ABC AM program - interview with Chris Uhlmann

  • Transcript, E&OE

CHRIS UHLMANN Australia's two year membership of the United Nations Security Council will end next month. The bid for the seat at the world's top security table was championed by former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, and opposed by the Coalition. But it's the Abbott Government that's reaped most rewards. The temporary seat has given Australia a key role in the response to the downing of Malaysian flight MH17 and the fight against Islamic State militants. Australia ends its role with a month as Security Council President, and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is in New York to chair the meetings.

Julie Bishop, what's the latest read out on the spread of Islamic State? There are reports that some parts of Libya are now under its control.

JULIE BISHOP There has been talk of some of these terrorist organisation affiliates like al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda, ISIL, or Da'esh and others spreading into other areas. That's why it's so important for us to seek to stop the spread of violent extremism, to destroy and dismantle the organisational structures of these terrorist organisations and yesterday at the Security Council I presided over a Security Council meeting which identified practical ways to starve these terrorist organisations of fighters and funding and any legitimacy and to expose the hateful ideology.

CHRIS UHLMANN There's been a lot of criticism by some pro-Government commentators in Australia about President Obama's speech in Brisbane with his focus on climate change and they see that as a slap at the Prime Minister. Did the Australian Government register its unhappiness in any way to the US?

JULIE BISHOP As a matter of fact, Chris, my office did send a briefing to the White House after President Obama's speech about our commitment and capacity to preserve the Great Barrier Reef, because I had met with the United States Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, in Sydney just a couple of days before President Obama spoke at the University of Queensland. I met her at the World Parks Congress, and I outlined to the US Secretary of the Interior in considerable detail Australia's commitment and capacity to preserve the Great Barrier Reef and I pointed out that we were working with the World Heritage Committee and with UNESCO to ensure that the Barrier Reef remains as healthy and protected as humanly possible. I pointed out that mining and drilling and gas exploration are banned by law from the Great Barrier region and that we had acted to prevent the dumping of capital dredge waste in the marine park. Indeed, Minister Greg Hunt announced that during the World Park Congress, that we will ban that by law.

I also pointed out that the Australian and Queensland governments are investing $180 million a year – or around $2 billion over the next decade – in the Great Barrier Reef itself and the progress that we were making, in fact we have been able to not only halt but reverse the decline in the quality of water entering the Great Barrier Reef which is one of the causes of coral degradation. So, we were very confident that we were more than up for the challenge of preserving and conserving the Great Barrier Reef for generations to come and that was a message that I sent clearly to the US Secretary of the Interior. So we were surprised that it appeared President Obama hadn't been briefed on that, so our office did indeed send him the details of that briefing.

CHRIS UHLMANN Was he not briefed, or did he just ignore the briefing, and was the Government in any way – the Australian Government – embarrassed by that speech?

JULIE BISHOP No, I wasn't embarrassed by the speech, I just felt that the briefing that we had provided to the US Secretary of the Interior was not reflected in President Obama's speech and I thought it was important that he actually had the facts and the details of what we are doing to support the preservation and conservation of the Great Barrier Reef and we are committed to it. Australia knows better than anyone what an iconic environmental treasure the Great Barrier Reef is and that we are doing all we can to ensure that the Great Barrier Reef is preserved and conserved for generations to come.

CHRIS UHLMANN Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, says he's considering pardoning Australian Al-Jazeera journalist, Peter Greste, and his colleagues. Have you got any information on that?

JULIE BISHOP This is certainly what we've been urging upon the Egyptian Government at the very highest levels, continuously calling for Peter Greste to be released so that we can bring him home. I understand that he is having an appeal against his conviction on 1st January next year and it's difficult to predict how long the appeal will take, but we've made it quite clear to the Egyptian Government that whatever the outcome of that appeal, we want Mr Greste to be allowed to return home to his family. And at every level the Egyptian Government has made it clear to us that Mr Greste's case must go through the judicial process before they'll look at a question of a pardon or clemency. So if there are indications from the Egyptian President that he will do that prior to the hearing of the appeal, then we would welcome that and I'll certainly take that up with the Egyptian representative here at the UN.

CHRIS UHLMANN Finally, you're at the end of your first full year in Government. There's a feeling that you've done well on foreign policy but the domestic agenda is bogged down and the Government has lost a lot of skin. Andrew Bolt, the conservative commentator, says the Government has to change or die. Do you agree?

JULIE BISHOP No, I don't agree. I believe that we set out a very ambitious agenda when we came to office. We have met our commitments to stop the boats and stop the deaths at sea through the reinvigoration of the people smuggling trade under the previous Labor government. We have repealed the carbon tax, as we promised the Australian people we would do, and in fact, I am pleased that our Direct Action Plan is very similar to the Direct Action Plan that the United States is embracing to deal with climate change. We have repealed the mining tax, as we promised, and we're seeking to repair the Budget. It's obviously difficult to do that with the Senate in such precarious circumstances in terms of the voting bloc, but we are determined to restore and repair the Budget and we are certainly meeting the challenges that we face domestically and internationally.

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