ABC Insiders - Interview with Barrie Cassidy

  • Transcript, E&OE

BARRIE CASSIDY: Minister, welcome.

JULIE BISHOP: Thank you, Barrie. Goodto be with you.

CASSIDY: When it comes to NorthKorea and when President Trump uses tweets in the way that he does, and he usesprovocative language, is that more of a hindrance than a help?

BISHOP: Barrie, we have to putthis in perspective. North Korea has been carrying out illegal ballistic testsand illegal nuclear missile tests long before President Trump was inaugurated.And the focus has to be on North Korea's behaviour and our focus and ourefforts are in trying to work with our international partners to compel NorthKorea back to the negotiating table and to give up these illegal tests, whichhave the potential to threaten millions of people.

CASSIDY: But even the Secretaryof State Rex Tillerson has said that the conversation has become a littleoverheated and it's time for things to calm down a bit?

BISHOP: Secretary of State RexTillerson is working very hard to find a way to bring North Korea to thenegotiating table. He's been in China meeting with the Chinese to ensure thathe can count on their support to exert maximum diplomatic, political andeconomic pressure on North Korea, and we need the Chinese to do that. So that'shis focus and I think that he made that clear.

CASSIDY: So clearly the Chinesenow are more engaged than they were.

BISHOP: Very much so.

CASSIDY: And is that all comingdown to Rex Tillerson? What is Donald Trump doing? What is he bringing to thetable?

BISHOP: I actually believe thatthe Chinese recalculated their risk when President Trump upped the ante interms of rhetoric and what he said that the United States would do, should theybe threatened by North Korea. And then, instead of it just being, as China hadsaid in the past, a Washington-Pyongyang issue, China now sees that it mustplay a role and I've been pleased to see that China has backed the two UNSecurity Council resolutions imposing the toughest and most comprehensive setof sanctions on North Korea yet and China has been playing a much more centralrole. For example, China's central bank has confirmed that it will uphold thefinancial sanctions and that is the way to get North Korea to the negotiatingtable.

CASSIDY: So are you givingDonald Trump the credit for that?

BISHOP: Well I think Trumpcertainly changed the rhetoric, because prior to that, President Obama had a policyof 'strategic patience'. Clearly, that didn't work because during that period,North Korea tested more missiles, developed its nuclear weapons program to apoint where we fear that North Korea has the capability to attach aminiaturised nuclear weapon to an intercontinental ballistic missile that mayhave the capacity to reach the United States. So it's a changed debate. But Ihave spoken to Secretary Tillerson on a number of occasions about what he'sdoing to open lines of communication with North Korea.

CASSIDY: What does he actuallymean by that. He says that there are lines of communication open to them. Whatare they?

BISHOP: I spoke to him prior togoing over to New York for the UN General Assembly leaders' week and heindicated to me that part of his efforts to bring China into the collectivestrategy to impose economic sanctions on North Korea, he was alsoback-channelling, his word, "back-channelling" North Korea to make itclear that the United States was prepared to talk to them, because the messagesso far have been through the media. You know, Pyongyang news puts out astatement and the President responds, but according to Secretary Tillerson, ashe said to me privately and again during a meeting with him at the UN, he isback-channelling North Korea, meaning he's having communications or gettingcommunications to the North Korean regime.

CASSIDY: So they've had thesense of crisis now for a while, but it's just sounding now like there's a morepositive feeling around it?

BISHOP: I believe that China'sinvolvement is a positive. China has made it quite clear to North Korea throughits imposition of sanctions that it finds its nuclear weapons programsunacceptable. China's support of the UN Security Council resolutions imposing thesetough sanctions is to be applauded. In fact, when you look at the sanctionsthat have been imposed, most of them would apply to China. For example, alljoint ventures with North Korean entities and individuals are prohibited thatwould apply to China. The export of North Korean textiles is prohibited, Chinawould have been the recipient nation. The prohibition of LNG applies to China. Sothey are playing a pretty active role and I think it's changed the calculationin the minds of the North Koreans as well.

CASSIDY: When you say thatsanctions take time to work - how long, and how do you know that they'reworking? What needs to happen?

BISHOP: You'll know thatthey're working when North Korea make it clear that they're prepared to comeback to the negotiating table, and we've seen this pattern in the past. Theyneed time to work because some of them, for example the prohibition on NorthKorean workers being able to work in China and send remittances back to NorthKorea which the regime then use to fund these illegal programs, the sanctionswill allow existing contracts to be completed. So clearly, there might becontracts for a few months or maybe a year and then those workers will not beallowed to work overseas again. Sanctions will allow existing contracts to becompleted. So clearly there might be contracts for a few months or maybe a yearand then those workers will not be allowed to work overseas again. Also oil. Thereduction of oil imports into North Korea will take some time. I'm talkingmonths, in some instances, it might be years. But we'll know they're workingwhen North Korea is deterred from carrying out any more nuclear tests. I mean,the last one was said to be a thermonuclear device. That's pretty serious. Andwe'll also know when North Korea give an indication, hopefully through theseback channels that Secretary Tillerson is talking about, that they will sitdown and negotiate presumably with the United States and China, Japan, SouthKorea and Russia.

CASSIDY: I want to ask you aboutthe Rohingya refugees. The United States ambassador to the UN has called thesanctions of the Myanmar authorities a "brutal and sustained campaign ofethnic cleansing." Is that how we see it as well?

BISHOP: We are deeply disturbedby what's going on in Rakhine state in Myanmar and at the last analysis, webelieve about 500,000 Rohingyas have been displaced from Rakhine state. Theyare seeking sanctuary in Bangladesh. We are providing support to Bangladesh tohelp maintain and provide humanitarian support for these displaced people. ButI made it clear to the Myanmar National Security Advisor when I saw him at theUnited Nations, that this security operation that is going on in Rakhine statebetween the Myanmar army and a Rohingya army must stop, that humanitariansupport must be allowed in and that the Rohingya must be allowed toreturn to Rakhine state. Now, we're working closely with Indonesia, who hastaken a pretty strong leadership role on the humanitarian front, and actually,some of our specialists are embedded with the Indonesian humanitarian team inBangladesh now.

CASSIDY: And if it is ethniccleansing or something like that, then surely that would just lead toradicalisation in such a large Muslim area?

BISHOP: First, Australia hassupported an independent investigation to verify the facts on the ground, aUN-led investigation. And state councillor Aung San Suu Kyi has confirmed thatshe will invite UN representatives and international diplomats into Rakhine statethis Monday. Australia's Ambassador to Myanmar will attend that visit. Butsecondly, you're absolutely right - we are deeply concerned that thepersecution of a significant group of Muslim Rohingyas will be used by ISIS andother terrorist groups as part of their narrative to take up arms and to fightagainst the West. And that's why this Myanmar situation must be resolved.There's got to be a political resolution,but in the meantime, the humanitariandisaster needs our full attention.

CASSIDY: Now to the refugeescloser to home and Peter Dutton said on 2GB - and he's talking here aboutrefugees on Manus Island - he said that a lot of the people have not come fromwar-ravaged areas at all, they're economic refugees. Given that President Trumpalready said that he doesn't like the deal, how is that helpful if the UnitedStates picks up on this and they hear that he's describing them as economicrefugees?

BISHOP: The United Statesagreed to take a number of refugees and that means that they have been assessedby the UN High Commissioner for refugees and found to be genuine refugees. Thatgroup is then assessed by the United States and they have very stringentvetting processes, as we know.

CASSIDY: Which contradicts whatPeter Dutton was saying.

BISHOP: Peter Dutton, Ibelieve, is referring to those who have been found not to be owed protection andthere are a number, a significant number from Iran, in particular, who havebeen found by the UNHCR to be not owed protection. They should go home.

CASSIDY: Well, he also said,though, that some of the people on Nauru he was talking about here, he said,"They leave behind these huge piles of Armani jeans and hand-bags."Surely that builds resentment and not sympathy, and what you want to build in theUnited States is sympathy for these people?

BISHOP: Our focus is very muchis on assisting the United States in any way that we can to keep to their sideof the agreement that the Prime Minister reached with President Obama and hasbeen reaffirmed by President Trump.

CASSIDY: This can't helpful?

BISHOP: Well, our focus is onensuring that the United States can vet as many as we hope that they will, and54 have already left and are part of this agreement with the United States. Sowe are continuing to look for resettlement options. But Barrie, the pointis this. Under Labor's policies, the people smuggling regime flourished andthese people were put on Manus and Nauru by the Labor Party. We now have toresolve this problem and we're looking for third countries for resettlement.The United States is one of them.

CASSIDY: The United States hasnot had an ambassador in Australia for a year now. Is that starting to becomean embarrassment?

BISHOP: There have been periodsin the past where it has taken quite some time for a new administration toappoint ambassadors. We're not the only country that is waiting for a USambassador. In the meantime, the Charge (d'affaires) Jim Caruso is doing agreat job, but we do look forward to a US ambassador as soon as possible, but we'renot the only country waiting for a new ambassador under the TrumpAdministration.

CASSIDY: Just a couple of otherissues. There's the threat of volcanic eruptions in Bali and Vanuatu. What willthe Australian Government do in the event of that happening?

BISHOP: In the case of Vanuatu,we are assisting in the evacuation of 11,000 residents from Ambae Island andworking closely with the Government of Vanuatu and the Governments of NewZealand and France. The three of us are working closely with the Government ofVanuatu. We've sent HMAS Choules, one of our a Navy ships, over to Vanuatu tohelp with the evacuation of 11,000 residents and helping with supplies of foodand shelter and water to assist them. Vanuatu is part of a group of Pacificisland nations that are prone to natural disasters, whether it is earthquakes,cyclones, volcanic activity. So Australia is always standing ready to assist inthe event that this volcano does actually erupt. In the case of Bali, we areupdating our travel advice to advise people that there is volcanic activity.

CASSIDY: There's no travel banat this stage though?

BISHOP: No, not at this stage.The Indonesian Government has made it quite clear that all outdoor activity isbeing ceased, so we're suggesting that people might want to holiday inAustralia at present.

CASSIDY: And just finally,you're being criticised, not for the first time, for going to sporting eventsas taxpayer expense. What's your response to that?

BISHOP: That article is wrongin a number of fundamental respects. It makes a lot of assertions but no facts.

CASSIDY: Where is it wrong?

BISHOP: Well, I'll go intodetail. I didn't fly to Melbourne for the AFL. All of my travel is withinparliamentary entitlements. The AFL is a significant international event and Isupport political leaders, the Prime Minister, Bill Shorten and others,attending the AFL Grand Final to show our support for this game and for theorganisation. And as Foreign Minister, I work very closely with the AFL in ouraid program, bringing AFL sport to the Asia-Pacific. It is part of our aidprogram in the Pacific island nations. I was invited in my official capacity asa partner of the AFL and I was pleased to attend.

CASSIDY: Well, thanks for beinghere in the studio this morning.

BISHOP: Thank you for havingme.

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