ABC Radio National, Sydney - interview with Sarah Dingle

  • Transcript
  • E&OE

JOURNALIST Julie Bishop is the Foreign Affairs Minister. Welcome to Summer Breakfast.

JULIE BISHOP Good Morning.

JOURNALIST Minister, what do we know about the people behind this attack so far?

JULIE BISHOP Well, first the Australian Government absolutely condemns these horrific attacks in Jakarta and I spoke with my Indonesian foreign minister counterpart Retno Marsudi yesterday to convey that Australia stands with Indonesia at this shocking time and offering here whatever support Indonesia may need in the investigation of these attacks. We do understand that one foreigner, we believe a Canadian, and one police officer have been killed and we certainly extend our condolences to the family and friends of those who were killed and also those injured.

We understand from reports that ISIL or Daesh in Syria have claimed responsibility. We also understand that there is a cell within Indonesia. Our embassy has been in constant contact with local authorities and my colleague, the Attorney-General, has also contacted his counterpart overnight and offered law enforcement and intelligence assistance to Indonesia. So we'll continue to liaise closely with the Indonesians on this issue through our embassy and we have an Australian Federal Police team in Jakarta at this time.

JOURNALIST The Indonesian police said they received a warning saying the country would be on international news and the shootings and explosions appear to be coordinated. Do you know how long Islamic State have been planning this attack?

JULIE BISHOP The advice we have is that warnings have been coming for some time. Indeed we signed a further counter-terrorism agreement with Indonesia just recently in view of the fact that there has been an expectation that an attack would take place in our part of the world at some time. So experts have been expecting some kind of attack at some point and I do pay tribute to the Indonesian police who responded so quickly, otherwise the death toll may well have been higher.

JOURNALIST Well Reuters is reporting this morning some more precise information. They say they were in contact with a man believed to be behind these attacks, Bahrun Naim, who's in Syria, an Indonesian man in Syria. Reuters had contact with him last November when he spoke about planning an attack and apparently Indonesian authorities on social media were also observing the chatter. So, is this an operational failure, if they had that information?

JULIE BISHOP The named person, Bahrun Naim, is in Syria and we know the complexities and the challenges of the conflict in Syria at present. Australia has no embassy or presence in Syria and so information from that part of the world is obviously very difficult to come by. This man's name has been known for some time but he's in Syria, he's not in Indonesia. And intelligence, other authorities and law enforcement agencies have been working around the clock for months, years even to track these terrorists and to track the flow of funding, the flow of support and to do what they can to thwart terrorist attacks. There was a significant arrest in Indonesia in December of people suspected of carrying out terrorist activity.

JOURNALIST Did Australian intelligence officials know that this attack was coming?

JULIE BISHOP Well, I wouldn't reveal what Australian intelligence authorities knew except to say we work very closely with Indonesia on counter-terrorism activities. We share intelligence, experiences and law enforcement capability.

JOURNALIST Well, you mentioned the operation in Indonesia in December. In November, Indonesia's National Police Chief openly challenged the nation's most wanted terrorist at that point, Santoso, to make good on his words and challenged him to blow up the Jakarta police headquarters. Are you worried about how Indonesian authorities have dealt with this rising terror threat within their country, given this most recent attack is challenging a terrorist to make good on their words – is this the best way to handle this?

JULIE BISHOP Australia and Indonesia already have very strong cooperation in countering terrorism; we work together on a broad range of law enforcement and security cooperation including intelligence and information sharing, investigative techniques, airport security, legal frameworks and the broader management of counter terrorism and also special forces training, and as I said, we're strengthening these cooperations because we just signed a renewed counter-terrorism Memorandum of Understanding in Sydney last month.

JOURNALIST Well the concerns are now with this latest attack with movement in the Philippines that Islamic State is targeting our region. Last year Attorney General George Brandis said that Indonesia was a candidate for a distant caliphate – is that what we're seeing now?

JULIE BISHOP Well the Government has been concerned for some time about the growing influence of ISIL or Daesh in the region and we're working closely not only with Indonesia but with other regional governments across Asia to address the threat, and increasing cooperation between security agencies, intelligence agencies has been underway in response to the threat posed by these and other extremists in our region for some time.

JOURNALIST But do you think it's likely that IS is moving to set up a headquarters in Southeast Asia in our region on our doorstep?

JULIE BISHOP Well they've already claimed a caliphate in Mindanao in the Southern Philippines, so that's already occurred.

JOURNALIST What do we know about the targets? There was a police booth, one of the attacks occurred near a UN building, quite high profile, what does this say about the nature of this attack?

JULIE BISHOP The coordinated nature of the attacks is reminiscent of what occurred in Paris. Obviously it's deeply concerning that there appears to be a connection between Syria and our region, but this has been expected for some time. Our embassy is in constant contact with local authorities and so we're working very closely with them to ascertain more details.

What I can confirm is that we have no information to suggest that any Australians have been affected and our embassy and - I've spoken to our ambassador – our embassy has accounted for all Australian and embassy staff and their families, as well as volunteers paid for by the Australian or supported by the Australian Government as contractors, and students. So we're making contact with as many Australians as we can to ensure that they're safe.

JOURNALIST You have upgraded travel advice for Indonesia and particular in relation to central Jakarta. Would you advise against Australians travelling to Indonesia at this time?

JULIE BISHOP Our travel advice for Indonesia was updated yesterday. Our advice is that Australians should avoid the area of central Jakarta and follow the instructions of local authorities, but the overall level of advice hasn't changed. We continue to advise Australians to exercise a high degree of caution in Indonesia, including in Jakarta.

JOURNALIST Just yesterday Defence Minister Marise Payne rejected calls by the US to increase our military involvement in fighting Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Do you stand by that decision after these latest attacks in Jakarta?

JULIE BISHOP Absolutely. The United States approached about 40 countries contributing to the international effort to combat Daesh/ISIL to ask them for further support and our response to the United States took into account the substantial contribution we're already making to train Iraqi security forces and to the air campaign over Iraq and Syria, and as the Defence Minister said, we've confirmed with the United States that our existing substantial contribution to the international coalition will continue.

We are the second largest military contributor to the coalition efforts on the ground in Iraq and a major contributor to the air campaign. We've already committed to playing a significant role in countering terrorism so of course I stand with the decision and it was as a result of quite extensive consideration across the relevant departments and agencies. We certainly welcome and encourage other likeminded countries to make a great contribution where possible.

JOURNALIST Well former Defence Minister Kevin Andrews has said the only way to defeat Islamic State is with more Australian boots on the ground in the Middle East. Does this latest attack in Jakarta and what happened in Paris show that we're losing the fight with IS? Do we need to step up?

JULIE BISHOP Well that is not the advice that we've received and we encourage other like-minded countries to make a greater contribution. I certainly welcome the decision from several countries last year including the United Kingdom, Germany and France to increase their contribution to the fight against terrorism. But there are many other countries who could also provide more support. We continue to keep our contribution under continual review in consultation with our coalition partners.

JOURNALIST A new report about – back home – about Australians' views towards the Muslim community have found about 10 per cent of the nation's adults have a phobia about Muslim people. Are you worried that Australians might be coming more prejudiced towards Muslims at home?

JULIE BISHOP We must ensure that Australia remains a tolerant, open, inclusive society. We embrace freedoms, democracy – that's what Australia is, that's the values, the face that we present to the world and I would hope that would continue to be the case.

JOURNALIST Julie Bishop, thank you for joining us this morning.

JULIE BISHOP My pleasure.

Media enquiries