ABC Radio National Breakfast, interview with Fran Kelly

  • Transcript, E&OE
18 March 2015

FRAN KELLY: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has used the speech overnight to warn the struggle against groups including Islamic State could take years, decades, potentially even a generation. The threat to global security is so serious she says it keeps her awake at night. The Minister has announced that Australia will host a regional summit to exchange ideas and intelligence with other countries on the best ways to combat the radicalisation of young Australians. The Minister joins us again.

Julie Bishop welcome back to Breakfast.

JULIE BISHOP: Thanks Fran, good to be with you.

FRAN KELLY: Before I come to your speech, can I ask you first about the situation in Vanuatu because Australia has sent teams in to help rebuild the Port Vila Hospital, to provide medical help, the need though is so extreme, help will be required for years won't it, to rebuild this country?

JULIE BISHOP: Our immediate priority is to ensure the welfare of the Pacific Islanders and the Australians who were living or visiting the islands at the time Cyclone Pam struck Vanuatu. To date eight RAAF planes have delivered Australian emergency relief supplies and personnel to Vanuatu and that will continue while the need is still there. We have about 56 search and rescue personnel and a medical team of about 27, that team is setting up a 40-bed hospital ward, a pharmacy and x-ray services because the medical infrastructure in Vanuatu has been completely overwhelmed and we have about 30 Australian personnel, and at any one time there is about 50 of our Defence personnel on the ground in Vanuatu. So Australia has responded quickly and we'll continue to assess the situation in the days ahead.

The lack of communications and damage to infrastructure and particularly the island geography has made our task particularly challenging but we're working to check on all Australians, including those in the worst affected areas. Our consular staff in Vanuatu and in Canberra are making all possible efforts to contact and assist Australians in the outer islands.

FRAN KELLY: Alright Minister if I can come to your speech last night now, you said it could be a generation before violent extremism is overcome and you also said we have no choice but to be part of this global struggle. If it's going to be a generation are you signalling that Australia could be engaged militarily in this struggle in Iraq for at least decades to come?

JULIE BISHOP: No that's not what I'm saying, my point was that there is a military aspect to this and that's why Australia is engaged in Iraq, supporting the Iraqi Government defeat Daesh and take back the territory that it is claimed, the caliphate that it has claimed and also to protect the Iraqi people. But we are battling an idea, a concept, an ideology and so this countering violent extremism will take quite some time and that's why I spoke about all the efforts the Australian Government is putting into our communities, working with our Muslim leaders, with community leaders, with schools, with parents, with families because what is so unusual about this particular form of terrorism is more dangerous, more complex, more global than we've ever witnessed. But it's also targeting vulnerable young people to join its ranks and we know that about 90 Australians are in Iraq and Syria now fighting with one of the most barbaric, brutal organisations that we've ever witnessed.

FRAN KELLY: It's obviously a very difficult response to get right, how to deal with radicalised youth returning home, for instance, is a question. The government's been cancelling some passports. We heard on Lateline this week a German expert in deradicalisation saying that if radicalised youth want to come back on a mission from IS for instance they will, because IS has the capacity to forge a passport for them that will get them in, then they're back and we don't know who they are, that that move is counterproductive and dangerous. There are so many angles to look at this. How do you regard that?

JULIE BISHOP: Well it is essential on multiple fronts in combatting violent extremism, that we confront the physical threat posed by the ideology, and that is the military engagement in Iraq and Syria where Daesh has taken hold, declared caliphates and claimed territory and that's why we have a national interest in fighting the spread of this extremism. It's why we've deployed our Defence personnel to Iraq but it's also why our Attorney-General George Brandis has represented the Government at the US Summit in Washington on countering violent extremism, why we'll be hosting a summit in the middle of this year with nations in our region so that we can exchange ideas and experiences and intelligence on how we can best combat the terrorist narrative and address the threat of online radicalisation. Because so often people don't come to the attention of our intelligence agencies because they are being radicalised and influenced online and we can only hope that their families and friends notice a change and can alert authorities.

FRAN KELLY: Thousands of Kurds lined the streets in a town in Syria on the weekend for the funeral of Australian man Ashley Johnston that was killed fighting against Islamic State, fighting with Kurdish fighters against Islamic State. Hundreds of Australian Kurds are expected to attend his funeral here. He is being hailed as a martyr. Let's have a listen:

Clip: We regretfully inform you of the death of one of our bravest Western fighters 20-year-old Australian Ashley Kemp Johnson, martyred fighting the evil ISIS. He was taken from us in a heroic assault on an ISIS position saving the lives of innocent civilians. He was a fearless and exceptional soldier as well as a great man. Please keep his family and loved ones in your prayers. Rest in peace our brother.

FRAN KELLY: That was a post, or a re-post, by the Kurdish Association online in memory of Ashley Johnston. In your view Minister, Andrew Johnston rather, is Andrew Johnston a hero or a criminal?

JULIE BISHOP: Well whether he is a criminal or not would depend upon the evidence that our prosecutors would have but I would discourage anyone from going overseas and taking part in this conflict. They are putting their own lives at risk, they are only adding to the misery and the suffering of the people of Syria and Iraq. That's why our Defence personnel are training and assisting the Iraqi army so that the Iraqi Government can have control of its own country. This is a sovereign country, it's been under attack by ISIL, they've claimed their territory and that's why we are supporting the Government of Iraq in defending itself from this type of violent extremism.

FRAN KELLY: But young men like Ashley Johnston and others [inaudible] to call them hot-blooded youth, want to defend Australia against a death cult - that's what they think they are doing, yet they face prison if they do that, if they return home. If these people fighting IS do come home, do you have any qualms about locking them up for up to 20 years?

JULIE BISHOP: Well it is not a question of what I want to do, it is a question of whether the law would apply to them and I would discourage anyone from taking part in this conflict. If they want to be a fighter for Australia, join the Australian Defence personnel and be a part of the organised, conventional military approach that Australia has taken in relation to this matter.

But I would discourage anyone from getting a passport and trying to go overseas to take part in this conflict because there will be no happy ending to this. It is a violent conflict against a barbaric organisation, that has a level of brutality and violence that we've not seen before – the beheadings, the crucifixions, the mass executions, taking the lives of humanitarian workers, journalists, anyone who doesn't support the poisonous ideology. It's an exceedingly dangerous situation and I would discourage anyone from going.

FRAN KELLY: It's 7.45am on Breakfast, our guest is the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

Julie Bishop can I ask you about fate or the fortunes of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran in the prison in Indonesia? There have been media reports today that suggest that because of legal appeals of other prisoners on death row, it could be months, three months before their executions take place. Have you heard that? Can you confirm that?

JULIE BISHOP: I have not received that advice from any Indonesian authority. I learned a great deal about this case through the Indonesian media so I don't know whether those reports are correct or not. What I can tell you is we continue to make representations to President Widodo to spare the lives of these two Australians, as President Widodo does on behalf of Indonesian citizens who are facing death row in countries overseas.

FRAN KELLY: And how are we going with making those representations directly to the President? It's almost two weeks since Tony Abbott sought to speak with Joko Widodo. As far as we know he is still awaiting the President's call. Why won't he speak with Tony Abbott?

JULIE BISHOP: You would have to ask the President that. Prime Minister Abbott has spoken to him on a number of occasions, there has been written correspondence between them, I likewise have spoken to my counterpart on a number of occasions, there has been an amount of correspondence between us as well. There has been no shortage of representations made on behalf of the Australian Government, on behalf of Mr Sukumaran and Mr Chan and we will continue to do so.

But I don't think Indonesia is in any doubt as to how we feel about this matter. We oppose the death penalty both at home and abroad and we are not asking Indonesia, or indeed the President, to do any more than Indonesia asks of other countries in relation to its citizens on death row abroad.

FRAN KELLY: Obviously everyone here is going to search for signs of hope and there has been reports out of Indonesia in recent days that senior government and political figures including a former Presidential candidate - high profile Probowo Subianto, suggesting, well they are urging, the President to reconsider the executions of these two Australians. Are you picking up any change of heart within the Government?

JULIE BISHOP: Well most certainly these reports are encouraging but again I haven't had that change of heart conveyed to me by any Indonesian authority, but we will continue to make representations. We believe that even though these two men committed very serious crimes - and I know that there are people who believe that they should take the punishment meted out to them - I can see no good purpose to be served at all by executing the young Australians who have made a remarkable rehabilitation and who are truly remorseful and I believe should be given a second chance. They would spend the rest of their lives in jail in Indonesia but at least they could make a contribution to the welfare of other prisoners in Indonesia, given they have been rehabilitated in such a remarkable way.

FRAN KELLY: Julie Bishop, thank you very much for your time this morning.

JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.

Media enquiries