ABC Drive - interview with Linda Mottram

  • Transcript, E&OE
14 March 2018

JOURNALIST: The Foreign Minister Julie Bishop joins me. Minister, thank you very much for your time today.

JULIE BISHOP: Good afternoon.

JOURNALIST: Why, in your view, was Rex Tillerson sacked after just 14 months?

JULIE BISHOP: That's a matter for the US Administration to explain. From Australia's perspective, we worked very productively with Rex Tillerson. I thank him for his friendship and for his partnership with Australia over many months in relation to many issues, but I do look forward to working with Mike Pompeo whom I met in Washington last September.

JOURNALIST: You've had more than a dozen formal meetings with Rex Tillerson at our count and lots more informal contacts, phone calls in that 14 months -

JULIE BISHOP: That's right.

JOURNALIST: How much of a loss is such a vital contact in which you've invested in so much?

JULIE BISHOP: All Secretaries of State are friends of Australia in my experience. I have worked with a number now, with Senator John Kerry when he was Secretary of State, and now with Rex Tillerson. We will have a seamless transition to the next Secretary of State in Mike Pompeo. Fortunately, we already know him, he knows Australia well, he's worked with us in a range of matters including in military terms, because he served in the US Defence Force, but also in his time as a Congressman from Kansas and now as Director of the CIA. We have deep connections within the White House Administration. Whomever is in the Lodge, whomever is in the White House, the Australian-US relationship continues to deepen and broaden.

JOURNALIST: The reporting has put Rex Tillerson at odds with his President on quite a few key issues, most recently in particular over the Iran nuclear deal, do you expect that the US President will now get his way and walk away from the Iran nuclear deal?

JULIE BISHOP: It's too early to say what stance the Secretary of State designate Mike Pompeo will make in relation to these matters. Australia will continue to advocate our interests and of course, our interests are well served by having a very close and strong relationship with the United States as a defence and strategic ally but also one of our most important trading partner, in fact, our second largest trading partner and the largest source of foreign direct investment. We have a very close relationship with the United States and we will continue to work with them on common challenges in our region and globally and specifically on issues we already have underway, for example, our work in the coalition to defeat terrorism, in Iraq, Syria and our work together in Afghanistan.

JOURNALIST: Why do you think you were alerted just before Rex Tillerson, or around the same time Rex Tillerson was, what was the motivation for telling you?

JULIE BISHOP: It was a confidential advice very late last night from my contacts from within the Administration and I understand this was about the same time that President Trump announced the change on Twitter. It reflects the deep connections that we have within the United States. I've been in New York recently, I visit Washington often, and last year we hosted Secretary of State Tillerson and Secretary of Defence Mattis here in Sydney. The connections are very deep. Our Embassy in Washington was likewise informed of the change and I'm sure that other close friends and allies were also informed.

JOURNALIST: Speaking of Mike Pompeo, who of course as you've mentioned, will replace Rex Tillerson, particularly ahead of the US-North Korea leaders meeting that's planned, what do you expect of him on that?

JULIE BISHOP: To date, the Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, has implemented a maximum pressure campaign against North Korea, in other words, to maintain pressure on North Korea diplomatically, politically, economically with a view to bringing North Korea back to the negotiating table. We now see that President Trump is planning to meet with North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un. This maximum pressure campaign is working and I expect that it will continue whenever there is an illegal nuclear weapons program undertaken by North Korea in defiance of numerous UN Security Council resolutions. I expect that the US will continue that campaign until we have a de-nuclearized Korean Peninsula and North Korea abides by the international rules based order, in particular the UN Security Council resolutions.

JOURNALIST: Just on the other big international of these last couple of days, the poisoning of the former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK, and Britain's deadline for Russia to explain or face consequences. Australia's High Commissioner Alexander Downer tweeted from London earlier today "Deadline passes: Australia backs Britain", how will Australia show that backing for Britain in practical terms?

JULIE BISHOP: I have already said that Australia backs the United Kingdom's desire to have a full and thorough investigation into this incident. We backed the calls that the United Kingdom made that Russia must explain the circumstances of this incident. We understand that the substance used in this attempted murder was a military grade nerve gas developed by Russia. If Russia was not involved, how is it that this chemical agent was able to be used on the streets of London if it is in fact meant to be part of Russia's military stockpile? Russia has answers it must give.

Tonight at a meeting of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons - Australia is a member of that organisation - we will state our deep concern over this concerning and disturbing incident. We'll be represented by our Ambassador to Brussels Brett Mason and he will make the point, on Australia's behalf, that we rely on rules based institutions like the UN Security Council and this Organisation for the Prohibition for Chemical Weapons, to serve the peace and security interests of all countries, not just the most powerful. We rely on countries from the least powerful to the most powerful to abide by international rules against the use of chemical weapons. I believe that the international community must demonstrate zero tolerance for, and a firm commitment to deter, any future acts of this nature. Chemical weapons should not be used by anyone, anywhere, at any time.

JOURNALIST: Do you see any way in which Russia can explain this away? Or do you think that sanctions of some form are now inevitable?

JULIE BISHOP: Britain has called upon Russia to explain whether they were involved in the attack and if not, how did a military grade product find its way into the hands of others -

JOURNALIST: But how much time, sorry, how much time can Russia be given to explain?

JULIE BISHOP: That's a matter for the United Kingdom because they are carrying out the investigation. We understand that the UK is seeking an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council and we would certainly back that. We already have sanctions on Russia in relation to a number of issues so we will consider any further response depending upon the conclusions of the investigation, or indeed, if the UN Security Council were to take action.

JOURNALIST: Okay. Julie Bishop Foreign Minister, thank you very much for your time today.

JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.

Media enquiries