ABC Lateline, interview with David Lipson

  • Transcript, E&OE
09 August 2017

JOURNALIST: Julie Bishop, thanks for your time. We've heard a lot of words but how close are we really to a nuclear conflict between the US and North Korea?

JULIE BISHOP: First, the reports that North Korea has acquired the ability to develop a miniaturised nuclear device that could be placed on an intercontinental ballistic missile is deeply unsettling, but we have to be clear that the instability, the tensions on the Korean Peninsula and arising out of that situation are as a result of the illegal actions by North Korea in violation of numerous UN Security Council resolutions. So its acts in developing intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons capability are a breach of international law. So we are calling on all nations to implement the UN Security Council resolutions on sanctions to put sufficient pressure to bear on North Korea that it will change its calculations and come within the international legal framework and abide by the UN Security Council resolutions.

JOURNALIST: You said today if North Korea does indeed have an ICB and capable of reaching the US, this poses an unacceptable existential threat to Australia as well. Has the Government discussed the option of participation in any pre-emptive strike on North Korea?

JULIE BISHOP: I obviously won't go into discussions on such serious security matters, but the point I was making is self-evident: if North Korea has developed a capability of deploying an intercontinental ballistic missile as far as the United States, then Australia is within range. That presents an unacceptable existential threat, and that's why we have an interest in shaping the outcome. We have an interest in how this plays out. That's why I've been talking with my counterpart foreign ministers from the United States, China, Japan, South Korea, to ensure that we are all on the same page when it comes to urging all nations to implement fully the UN Security Council resolution measures – the sanctions, and those as recently as four days ago – ensure they are implemented fully and that North Korea is isolated both diplomatically and economically so that it will change its behaviour.

JOURNALIST: I will ask you more about those sanctions in a moment. Just before we move off the military options, what would happen if President Trump did actually unleash fire and fury on North Korea pre-emptively as he's threatened to do?

JULIE BISHOP: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said over the weekend in Manila that the United States is not looking for an excuse to send its military north of the 38th parallel. They are not looking for regime change. They are not looking for the immediate reunification of the Korean Peninsula -

JOURNALIST: So we should believe Rex Tillerson rather than the President?

JULIE BISHOP: No the point I am making is that the United States is not looking for an excuse. President Trump has responded to the rhetoric from North Korea in response to the sanctions. These were sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council that includes Russia and China who North Korea might otherwise see as partners or allies. All nations on the UN Security Council have agreed to impose sanctions and North Korea responded with its provocative and bellicose language. The United States will not be threatened by an illegal-

JOURNALIST: The US language was pretty provocative as well. I mean is that sort of language helpful from the US?

JULIE BISHOP: I'm not going to comment on each statement made by world leaders. My point is this: the tensions, the destabilisation is being caused by North Korea and it has long history of this, going back to the 1990s. Think. By 2005 there was a promising breakthrough. North Korea had agreed to vacate its nuclear weapons program if the United States provided aid and a security guarantee. The United States did that and North Korea refused to have verification of its side of the bargain and then let off a nuclear test. Then later through the Six Party Talks there was an opportunity for a breakthrough. Again North Korea kicked out the international inspectors and tested more ballistic missiles. So this destabilising behaviour lies at the feet of Pyongyang.

JOURNALIST: What about China? You've said that nations, especially those with close ties to North Korea, must use their leverage to pressure Pyongyang. China doesn't want to destabilise an impoverished nation on its doorstep. Is there anything really that China should be doing more than it's doing now?

JULIE BISHOP: It's not in China's interests, as they well know, for North Korea to continue on its illegal path of developing nuclear weapons; it's not in China's interests for North Korea to be an illegal nuclear weapons state. China was part of the UN Security Council resolution on August 5 that imposed the toughest and most comprehensive package of sanctions against North Korea to date. Of course it's obvious China has a specific relationship with North Korea – most of North Korea's exports go to China. There is a financial relationship between China and North Korea, but China is part of the UN Security Council, and as a Permanent 5 Member, China of course realises that the Security Council resolutions must be respected and upheld.

JOURNALIST: Just a few other matters to go to. The recent death on Manus Island of a refugee. What has the Government done to seek information about what happened?

JULIE BISHOP: I understand that the asylum seeker death is now being investigated by PNG police, that there is an autopsy under way. There are investigations and of course we are in contact with PNG authorities about that.

JOURNALIST: The Trump-Turnbull transcript released recently made clear that the Government believes it bears some responsibility, significant responsibility, for these people on Manus Island in particular. Do you believe it's safe for them there now that now these sort of incidents are happening and that power, water has been cut off?

JULIE BISHOP: Let me make it plain: the Turnbull Government, in fact the Coalition inherited the situation on Manus Island from the previous Labor Government. Now the breakdown of border security and border protection under the Labor Government led to the reinstatement of Manus Island -

JOURNALIST: We're aware of the history.

JULIE BISHOP: You said we take responsibility. I'm pointing out we are trying to clean up a terrible legacy left by Labor and we're working closely with the PNG Government to ensure that the detention centre can be closed at some point -

JOURNALIST: What happens if the US doesn't take any of these people as Prime Minister Turnbull invited President Trump could be an option? What happens to them?

JULIE BISHOP: I believe through my discussions with the US that they will honour their side of the agreement and that they will continue with their vetting process and it's part of an agreement that we have with the United States. We are one of very few countries that offer permanent resettlement to those who are found to have been owed protection. We're one of very few countries. About 865,000 refugees have been permanently resettled in Australia since the Second World War – I don't think too many other countries can claim that record. We are not going to be held hostage by the people smuggling trade, the criminal people smuggling trade. What we will do is work very closely with PNG and Nauru and we will also continue discussions with third parties – with the UNHCR, the United States and others – to ensure that resettlement can occur in third countries.

JOURNALIST: Just finally on same sex marriage. You have reputation for being a very effective campaigner. Will you actively campaign for the yes camp?

JULIE BISHOP: First, I'm terribly disappointed that those who claim to support same sex marriage have voted against the quickest path to achieving it, and that is the plebiscite legislation that was in the Senate last year. We could have had a plebiscite on this in February of this year, the matter would have been resolved, but Labor and the Greens voted against it. Again, we put the plebiscite legislation back to them, an opportunity for them to support all Australians having their say – they voted against it. So now we are looking at the postal plebiscite.

JOURNALIST: Will you join the campaign?

JULIE BISHOP: If we're now down to a postal plebiscite, I don't understand that there's going to be a yes or no campaign -

JOURNALIST: Sure, but do you have power to swing things?

JULIE BISHOP: …we'll say to the Australian people: this has been a debate going on for a very long time, this is your opportunity to have your say.

JOURNALIST: Tony Abbott said today that people who don't like political correctness should vote no. Is there any link between same sex marriage and political correctness in your mind?

JULIE BISHOP: That's not the way I would put it but people are entitled to their views. I think people have pretty well made up their minds, they either support a change in legislation for allowing same sex marriage or they don't, but the point is, we are giving the Australian people the opportunity to have their say. We could have done it through the original plebiscite legislation that was to be held in February. We could have had a plebiscite over and done, dusted. But Labor, for their own political purposes, opposed that and now we'll go to another form of gauging the Australian people's view on this matter. It is a sensitive issue for many people but it's something that could have been dealt with a long time ago.

JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister, thanks for your time.

JULIE BISHOP: Thank you.

- Ends -

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