ABC 7.30 Program - interview with Leigh Sales

  • Transcript, E&OE

JOURNALIST: Australia is certain to join the US-led campaign against IslamicState. The only question is in what capacity? Earlier, Australia's ForeignMinister, Julie Bishop, joined me from Pretoria in South Africa. ForeignMinister, when will our Government explain to the Australian people exactly whatcommitment Australia will be making to the US-led Coalition?

FOREIGN MINISTER JULIE BISHOP: Leigh, that will be after the United States hasmade a request and there has been no formal request made. Should a request bemade, we will then consider it at our National Security Committee. It will beconsidered by Cabinet, we will consult with the Opposition and then we wouldmake it public. President Obama has indicated he is building a broad coalitionof support not only from nations in the region, and of course with the IraqiGovernment, but also beyond, and because Australia has such a significant numberof foreign fighters, Australian citizens who are fighting in Syria and Iraq,then it's in our interests to do what we can to prevent the spread of ISIL.

JOURNALIST: Will Australia be prepared to engage in air strikes if requested?

FOREIGN MINISTER JULIE BISHOP: We haven't been asked to but I know that wehave the capability to support air strikes. At this stage, our support has beenlimited to humanitarian assistance.

JOURNALIST: When you say 'support', are we prepared, though, to go beyondthat, if requested to do so? Are we prepared to have Australian planes andAustralian pilots involved in air strikes?

FOREIGN MINISTER JULIE BISHOP: The President has outlined a strategy to dealwith ISIL and try to contain its murderous activities. Australia has alreadytaken part in the humanitarian aspect of it but the President has pointed outthat air strikes will continue and they have been effective as far as weunderstand, and we do have the capability to take part in air strikes if we'rerequested to do so. We will consider it in terms of the overall objectives. Wewill need to have a clear and proportionate role for Australia. We would need tounderstand the resources and the assets that would be required and have adefined timeline so that we can then weigh the risks, make our judgment and theninform the Australian people.

JOURNALIST: Should our nation be prepared for the loss of Australian lives inthe pursuit of this mission?

FOREIGN MINISTER JULIE BISHOP: This mission, so defined to date by PresidentObama, is of course risky, but I believe there is a greater risk if we donothing, that is if we allow Australian citizens to continue to leave thiscountry, take part in terrorist activities in Syria and Iraq, and then come hometo Australia with terrorist intent. And we understand from our intelligenceagencies, our law enforcement agencies, that there are a number of Australianswith that intent; so the risk of doing nothing, I believe, outweighs theterrible risks associated with going into this strategy to defeat, destroy ISIL.

JOURNALIST: If you were serious about the risk you just described and abouttruly destroying Islamic State, wouldn't you commit all and every availableresource, including ground troops?

FOREIGN MINISTER JULIE BISHOP: We have to support the Iraqi Government. TheIraqi Government has a Defence Force. We need to support the Iraqi Governmentdefend itself.

JOURNALIST: So far the Iraqi Defence Force has proven woefully inadequate whenit comes to the task of securing the country. Major cities have been lost toIslamic State. The lessons of Libya and Afghanistan also show that there arelimited results to be gained from training and arming local forces.

FOREIGN MINISTER JULIE BISHOP: In this instance we are looking for a broadcoalition, as President Obama outlined in that very important speech. There areother nations, particularly in the region, the Arab State nations, who aremilitarily well equipped - they are well resourced - and we are hoping that anumber of nations will take part in a coalition to combat ISIL.

JOURNALIST: How will Australia decide which local militias and forces to armin Syria given the Prime Minister's previous assertion that the conflict thereis baddies versus baddies?

FOREIGN MINISTER JULIE BISHOP: Our focus at present is on Iraq and workingwith the Iraqi Government, indeed I telephoned the Foreign Minister yesterdayand had a discussion with him about what Australia can do in supporting theIraqi Government. I've not had such a conversation with anybody in Syria. So ourfocus is about supporting the Iraqi Government defend itself, defend itscommunities, and I was heartened by the Foreign Minister's support for aninclusive Government, of including all of the representatives - whether theywere Kurds or Sunnis, Shia - in one Government. They all have a common enemy andthat is ISIL.

JOURNALIST: Julie Bishop, briefly on another matter, the Department of ForeignAffairs has revealed today that several Australians are facing the death penaltyin China because of drugs charges. How many exactly?

FOREIGN MINISTER JULIE BISHOP: I won't go into the detail of the numbers; Idon't think it will be helpful at this stage. The travel advisory was altered onthe advice of our experts to inform people travelling to China that drug-relatedactivities can carry the death penalty.

JOURNALIST: Why is it not helpful to state the number, it's just a basicstatement of fact and indeed allows human rights monitors to know how manyAustralians are involved?

FOREIGN MINISTER JULIE BISHOP: Those details can be obtained if human rightsmonitors want to contact the Australian Government but I'm not going to go intothe details. There are a number. It is concerning but not all of them arecharged with offences that relate to the death penalty - a number are, othersaren't. Over all, the message is loud and clear: if you're travelling to China,indeed if you're travelling anywhere in South East Asia, North Asia, a number ofcountries have criminal codes, criminal laws that include the death penalty fordrug-related activities and I warn all Australians to not engage in drug-relatedactivities if they're travelling overseas.

JOURNALIST: Julie Bishop, thank you for your time.

FOREIGN MINISTER JULIE BISHOP: It's been my pleasure Leigh.

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