ABC Lateline, interview with Emma Alberici
JOURNALIST: In the studio is Deputy Liberal Leader and Foreign Affairs MinisterJulie Bishop. Julie Bishop, thanks very much for your company tonight.
JULIE BISHOP: Good evening Emma.
JOURNALIST: As the Islamic Stategroup loses ground in Syria and Iraq, are you expecting more disgruntledforeign fighters to return to shores like here and carry out attacks the likesof which we saw in Manchester?
JULIE BISHOP: In the event that foreign fighters survive the conflict in the MiddleEast, yes we are concerned that they will seek to return home, and in our partof the world that could be to the Southern Philippines, to Malaysia, toIndonesia and indeed to Australia. We believe there are about 100 Australianforeign terrorist fighters in the Middle East now, if they survive – and anumber have been killed – if they survive then we will be tracking theirmovements, following where they go and seeking to ensure that we know whenthey arrive in Australia and we can meet them. So we willbe following very closely their movements, we will be coordinating withother countries in the region and ensuring that we can keep Australianssafe from those who would otherwise will seek to do us harm.
JOURNALIST: The terror threat level in Australia for the last two and a halfyears or so has been 'probable'. What does that mean exactly?
JULIE BISHOP: It means a terror attack is probable and since that time,since 2014, there have been four attacks and there have been12 thwarted attacks and they were in quite advanced stages ofplanning. That shows that our information and intelligence networksare working, our security and law enforcement and intelligence agencieshave all had their resources significantly boosted and we have put inplace new laws that will enable us to take action more readily, moreefficiently, more effectively against potential terrorist attacks.Probable means that it could occur in Australia, we are not immunefrom what we have seen in Paris, in Brussels, in Manchester and in London.
JOURNALIST: We learnt today that classified police photos, as we justsaid then, from the scene of the Manchester bombing were leaked tothe New York Times. How serious a breach of protocol do you think that was?
JULIE BISHOP: I am not aware of the specific sharing arrangements between theUnited States and the United Kingdom. Clearly, they are very close asAustralia is very close in intelligence sharing terms with the US and the UK.We are part of the Five Eyes. I don't know what specific arrangements werein place, but clearly the British police said it was not helpful –that is an understatement – and it would be a shame if the US and UK cannot share intelligence becauseclearly it is of assistance to both nations and they are going to have toresolve this.
JOURNALIST: In fact the Mayor of Manchester Andy Burnham describedthe leaks as arrogant, wrong and disrespectful, and has launched an officialcomplaint to the US Ambassador.
JULIE BISHOP: I don't know how the leaks occurred and no doubt the United States willbe investigating this as well, but it is very important in thefight against terrorism, in our attempts to counter terrorism, forthere to be close intelligence sharing, information sharingbetween like-minded nations, and we work very closely with countries inour region but also throughout the Middle East with the United Kingdom and USto track the movement of terrorist fighters, to do what we can to avoidterrorist attacks taking place. Information, intelligence is key.
JOURNALIST: Officials in the UK have already said they will not share any moreinformation with the United States. Given we are also part of, as you say, partof that Five Eyes alliance, will Australia also review the appropriateness ofsharing intelligence with the United States?
JULIE BISHOP: We have a very close security and intelligence relationship with theUnited States and it is very much to our benefit for us to shareinformation. We get far more information from the United States than weare able to impart to them, so we would want to maintain as close aspossible contact with the United States in relation to intelligence sharing,particularly in relation to counter terrorism efforts.
JOURNALIST: In light of the recent revelations about Donald Trump'sinformation sharing with Russian officials and now this latest breach,are you concerned that the President and members of his team are alittle loose in terms of their handling of sensitive information?
JULIE BISHOP: My understanding is that the President disputes that version ofevents, that he didn't breach any security protocols and Iwould expect him to have a conversation about intelligence matters withthe Russian Foreign Minister or...
JOURNALIST: Evenif that information – sorry for the interruption – even if thatinformation was gleaned from the Israeli Government, as hasbeen reported?
JULIE BISHOP: Except that President Trump disputes that version of events. Wehave a very close working relationship with the United States in the intelligencearea, and I have no reason to suggest that we should change that inany way. It is very deep, it's very close, it's very much toour benefit.
JOURNALIST: There are reports quoting Washington officials today thatsay that a US Navy warship has sailed within 12 nautical miles ofan artificial island created by China in the South China Sea. It isthe first such challenge it would seem by the Trump Administration to Beijing'sincreasingly muscular posture in the region. Is that a development you welcome?
JULIE BISHOP: The United States has carried out these freedomof navigation operations in the past and so this is just afurther FONOPS, as they call them – freedom of navigation operations – andthe United States is perfectly within its rights to traverse the SouthChina Sea, the international waters, and it will make the decision asto where it traverses and how close to disputed reefs or features itwill travel, but it has done it in the past…
JOURNALIST: The 12nautical miles is especially close, isn't it?
JULIE BISHOP: But they have done it in the past. This is a repeat ofexercises the United States has carried out previously. The Trump Administrationis following on what the Obama Administration did from time to time. Australiamakes its own decisions about how we will exercise our right tofreedom of navigation, and freedom of overflight, in internationalwaters. Our point is that all nations must abide by the internationalrules based order and the United States is within its entitlement todo so, and I must say most nations in the region support the UnitedStates' actions.
JOURNALIST: Republican Senator John McCain is visiting Australia next week.He is the head of the US Senate Armed Services Committee, a fairly powerfulcommittee. Ahead of that trip he has made comments in an interviewtoday suggesting the Trump Administration sees Australia as a keyally in containing China. Is that worrysome to hear that sort oflanguage?
JULIE BISHOP: I have great respect for Senator McCain. He is a six termsenator, he is an authority in his own right on international laws andglobal affairs, but I wouldn't put it that way. I would certainly saythat Australia is a reliable and trusted ally of the United States, weboth have a commitment to the international rules based order, to peaceand stability in our region, we welcome the peaceful rise of China. So Iwouldn't use the word 'contain' but we most certainly work closely withthe United States as like-minded allies.
JOURNALIST: You wouldn't use the word but is it an accurate reflection of therole?
JULIE BISHOP: We have a different relationship with China than the UnitedStates. We have a comprehensive strategic partnership, China is infact our largest merchandise trading partner. The United States is ourmost important strategic ally and a very important economic partner. Itis the largest source of foreign direct investment into Australia. So we balanceour interests and we always act in our national interests in accordancewith our foreign policy interests.
JOURNALIST: We had the visit from US Vice President Mike Pence lastmonth. When can we expect to see another visit from members ofTrump's cabinet?
JULIE BISHOP: I expect that Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Mattis, theSecretary of State and Secretary of Defense, will be here shortly forthe annual Australian-US Ministerial Dialogue, it's called AUSMIN. Wehaven't had one since 2015, because 2016 was the election year inthe United States, we were not able to find a date that allowed allfour of us – me as Foreign Minister, Marise Payne as Defence Minister andour counterparts – to meet. I am expecting them to be here in mid-June.
JOURNALIST: Fantastic, very soon.
JULIE BISHOP: Yes.
JOURNALIST: During the last election campaign, I wanted to talk to you about foreign aidbefore we wrap up, both of the major parties made a commitment to getthe 0.5% of gross national income, but neither of you, that is notthe Coalition and not Labor, has said much about that since. In fact at thelast budget, you reduced it to 0.22 of 1% GNI. How do you justify thaton the world stage given we are one of the richest countries in theworld?
JULIE BISHOP: Well in fact we are the 13th largest economy in the world and weare the 13th largest donor in the OECD world for aid. Our aid budget isgoing up this year by another $84 million, next year by $98 million…
JOURNALIST: You accept it has gone down to 0.22 to 1% of the gross nationalincome?
JULIE BISHOP: Yes, and I don't accept that we should be focusing onprescriptive, time bound...
JOURNALIST: All nations, many nations subscribe to the 0.7% of GNI underthe...
JULIE BISHOP: You will find very...
JOURNALIST: Millennium Development Goals. The UK reached it.
JULIE BISHOP: You will find very many nations are reducing their aidbudget because of budgetary constraints. What we are doing isapplying our aid budget far more effectively and efficiently. It is notthe amount that you spend, it is how you spend it and I believe thatby focusing on the Indian Ocean-Asia Pacific, we are ensuring thatour aid budget goes further, is more focused, more targeted andwe are partnering with the private sector, with others. In otherwords, we are being much smarter with the way we deliver aid and gettingbetter outcomes. The aid budget is increasing this year and next yearand we are the 13th largest donor in the OECD world.
JOURNALIST: Oxfam says we have gone from 17th of the advanced nations to in Julywhen it falls to 0.22 of 1%, we go to 20th of 29 advanced nations.
JULIE BISHOP: I'm judging it on the OECD world which is the usualbenchmark and we remain 13th largest donor in the OECD world, we arethe 13th largest economy. There is some symmetry there. I trulybelieve that the focus that we are putting on more effective and moreefficient ways of delivering aid, boosting sustainable economic development, focusing on our region thatwe are making a significant difference.
JOURNALIST: Julie Bishop, I appreciate the time you have taken to speak tous. Thank you.
JULIE BISHOP: Thank you.