ABC AM Program, Canberra - Interview with Michael Brissenden

  • Transcript, E&OE
25 May 2015

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Julie Bishop is the Foreign Minister – she joins me now in our Canberra studio. Good morning, Minister.

JULIE BISHOP Good morning Michael.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Reports this morning that Ministers will be given discretion to strip dual nationals involved in extremist activities of their citizenship. There are also suggestions that you're considering an option to strip second generation Australians of their citizenship. Is any of that true?

JULIE BISHOP We are certainly looking at all options available to us to prevent the flow of Australian citizens to Syria and Iraq and taking up arms with one of the most brutal terrorist organisations the world has ever seen known as Da'esh. I have just returned from South East Asia and Asia and it is a huge concern in those countries as well. Indeed, it was news in South Korea that a South Korean has now joined ISIL or Daesh in Syria. So, this is not an issue that just Australia is grappling with. About 90 countries around the world now claim that their citizens are amongst those fighting with Daesh in Syria and Iraq. A number of countries are looking at stripping citizenship from their citizens and Australia is certainly looking at that very closely.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Who else? Does anyone else actually do it?

JULIE BISHOP The United Kingdom has done it. Canada and the US are considering it. In fact, the United Kingdom has denied citizenship on over 20 occasions in recent times. So, we are looking at this very closely. It is a matter that our National Security Committee has been considering. I have the authority to cancel or suspend passports or refuse to issue passports and I have done that on a number of occasions as well, to prevent Australians being caught up in a brutal, violent conflict in Syria and Iraq and those Australian who do go over to fight with Da'esh, are not only putting their own lives in mortal danger, but they are adding to the misery and suffering of the people of Syria and Iraq.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN This idea has been talked about, though, for some time, hasn't it? I think it was first raised in January last year, so it has taken a long time?

JULIE BISHOP It is a very significant issue to take away citizenship and we don't do these things lightly, but we are taking advice from our intelligence, security and law enforcement agencies. The number of Australians seeking to go overseas is not declining, so we have to take every step we can to keep Australians safe here at home and also prevent them taking part in a bloody conflict overseas.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN And this week you are announcing the appointment of a counter-terrorism coordinator, you are also announcing as far as we understand a minister with special responsible for counter-terrorism, Michael Keenan, the Justice Minister. Is that correct?

JULIE BISHOP The Prime Minister will be making an announcement later this morning. He will be holding a press conference, but as has been reported in the media this morning, we will be appointing former ambassador to Indonesia Greg Moriarty as the coordinator for counter-terrorism to ensure we have a whole-of-government approach. We have a number of security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies and Greg Moriarty's role will be to coordinate all the efforts across Government and report to the Prime Minister.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN And you need a minister – a special minister – for counter-terrorism?

JULIE BISHOP Absolutely. Michael Keenan is to be the minister assisting the Prime Minister on counter-terrorism. Again, there are many different departments, many different agencies and we want to ensure that there is a completely coordinated approach and that nothing slips through the cracks. History shows that where there is a lack of coordination between agencies, information flows, then that can cause concerns and issues and we want to make sure that we do everything possible to keep Australians safe from a terrorist attack at home, and prevent Australians taking part in terrorist activities overseas.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Last week, as we just heard, we saw IS advance in both Iraq and Syria. The fight against them doesn't seem to be working too well at the moment, does it?

JULIE BISHOP It is early days. This is a fight that will go on for some time. Indeed, we are also fighting an ideology.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Sorry to interrupt you, but we were told last week, or recently, that they were on the run, that they had trouble getting arms, that it just doesn't seem that that is the reality?

JULIE BISHOP Michael, you are aware that in any conflict there are times when the progress is going well, there are setbacks. Obviously Ramadi was a setback, but we are with the Iraqi government, working with the Iraqi government to build up the capacity of their own security forces so that the Iraqi security forces can take back the territory that Da'esh has claimed and protect their own citizens. We have to work with the Iraqi government because only they can take control of their country. That's why we have about 300 defence forces over there, New Zealand is with us about 100, we have been taking part in the air strikes, assisting in the air strikes, and we are not the only country there. There are about 30 other countries assisting the Iraqi government, to ensure it can build the capacity of its defence forces that have been depleted so dramatically over the past few years.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN But we are training the Iraqi forces. We have been doing that for some time and as you heard US defence secretary saying that they…

JULIE BISHOP That's not right, we've just started. Australia and New Zealand have just begun.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Ok, but the coalition has been involved in training Iraq forces for some time?

JULIE BISHOP I'm not an expert on how long it takes to train an Iraqi security force, but I understand that this is going to be a long-term effort, and ISIS is incredibly well funded, through black market trades, through illicit flows of funds, they have thousands of people joining them from all over the world. So we have to do all we can to stem the flow of foreign fighters and illicit funds to ISIS. There will be times when they will make ground, but we are determined to ensure that the Iraqi people control their own destiny, and this is one of the most complicated, sophisticated, dangerous, global terrorist organisations that we've ever seen and it requires a global effort to defeat it.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN What about in Syria, because now ISIS, they now control almost half or just more than half of the Syrian territory. There has been a lot of criticism of the Obama administration's strategy in Syria, calls for that strategy to be changed. What do you think of it? Do you think that he should change the tactics?

JULIE BISHOP Well Australia is focusing on our effort. We have been invited in by the Iraqi government; we haven't been invited in by the Syrian regime. We have been invited in by the Iraqi government to support the Iraqi security forces, so that's what we are doing. The United States is carrying out a different operation in Syria and that is a matter for the US.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Doesn't seem to be working there, either, does it?

JULIE BISHOP Michael, it is early days. We are dealing with an organisation that has tentacles throughout the Middle East, an organisation that is receiving an extraordinary amount of money through illicit trades. We have to do what we can. The United Nations is seized of this matter, the Security Council have passed resolutions calling on countries to prevent fighters and funds going to Da'esh, and Australia is playing its part, a proportionate role. The United States, as the major superpower, the military superpower in the world, is also taking this matter exceedingly seriously. In fact next week I have been invited to a ministerial level meeting in Paris called by Secretary Kerry. Sixteen countries have been invited to focus specifically on what more we can do to prevent ISIL from spreading – I call it ISIL or Da'esh – spreading beyond Syria and Iraq. It has to be contained and it has to be defeated and a number of countries in the Middle East are now taking this seriously as one of the most major threats that the Middle East faces.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Can I just ask you quickly about the other big item on your agenda this week, that is the regional framework to address the people smuggling issue. Now, the PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill has joined calls from Indonesia for Australia not to sit on the sidelines on this issue, he says we must do more to address the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar. It is a complex problem obviously, but is "nope, nope, nope" the right answer?

JULIE BISHOP It is an exceedingly complex problem that has been many years in the making. The Rohingyas have been leaving Myanmar claiming persecution for many years. I recall in 2013 when then Foreign Minister Bob Carr said that the problem lies within Myanmar and it must mean changes of policies within Myanmar so that the Rohingyas don't leave, and it was Labor's policy at the time that Australia would not accept Rohingyas who were seeking to leave Myanmar because it was up to other countries to put pressure on Myanmar to stop the persecution or the ill-treatment of Rohingyas. And I agree with that Labor policy from 2013. That's why Australia has been providing humanitarian support. I announced another $6 million...

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN But you cut money to Myanmar in the Budget?

JULIE BISHOP This is now $18 million in additional funding to Myanmar.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN But you did cut $28 million, didn't you, in the Budget?

JULIE BISHOP We had to cut the Budget because Labor left us with a huge hole in our Budget, so we had to find savings across the board. I was not pleased that Labor didn't put through $5 billion worth of its own savings because that meant a cut in the aid budget. But what I have done is provided specific humanitarian relief to Myanmar. We are also one of the largest funders of the International Organisation for Migration in Indonesia. We are funding the resettlement of those who are found to be refugees throughout South East Asia, including in Indonesia, and Australia is doing more than its fair share in trying to find a regional settlement for this issue.

But at the end of the day the focus must be on Burma, on the Burmese Government, to stop people being persecuted or having their human rights abused in Myanmar. That's why the Indonesian Foreign Minister has travelled to Myanmar, that's why the Malaysian Foreign Minister is there, and that's why the 10 ASEAN countries are holding a meeting to discuss this issue and why Australia will be represented in Thailand on 29 May at a regional conference to discuss...

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Ok, but doesn't our position, the "nope, nope, nope" statement for instance, it does suggest that we have washed our hands of this issue and does that in turn affect our ability to participate in the discussion?

JULIE BISHOP Not at all. Michael, we have one of the most generous refugee and humanitarian resettlement programs in the world, and we hope that other countries in South East Asia and Asia will also take their fair share of people found to be refugees and that is why the Cambodian agreement is so important. Cambodia has said that yes they will take genuine refugees to help build their skilled workforce and their capacity to develop as a country and I'm hoping that other countries in South East Asia, the growing dynamic economies of South East Asia, will also take their fair share of refugees.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Julie Bishop, thank you very much for joining us.

JULIE BISHOP My pleasure.

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