ABC Radio Perth Drive - Interview with Belinda Varischetti

  • Transcript, E&OE

JOURNALIST: The rogue nation fired a ballistic missile over Japan yesterday, now the missile landed harmlessly in the sea but the intent was very clear. The Foreign Minister is Julie Bishop. Minister, the Security Council including Russia and China have described this latest action as outrageous, how significant is this statement?

JULIE BISHOP: It is very significant for the UN Security Council to condemn North Korea's actions unanimously and in such strong terms. There's no doubt this latest missile test significantly escalated North Korea's provocative pattern of behaviour. To fire a ballistic missile over the territory of Japan was not only dangerous and threatening, it was illegal and North Korea is in direct defiance of numerous UN Security Council resolutions that make its weapons testing, its ballistic missiles testing, against international law. Essentially North Korea is thumbing its nose at the authority of the UN Security council.

JOURNALIST: The United States has said that all options are on the table in terms of resolving this and sanctions don't seem to work, do you see a military conflict as inevitable?

JULIE BISHOP: I don't believe the sanctions have yet been given an opportunity to work because we've only just seen the UN Security Council back on 5 August impose the toughest, most comprehensive set of sanctions ever against North Korea and they are yet to be fully implemented. In fact we won't see them bite for a few days or weeks and these are comprehensive sanctions. In the past they've been against individuals and entities and they have been rather haphazardly implemented but now all members of the Security Council, including China and Russia, and all countries are being urged to fully implemented these sanctions and that will, I believe, have a significant deterrence effect on North Korea.

JOURNALIST: Do you worry though that the sanctions will just punish the people of North Korea instead of the leadership?

JULIE BISHOP: Well the sanctions are actually targeted to stopping the revenues that the regime is using to fund their illegal tests. For example, there is a comprehensive ban against the export of North Korean coal, that is its largest export, on iron, lead, seafood – this is worth billions of dollars over time to North Korea but it will strip the regime of the revenue that it uses to fund its illegal tests. Likewise, there is now a ban on new work visas for North Korean labourers who earn revenue in say, China and elsewhere, and the regime used that for its illegal programs and there is also a ban on North Korea's foreign trade bank, its primary foreign exchange bank. These are sanctions that are comprehensive but particularly targeted to preventing the regime from gaining the money to fund its illegal programs.

JOURNALIST: Minister, what do we know about North Korea's capabilities? Is there any risk now or in the near future that their missiles could reach Australia?

JULIE BISHOP: Since Kim Jong Un assumed power in December 2011, North Korea has conducted dozens and dozens of missile tests, some estimate it could be at least 80 missile tests, and they have also conducted five nuclear tests, three of them under Kim Jong Un's rule. Clearly they are gaining capability, they are gaining a greater capacity, even a failed missile test can give them information that is of use. This is deeply troubling but we are yet to see North Korea develop a capability to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile that has attached to it a miniaturised nuclear device. If it assumes that capability then it poses not only regional risk but it is a global threat and that is what we're seeking to avoid by applying as much diplomatic, political and economic pressure on North Korea so it recalculates the risk of continuing down this path.

JOURNALIST: There's been talk that China might be the best hope of reigning in North Korea given their connections. Are they doing enough, or what could they, or should they be doing?

JULIE BISHOP: In the past China has had a very strong economic, diplomatic, political relationship with North Korea and in fact has been the source of most of North Korea's revenue, but China has now fully embraced the UN Security Council resolution imposing this unprecedented set of sanctions against North Korea and China is now, I believe, in dialogue with the United States about how to prevent North Korea from going down this path of nuclear weapons capability. I think all countries around the world would find it utterly unacceptable that a rogue state like North Korea, that is in direct defiance of numerous UN Security Council resolutions, could retain an illegal nuclear power capability.

JOURNALIST: Just on another matter, you've offered to help the Philippines in its fight against Islamic State. Have you heard back about whether that offer will be taken up?

JULIE BISHOP: No we haven't specifically. We continue to talk with the Philippines about the needs of the Armed Forces Philippines who are battling ISIS foreign terrorist fighters and a number of other combatants in the southern Philippines. We're already providing some defence support through surveillance, intelligence and sharing information but I explained to President Duterte that Australia had experience in advising, assisting and training defence forces elsewhere in urban warfare and that's what they are now confronted with in the southern Philippines. The ISIS inspired fighters are embedded in civilian populations, in some instances they are holding people hostage in mosques and the like and a different type of fighting, such as we've been advising and assisting on in Iraq and Afghanistan may be of relevance to what the Philippines are facing in Marawi and the southern part of their nation.

JOURNALIST: One last question, Minister. George Williams, a constitutional law expert, told the Press Club today that he believed the same sex marriage vote will be struck down by the High Court – what will the Government do if that happens?

JULIE BISHOP: Well the plebiscite legislation that we put to the Parliament would have avoided any such constitutional issue but Labor voted against the plebiscite legislation on two occasions. Had they backed it the first time around, this whole issue could have been determined by February this year but because we don't have a majority in the Senate and Labor opposed the legislation we went down the path of the postal vote. We've received very strong advice that it is constitutional and that it will be upheld.

JOURNALIST: Thank you for your time this afternoon Julie Bishop.

JULIE BISHOP: Thank you Belinda.

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