ABC AM - Interview with Kim Landers

  • Transcript, E&OE
21 December 2016

KIM LANDERS: Minister, good morning.

JULIE BISHOP: Good morning, good to be with you.

KIM LANDERS: Germany had been on high alert, it had stepped up security at these famous Christmas markets and yet this still happened. Do we need to accept that security and intelligence has its limits when it comes to preventing these types of attacks?

JULIE BISHOP: I don't believe any government can guarantee that no attack will take place on its soil, but the Australian Government has done all that we possibly can to provide the resources and the power to our intelligence, security, and law enforcement agencies to keep Australians as safe as possible.

KIM LANDERS: What information are you getting about the motivation for this attack?

JULIE BISHOP: At this point the shocking incident has the hallmarks of a terrorist attack, there is a suggestion that the Islamic State has claimed responsibility – this is breaking news – but that's yet to be confirmed by the German authorities. So the motive behind the attack is still unknown, but as the German authorities have indicated, it does appear to have the hallmarks of a terrorist attack although it could be just a copycat attack after the events in Nice where a similar incident took place. So the motive behind it is not yet known.

KIM LANDERS: As you'd be aware, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been under a lot of political pressure for allowing hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers into the country this year; her critics have called that a security threat. What's your assessment?

JULIE BISHOP: The concern of course is the unregulated movement of people. European countries had open borders for many years, which meant that people could move across state borders without there being any need for identification checks. This of course isn't the case in Australia where we have a universal visa system; people must have travel papers to get into this country. So we have much stronger regulation of the movement of people.

KIM LANDERS: After the Nice attack in July the Prime Minister asked Australia's counter terrorism coordinator Greg Moriarty to take a look at how to better protect open areas with large numbers of people in them. What's he found and how does that apply to things like Christmas Eve carols and New Year's Eve here in Australia?

JULIE BISHOP: As a result of some of these attacks in Europe the Prime Minister did ask for our security and intelligence and federal police to re-assess the situation in Australia – which they do on a continuous basis – and how to work more effectively across state borders so that each state and territory police force and the federal police, are working in close cooperation. So we have been continually assessing our preparedness for this type of attack. The Australian Federal Police and our security and law enforcement agencies have thwarted around 11 potential terrorist attacks in the last two or so years. So while we do all we can to keep Australians safe we can't guarantee that people who want to harm others and cause fear and disruption to our life will effectively carry out such an attack.

KIM LANDERS: If I could turn to the assassination of Russia's ambassador to Turkey, are you relieved that it did not stop the Foreign Ministers from Russia, Turkey, and Iran meeting in an attempt to broker a Syrian peace deal?

JULIE BISHOP: I certainly welcome the fact that the Russian and Turkish authorities have vowed to continue to work together and indeed, President Putin and President Erdogan both issued statements that they would continue to work together to find a solution in Syria. The Foreign Ministers meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Turkey, Russia, and Iran is to proceed and the Turkish President has promised a joint Russian-Turkish committee to investigate the assassination of the Russian ambassador so there is a high level of cooperation between Turkey and Russia and I certainly welcome that.

KIM LANDERS: Has the Russian Embassy here in Australia sought assurances about the protection for their diplomatic staff?

JULIE BISHOP: We offer that assurance and we've certainly offered it to Russia. We take great care to ensure that diplomats in Australia are the subject of protection. The whole point of ambassadors is to represent their country overseas. Diplomats have special protections because of the important role they play in representing their country and Australia certainly does all it can to ensure other countries that their diplomats will be as safe as possible in Australia. But the targeting and assassination of Russian Ambassador Karlov was an attempt to further de-stabilise an already volatile region. The apparent motive was to disrupt the relations between Russia and Turkey so it was an appalling and deplorable attack on the Russian Ambassador.

KIM LANDERS: The gunman in this attack called out: don't forget Aleppo, don't forget Syria. What sort of future do you think Syria has if President Bashar al-Assad remains in power?

JULIE BISHOP: At one point in this long running bloody conflict there was a view that Assad must go before there could be any discussion of peace and a political solution. That was not my view. My view is that, as deplorable as Assad might be as a leader, inevitably there had to be a transition period where the Assad regime would have to be part of that process, and I believe that that is now the accepted view. Indeed Foreign Minister Lavrov from Russia has acknowledged that to demand that Assad must go will not lead to an immediate political solution. There's an acceptance that a military solution won't work because while ever one side believes it can defeat the other side militarily, the conflict will continue. So I hope that now that the United Nations has passed a resolution to monitor the evacuation of Aleppo, that we will be able to see some attempt to broker a peace deal, a permanent ceasefire, and a political solution; invariably that will involve President Assad at some point in that process.

KIM LANDERS: Minister, thank you very much for speaking with AM.

JULIE BISHOP: It's been my pleasure, thank you.

KIM LANDERS: The Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

Media enquiries