ABC AM, interview with Michael Brissenden

  • Transcript, E&OE

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has travelled to the Philippines where representatives from more than 20 countries will meet for the APEC Summit today. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is arriving later today where he'll hold his first formal one-on-one meeting with US President Barack Obama since becoming Prime Minster. For more, Julie Bishop joins me live on the line from Manila.

Foreign Minister good morning.

JULIE BISHOP Good morning Michael.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Singapore has already expressed its concerns about foreign fighters travelling from places like Indonesia and Malaysia to the Middle East and then returning to the region. Surely counter-terrorism talks will dominate APEC now, as they did at the G20, won't they?

JULIE BISHOP I have been in Manila for 24 hours now and although this is an economic, investment trading forum, of course the issue of regional and international security dominates talks. And while not as part of the formal agenda, most certainly the discussions on the sidelines and bilateral discussions between foreign ministers has been dominated by the Paris attacks and the response to them.

I anticipate when the leaders arrive for the leaders' portion of APEC that there will be significant discussions around the issue of counter terrorism.

The issue of foreign terrorists' fighters coming from and returning to this region have dominated our discussions with our partners over the last 12 months or more, and it's most certainly been a subject of significant discussions with Indonesia - that every level of government, our security, law enforcement and ministerial discussions have focused on this for some time now.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN So we can expect certainly it's going to dominate the talks between Malcolm Turnbull and Barack Obama as well. What do you expect to come out of that?

JULIE BISHOP It has already been a significant point of discussion at the G20 Meeting. Very strong statements on combating terrorism were made at the G20. So I anticipate that similar statements will be made here in Manila for the APEC Forum.

The Prime Minister is arriving this afternoon and will be meeting with President Obama early afternoon and I expect that the attacks in Paris, the European response, the international effort underway to end the conflict in Syria and Iraq and to deprive Da'esh of an operating base from which to launch attacks, will be a pivotal part of the discussions.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN What more could Australia be doing? We've seen France intensifying bombing of Islamic State targets in Syria in response. Should we be stepping up our efforts as well?

JULIE BISHOP Australia is already making a significant contribution to the international effort to combat Da'esh. We are the second largest military contributor to the US-led Coalition efforts in Iraq.

We train the Iraqi Security Forces as part of our mission, we are also taking part in air strikes, our air task group is operating as part of the broader Coalition and we are continuing air strikes against Da'esh targets in Iraq and Syria. We have about 780 defence personnel deployed to the Middle East at this time.

We haven't been asked to change our contribution but we'll obviously continue to talk to the Government of Iraq and our Coalition partners, regarding the effectiveness of the military campaign against Da'esh.

There will also need to be a political solution. It is clear that military options won't resolve the conflict in Syria in the short term, so it is vital that a political solution be found. And we will speak to President Obama about the negotiations that are underway between US, Russia and others to find a way to end the Syrian conflict. Because now terrorism is spreading its tentacles into France, Lebanon, Turkey and beyond.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN I'm sure you would have seen the comments from Tony Abbott today saying that Australia should do more militarily. Do you agree and what do you think of that intervention?

JULIE BISHOP Australia does not act unilaterally. We are part of the US-led Coalition. It has to be a coordinated measured, calculated effort. There has to be a sharing of the tasks in our mission to disrupt and ultimately destroy Da'esh and its leadership and bases.

So we are a part of a Coalition, we have to have a legal basis for being in Iraq and Syria - as we do. We are in Iraq at the invitation of and with the consent of the Iraqi Government so any increased effort would have to be with the consent of the Iraqi Government.

In the case of Syria, our mission is defined as being pursuant to article 51 of the UN Charter, that is the collective self-defence of Iraq and we are able to launch air strikes in Syria against the bases from which Da'esh is launching its attacks against Iraq. So it's a very defined mission pursuant to international law and as part of a US-led Coalition.

We will continue to talk to other governments, talk to our Coalition partners and consider our future contributions in the light of those discussions.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN So making a unilateral decision to put more special forces on the ground is not something we'd do?

JULIE BISHOP Our former Prime Minister Tony Abbott appreciates that you can't unilaterally go into Iraq in these circumstances. There's an elected government there, we've been invited in with their consent. We are working with the Iraq Government. This is not a situation like Iraq under Saddam Hussein. This is an elected government, we are working closely with them. Likewise in Syria we are working as part of the US-led coalition.

The positive news though is the United States and Russia are talking about forming a single coalition to focus the collective efforts against Da'esh and that's the path that we wish to pursue. That is a huge international effort to work collaboratively against the terrorist organisation, and that is the focus that we should all have at this stage.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN The US and Russia, as you mentioned, are now talking about a Syrian-led and Syrian owned political transition. What would a political solution in Syria look like and does it include Bashar al Assad?

JULIE BISHOP Well all options should be on the table if we are to have any hope of negotiating an end to the Syrian conflict.

This has been Australia's position for some time. I have said at meetings of the Coalition in Paris and in the United Nations during the leaders week that we need to consider all options in order to form a transitional government - that will mean transitioning from the Assad regime, which has inflicted horrific attacks on the Syrian people, to some kind of unitary national government and obviously the details are yet to be nutted out between those who are negotiating this transition and ceasefire. Australia's point is all relevant stake holders should be there and all options should be on the table.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Okay Julie Bishop we'll leave it there. Thanks very much for joining us.


MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Foreign Minister Julie Bishop there.

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