ABC Radio Drive, Perth - interview with John McGlue

  • Transcript, E&OE

JOHN MCGLUE Well we've learnt that Australian air force jets have started bombing raids on ISIL targets, part of the coalition effort to repel this group. Are they a terrorist group? How do you describe them? I know there's been many descriptions given to them in Northern Syria, throughout Iraq - many parts of Iraq, including some of the major cities. And while the Middle East is very much defining publicly at least, Australia's place on the world stage right now, back here back in Perth, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has been getting on with the job of, I guess, quiet diplomacy with our neighbours around the Indian Ocean Rim.Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is my guest. Welcome to the programme.

JULIE BISHOP Good afternoon John, good to be with you.

JOHN MCGLUE I will get to the Indian Ocean Rim meeting in a few moments, but can you update us on what our forces in the Middle East are engaged in right now?

JULIE BISHOP Our air force is part of a coalition of other countries that are carrying out air strikes over Iraq, targeting specific facilities belonging to ISIL and other organisations that are carrying out these terrorist activities in Iraq. So we have a number of FA18s which have been made available to the coalition to carry out air strikes, and operations were carried out overnight and I can report that they are all back safely, but the details are obviously operational and I can't go into them for obvious reasons…..

JOHN MCGLUE Of course.

JULIE BISHOP But we are now taking part in these operations as and when required. This is what we offered some time ago in response to a general request from the United States to be involved in the coalition of nations that were prepared to use their military to seek to combat ISIL, to support the Iraqi government in building up its defence forces so that it can defend itself against this terrorist organisation, which is not only taking its territory, but is also murdering its citizens indiscriminately.

JOHN MCGLUE The thing is though there are major concerns that it's going to take a ground effort, a significant ground effort from the international military coalition, to defeat ISIL. What sense do you have about when and if that could happen?

JULIE BISHOP What we must do is support the Iraqi government build capability and capacity in the Iraqi defence forces and so that's why we've offered our Special Forces to advise and assist the Iraqi defence forces, and I believe that we can assist in a very productive way. Other countries have also offered to assist in training, and I know that's going on, outside Iraq, and also within Iraq, a number of countries including Arab nations are assisting in that regard.

The hope is that the air strikes will sufficiently degrade the facilities and the resources and equipment that ISIL is currently accessing. In the meantime we have to starve ISIL and terrorist organisations of foreign fighters and funds and equipment, and that's begun around the globe. Australia is trying to do its part to prevent people who have become radicalised wanting to leave Australia to take part in the fighting alongside of ISIL, or returning home and to prevent them from carrying out terrorist activities in our country.We're also ensuring that we follow the money, that we can prevent funding going to ISIL and other countries are taking similar measures.

JOHN MCGLUE I've got to say Julie Bishop, I find it hard to keep up with exactly who Australia and our political partners believe are the real bad guys in the Middle East. The Turks are now saying we should be tackling not only ISIL, but all terrorist organisations, but the Middle East is so fluid, so fast changing, so interwoven that our friends and enemies are difficult to identify at times. So how does the Australian Government decide which group, which countries and groups within a country to side with?

JULIE BISHOP We have been very careful and purposeful in working out a clear and proportionate role for Australia. You're absolutely right, this is extraordinarily complex. The old saying 'my enemy's enemy is my friend' is probably 'my enemy's enemy is my enemy' in this case, but what we are seeking to do is to respond to a specific request from the Iraqi government to help that government of a sovereign state reclaim the territory taken by this organisation known as ISIL. That is a role that we've agreed to undertake, to enable the Iraqi government to protect its sovereignty, to take back the territory and to rid the country of this terrorist organisation that's creating chaos and havoc inside Iraq. Yes, there are other terrorist organisations in parts of the Middle East, in Syria for example, ISIL and other forms of terrorist organisations, al Qaida, al Nusra, there's a whole number of them, a group called the Khorasan Group, they are also carrying out terrorist activities. The United States and Arab nations are taking on that task and conducting air strikes over Syria. So different countries and different combinations of countries are taking different aspects of this unprecedented level of terrorist activity that's taking place in the Middle East. Australia's role is clear, proportionate, we're supporting the Iraqi government in its effort to degrade and destroy ISIL.

JOHN MCGLUE The Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is my guest, she is back in Perth, she doesn't spend too much time here anymore, because well, you're playing on the world stage Minister, but you are here presiding over the Indian Ocean Rim Association Council of Ministers meeting in Perth, which is a gathering of senior ministers from right around the Indian Ocean Rim. What's it all about and what are you looking to achieve there?

JULIE BISHOP Well Perth is in fact Australia's Indian Ocean capital - because we are on the shores of the Indian Ocean, we very much look north and west for economic activity, trade and investment opportunities. The Indian Ocean Rim Association is an organisation of 20 member states – countries whose shores are lapped by the Indian Ocean. It includes countries in South East Asia, Singapore, Indonesia, through to Thailand, India, Bangladesh, into the Gulf, Iran, Oman, Yemen, the east coast of Africa, Kenya, South Africa and then of course the islands of Seychelles, Comoros, Mauritius, Madagascar, so it's a very diverse group of countries - politically, economically, culturally – but we all have in common a desire to preserve and protect the Indian Ocean, and also to drive economic growth and development and greater security in our region.

Two billion people live in Indian Ocean Rim member state countries, that's about 30 per cent of the world's population, so this group is focussed on economic cooperation and on security cooperation; we look at disaster risk reduction, maritime security, search and rescue issues, tourism, cultural exchanges – so it's a very exciting dynamic group. And Australia is the chair of the organisation for two years, going into our second year as chair, and we convened the meeting of the senior ministers and representatives here today and focus very much on what we call the blue economy – that's marine economic activity. Whether it be traditional fishing or agriculture or renewable energy or mineral exploration, the Indian Ocean is a great resource for us all.

JOHN MCGLUE Okay, it's great to speak to you this afternoon, thank you so much for your time.

JULIE BISHOP My pleasure, thanks John,

JOHN MCGLUE Julie Bishop, the Foreign Minister.

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