ABC, AM Program - interview with Chris Uhlmann

  • Transcript

CHRIS UHLMANN: Julie Bishop is the Australian Foreign Minister, welcome to AM.

JULIE BISHOP: Good morning.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Julie Bishop, what do you make of the Iraqi Government's call that the United States provide air support in its battle with ISIS?

JULIE BISHOP: It would appear that the Iraqi Government feels that its security forces may not be able to repel the ISIL terrorist group as effectively as they had hoped and they are seeking support because, as you know, up until now the Iraqi Government has insisted that it could handle it and was not seeking outside support.

There was a call for national unity yesterday by Prime Minister Maliki. He held a meeting of the various leadership including Sunni leadership and that is a positive sign. I understand the United States though is still considering this request for air support.

In the meantime I have had a briefing from our Ambassador in Baghdad. She assures me that Baghdad is still safe, the situation is tense but stable and the government is still saying that it will hold Baghdad.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Now, has any request at all apart from humanitarian assistance come to Australia?

JULIE BISHOP: No, no request has come either from the Iraqi Government or from the United States. But in the area of humanitarian assistance, I have announced today that Australia will provide $5 million in humanitarian assistance to the UNHCR - the Commissioner for Refugees and the World Food Programme so that we can get humanitarian assistance into northern Iraq.

This isn't as a request from the Iraqi Government, but the UN and World Food organisation and others are looking for support for basic medical aid, humanitarian assistance, water, food, tents, hygiene kits and the like.

CHRIS UHLMANN: How many Australians do you believe are fighting with the Sunni militants?

JULIE BISHOP: I had an intelligence briefing from our agencies this morning, and our best estimate is that there are about 150 Australians...

CHRIS UHLMANN: Which is extraordinary?

JULIE BISHOP: It is extraordinary. There are about 150 Australians who have been or are still fighting with opposition groups in Syria and beyond. In Syria, it seems that over a period of time, they have moved from supporting the more moderate opposition groups to the more extreme, and that includes this brutal extremist group ISIS.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Apart from the damage that they're now doing in Iraq do they pose a clear and present danger to Australia should they return?

JULIE BISHOP: Of course. We are deeply concerned about Australians, including dual nationals, who are supporting or working with or actually fighting with this extremist group. These are brutal people. The executions and the killings and their boasting of it on social media makes this a particularly virulent form of terrorism and these people are so extreme that Al-Qaeda is even distancing itself from them.

Now, we are concerned that Australians are working with them, becoming radicalised, learning the terrorist trade and if they come back to Australia of course it poses a security threat. We're doing what we can to identify them. I have cancelled a number of passports on the advice of our intelligence agencies and we work with our partner intelligence agencies in the region to ensure that we can prevent this becoming a security threat.

CHRIS UHLMANN: One last point on this, while people are looking at supporting the government of Nouri al-Maliki, why would anyone do that when he has largely invited a Sunni rebellion by running an appalling sectarian regime?

JULIE BISHOP: It is the only government in place in Iraq at present.

CHRIS UHLMANN: It's hardly a good one though isn't it?

JULIE BISHOP: It's not a good one and the problems between the Sunnis and the Shias are exacerbated by his manner of excluding them from the government. He is now calling for national unity but that's a start. We need to see a political solution because a military solution could be catastrophic.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Could you clarify something for us? How does the Australian Government see East Jerusalem, is it occupied or disputed?

JULIE BISHOP: The Coalition has never disputed the historical fact that in 1967 Israel occupied East Jerusalem.

CHRIS UHLMANN: It has been occupied since then?

JULIE BISHOP: That's why we supported UN resolution 242 and we've never walked away from that. What this whole debate is about is our belief that we should refer to it by its geographical name, that is "East Jerusalem" and that a bipartisan position. Bob Carr, Stephen Smith, Kevin Rudd referred to it as "East Jerusalem". So does the Coalition Government.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Why even open this debate? Haven't you brought yourself a world of trouble over one word?

JULIE BISHOP: Chris, you should've followed the Senate Estimates debate. This came from the Green Lee Rhiannon who insisted on calling East Jerusalem the proper noun 'Occupied East Jerusalem' – nobody calls it that, but she insisted that that was the name of that geographic part of Jerusalem. So hence Labor jumped on it and others jumped on this and of course we have never walked away from our absolute commitment to a two-state solution. There has been no change in Australian Government policy.

CHRIS UHLMANN: But a large part of the Middle East has jumped on this. And now today you're going to have to explain this again to a delegation of ambassadors?

JULIE BISHOP: I'm sure that the ambassadors will want to continue the very strong relationship that we have with their countries. And I will assure them that there has been no change in Australian Government policy. We remain committed to a two-state solution where the Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace behind internationally recognised and defined boundaries.

CHRIS UHLMANN: The Australian Managing Director of the Arab Bank Joseph Rizk says because of this in the medium term, it will affect trade with that part of the world?

JULIE BISHOP: That's not my understanding of the situation and what I'm doing today is reassuring the Ambassadors of the Arab world that we remain committed to that two-state solution. And of course we are a reliable trading partner with that part of the world and we'll continue to be so.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Julie Bishop we will have to leave it there. Thank you.

JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.

CHRIS UHLMANN: And Julie Bishop is of course Australia's Foreign Minister.

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