ABC AM, interview with Sabra Lane

  • Transcript, E&OE
23 February 2017

JOURNALIST: The Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is in Washington, meeting senior members of the Trump administration as the two nations smooth out the rough start of that infamous phone call between the President and Prime Minister. She's also asked the White House for clarity on questions that defence and national security analysts have been pondering: what would a successful defeat of Islamic State look like, and when will allies regard the job as finished? I spoke with Ms Bishop earlier. Julie Bishop, thank you for talking to AM.

JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.

JOURNALIST: The Trump Administration's relationship with Australia got off to a rocky start with that phone call between Mr Trump and the Prime Minister. How would you characterise the relationship now?

JULIE BISHOP: It is clear that there is enormous goodwill towards Australia. I have had two very constructive meetings with Vice President Pence and with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and we had very positive, warm, engaging discussions about how Australia and the US can work together to meet the challenges and opportunities that we face.

JOURNALIST: Have you repaired, have you smoothed over the bumps?

JULIE BISHOP: I don't believe the relationship needed repairing. It is a strong and deep bilateral relationship. It has been for many decades and whomever is in the White House and whomever is in government in Australia, the relationship always continues to deepen and strengthen. And I found in Vice President Pence and in Secretary Tillerson two people that I believe that we can work very effectively with to meet the challenges, embrace the opportunities that our region, indeed our globe, present.

JOURNALIST: You've just met with Mr Tillerson, what priorities have you highlighted with him?

JULIE BISHOP: We discussed counter-terrorism and the work that we have been doing and will continue to do together to defeat terrorist organisations such as ISIS from carrying out their horrific attacks and their claims of land in Iraq and Syria. The President has a review underway into the strategy to defeat ISIS and we certainly gave our thoughts and perspectives and ideas. We also focussed on the returning foreign fighters, those who have been in Iraq or Syria and because of the military gains being made there, are likely to seek to return home including to our part of the world, and we discussed some of our efforts in countering violent extremism more broadly. We also discussed North Korea's recent belligerent behaviour and its latest ballistic missile tests, and what we can do to bring North Korea to the negotiating table. And we discussed some of the other issues in our regions and globally, so it was a very broad-ranging and lengthy discussion.

JOURNALIST: You've said that you would like the Administration to take on Australia's views as it considers how to accelerate the allied fight against Islamic State. What is the overriding concern for Australia that you want the United States to hear?

JULIE BISHOP: We need to determine what will be a successful end to the mission in Iraq and Syria and we need to have clarified what we will consider to be a successful defeat of ISIS. So we are talking in terms of Australia's contribution over many years. So we have a particular perspective and insight that we wanted to share with the new Administration.

JOURNALIST: And what does Australia think that a successful end might look like?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, these are the discussions that I was having with Secretary Tillerson as part of the input that we wish to make for the United States review of the situation in Syria and Iraq, in terms of defeating ISIS. So I won't go into the specific strategic details, that would be unwise, but we certainly discussed in detail our thinking and our experience over the past number of years.

JOURNALIST: But you are also expecting to see more foreign fighters attempt to return to Australia this year?

JULIE BISHOP: Well that is likely to be the consequence of military success in Iraq, for example the retaking of Mosul will mean that a number of foreign terrorist fighters will seek to flee from Iraq and the expectation is that a number of them will seek to return home to South East Asia and Australia, and we need to be prepared for that.

JOURNALIST: The initial source of annoyance for the Trump Administration was this refugee deal that it has with Australia. What further progress have you been able to make on settling asylum seekers from Nauru and Manus Island?

JULIE BISHOP: That matter is being dealt with at officials' level and the agreement is progressing.

JOURNALIST: The Vice President Mike Pence will visit Australia later this year, have you extended an invite to Mr Trump as well?

JULIE BISHOP: I haven't met with Mr Trump, I met with Vice President Pence and with Secretary Tillerson. I certainly invited Vice President Pence to visit Australia as soon as possible. I think it is important that senior figures from the new Administration be present in our region, and that was an invitation that was gladly accepted. And I also spoke to Secretary Tillerson about our annual Australia-US Ministerial Meeting, it's called AUSMIN – it is Australia's turn to host it and I extended an invitation to Secretary Tillerson, and I know that Marise Payne, our Defence Minister, has extended an invitation to her counterpart, Secretary Mattis.

JOURNALIST: Just to our region – the United States has a carrier group that is now patrolling the South China Sea. China is conducting now so-called counterattack exercise there. How worried are you that there might be a miscommunication and a mishap in that territory?

JULIE BISHOP: We certainly support countries carrying out freedom of overflight and freedom of navigation exercises in accordance with international law. That is what Australia does and other countries can do that. But we urge all parties to exercise restraint and to de-escalate tensions and I believe both the United States and China are aware of the need to deal with this matter as constructively as possible. That is the impression I have gained from my meetings with Foreign Minister Wang Yi and also with Secretary Tillerson.

JOURNALIST: The US posture there has certainly changed, and recently when Mr Tillerson appeared at his confirmation hearing he said that Beijing would be denied, or should be denied access to the buildings it is constructing there. He has walked that language back. Are you urging them to walk it back even further?

JULIE BISHOP: We have urged all parties consistently over months and years now to de-escalate tensions in the South China Sea. Australia's position has been clear and consistent, both privately and publicly.

JOURNALIST: Given Greg Norman's hand in putting the government in touch with Donald Trump, some consider he is the second ambassador to the US. Are you paying a visit while you are there?

JULIE BISHOP: No I am not. I am here to meet with members of the Administration. I met with members of the intelligence community, I have spoken to congressmen and women, and getting to know the new faces here in the Administration in Washington. This is one of our most important relationships. The United States is our most important security and defence partner. It is our largest foreign direct investor, our second largest trading partner and so it is important for me and for my colleagues to meet with their counterparts as soon as possible, and that is what I am doing here. And Ambassador Hockey is doing a very good job, as our Ambassador here in Washington.

JOURNALIST: Minister, thanks for your time this morning.

JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure Sabra.

- Ends -

Media enquiries