ABC AM Program, Adelaide - interview with Simon Santow

  • Transcript, E&OE

SIMON SANTOW The Foreign Minister joins me now. Julie Bishop, good morning.

JULIE BISHOP Good morning Simon.

SIMON SANTOW Julie Bishop, what is Australia offering?

JULIE BISHOP Prime Minister Abbott spoke to President Widodo yesterday and said that an RAAF P3 Orion aircraft was on standby should it be needed.

We understand that the search and rescue operation has been undertaken in the first instance by Indonesia. Singapore has provided support in the form of aircraft and ships I understand, and Malaysia has also offered support, as has India and other countries in the region.

So Australia and other countries are standing by should our assistance be required, but at this point we haven't been requested to provide that.

SIMON SANTOW What are your diplomats saying about the latest information; what are they telling you?

JULIE BISHOP Well we understand that the search and rescue operation will commence again this morning. There have been issues with weather, it was called off overnight when it was getting dark and we understand that the weather was having an impact.

Our focus has been in the first instance to determine whether there were any Australians on board and we understand there were not and we are also seeking to check the manifest to see if there were any dual nationals or permanent residents and we understand there are not, but there may be some linkages with Australia so we're working that through.

SIMON SANTOW Will Australian officials be involved in the investigation into what's gone wrong or the ATSB (Australian Transport Safety Bureau) for example?

JULIE BISHOP Well under international laws that would be a matter for Indonesia because the plane was still under Indonesian air traffic control and presumably they would conduct the investigation but of course Australia as a country in the region, would be prepared to assist should our expertise be called upon.

I made that clear to Foreign Minister Marsudi when I spoke to her yesterday that we would stand ready to provide whatever assistance they require, as other countries in the region do for Australia if we have a natural disaster, countries in the region are quick to support us.

I also contacted the foreign ministers of South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia because they also had citizens on board the plane and likewise offered support or assistance if it were required.

SIMON SANTOW Minister to turn to another matter, it was only about a week ago that the Prime Minister warned of increased "chatter" amongst terrorist sympathisers following the Martin Place siege, but there wasn't a specific plot, and he made that clear.

Has the National Security Committee of Cabinet received any further briefings since then?

JULIE BISHOP We've not met since that last meeting. The Prime Minister spoke on the eve of further raids which were carried out by the Australian Federal Police and the New South Wales Police and of course we remain alert to any form of attack by anyone who would seek to do harm to Australia or Australian citizens.

SIMON SANTOW Are you at all worried about New Year's Eve and other significant events where large crowds gather?

JULIE BISHOP This has been a concern for some time and that's why we have increased our support for our security and law enforcement agencies so that they are able to have greater resources to deal with situations like Christmas, New Year's Eve, some of these events where there is a concern that large crowds gather, and I have full confidence in our law enforcement agencies to do whatever they can to ensure people are safe on New Year's Eve and at other times.

SIMON SANTOW I understand that it's one thing to be prepared but what can really be achieved by warning Australian of when there is no specific threat.

JULIE BISHOP Well if people see something that they're concerned about, if they pick up conversations, if they're aware of certain matters that they think should be brought to the attention of authorities, we certainly encourage that.

SIMON SANTOW Alright, turning to Afghanistan and overnight NATO and the US officially marked the end of the war in Afghanistan; it goes down as the longest I think in American history. Is it really over?

JULIE BISHOP Australia will continue to have a military presence in Afghanistan for some time; we're providing assistance for the Afghan defence forces; that's been our aim for some time, to build capacity within the country so that the Afghan Government can take control of the security and defence of their own territory and their own citizens. So Australia will continue to assist in that role for a little while yet.

SIMON SANTOW Are you confident that the Afghan security forces can handle the ongoing threat posed by the Taliban?

JULIE BISHOP It is a challenge for any security force or defence force; we've seen some extraordinarily brutal acts by the Taliban; we know that terrorist organisations are operating in this region, and, of course any security force or defence force would find this a challenge.

But we have been providing as much assistance and training as we have been able over recent years, to build up the Afghan defence force and their police and security agencies, to ensure that they are as well-resourced as they can be and as well trained as they can be to take on these threats, but it's not confined to Afghanistan. It's also an issue in Pakistan. And of course we see the Iraq Government having to build up its resources to be able to take the fight up to ISIL, the terrorist organisation that's operating within Iraq and Syria. And, again Australia is taking a role in Iraq. Our defence forces are over there now trying to provide that assistance in terms of training and advice that is so needed, so that their defence forces are in the best position possible to take back territory from ISIL and protect their citizens.

SIMON SANTOW I just want to turn, Minister, lastly to Peter Greste, it's an issue that many Australians have been most concerned about. He and his colleagues were imprisoned in Egypt and, as you know. And last week you were hopeful that he'd be released before Christmas.

Has there been any update on that situation?

JULIE BISHOP I was hopeful that he would be released before the appeal, but Foreign Minister Shoukry, whom I have been dealing with on a constant basis over this issue, has said to me as recently as a week ago that the legal proceedings had to run their course; that means the appeal, which is listed to commence on the first of January.

Then we had indications that the President would exercise his authority regarding a pardon or a clemency plea in advance of the appeal. So we're continuing to pursue this issue through every avenue available to us: political, legal, administrative, bureaucratic.

We're dealing with different departments, different ministries - the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of the Interior. So we remain deeply engaged and I know our consular officials, our Ambassador, are in constant contact at every level they are able within the Egyptian Government.

We're doing what we can to bring Peter Greste home as soon as possible and I remain hopeful that we can get that message through to the Egyptian Government, that we want him home and yet in the meantime the foreign minister has said to me that we have to await the appeal. So there are different messages coming from different sections of the Egyptian Government.

SIMON SANTOW Indeed, it's seemed like a very long year. Julie Bishop, Foreign Minister thank you very much for joining me on AM.

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

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