ABC AM, New York - interview with Michael Brissenden

  • Transcript, E&OE
29 July 2015

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN The United Nations will decide later this week whether it should set up an independent criminal tribunal to prosecute the people who shot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. The plane came down last July over rebel-held East Ukraine during heavy fighting between the Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists. All 298 passengers and crew, including 39 from Australia, on board the flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur were killed. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is in New York to lobby nations to support the motion and I spoke to her a short time ago.

Julie Bishop, you've had a series of meetings today. Are you now hopeful that this motion to establish an international criminal tribunal will get up?

JULIE BISHOP Michael, I am in New York to meet with representatives of the Security Council nations to shore up support for a Security Council resolution to establish a tribunal so that the perpetrators of the downing of MH17 can be held to account. I have to say at the end of my day, I'm optimistic that we have a high level of support but whether one of the permanent five nations will veto the resolution is yet to be seen. I believe we have a significant amount of support. Most nations that I have spoken to understand the need for an independent impartial tribunal and that can be delivered, if the Security Council is able to establish it, but I'm not sure whether we will get all of the 15 members on board. I'm optimistic, but there's always a chance of a veto.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN And Russia is the one that could veto it, isn't it? It's all but certain now that it was Russian-backed separatists who shot the plane down. It's a big call for Vladimir Putin to agree to such international action, isn't it?

JULIE BISHOP Last year Russia backed resolution 2166 which called for a ceasefire between the Russian-backed rebels and Ukraine so that we could access the site to retrieve the bodies and remains. Secondly, it called for investigations into the crash and they have been underway and thirdly, the resolution demanded that those responsible for this atrocity be held to account and that all states cooperate in determining accountability. So we are taking what is the logical third step in what was a unanimous resolution and I did remind the Russian representative today that Russia had backed the ceasefire, the retrieval of the bodies, the investigations, and so of course it was logical that it should back the setting up on the tribunal which would be able to investigate the causes of the crash and to hold those responsible to account.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Right, so you have met with the Russian representative. Did they follow that logic? What was the response?

JULIE BISHOP Russia had many arguments as to why a tribunal should not be set up and a tribunal by the Security Council should not be set up, but I did ask again that he seek instructions from Moscow to not veto the proposed resolution, because I believe we have the requisite number to get the resolution passed subject to a veto.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN So it's fair to say you haven't persuaded them yet?

JULIE BISHOP Well I won't know until we walk into the Security Council. As happened 12 months ago, I couldn't say with any certainty whether we had Russia's support or not and it ended up supporting us, but at this stage, Russia has said that it would veto. But I then had a long conversation with the Ambassador and I asked him to go back to Moscow to seek instructions to not use its veto and that Russia should reserve its veto for matters which really count towards Russia's national interests and this would not serve Russia's national interests in seeking to deny the families of those aboard MH17 justice.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Ok. Can we quickly turn to a couple of other domestic issues – ones that you would have been across – the calls for more women in Parliament? I know that you don't back quotas for the Liberal Party, but what about targets which are being talked about?

JULIE BISHOP Well we certainly do have targets. We look to increase the number of women pre-selected. We believe that democracy will be better served with greater diversity among elected representatives and all political parties, including the Liberal Party, should strive to attract the best possible candidates for election. If we were to reflect the makeup of the Australian community, we would be seeking at least 50 per cent of the Parliament would be made up of women.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Would you like to see that as a target?

JULIE BISHOP Well candidates should be selected on merit but the Liberal Party is mindful of the need to attract a diverse range of candidates, including more women. We've got a strong record of pre-selecting women in Liberal seats as well as in marginal seats and many women have successfully retained their seats. I note that the Labor Party has in the past claimed it embraces affirmative action, but in practice it abandons that affirmative action whenever males, usually a former union boss, claimed a seat that would otherwise be reserved for a woman. So history shows that any quota Labor introduces will be no protection against the will of the unions.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN But some of your female Liberal colleagues, certainly in the last couple of days, have seemed certainly less than happy with the female representation in the Liberal Party, some calling yesterday for targets of around 30 per cent. Do you think that those things should be concrete?

JULIE BISHOP I believe that merit should be the overriding element for pre-selection and election, but of course, we should always strive to increase the level of diversity in the Parliament, not just in relation to women but across the pre-selection and election process and in the case of women, I'm not sure why 30 per cent would be seen as a target; why not aim for 50 per cent if it were to be truly representative? I don't think that setting targets that aren't going to be met is useful. I don't think setting quotas that are abandoned when it doesn't suit male union bosses to take a seat should be necessarily the answer. I think that we all understand that the greater the diversity the stronger our democracy will be. So the Liberal Party is mindful of that, but certainly, as a female Deputy Leader of the Party, I'm very concerned to mentor women who are interested in entering Parliament. I believe very much in formal and informal mentoring programmes and processes and I do my very best to encourage women to enter public office, whether it be at a local, state of federal level.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Ok. Just quickly on the Speaker, Bronwyn Bishop. Is her position now untenable?

JULIE BISHOP I understand that the Department of Finance is carrying out an investigation into a number of the claims that have been made and I think it's appropriate that the Department of Finance be able to continue that investigation and I'll await the outcome of it.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN But if she doesn't produce the paperwork that her travel was approved by the committee, that she says it was, should she resign?

JULIE BISHOP Well this is a matter for the Department of Finance. I'm not going to pre-empt what Speaker Bishop says to the Department of Finance and I'm not going to pre-empt the Department of Finance's inquiries or findings. So, obviously, this matter has a way to run. We are all obliged to comply with the guidelines for our travel allowances and all Members of Parliament have to account for it and so, therefore, the Department of Finance should be allowed to continue its investigation and Speaker Bishop should be given an opportunity to provide whatever information they require.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Ok. Julie Bishop, thanks very much, we'll leave it there.

JULIE BISHOP Thanks, Michael.

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