ABC AM Program, Sydney - interview with Michael Brissenden

  • Transcript, E&OE

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Prime Minister Tony Abbott has arrived in London ahead of intelligence and security briefings on Iraq. The deteriorating situation in Iraq will also be high on the agenda at AUSMIN where Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is leading the talks. I spoke to Julie Bishop earlier this morning.

Julie Bishop, we already have an agreement to allow the US to deploy 2500 marines in the north. Is this meeting likely to result in even more military cooperation and an even bigger US military presence here?

JULIE BISHOP No, what this meeting is expected to achieve is the signature of a legally binding agreement which will cover the full implementation of the United StatesForce Posture initiatives in Australia. So, while it's a new phase of bilateral cooperation, this is in fact the conclusion of negotiations announced by Prime Minister Abbott and President Obama recently in Washington.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN And what about in the future? I mean, are you discussing the possibility of increased involvement or increased access to Australian facilities?

JULIE BISHOP The specific agreement is the natural evolution of our longstanding alliance with the United States. It's aimed at supporting the long-term peace and stability and prosperity of our region – the Indian Ocean Asia Pacific – and it will provide a framework for the implementation of these Force Posture initiatives that were originally announced in 2011.

What we're doing today is looking at how we can work together, where our interests align with the United States so this AUSMIN meeting is an annual opportunity to do that. We look at our bilateral cooperation under the Alliance, we look at our engagement in the Indian Ocean Asia Pacific, where we can strengthen regional architecture, the meetings like the East Asia Summit and also globally - where we have shared objectives. So, it's an opportunity to discuss our shared perspectives and approaches on major foreign policy and strategic developments.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN It's a significant level of cooperation though, isn't it, the deployment of the marines and the extra military cooperation? How much of all of this is designed to check the rise of Chinese military power in the region?

JULIE BISHOP Well that's not what it's directed to do at all. It's about working closely with the United States to ensure that we can work on regional peace and security and the United States is rebalancing to the Asia Pacific, so it's ways that we can work together to support economic development as well as security and peace.

We're focussing on things like the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, working through the G20 structure to ensure that we can get some tangible outcomes there. So it's about enhancing regional peace and security, and our alliance with the United States is at the very heart of Australia's foreign and security policy. I don't think there's any more important security partner for Australia.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN On Iraq, what's your view of what's unfolding there at the moment? The President's moved against the Prime Minister and asked the Deputy Speaker to take over.

JULIE BISHOP We've been urging the government of Iraq, for some time, to bring together an inclusive administration to take into consideration the concerns of the Sunni community who have felt alienated by the Maliki government.

Political instability is the last thing Iraq needs at present given that it's under siege from ISIL terrorists, so we urge the government to act quickly to bring stability to Iraq and form a representative government.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN There has been some criticism of Nouri al-Maliki in the past. Is this a welcome development then?

JULIE BISHOP Well, we want to ensure that the humanitarian crisis in Iraq is alleviated – that's our focus at present. We certainly welcome President Obama's commitment to conduct targeted military strikes against ISIL to relieve pressure on the communities that are in imminent danger and to assist in making humanitarian air drops. We believe that political instability is not helping the situation in any way, so we need to see some stability brought to the political environment in Iraq so that they can focus on the terrorist infiltration of ISIL.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN The Defence Minister, David Johnston, said yesterday that Australia would be open to providing military backup to the US and Iraq if requested. Is that a blank cheque in a sense, for that to happen?

JULIE BISHOP Well not at all. There's been no further request for assistance. There is a humanitarian disaster unfolding in Northern Iraq and we support the actions the United States is taking in response, including targeted air strikes. We've been asked to participate in the humanitarian air drop supplies alongside the United States and the United Kingdom and that's our priority, that's our focus.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Could we see Australian troops back in Iraq?

JULIE BISHOP I don't envisage that. There's been no request for it. We've been asked to support the humanitarian response and that's what we're doing.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN One big concern for both countries of course, both Australia and the US, is the radicalisation of our own citizens who participate in the fighting in that part of the world. Yesterday we saw those disturbing pictures of a young boy holding up a severed head. The father of that boy is the man who left Australia on his brother's passport. How did his children get there and what will happen to them if they do come back?

JULIE BISHOP The family are clearly overseas and I have cancelled the passport. If they return to Australia, obviously we will take all of this into account in terms of the legal action that we can take- if they return to Australia. But this imagery, it's shocking and it underlines what we've been saying about this threat to Australia and Australians from violent extremism.

It's in Syria and in Iraq, but I've been speaking to the representatives of a number of nations recently at the East Asia Summit and at the ASEAN Regional Forum and this issue of foreign fighters and citizens fighting and training with extremist groups is an issue across South East Asia and beyond.

Countries including in Europe, in South East Asia, in North Asia, are concerned about citizens, including dual citizens in a number of instances, fighting overseas in Iraq, in Syria and other conflicts, returning home as hardened home grown terrorists, extremists capable of carrying out terrorist activity in our own countries.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Julie Bishop, thank you very much for your time.

JULIE BISHOP It's been my pleasure.

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