ABC Insiders - Interview with Barrie Cassidy

  • Transcript, E&OE

JOURNALIST: Now we'll go to our program guest this morning and it is the Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop. Good morning and welcome.

JULIE BISHOP: Good morning Barrie.

JOURNALIST: So intelligent, strong, smart, a leader with talent. That's the way the country sees you. You've almost got an obligation to be leader one day?

JULIE BISHOP: I understand that this is a poll commissioned by the Labor Party and it is certainly for the Labor Party. It's clearly just mischief making, Labor being cheeky, and I think we should dismiss it and then move on to some more important topics.

JOURNALIST: You've so long been type cast as the Deputy, because you've been Deputy for so long. Have you got ambitions to lead one day?

JULIE BISHOP: I have stood for election as Deputy Leader of the Party and our Party has elected me on a number of occasions, and so I will continue as Deputy as long as my Party elects me as Deputy. I'm committed to working with Malcolm Turnbull and I agree absolutely with Barnaby Joyce that Malcolm Turnbull is the Leader of our Party and will lead us to the next election, and I look forward to working with him as the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party.

JOURNALIST: Alright, on this issue that we raised earlier on Nauru and the fact that the Americans seem to have left early. They were due to go on July 26 but they left on Friday. Have you any concerns on what's going on there?

JULIE BISHOP: I understand that the matter is progressing as we expected. The United States is upholding the agreement. We have been given assurances by both President Trump and Vice President Pence and others, that the agreement will be adhered to. The United States, like Australia, has a quota each year for its refugee intake – I understand that the quota has been fulfilled for this year, it kicks over again on October 1 – but I have no doubt that this agreement is progressing, as the relevant US authority confirmed this morning.

JOURNALIST: But the fact, though, and according to this report this morning, only 10 percent of those on Manus Island have been processed. Does that suggest at the very least that there's some sort of go-slow going on?

JULIE BISHOP: I don't believe that to be the case, but it's part of their process of vetting, as we have a similar progress. They have a quota each year and the quota will roll over again on October 1 as I said, and I expect that the United States will adhere to this agreement, as the President promised the United States would.

JOURNALIST: And Richard Marles, of course, said that you've got all your eggs in one basket. Is that a fair characterisation?

JULIE BISHOP: Any criticism from Labor on the question of border protection and refugees and resettlement is quite frankly laughable. It is because of Labor's weak border protection laws that we have this situation of offshore detention and a number of people who have been in detention for some time. But of course we're working with other countries to find resettlement options. Australia is one of the most generous countries in the world. Since the Second World War we have permanently resettled about 865,000 people. That puts us in the same category as the United States, Canada and others. So we work with other countries to seek to resettle genuine refugees and that's what we're doing.

JOURNALIST: OK three years tomorrow since the MH17 Malaysian Airlines flight was shot down over Ukraine. Will anybody ever be brought to justice over this?

JULIE BISHOP: Three years ago, when we learned the terrible news that 298 people had been killed when Malaysian Airlines MH17 had been shot down, the Australian Government vowed that we would not only denounce and condemn the shooting down of the plane, but that we would hold those responsible to account. We gained access to the site you will recall, we recovered the bodies and the remains and we brought the remains home to the families of the 38 Australians, either citizens or residents, and we vowed that we would continue to pursue those responsible. There has been an investigation under way since that time. Australia has been one of five members of the Joint Investigation Team. We have now confirmed that we will back a Dutch national prosecution, which will be an independent, fair and transparent prosecution. We will work as hard as we can to support the Dutch and Ukraine because they've entered into a treaty with the Netherlands so that the full criminal jurisdiction of Ukraine has been transferred to the Netherlands. We will work as hard as we can to ensure that the families of those who were killed do receive justice and can have some closure after this atrocity that occurred three years ago.

JOURNALIST: So all of that is happening but you're able to say to the families that you're confident that those who were responsible will be brought to account?

JULIE BISHOP: I am confident that we will do all we can to bring those responsible to account. We have pursued every legal avenue; we believe that we have the best possible option available to us. You will recall that we did seek to set up an international tribunal, but that was blocked in the UN Security Council by Russia. We urge Russia to abide by UN Security Council resolution 2166 – that's the one that Australia authored and drove just a couple of days after July 17, 2014 – and that calls on all states to cooperate to ensure that those responsible for the killing of 298 people aboard a commercial aircraft shot down over Eastern Ukraine are brought to justice. We will ensure that happens, we'll do all we can. It may be that there will have be a trial in absentia. There have been reports that some of the witnesses have been detained in Russia. Well, I certainly urge Russia to comply with the Security Council resolution and do all it can to help bring these people to account.

JOURNALIST: Alright, from Russia to China now and I want to ask you about Liu Xiaobo. He died in custody in China, he was the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, of course. What does it say that he would die in custody just for advocating democracy? What does that say about China and its regime?

JULIE BISHOP: We have been deeply concerned ever since he was detained. He was a Nobel Peace Prize winner, he had been a long-time peaceful advocate for greater freedom and for democracy in China. These are basic human desires, they are irresistible, in the words of Liu Xiaobo – I remember he said that on CNN in about 2009, and I agree. The desire for greater freedom, the desire to have a say in who governs you are irresistible human desires and that's all that Xiaobo was doing. So his death is very sad. We call upon the Chinese government to lift any travel restrictions on his wife and to release her from house detention. We have raised this issue with the Chinese Government on many occasions since 2009. He has now died and we urge the Chinese to release his wife so that she is free to travel.

JOURNALIST: Because there is a feeling around that the Chinese get off fairly lightly with people who deal with them on trade and diplomatically. That their authoritarian system is rarely criticised.

JULIE BISHOP: We have a Ministerial-level Human Rights Dialogue with China, so we have an opportunity to make our concerns known directly with the Chinese officials, and I certainly raise our concerns on every Ministerial meeting that I have with my Chinese counterpart.

JOURNALIST: We might soon have a louder voice on these sorts of matters too. It seems as if France is out of the race for a spot on the UN Human Rights Council. Where does that leave Australia? Have we got a much better chance now?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, there are now only two competitors for two spots. Before France pulled out, we had France and Spain to contend with. I have been personally delighted with the level of support that Australia has received from around the world for our bid to serve on the UN Human Rights Council. We were encouraged to run by like-minded countries who see Australia as an open, free, tolerant country committed to democratic values, committed to the rule of law, committed to the international rules-based order. So it is important for countries like Australia to seek to serve on the Human Rights Council, and we intend to bring the same pragmatic and principled approach that we bring to international engagement. There's been significant support for us, there still has to be a vote in October, but at this stage, the two vacancies should be filled by Australia and Spain, and I hope that we can serve with distinction.

JOURNALIST: What sort of approach would we take though? Would we simply react to crisis as they occur or be more proactive?

JULIE BISHOP: Australia has demonstrated that when we do have an opportunity to serve on these important councils within the UN, we are very proactive. Our period on the UN Security Council in 2013-2014 demonstrated that Australia is prepared to initiate action, to initiate resolutions and to work hard. We certainly will have a very vocal voice on the issue of human rights, and we'll bring to it the pragmatic, principled approach that we bring to all our international relations and engagements.

JOURNALIST: And how does Manus Island and Nauru sit with a country who sits on an international human rights council?

JULIE BISHOP: We certainly work with the Government of PNG and the Government of Nauru to ensure that people who have been detained because they paid people smugglers to try to come to Australia, that they have the basic freedoms, they have the fundamental services and support that one would expect from a country like PNG, with the support of Australia, and likewise with Nauru. The UNHRC has a continuing oversight, the Australian Government has continuing oversight with what the specific governments are doing. But this is as a result of a breakdown, a failure in our border protection laws by the previous Labor Government that saw thousands of people die on their way to Australia, having paid people smugglers. We must have an orderly border protection system, an orderly migration system, and we can take refugees for resettlement if they apply in the appropriate and orderly and relevant and legal way.

JOURNALIST: Now, you're off to India tomorrow. What's the next step in that relationship?

JULIE BISHOP: I will be meeting with my counterpart, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, to talk about our deepening regional engagement, defence and security issues. I'll also be meeting with Prime Minister Modi and following up on his very successful meeting with Prime Minister Turnbull. We are pursuing a comprehensive economic trade agreement, a trade agreement that will benefit both Australia and India. India is one of the fastest growing major economies in the world with annual growth of over 7 percent, so there are enormous opportunities for exporters, small, medium and large, to do more business with India. India is also committed to training 400 million Indian citizens, and given that we have about 60,000 Indian students in Australia, I'm hoping that we'll be able to increase that number and be part of supporting India's ambition to train 400 million people by 2022.

JOURNALIST: We're running out of time. Just on domestic politics briefly, Barnaby Joyce says he's frustrated with the Liberal Party and the constant infighting. He says that the government is becoming a philosopher's club. Is he entitled to be frustrated?

JULIE BISHOP: I don't agree with his description of it. I can understand that it is frustrating when there's a focus on internal Liberal matters when, of course, we should be focusing on the legislation that we're getting through the Senate, the policies that we're implementing. I'm very proud to be part of a Turnbull Government that's implemented the industrial relations reforms, putting law and order back on the construction sites around Australia, the work that we've done on citizenship laws, the work that we've done on tax reform and lowering corporate tax rates, the work that we've done on sex offenders and taking passports away from Australians who would take part in the sex tourism trade with children in our part of the world. I mean we are getting on with some very significant reforms, and I agree with Barnaby Joyce, that's what we should be focusing on.

JOURNALIST: He also said that some of the infighting will only be driving people to One Nation. Is he right about that as well?

JULIE BISHOP: I can't understand why people would, from our own side, criticise the Government's performance, because all it is doing is driving people to Bill Shorten, in fact, and if Bill Shorten, by accident becomes prime minister of this country, I think it would be very dangerous. He's a paid-up member of the union movement, he's utterly beholden to the union bosses of the calibre of John Setka and the like, and I think that it would be very dangerous for Australia for Bill Shorten to become prime minister of this country because some think that it is better to criticise the Government from our own side.

JOURNALIST: OK last question. Donald Trump was in Paris this week, he met the French President's wife, Brigette Macron, and he said, "You're in such good shape, such good physical shape, beautiful". If he said that to you, would you be flattered or offended?

JULIE BISHOP: I'd be taken aback, I think. It's a rather interesting comment to make. I wonder if she could say the same of him?

JOURNALIST: Do you find it a bit condescending then, in other words?

JULIE BISHOP: I'm not going to run a commentary on President Trump's conversations with the French President about the French President's wife. Likewise, I don't run a commentary on his Twitter account. What I focus on is the relationship between the United States and Australia and how it benefits both our nations for us to have one of the closest connections that two countries can have in defence, security and trade.

JOURNALIST: Thanks for your time this morning. Appreciate it.

JULIE BISHOP: It's been my pleasure.

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