ABC 7:30 Report, interview with Leigh Sales

  • Transcript, E&OE

JOURNALIST: Joining me now from Perth is Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Minister, we heard in that story the direct pleas of many civilians in Aleppo to the outside world for help to get out of there. What can be done to try to better help deliver a safe evacuation?

JULIE BISHOP: The scale of this humanitarian crisis, Leigh, is truly staggering. I have been saying for some time that this would have to be one of the worst humanitarian crises in living memory. The situation on the ground is very fast-moving, very fluid. While there are reports that the Assad regime has reclaimed eastern Aleppo, and that the fighters will be allowed to leave, that is the opposition fighters, we need UN presence there to monitor the treatment of not only the civilians, but also the fighters and to determine what assistance is required. There are reports that civilians and the opposition fighters are being allowed the level, but to where? They say they can go to other opposition-held areas, but this is the very nub of the problem. Even a cease-fire now won't end this conflict because there are still parts of Syria held by the regime, parts held by armed opposition groups and parts held by ISIL, the terrorist organisation. The United Nations is seized of the matter, but until such time a permanent deal, a permanent cease-fire, can be brokered by the United States and Russia, I fear this conflict will continue and it has been going since 2011.

JOURNALIST: And what hopes do you give for a permanent cease-fire to be brokered?

JULIE BISHOP: I have attended a number of International Syria Support Group meetings, which is meant to come up with political solutions. There are three elements to this. First, there has to be a cease-fire, but it appears that while ever the Assad rage believes that it can militarily beat the opposition groups and while ever they believe they can beat the Assad regime and forces aligned with it, then the conflict will continue. Then, of course, there is a humanitarian disaster, the crisis that is occurring, and then finally a political solution and this is the only light at the end of a very dark tunnel. There must be a political solution brokered by the United States and Russia. The Russian intervention, some 15 months ago now, has certainly bolstered the Assad regime's chances of crushing the opposition forces, but they don't appear to be giving up any time soon.

JOURNALIST: Why is there such a lack of urgency on this internationally? We heard all of those people's stories. They have been trying to broker a cease-fire for ages. Where is the urgency that is required here?

JULIE BISHOP: There is a stalemate between the United States and allies and Russia and its friends and partners in this, so the Assad regime is being supported by Russia and others, the opposition groups are being supported by the US and others and while ever they believe they can win militarily, the conflict continues. I was present when there was a huge debate over a cease-fire, a question of how many days the cease-fire should take. All the while, the conflict continued, the bloodshed, the indiscriminate use of barrel bombs, the starvation and siege tactics of the Assad regime. It is utterly deplorable, the situation on the ground.

JOURNALIST: If I can ask about some other parties in your portfolio. Donald Trump has appointed the CEO of Exxon Rex Tillerson as his nominee for Secretary of State. He has no diplomatic experience, he was awarded an order of friendship by Vladimir Putin in 2013. Is he somebody that Australia can trust to work for our interests within that alliance?

JULIE BISHOP: He has been named by President-elect Trump as his nominee, but he still has to go through the Senate confirmation process and that process could take some time or it could commence as soon as --

JOURNALIST: Do you think there is some doubt about that, if he will get through it?

JULIE BISHOP: No, my point is there has to be a confirmation process. So it is not correct to say he's been appointed.

JOURNALIST: I didn't. I said he said he was his nominee.

JULIE BISHOP: Sorry, I thought you said he had been appointed. I am pointing out that he's named as a nominee. He now has to go through a confirmation process, but he's also been the recipient of America-Australia Association Award for his contribution to US-Australian relation in 2012. ExxonMobil has significant investments in Australia in the Gorgan Project and Bass Strait. He's visited Australia a number of times. He's well-known to many Australian business people. He has visited PNG because, of course, ExxonMobil has a significant investment in the LNG, PNG project. So he is a man that is aware of our part of the world. He's obviously highly respected in the corporate world and he must have an extraordinary contact list, I would think, because he's been involved in corporate deals all around the world. As the head of a multinational corporation the size of ExxonMobil he would be well versed in international affairs.

JOURNALIST: The US President-elect Donald Trump has slammed the American intelligence community when it delivered some information that he didn't like about Russian hacking. He slammed Boeing and threatened a government contract when its CEO made the most mild criticism. How will Australia be able to deal honestly and frankly with a leader who is so brittle?

JULIE BISHOP: As we have always dealt with leaders of the United States. The United States is important to us. They are the security guarantor for our region. They are our largest defence partner. They are our largest source of foreign direct investment and second largest trading partner so of course --

JOURNALIST: If I can just interrupt you there, how will you deal with him because he is very different to any leader that we have previously dealt with?

JULIE BISHOP: You work with every leader, whatever their personality whatever their characteristics. It is in Australia's national interests that we work with the leader of the United States because, as I was saying, the United States is so important to us. The United States relationship matters to us and it is very much in our national interest for us to get along with the new president. Currently, he's a President-elect and I don't intend to run a commentary on the different positions that he has been stating because we will wait until the inauguration occurs and then when he has the full executive and constitutional authority as the President, then we will look at what foreign policy positions have been taken and where there are changes.

JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister, thank you very much for your time this evening. We may not see you again before Christmas so thank you for your availability this year and best wishes to you for Christmas and the New Year.

JULIE BISHOP: Thank you, Leigh. Same to you.

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