ABC AM, Canberra - interview with Michael Brissenden

  • Transcript, E&OE

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Foreign ministers from more than 20 countries have met in Paris to discuss the strategy to combat Islamic State fighters.

Iraq's Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, has called for additional support from the countries in the coalition fighting the militant group.

Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has been at the meeting and I spoke to her a short time ago.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Julie Bishop, what's come out of this meeting?

Essentially, as I understand it, the Iraqi Prime Minister has asked for more help, more weapons and intelligence and accused the West of not doing enough.

JULIE BISHOP: Well it was a very productive meeting here in Paris of the 22 foreign ministers representing the US-led coalition in Iraq.

Prime Minister al-Abadi did speak at length about the challenges they were facing in Iraq seeking to combat Daesh.

There was general agreement on the need to re-affirm support for the leadership of Prime Minister al-Abadi and the Iraqi government, and there was a reaffirmation of the value of the support of the coalition through air strikes and the deployment of hundreds and hundreds of trainers to support the Iraqi security forces.

There was a very detailed discussion about what had happened in Ramadi, and it's evident that Daesh has adopted new and devastating techniques involving trucks packed with explosives.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Was there also a discussion about whether more troops would be needed?

JULIE BISHOP: That was not specifically requested. He was talking about more weapons, more equipment, more resources, more training.

So there was no specific request and there certainly was no request for combat troops on the ground.

I confirmed that we're contributing over 300 personnel to what's called the Building Partner Capacity mission. We have assumed the leadership of this at the Taji Military Complex where we are working alongside New Zealand personnel, and we are in fact the second-largest contributor to the Building Partner Capacity mission after the United States.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: If that request came for more troops would we consider it? And also would we consider changing the role of the troops we have there? Because there has been discussion here about perhaps the need to change from just an advise and assist role to an advise, assist and accompany role.

JULIE BISHOP: There was certainly no request by the Iraqi Prime Minister for us to send combat troops for ground support.

He was very appreciative of the work that we are doing in our training role and building on our active contribution to air operations and the advise and assist mission.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The question is: how would we respond if he did?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, it's hypothetical. He didn't ask for it. This was an opportunity.

I had a bilateral meeting with him prior to the summit and we discussed Australia's role. He was deeply appreciative of it. I told him that we were providing more humanitarian support, a further $8 million in humanitarian assistance, bringing the total of Australia's humanitarian assistance to Iraq over the last 12 months to more than $30 million.

But our focus was on building the capacity and the capability of the Iraqi security forces. He clearly wants all forces in Iraq to be under the command of the Iraqi Government, and therefore the role of Australia and advising and assisting in training was the focus of our discussions.

The Prime Minister didn't ask for more troops; nor did I offer them.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Okay, can we turn quickly to domestic issues and particularly the leak that came out of Cabinet.

Now, you've already denied that the leak has come from you. But it would seem to indicate a lack of unity in Cabinet, wouldn't it?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, it absolutely did not come from me and the media, the press gallery know that.

I mean, they obviously know who provided the detail of the conversation out of Cabinet. It was not me, and that was the point I was making in all of the press conferences I was giving where I have been asked this.

But it does show that somebody - or more than one person, I don't know - was obviously dissatisfied with the discussion and thought that it would be useful to raise it with the media. I disagree with that. This was the kind of discussion that should have been confidential to the Cabinet.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: What do you think the Prime Minister means by "personal and professional ramifications" if more leaks continue?

JULIE BISHOP: Well you'd have to ask the Prime Minister. We didn't have that discussion. I mean the Prime Minister hasn't spoken to me about the Cabinet meeting. He knows I didn't leak the original story so we haven't had a discussion about what he meant by that, but presumably if he is able to determine who was the source of the leak then he will take some action. I haven't discussed that with him.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Leaks have come before this from this Cabinet, haven't they, particularly those that appeared to have come from the Prime Minister's Office direct to News Limited.

How does Cabinet feel about those leaks?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, I don't think this is the first Cabinet in the history of Australian politics to have had leaks - but this was particularly disappointing because it went into such detail.

So I just hope that there are not any more and that people realise the seriousness of the effect that this can have on the Coalition on the morale of the backbench.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Exactly, what was surprising about it was the detail of the leak. And there is a sense from reading it that some felt as though they'd been ambushed with this whole citizenship idea.

Is that a correct reading?

JULIE BISHOP: Look I'm a member of the National Security Committee. We had been discussing this for quite some time, ever since we received a briefing on the phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters emerging in Australia.

And I raised no concerns about the issue in the Cabinet, I've been misreported in that sense, because I'm a member of the National Security Committee and I abide by the recommendations of that committee.

But we have a discussion paper. That is what is important, is a discussion paper so that the Australian people can have a say, and I think everybody in Cabinet agrees, and most certainly the Party Room agrees, that we should proceed with this discussion paper because the issues of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship are timely.

And at a time when we are battling this phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters, people who are leaving this country and effectively taking up with a terrorist organisation that has declared it believes there should be attacks on Australia and Australians, this raises very serious issues.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: So the position that you were reported to take in the meeting was that you thought that the stripping of citizenship specifically for those who are solely Australia nationals was unworkable.

Is that not your position, and if not, what is your position?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, I'm not going into the detail of what I said at the Cabinet meeting. I'm just pointing out that the reporting of the conversations is not necessarily accurate.

But my position is that there are a number of legal consequences that have to be worked through. That is why there should be a public discussion about this.

There are examples from other countries, including United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, other countries are looking at this issue of citizenship.

It is a serious matter and deserves serious public consideration and I support that position.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: And that's the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop there.

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