ABC News 24, The World: Interview with Jim Middleton
JIM MIDDLETON: On the line now from Adelaide is the Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Julie Bishop, welcome to The World, thanks for joining us.
JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure, good evening.
JIM MIDDLETON: When martial law was announced earlier this week you said you were concerned, if you were concerned then, you must be very very worried now.
JULIE BISHOP: Yes Jim I am gravely concerned that the chief of army General Prayuth has announced that the Royal Thai Army is assuming all government functions in Thailand. He said it was to avoid further violence, but the caretaker government is no longer the government. A curfew from 10pm to 5am is being imposed.
Tonight I have spoken to the Australian Ambassador in Bangkok James Wise, I have confirmed that all the Australian Embassy staff are safe. I am seeking from him information on this regrettable development, what is behind it, and we are reviewing the implications of the coup for government-to-government relations at this time.
JIM MIDDLETON: I might cover that in a moment. There are of course very many Australians in Thailand, both expatriates and tourists, any immediate advice from the Ambassador for them?
JULIE BISHOP: I am urging all Australians travelling to Thailand or already in Thailand to exercise a high degree of caution, to pay very close attention to their personal security, to abide by the curfew and to log on to the Smart traveller website – www.smartraveller.gov.au – because the Australian Government will be closely monitoring the situation and will update the travel advice regularly.
JIM MIDDLETON: Just to repeat that website – www.smartraveller.gov.au – now Minister you are saying this is a regrettable development and you will be looking at government-to-government relations. Does that mean you might consider downgrading relations with what has been an ally, a friend of Australia, for decades and decades now?
JULIE BISHOP: Jim what it means is that we are looking at what the implications of the coup are. We had hoped that the declaration of martial law on the 20th of May would provide sufficient security to allow the political parties to negotiate leading to the early return to democracy. I continue to hope that a way will be found for all parties to resolve their differences through dialogue.
Australia believes that sustainable political stability is more likely to be found if the democratically elected government is restored, operating under the civilian law. Australia and Thailand have been close friends for decades and we continue to hope that peace and stability and harmony can be returned to our friends in Thailand as soon as possible.
JIM MIDDLETON: Earlier in the week you also called on the opposing forces in Thailand – the civilian forces – to take part in elections, but isn't that the problem, an enduring one for Thailand, that one side of politics won't take part because it knows that it would lose yet again?
JULIE BISHOP: There was a positive sign this week when all parties were represented at the meeting and I believe that it was yesterday when I noted that representatives from both sides of politics, from the president of the senate and the police chief were all represented at a meeting. Nothing was resolved at that meeting and another meeting was called for today. That was to occur at 2pm Thailand time or 5pm eastern standard time. Yet I understand that all those attending that meeting were detained by the military. I don't know if they have been released but the last word we had was that they had all been detained.
That had been a positive sign that progress was being made. In fact, the international view seemed to be that this meeting, with representatives of all sides of politics, was a positive sign. Of course, many of us were concerned that this was going to be a case of a 'creeping' coup and that ultimately the martial law would turn into a coup, but it seems to have crept up more quickly than we had hoped. We must keep urging for an election and the international community will no doubt continue to do that in the days ahead.
JIM MIDDLETON: Just before we wrap this up Minister, you will be conveying that directly to the Thai Ambassador in Australia and I expect you will be getting James Wise, the Ambassador in Bangkok, to do the same with the Foreign Ministry there, is that right?
JULIE BISHOP: Indeed we are now dealing with what's been called the national peacekeeping council in Thailand, comprising the chief of army, the service chiefs of the army, airforce and navy and chief of police. But we will be making that point to the national peacekeeping council as well as civil servants who we understand are still continuing to work as normal – they have been asked to continue in their work – and it's a message we will certainly sending to the Embassy in Canberra, the Thai Embassy in Canberra.
JIM MIDDLETON: Julie Bishop, thank you very much for your time. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in Adelaide.