ABC Radio National Breakfast, Canberra - Interview with Fran Kelly

  • Transcript, E&OE

JOURNALIST Australia's joined the international condemnation of the weekend firing of a ballistic missile in violation of multiple UN resolutions. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says Pyongyang's behaviour is provocative and dangerous and a threat to world peace. And the Minister's in our Parliament House studios, Julie Bishop good morning, welcome back to Breakfast.

JULIE BISHOP Thank you Fran.

JOURNALIST So the UN Security Council in a meeting just finished has condemned this launch and pledged to work on more sanctions. There are already multiple resolutions prohibiting North Korea from carrying out nuclear tests, what more can be done to force North Korea to toe the line?

JULIE BISHOP Australia joins with the international community in unreservedly condemning North Korea for this latest provocative, dangerous, destabilising act which will further add to tensions on the Korean Peninsula and is not only a threat to peace in the region but is also a threat to global security. The UN Security Council has passed a statement that indicates that further significant measures could be taken against North Korea.

JOURNALIST What does that mean?

JULIE BISHOP I don't have the details of that but clearly that would include further sanctions. And the tragedy in all of this is while the North Korean regime is focussing on developing nuclear weapons and carrying out ballistic missile tests, the people of North Korea are suffering. There's an extensive World Food Program underway because the people of North Korea are starving, and so we call on the North Korean regime to focus on supporting its people rather than engaging in this dangerous, destabilising behaviour.

JOURNALIST But these calls have been made again and again by the global community and Pyongyang takes no notice. If North Korea's conducted four nuclear tests in recent years, now three long-range missile tests, do you think there's any doubt that this is, as I heard one analyst say, North Korea making a final run to its goal of developing a nuclear tipped ballistic missile?

JULIE BISHOP The international community must remain united in its condemnation and that includes China and Russia and all members of the Security Council. You'll note that the statement from the Security Council was very strongly worded, that includes support from China. So I think this is an important development that China is likewise as frustrated and concerned as the rest of the world with North Korea's behaviour and China has the ability to exert more pressure on the regime. I know that the Chinese leadership say that their influence is not as strong as the rest of the international community may believe, but I feel sure that there's more China can do to persuade North Korea to step back from this precipice of developing a nuclear weapon that could threaten not only our friends and neighbours in the region but more broadly.

JOURNALIST And if it doesn't or if it can't? I mean Japan says this is absolutely unacceptable, it's vowing to respond resolutely. How concerned are you at the growing tensions on the Korean Peninsula? Could it turn into direct conflict?

JULIE BISHOP Deeply concerned. The only reasonable resolution is dialogue and I know that the United States, South Korea, Japan and China are prepared to enter into dialogue with North Korea, and we must continue to pursue diplomatic efforts while also indicating through sanctions and other significant measures that its behaviour is completely unacceptable, indeed it is unlawful. It is in gross violation of numerous UN Security Council resolutions.

JOURNALIST Can I ask you on another global crisis, really, that's emerging right at this moment in Syria, Syria's largest city Aleppo is under siege, Syrian government forces backed by Russian airstrikes are battling the opposition rebel groups. Is Russia out of line here, not joining the fight against ISIS but directly targeting the opposition forces who have held Aleppo and held out the Assad forces since the start of this war?

JULIE BISHOP This is an indication of the deep complexity over the civil war in Syria and I have just returned from meetings in both Rome and London focussing on the situation in Syria, as well as Iraq and Libya. And in Syria it is a civil war and major powers have taken sides. While the civil war is raging, the terrorist organisation ISIL has taken the opportunity to establish its so-called caliphate over parts of Syria. So Australia urges the international community to focus on resolving the civil war between the Assad regime and the opposition groups and there is a process underway, the Geneva talks, to find a political solution. In the meantime there must be a focus on fighting the terrorist organisation carrying out such brutal and violent attacks on civilians but also the humanitarian crisis must be resolved.

JOURNALIST But those Geneva talks, they were suspended last week. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Russia is quote "undermining the efforts to find a political solution to the conflict". Do you agree with that? That Russia's part of the problem?

JULIE BISHOP The United States is determined to continue the dialogue with Russia and I know Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov are continuing discussions. Russia has a different agenda, there's absolutely no question about that. It maintains that it is also fighting ISIL and that is true because Russia is also vulnerable to ISIL attacks. They claim that they have about a thousand Chechnyans who are fighting with ISIL in the Middle East. So Russia has a deep…

JOURNALIST But they're dropping bombs on Aleppo which is held by the opposition forces?

JULIE BISHOP Precisely. They have a different agenda and this is why the United States and the coalition are working so hard to try, with the United Nations, to try and bring all the parties around the table to discuss a political solution. There was a breakthrough, the parties did turn up for talks but they suspended, but that doesn't mean that you give up. We have to continue to bring the parties together to find a political solution, a ceasefire, a focus on ISIL and try and relieve the humanitarian crisis. But of course the crisis won't end until the civil war ends and that can only end through a political process, not a military process.

JOURNALIST It seems that Russia is playing a dual game in at the moment. It's 17 to eight on Breakfast. Our guest is the Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop. Closer to home, Minister, we now have six Premiers and Chief Ministers indicating they would help to settle the 267 asylum seekers facing deportation to Nauru: Dan Andrews, Jay Weatherill, Mike Baird, Annastacia Palaszczuk, Andrew Barr and Will Hodgman. Will the Government accept this offer?

JULIE BISHOP The Australian Government is determined to ensure that the people smuggling trade does not again flourish in our region. Last time the people smuggling trade was underway, under the Labor Government here in Australia, 1200 men, women and children died at sea. That will not happen under our watch. So we're determined to ensure that our policies remain in place to deter the people smugglers. Also there were up to 2000 children in detention under the previous Labor Government, we've now got that down to 100 so our policies are working. It's difficult, it's complex but we're determined to ensure that we don't provide incentives to the people smuggling trade.

JOURNALIST Is that a no? You won't accept these offers from these Premiers and Chief Ministers from across the political spectrum?

JULIE BISHOP Well clearly our Prime Minister and Immigration Minister will engage with State Premiers who make offers but we will not compromise our policies when it comes to border protection and dismantling the people smuggling trade.

JOURNALIST But in the meantime, Minister, there's thousands of people left in Nauru and in Manus Island in PNG. They can't be left there forever. Are you as Foreign Minister engaged in talks with a third country? There was some mention last week of Malaysia; are you talking to Malaysia? Are you hopeful of any breakthrough here?

JULIE BISHOP I'm constantly in discussion with countries in our region about a regional solution. I'll be taking part in the Bali Process shortly which is again focussed on ensuring that our region can maintain control of the sovereignty of the nations, can control their borders but also deal with this issue of asylum seekers…

JOURNALIST But there hasn't been much movement on this. I mean, there's people who've managed to move, I think five, out to Cambodia. I mean, where is the.. are you at any point getting closer to getting a solution to move some of these people off Nauru?

JULIE BISHOP We are continually working on this issue. It's a tragedy that we inherited. We are determined that it's not going to be repeated and when we left office way back in 2007 there were three people who had come via the people smuggling trade in detention, and then it rose thousands and thousands when Labor weakened its policies. So the evidence is clear; our policies work in dismantling the people smuggling trade. We are working very hard to get what was a record number of young people, about 2000 children; we've now got that down to 100, we are continuing to work through that process. It will take time but we are determined that our policies are maintained in terms of defeating the people smuggling trade.

JOURNALIST Minister, some good news yesterday, very good news. Australian woman Jocelyn Elliott was freed by Al Qaeda in Burkina Faso. I know this is a very delicate situation but is there any news or any more hopeful news of the fate of her husband, Dr Ken Elliott?

JULIE BISHOP We haven't any more news. We are deeply relieved that Mrs Elliott has been released and she's in the care of Australian officials. We are deeply grateful to the governments of Niger and Burkina Faso and other governments in the region who have been coordinating efforts to locate the couple. I remain deeply concerned about the safety and well-being of Dr Elliott; he's over 80, he has been missing for three weeks now…

JOURNALIST How is he faring? Did Jocelyn Elliott give you an idea?

JULIE BISHOP I didn't go into those details. She will be questioned and interviewed, of course, by Australian authorities who are present in the region to gain as much as information as we can and to provide assistance to the government of Burkina Faso, which is leading the effort to locate him.

JOURNALIST Julie Bishop, thank you very much for joining us on Breakfast.

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