ABC AM, Canberra - interview with Michael Brissenden

  • Transcript, E&OE

MICHAELBRISSENDENA short time ago Ispoke to the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

JulieBishop, welcome to the program.

JULIEBISHOPThank you Michael.

MICHAELBRISSENDENLast week it was fromthe Prime Minister if you want to stop the deaths you have to stop the boats.Now we are talking about lifting our intake. Was the Prime Minister too slow inrecalibrating his response to the Syrian crisis?

JULIEBISHOPThe Prime Minister wanted to ensure that Australia'sresponse was part of an international effort and that is why we sent ourImmigration Minister Peter Dutton to Paris and Geneva to meet with the UnitedNations High Commissioner for Refugees Guterres, as he has done overnight, andthen today he is meeting with other officials from the UNHCR and theInternational Organisation for Migration. We work in partnership with these twoorganisations and so we will be part of an international response to thisunfolding crisis.

MICHAELBRISSENDENYou are shifting onthis though because previously, a couple of days ago it was, we will acceptmore Syrians but we won't increase our overall intake. Is there a suggestionnow that you are going to increase the intake?

JULIEBISHOPWe are going to take advice from Peter Dutton as to theoutcome of his discussions. Now that he is in Geneva, well he is in Paris onhis way to Geneva, he is discussing this with those on the ground, I am makingcontact with my counterpart foreign ministers not only in Europe, but also inthe Gulf countries and Persian Gulf, surrounding countries Lebanon, Jordan,Turkey who are bearing the brunt of those leaving Syria. We will be in aposition to make a considered judgment on this and we are also focussing ontaking a permanent resettlement of people not just safe haven, although that isan option. Some people are fleeing Syria but are looking to return when the conflictis over or when it is safe for them to do so. Many of those in camps arelooking to return. So in the case of Australia it might be an option to do someKosovo-style model where we take people temporarily until such time as theconflict is over and they return, but otherwise we would be looking atpermanent humanitarian refugee resettlement.

MICHAELBRISSENDENThe situation isquite different isn't it?

JULIEBISHOPVery different.

MICHAELBRISSENDENIn the Kosovosituation it was pretty clear that within a short period of time those peoplewould have a safe haven, back at home, to return to. It is not really clear nowhow long this is going to take.

JULIEBISHOPIn the case of Kosovo it was a matter of years. In thecase of Syria the conflict is so complex. There is a process underway to obtainsome kind of political solution, the Geneva Communique of 2012, which Australiasupports, which is about putting in place a transnational government post-Assadbut this has not made as much progress as we'd like. The conflict has becomeeven more complicated by the rise of these terrorist organisations who areattacking civilians and attacking the Assad regime. So it is a multi-layeredconflict here and it will require a military as well as a political solution.

MICHAELBRISSENDENNow, Labor has calledfor an increase of 10,000 – the Greens are saying 20,000, clearly there is aCabinet process to go over this and you will make a decision about that but doyou accept that if you lift the Syrian intake but you don't lift the overallintake than we are going to be denying safe haven to a lot of other people?

JULIEBISHOPWell that is precisely why Peter Dutton is in Paris andGeneva at present to discuss the international response, to ensure thatAustralia is part of it and we will be having more discussions about thiswithin our leadership group, within the National Security Committee and also inCabinet because we have to ensure that we have facilities in place forpermanent resettlement. They need health care and education services,accommodation. Australia does resettlement very well but that is because weplan it and we ensure that we have the services available to resettle people. Temporarysafe haven is a different option but it is something I believe we shouldconsider.

MICHAELBRISSENDENSure, but only a fewmonths ago we saw a similar migration crisis unfolding in our own region withBangladesh and Rohingya migrants all at sea. A terrible humanitarian crisis andthe answer at that point was "nope, nope, nope". What is the difference?

JULIEBISHOPThis is a humanitarian crisis of an unprecedented scale.There are displaced people leaving countries all over the world all of thetime. What we did was dismantle the people smuggling trade so that the peoplecoming to Australia were not the choice of the people smugglers. We took backcontrol of our borders so that the Australian Government makes the decision asto who we will resettle here and that has been a very important change in ourapproach to it. We now have the flexibility to take more people through ourrefugee, humanitarian process. We have more capacity to take people in othervisa categories. So the Government must have control of the immigration systemand not sub-contract it out to people smugglers.

MICHAELBRISSENDENSome are alreadyarguing that we should give priority to Syrian Christians and I note that youare talking about focussing to a certain degree on persecuted minorities.Presumably that is mostly Syrian Christians?

JULIEBISHOPI think that Christian minorities are being persecuted inSyria and even if the conflict were overthey would still be persecutedand so I believe there will be a focus on ensuring we can get access to thosepersecuted ethic and religious minorities who will have no home to return toeven when the conflict is over. So that includes Maronites, it includesYazidis, there are Druze, there are a whole range of ethnic and religiousminorities that make up the populations in both Syria and Iraq and we will befocussing our attention particularly on the families who are in the refugeecamps along the borders of Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

MICHAELBRISSENDENOkay, also on Syria.We are expecting an announcement on whether we are going to extend our missionthere and start bombing in Syria – is that inevitable?

JULIEBISHOPWe believe that we need to end this conflict in Syria.That is why so many people are leaving Syria. There is a massive conflict – acivil war – going on inside the country.

MICHAELBRISSENDENBut isn't there aninconsistency there that we are…?

JULIEBISHOPNo, not at all.

MICHAELBRISSENDEN…dropping bombs onthem and giving them refuge?

JULIEBISHOPNo, no we are not dropping bombs on civilians. We aretargeting the terrorist organisations; its military bases, its supply lines andthis is the organisation that is carrying out horrific attacks against civilianpopulations and so if we are able to defeat the terrorist organisation, thatstops the terrorist organisation attacking civilians. So we have to go to theroot cause of the conflict. There is a political solution with the Assadregime, a military solution with the terrorist organisation.

MICHAELBRISSENDENSo that is themission is it? It is an attack on IS only?

JULIEBISHOPAbsolutely. That is all we have been asked to do and thatis all we would consider.

MICHAELBRISSENDENWhat is the exitstrategy? When is the mission over?

JULIEBISHOPWhen the terrorist organisation is prevented fromcarrying out attacks on the civilian populations in Syria and Iraq. And I notethat Great Britain took part in airstrikes last night, the Canadians are takingpart and Australians will give due consideration to the request because we arepart of the air strikes over Iraq.

I aminformed that we are making progress, that we have dismantled a number of theterrorist strongholds in Iraq and we will try and do that in succeeding effortsover the next few weeks but also we have been asked to look at air strikes overSyria targeting ISIL or Da'esh military bases from where they are launchingattacks on Iraqi civilians.

MICHAELBRISSENDENOkay, just quickly,of course, as we all know this week marks two years of the Abbott Government –your Government. Polls have been consistent now for many, many months that youare behind the Opposition and you are stuck there, yet the Prime Ministeryesterday said he has a plan and he is going to stick with it. It doesn't seemto be working, does it?

JULIEBISHOPHis plan is to grow the Australian economy, to providemore job opportunities to the Australian people, to ensure that Australia is anattractive destination for foreign investment so that we can build some ofthese massive mining and resource projects…

MICHAELBRISSENDENIf you stick withthis plan and the polls don't shift then there is not much future for theGovernment is there?

JULIEBISHOPWell governments have to make hard decisions and we aredoing what we can to build the Australian economy to be as resilient aspossible, economic security and national security are our main priorities. Thatis why we are so keen to conclude the China Free Trade Agreement because thatis undoubtedly the source of more Australian jobs and greater growth in oureconomy. This is the contrast, Labor is opposing a Free Trade Agreement,opposing more Australian jobs – we are for the Australian worker, for morejobs.

MICHAELBRISSENDENAnd you are confidentyou can turn those polls around?

JULIEBISHOPWell we will certainly be doing everything we can to winthe trust and confidence of the Australian people in the lead up to theelection.

MICHAELBRISSENDENJulie Bishop, thankyou for joining us.


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