ABC 730, interview with Leigh Sales

  • Transcript, E&OE
14 September 2016

JOURNALIST And the Deputy Liberal Leader Julie Bishop joins me now from our Parliament House studio. Thank you.

JULIE BISHOP My pleasure.

JOURNALIST If we can start with the maiden speech of Pauline Hanson. She's raised issues that worry Australians - immigration, access to services, radical Islam and terrorism. What do you say to Australians who may have heard her speech and thought - yes, that is how I feel?

JULIE BISHOP First we must recognise that Pauline Hanson was elected by the people of Queensland to represent their interests in the Senate. I think about half a million people voted for Pauline Hanson, so she has rightly taken her seat in the Senate. She is entitled to her views, I don't agree with many of them, as would other Australians. But one of the strengths of this country is that we do believe in freedom of speech, we believe in open debate, and the opportunity to debate dissenting voices, and in relation to some of the issues she raised I understand there are people who support her views and are concerned about the issues she raised. In many instances the Australian Government is dealing with these issues, the issues of terrorism, the issues of access to services, they're all matters of concern. I don't agree with her views about Muslims and an attack on multiculturalism. I think that's the basis of our success as a nation, we've welcomed migrants from every corner of the globe for generations, and I hope we continue to do so.

JOURNALIST If we can go through some other issues tonight. I want to turn to the Same-Sex Marriage Plebiscite. Bill Shorten intends to recommend a no vote to the Labor caucus, that means that it will not pass the Parliament, so the plebiscite wouldn't go ahead. What is the Coalition's plan b for same-sex marriage?

JULIE BISHOP I am profoundly disappointed that Bill Shorten would seek to deny the Australian people the opportunity to have their say on a matter of significance and importance to many people. And I think it's incredibly arrogant of the Leader of the Opposition to presume to know how the Australian people feel about this issue. We took the…

JOURNALIST But what's your Plan B?

JULIE BISHOP We took the idea of a plebiscite, a proposal for a plebiscite, to the last election. It was fundamental to our policies, we debated it day in, day out throughout the election. We formed government and therefore intend to deliver on the promise and the Australian people have indicated, if opinion polls are to be believed, that they support the idea of having a say on this particular issue. I don't accept that it sets a dangerous precedent…

JOURNALIST On the, on the…

JULIE BISHOP I still - sorry Leigh - I still appeal to the Leader of the Opposition to give the Australian people the respect; to respect their intelligence, their ability to conduct a civil debate on this and allow them to vote at a plebiscite.

JOURNALIST But on the Australian people having their say, your Liberal Party colleague from Western Australia Dean Smith said that Parliament should vote on same-sex marriage, that Australians don't like the idea of politicians giving up their day job. Why then don't you have the courage to simply vote on the issue, as Australian taxpayers elect you to do, and save the country a couple of hundred million dollars?

JULIE BISHOP I've come back from the United Kingdom, where the British people had their say on an issue of fundamental importance to the United Kingdom, that is whether or not they would remain in the European Union. I think the result of Brexit indicates that it would be very unwise of politicians to assume that they know what the citizens think about a particular issue. Like Brexit...

JOURNALIST But if you take that to the logical conclusion, Parliament couldn't vote on anything.

JULIE BISHOP No, well that's hardly the case in the British Parliament. My point is there are some fundamental issues where the Australian people have a right to have their say directly and I believe this is one of them. It's a promise we took to the last election, it's a promise we intend to deliver upon. To say to the Australian people, as Bill Shorten has done, we do not respect your capacity to make a rational decision, insults the Australian people and he should show them more respect.

JOURNALIST If I can turn to your portfolio as Foreign Minister and ask about foreign donations. In an interview today the United States Ambassador to Australia John Berry says that the US Government's been surprised by the influence of Chinese money on politics in this country and that the paying of money to candidates and party by Chinese interests is of concern to our American allies. Why can the Americans see a potential conflict of interest in foreign donations and Australian politicians can't?

JULIE BISHOP Well as a matter of fact, Ambassador Berry came to see me today as part of his farewell because he is leaving Australia, as a very fine Ambassador, and I think the article may have overstated his position. He was pointing out there are certain laws in the United States that relate to foreign donations…

JOURNALIST That we don't have here?

JULIE BISHOP There are aspects the United States have that we don't have, and aspects that we have in our laws that they don't have. We have different systems, but I think the point is much more complicated than your question would indicate. There are many instances of donations being made by naturalised citizens, by dual citizens, by companies that are incorporated in Australia. And like other businesses across Australia they can choose to make a donation to a political organisation, as has always been the case, as long as it is disclosed in accordance with the AEC rules and of course the parties are audited.

JOURNALIST Let me ask you about one that fits that criteria - in July 2013 you attended as Shadow Foreign Minister a fundraiser in your honour hosted by the Waratah Group, which is a Chinese-Australian company. The address on the Liberal Party disclosure is in China. You declared it, not suggesting you have done anything wrong. But how does that work, what do they get in return for helping you to fundraise to be re-elected?

JULIE BISHOP What businesses seek to do, what other organisations seek to do, what individuals seek to do, is make a donation to the party that they think will best provide an environment for their interests to flourish. Business organisations will donate, as I understand it, to the Coalition, because they think our policies will provide the most positive business environment. Others may donate to the Labor Party, as they do, because they think the Labor Party policies present the best environment for their interests to flourish. This is all done under the AEC guidelines, it is all disclosed, all declared, all audited.

JOURNALIST Are you not worried as Foreign Minister, whether there is a conflict of interest or not, about the perception of a conflict of interest? That a company that has its address listed in China is helping you fundraise for your re-election?

JULIE BISHOP The point I make is, political donations are made to political parties. They're not made to individuals, I don't canvass for political donations. They are made to the political parties.

JOURNALIST You're a member of that political party. I'm just asking at the perception of conflict of interest?

JULIE BISHOP I challenge anyone to point to an area of foreign policy that I have changed that is not in the national interest. Money and donations to political parties don't influence my views or the Government's views on foreign policy. I can give a very good example...

JOURNALIST If I can pick up that point, don't you open yourself to the accusation of it, whether it's true or not, because of the foreign donation system?

JULIE BISHOP Doesn't that apply to every business organisation or individual that makes a donation to a political party? Australian resident, Australian incorporated business, it applies across the board, if that's your charge.

JOURNALIST Julie Bishop, just one quick question before you go. It's a year since Malcolm Turnbull became Prime Minister, what difference would it have made if Tony Abbott was still there?

JULIE BISHOP Well, that's a hypothetical. What Malcolm Turnbull has done since he became Prime Minister is focus unrelentingly on growing our economy, so that we can be one of the most productive, successful, prosperous economies in the world. I've just come back from overseas, I can assure you that the last twelve months have seen economic growth in Australia that are now at levels the envy of the developed world, and our growth is at 3.3%, greater than any of the G7 countries.

JOURNALIST Those numbers would have been there if Tony Abbott was still there?

JULIE BISHOP I believe that Malcolm Turnbull's agenda, focusing on innovation, on science, on a new defence industry, on promoting the free trade agreements, and the confidence that business and consumers have placed in the Government, are all leading to outstanding numbers of 3.3% growth, 220,000 new jobs including 60% of them for women and 9.6% increase in our exports. A whole range of significant indicators show that business and consumer confidence is right to be at very high levels.

JOURNALIST Julie Bishop, thank you very much for coming in this evening.

JULIE BISHOP My pleasure.

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