evident point that Australia is working to support a two-state solution and the issue of the status of East Jerusalem is fundamental to those negotiations.

GEOFF HUTCHISON: Yesterday Tony Abbott called it a terminological clarification but there has been a consequence hasn't there? I mean you had to meet with Ambassadors from Islamic countries last week. The Arab League..

JULIE BISHOP: No I haven't.

GEOFF HUTCHISON: Was that not Friday of last week?

JULIE BISHOP: No I was in Tokyo on Friday. I am meeting with the Arab Ambassadors this week.

GEOFF HUTCHISON: I beg your pardon.

JULIE BISHOP: And I will explain to them that there is no change to Government policy. We still support, and have always supported United Nations Resolution 242 that came into being after 1967, Resolution 338 which came into being after 1973. These two resolutions set out the principles to guide the two-state solutions peace negotiations and we're absolutely committed to that.

GEOFF HUTCHISON: Sure, you're suggesting very strongly that there should be no offense taken here or any such thing. But we are hearing that the Arab League is to debate the issue and it's expected that some countries will consider a suspension of Australian farm exports so offence has been taken has it not?

JULIE BISHOP: I do not accept that. We have a very strong and robust trading relationship with a number of countries in the Middle East and I expect that to continue.

GEOFF HUTCHISON: So when members of the Arab League say – has Australia had a policy change here? A nation that always supported the two-state solution, whether it's a terminological clarification or not you don't think that it's upset those nations at all?

JULIE BISHOP: I'm the Foreign Minister and I have said there has been no change in our foreign policy. The Prime Minister said there is no change in our policy. That's it, there's no change to our policy.

GEOFF HUTCHISON: You don't think there's any threat at all to West Australian live cattle and sheep exports to those countries because they have taken offence.

JULIE BISHOP: Well if the ABC wishes to continue to air it in this way maybe some people will believe it to be so and what I'm saying is there is no change in policy. We are committed to the two-state solution as we always have been. It's a bipartisan position, we remain committed to the United Nations Resolutions that support the principles giving rise to the two-state solutions negotiations and we will continue to do so. What we won't do is prejudge the outcomes of those negotiations because we don't think that's helpful and that's the point that we have made to the Arab League Heads of Mission and it's a point that I'll be making in my meeting with them this week and I certainly look forward to it.

GEOFF HUTCHISON: Ok, so just some reassurance for those WA farmers because they have been reading this headline, not just through ABC sources, that there is nothing for them to be concerned about.

JULIE BISHOP: We will continue to be strong trading partners with the Middle East and this issue will not affect our relationship with the Gulf countries, the Arab League countries.

Thank you for talking to us today.

JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.

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