ABC Insiders - Interview with Barrie Cassidy

  • Transcript, E&OE
02 October 2016

JOURNALIST: Julie Bishop, good morning, welcome.

JULIE BISHOP: Good morning, thank you.

JOURNALIST: The Courier Mail headline on Friday read "ISIS almost killed me". The story pointed out that Wyatt Roy came under fire from ISIS. Now he came under fire from you as it turned out, you're clearly not impressed?

JULIE BISHOP: Mr Roy travelled to Iraq as a private citizen. He was not there in any official capacity; he was not there for work purposes. He was essentially a tourist and by travelling to northern Iraq - it is one of the most dangerous hot spots on earth - he put himself at a very high risk of injury or death or capture by this terrorist organisation ISIL. And we know what this organisation has done to those that it captures. And I think there would have been a very significant and justifiable public outcry if Australian Government resources had to be diverted from the fight against ISIL in Iraq to rescue or evacuate Wyatt Roy because he was in such a dangerous situation.

JOURNALIST: And given that until very recently he was a Member of Parliament, what sort of a message does that send more broadly?

JULIE BISHOP: I have been consistently warning Australians not to travel to Syria and Iraq. Indeed, there are parts of both countries that are out of bounds for Australian citizens, it's an offence to travel there. And I do not want to encourage any thrill seekers to go over to Iraq and Syria and observe what is going on. This is a war. There is a conflict of mammoth proportions in both Syria and Iraq and our formal official government advice is do not travel there.

JOURNALIST: Is that what he was? A thrill seeker?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, I'm yet to understand the justification for him going to the northern part of Iraq, to the front line of the war between ISIL and the Peshmerga.

JOURNALIST: Alright, let's talk about the MH17 safety investigation, the Safety Board investigation. The interim report shows that the missile launcher was brought in from Russia and returned to Russia the next day. You now have that information, you have it confirmed and on the record, what should happen next?

JULIE BISHOP: The Joint Investigation Team is made up of investigators from Australia, Malaysia, Ukraine, Belgium and the Netherlands, and this is a very meticulous and thorough investigation. The Dutch Safety Board did the first part of inspecting the plane to confirm that it wasn't an internal combustion, that it was actually an external impact. Now the Joint Investigation Team has confirmed that it was shot down by a Russian missile that came in from Russia to eastern Ukraine, to the Russian-backed separatist area and that's where the plane was brought down. The next step is to identify those responsible, the chain of command within the Russian military and all those who were involved in making the decision and actually operating that missile. That is under way and I expect that by the end of the year, maybe early next year, the list of those that we believe should be held accountable will be confirmed and then there must be a prosecution. I met…

JOURNALIST: Because they say, don't they, that there are 100 people that might have been in some way involved and they know their names…

JULIE BISHOP: That's right.

JOURNALIST: And they know their nationality but they can't do anything about that just yet?

JULIE BISHOP: Well at this point we're calling on Russia to cooperate, to ensure that it provides all assistance possible to the Joint Investigation Team so that those responsible are held to account. Now the next step is to determine the prosecution method and I had a meeting in New York with the foreign ministers of the countries involved in the Joint Investigation Team. There are a number of options available to us. I wouldn't rule out going back to the United Nations Security Council for backing, but Russia has indicated that it will veto attempts to do that.

JOURNALIST: They will, won't they? They will just veto it again?

JULIE BISHOP: I believe that we can assume they will but I don't rule it out - but there are other options. There can be a Lockerbie-style prosecution, a tribunal that's set up by the international community or there can be domestic prosecutions in, say, the Netherland. And as long as they had the powers of extradition and the like, a prosecution could be mounted successfully in a domestic jurisdiction, but that would cover the interests of the 298 victims aboard that flight.

JOURNALIST: So if the veto happens in the UN, which would you favour, the Lockerbie-style or a Dutch-based investigation?

JULIE BISHOP: At this stage both have positive and negative attributes. I think a domestic-style tribunal would possibly be easier to establish but you'd have to make sure that it had all the necessary powers, for example extradition, to be able to absolutely hold those responsible for this atrocity to account.

JOURNALIST: Now, you mentioned the chain of command, they made no findings on that to this point about whether Russia, as a country, was in any way implicated but where does that leave Putin in all of this?

JULIE BISHOP: The investigation has confirmed that it was a Russian military Buk missile that came in from - they know where it left in Russia and they know where it ended up when it went back to Russia.

JOURNALIST: But that could have been a rogue act, and not in any way associated with the country as such?

JULIE BISHOP: I will leave that to the final investigation. You're right, there could be other possibilities but I think from the outset the Australian Government has been of the view that Russia has questions to answer. And this puts the spotlight back on President Putin. They are already trying to discredit the investigation, in fact they've been doing that for some time, and seeking to deflect focus from Russia on others. Their theories are improbable, implausible.

JOURNALIST: Now on Syria and the bombing of Aleppo in particular and the suggestion that the Russians have been involved in that, what is the relationship now between the United States and Russia?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, I witnessed two meetings between the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the US Secretary of State John Kerry. Let me say that all trust has broken down. Neither side trusts the other side, and while ever the Assad regime, backed by Russia and Iran, believes that it can win militarily over the opposition groups backed by the US and the Gulf countries, the killing and the war will continue. Likewise, the opposition groups believe that they can defeat the Assad regime militarily. I believe that all options have to be on the table. It seems that Russia has given up any pretence of a ceasefire at this point and the violence and the atrocities going on in Aleppo are unprecedented.

JOURNALIST: But if all trust is broken down, will they continue to talk?

JULIE BISHOP: They must. They have to continue to talk because the indiscriminate bombing is killing thousands of civilians. It is a humanitarian disaster on an unprecedented scale, nothing we've seen in our lifetime. And the international community is willing both Russia and the US and their supporters to sit down and try and find a way through this. A ceasefire is absolutely central so that humanitarian relief can reach those in need. But we need to find a political solution to what is essentially a civil war and then, of course, ISIL is operating in the vacuum.

JOURNALIST: Are we anywhere near a point where the United States might start bombing the Assad regime and what would be the consequences of that?

JULIE BISHOP: That would be an all-out war. We are currently seeing a proxy war between Russia and the United States and other players in this disaster but I urge all of the parties to continue to talk. There has to be a diplomatic and political solution, not just a military solution. In fact I don't believe there will be a military solution and one option would be an arms embargo. One option would be for both sides to withdraw military support from the regime, from the opposition groups and force them to the negotiating table.

JOURNALIST: Now, in the meantime, in Afghanistan, things are not getting any better, in fact they're getting marginally worse. There are reports suggesting now the Taliban are in control of more territory there than any time since 2001, that's got to be of concern?

JULIE BISHOP: It's deeply concerning the Taliban is operating an insurgency to undermine the Afghan Government. President Ghani has a vision for the future of Afghanistan. He's cracking down on corruption, he's focusing on trying to deliver services to the Afghan people and his Government needs support. That's what Australia and other coalition partners are doing, backing the Government, so that they can secure their own nation, they can crack down on the Taliban and the insurgency that is reviving, and Australia will stay the course to ensure that we can help President Ghani build this nation.

There have been some obvious gains, I mean education is one example. There is something like 8 million students at school now but 40% of them are girls. Back when the Taliban was in control there were very few students at school and no girls at all. So the nation building is there but we have to continue to crackdown on this insurgency from the Taliban.

JOURNALIST: And control is slipping away in Uruzgan Province which is, of course, where Australians fought and died for more than 12 years. Did they die in vain?

JULIE BISHOP: Absolutely not. They were committed to a cause; they were part of what was an absolutely essential effort on the part of Australia and other countries to ensure that Afghanistan was not a haven for al-Qaeda. Remember, this came about because of the bringing down of the twin towers and al-Qaeda was using Afghanistan as its headquarters. So we have to ensure that al-Qaeda and the terrorist groups cannot make Afghanistan their headquarters again as a haven for terrorists. And so that work was successful but the Taliban, who, of course, were in control at the time, are now operating an insurgency. That's what we have to deal with.

JOURNALIST: Just on a couple of domestic issues, but the first one, the opinion poll has showed that your Government falling behind, seemed to have come at a time when Malcolm Turnbull was making breakthroughs in the Parliament, he had a good overseas trip, how do you explain it?

JULIE BISHOP: People have very high expectations of Malcolm Turnbull and they're well placed because Malcolm is a highly intelligent, highly capable person and he will be a great leader of this country and I believe that public support will return as we continue to provide good government. We've made some gains in recent times in working with the Senate, in passing some important legislation, including the budget repair. But I believe that as the Government continues to deliver, we continue to repair the budget, fix up our superannuation system, all the work that we have on our agenda, as we complete that work agenda, then I believe public confidence will return.

JOURNALIST: In the meantime there's been a fall in the polls. Could it be a single issue here? Could it be frustration with the fact that the plebiscite issue simply don't go away, that nobody is in control of it?

JULIE BISHOP: I think the plebiscite issue is frustrating for the Australian people because we took to the election a promise that there would be a plebiscite on the question of same-sex marriage and every voting person in Australia could have their say. Labor seems determined to frustrate it and we shouldn't fall for the idea that it's about the money. I mean this is a party that fritters away money on pink batts and cheque giveaways and the like.

JOURNALIST: The public wouldn't be impressed with either side on this, would they?

JULIE BISHOP: We made a firm commitment that there would be a plebiscite. It's going to be in February, everybody can have their say and then we can get on with it and the issue will be determined once and for all. Labor seems determined to frustrate it and the only people who are losing out of that are the Australian public who want to have their say.

JOURNALIST: And just finally, in your own State, can your Party recover from the recent leadership skirmish?

JULIE BISHOP: I believe Colin Barnett will lead the Party to the next election, I believe the Liberals will win the next election. I'm very confident that Western Australia is being well governed and Colin Barnett is an outstanding Premier.

JOURNALIST: Thanks for your time this morning, I appreciate it.

JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.

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