ABC Radio Perth, Mornings - Interview with Geoff Hutchison

  • Transcript, E&OE

JOURNALIST: Julie Bishop, good morning.

JULIE BISHOP: Good morning. Good to be with you.

JOURNALIST: Your response to those events in Las Vegas –

JULIE BISHOP: I am deeply shocked and saddened by this horrific incident in Las Vegas. My thoughts are with the families of the victims. At least 58 have been killed. We are hoping for a recovery for all those injured, at least 515, but I think our thoughts should also be with the American people for they are suffering through the worst mass shooting in US history and I have contacted US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to convey our sympathies and condolences and to offer any assistance that we can provide as their authorities go through the investigation which must take place and which is underway.

JOURNALIST: There are hundreds of thousands of Australians who go to Las Vegas every year, what efforts are being made to track their safety?

JULIE BISHOP: At this stage our consular officials have not been able to ascertain that any Australians are involved. I've been in contact with our Consul General in Los Angeles throughout the night and she confirmed that at this point no Australians have been identified as a victim or a person injure. However there were so many people involved. There were thousands of people in the streets, as you point out, many Australians visit Las Vegas. Indeed it was estimated that in 2016 alone 365,000 Australian tourists went to Las Vegas so we have bolstered our consular staff on the ground in both Los Angeles and Las Vegas. We are contacting local authorities and each hospital in the vicinity and checking to see if any Australians have been admitted and at this point there haven't been. We are aware that Australians are involved to the extent that they were in the vicinity because of reports on social media and the like. We've had about 150 calls to our hotline. People concerned about the whereabouts of their loved ones and I do urge any Australians if they've not been able to contact their family or friends who they think might have been in Las Vegas they should ring our hotline on 1300 555 135.

JOURNALIST: Have you been given any further insight into the Australian woman Marilou Danley believed to have been in some kind of relationship with the shooter?

JULIE BISHOP: The US authorities did contact us seeking details of Marilou Danley. We understand that she's no longer a person of interest, she was not involved in the incident and that in fact she is not in the United States. The Las Vegas police have confirmed that she is no longer a person of interest to their investigation at this point, however there are reports that her ID was used in some way by the perpetrator perhaps to book the hotel.

JOURNALIST: My guest this morning is the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. This is the Morning program. Why has the United States, the authorities there, not acknowledged this yet as an act of terror?

JULIE BISHOP: The investigation is still underway. We know that there was a perpetrator and he is said to have been a lone gunman. He killed himself after the incident and the authorities are yet to identify a motive. I understand that the terrorist organisation ISIS has claimed responsibility but the FBI confirmed that there were no known links between the perpetrator and the terrorist organisation so at this point when the investigation is still underway, the motive isn't known, he acted alone, it seems the United States authorities are not yet prepared to label it and in those circumstances we'll just have to await the outcome of the investigation.

JOURNALIST: Is that a defensiveness though? An unwillingness to call out what may be considered an act of domestic terrorism?

JULIE BISHOP: It's a question of how one labels a terrorist incident and until such time as they know the motive, even though ISIS has claimed responsibility, I understand that there is no evidence to back that claim but whatever label we apply to it, it is a horrific tragedy with 58 people that we know of have been killed and 515 injured, the deadliest mass shooting in US history.

JOURNALIST: You're often called upon to respond on Australia's behalf to these terrible events. Why do you think there is such a desperate ring of familiarity about them in the United States at the moment?

JULIE BISHOP: Well this certainly isn't the first time that I've spoken about a mass shooting in the United States. We've had a number over the years and of course there have been appalling incidents around the world and we've seen terrorist attacks in European cities, indeed in our region and we've thwarted a number here in Australia. There is this appalling culture of violence throughout societies and each time I'm called upon to confirm whether or not Australians are involved I have such a heavy heart because no country is immune from violence and no country is immune from terrorist attacks.

JOURNALIST: It's true and yet this country of which we are so closely associated seems unable or unwilling to engage in a gun control debate. Do you know why that is? We know the historical nature of it, we know the second amendment but if you were looking at social media in the last 24 hours people are praying for America and then others are saying why aren't we praying for a debate about gun control. Why can't they do it?

JULIE BISHOP: I'm sure there will be a debate about gun control. In fact it's already emerging on social media, articles in the US media and policy makers, law makers, legislators will be debating this issue. Australia can offer our experience. We will recall in the late 1990s when a lone gunman massacred 35 people at Port Arthur and our response as a national government and working with the state governments was a national firearms agreement. We focused on automatic and semi-automatic weapons, there was the national gun buyback scheme, about 700,000 weapons were turned in and were destroyed. It doesn't mean it has prevented violence but we certainly haven't had mass killings of the type we've seen in the United States and we can offer that experience but it comes down to the US policy makers and legislators and the US public demanding change.

JOURNALIST: It's interesting though, after the Dunblane event in the United Kingdom there were changes of policy, there have not been a repeat of those events, you talk about Port Arthur and I wonder if the United States needs reminding from a friend that these kind of changes work even yesterday we had news that the gun amnesty in Australia, 1200 guns handed in in Western Australia, willingness from the public to say there is danger here and we can do something about it.

JULIE BISHOP: It's a very different debate in the United States and it is rooted in history, although I don't think the Founding Fathers had this in mind when they enshrined the right to bear arms, but given that there are 50 US states different laws apply in different state its very complex. We were able back in 1996 to get a national agreement with the states and territories but of course we're dealing with a far fewer number of governments and there was such a national outpouring of grief and rage about Port Arthur we had public backing I believe to embrace that national firearm agreement.

JOURNALIST: My guest this morning is the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. If you'd like to express a view this morning - 1300 222 720. How do you assess this nation's preparedness for acts of terror?

JULIE BISHOP: We place the security of our people as our highest priority as a government and we have worked very hard to ensure that our law enforcement, security and intelligence agencies have the resources and the funding they need. We have amended our laws on at least a half a dozen occasions to meet what is an ever evolving threat and risk and we work very closely with the state and territory governments. For example, we have discussed the issue of protection in places of mass gathering, whether we have sufficient powers and resources to deal with the kind of events we have seen elsewhere. We are continually reviewing and upgrading our approach to terrorist attacks or extremist events for the type of incidents that we've seen overseas, where a person can be driving a vehicle randomly through a tourist venue. We have to adapt and be very nimble in our response and that's why we work very closely with our security, intelligence, law enforcement agencies, the federal police and with each state and territory police force. We have been able to thwart a number of potential terrorist attacks but of course there have been incidents in Australia. We are not immune. That latest incident where we detected a plot to bring down an Etihad plane that would be travelling between Sydney and Abu Dhabi reminded us once more that we have to be ever vigilant.

JOURNALIST: There's a story today that the state government is to look to give WA Police increased powers to shoot to kill suspected terrorists should they be involved in a hostage situation similar to that of the Lindt Café. You've been Foreign Minister for a long time now and I wonder if you ever ask yourself if this is the new normal, these random acts of terrible violence that can't easily be assessed beforehand or do you think there might be a point where you get to look at it and say they were just times?

JULIE BISHOP: I hope we look back at this and say it was a period of time that will not be repeated but I fear that we will see terrorist incidents for some time to come. The radicalisation of young people is ongoing. The radicalisation and the violent extremism that emanates from social media, and what people are able to learn over the internet is deeply troubling. I was in the United Nations General Assembly Leaders Week recently in New York and a number of the sessions with world leaders were devoted to countering terrorism, countering violent extremism, sharing ideas, sharing best practice, sharing experiences. And it brings together countries from around the globe to try and get a better understanding of the times in which we live and the kind of violent incidents, horrific shootings and massacres, that we are seeing in different parts of the world. Australia offers our experience but we have a lot to learn from others as well. Importantly, we've stepped up our engagement with other nations, their intelligence and security and law enforcement agencies and we are working very closely with partners you would expect but also with major partners you might not expect Australia to have such deep ties with. This is because we put the security of our people at home and abroad at the highest priority we can.

JOURNALIST: Thank you very much for talking to me this morning.

JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.

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