ABC RN Breakfast - interview with Fran Kelly

  • Transcript, E&OE

FRAN KELLY: The President of Indonesia says Australia should join the Association of South East Asian Nations - or ASEAN - as the Turnbull Government prepares to host the first ASEAN summit on our soil. Australia is not a formal member of ASEAN but we do take part in the biennial leaders' summit. Now Joko Widodo says Australia should become a member. Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will be obviously a key figure during this ASEAN summit over the weekend. Minister, welcome back to RN Breakfast.

JULIE BISHOP: Thank you, Fran. Good to be with you.

FRAN KELLY: It's the first time Australia hosts an ASEAN summit here. We're not a formal member, but Indonesia says we should become one. Is that an invitation?

JULIE BISHOP: We have had a very long and close connection with ASEAN since it was established in 1967; in fact, we became their first dialogue partner in 1974. The relationship between Australia and the ten ASEAN countries has now been elevated to a strategic partnership. It would be a matter for all ten ASEAN states to consider the admission of new members, and should such an honour ever be extended to Australia, of course, we would consider it very seriously, but it is a matter for the ASEAN nations as a whole to determine the make up of the association.

FRAN KELLY: We heard some criticisms earlier on the program of ASEAN as it is today, suggestion it's lost some heft, no longer has the internal cohesion to push back on China. Do you think that's what the Indonesian President's getting at when he said we could transform our strategic position in the Asia Pacific, about get more engaged strategically?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, ASEAN was set up in 1967 with five member nations - Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines - with a view to increasing trade and investment within the group; progressing social development, cultural ties and peace, stability and security. So that was its original vision which we of course supported, and then five more member nations have been added to the association: Myanmar, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. So as a group of ten, they really are at the heart of the Indo-Pacific region, which is our neighbourhood, our region. So we are very keen to work closely with the ASEAN countries individually, bilaterally as well as a collective, because we believe this grouping brings that peace, stability and security to the region. And we don't see it as having a role to balance the powers in the Indo-Pacific, but rather be at the heart of the engagement, collaboration with other countries.

FRAN KELLY: In terms of balancing powers though you gave a speech this week and you said Australia worked closely with the ASEAN nations in promoting a rules-based order in the region to - quote - prevent countries from using economic or military power as leverage over smaller nations. Were you talking about China?

JULIE BISHOP: I'm talking about any nation that seeks to exert military power in a way that affects the rights of other states.

FRAN KELLY: Is China doing that now in the region?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, let me make this point. The ASEAN charter itself seeks to strengthen democracies, the rule of law, protect and promote human rights, fundamental freedoms et cetera. So it's in our interest to engage with the ASEAN nations and offer what support we can in promoting principles that the organisation itself is committed to and align with Australia's values of defending, promoting the international rules-based order which protects the rights of all nations large and small.

FRAN KELLY: Speaking of global rules and speaking of human rights there's some criticism that the presence of Aung San Suu Kyi from Myanmar and Prime Minister Hun Sen from Cambodia here; your government is being urged to confront Aung San Suu Kyi over the treatment of Rohingya Muslims. Will you do that?

JULIE BISHOP: We have been in constant communication with Aung San Suu Kyi. In fact, both the Prime Minister and I have met her in ASEAN meetings and East Asia Summit. I spoke to her in January, and it's in our interest to engage all ASEAN members, including Aung San Suu Kyi, at this summit, because it gives us the best chance of influencing outcomes and making our concerns known. So these are matters that we will be discussing with the Myanmar delegation.

FRAN KELLY: What about the Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen? He's attending. He's threatened violence and intimidation against people here if they burn an effigy of him. He said a little while ago - quote - I will pursue them to their houses and I'll beat them up. Are you going to respond to that threat in any way?

JULIE BISHOP: We are certainly going to raise our concerns with the Cambodian delegation. Again, it's in our interest to engage with the leaders and the member states of ASEAN, because it's our neighbourhood, it's our region, and this does provide us with an opportunity of raising matters of concern, as well as matters of positive engagement with the individual states.

FRAN KELLY: But what does that tell you that kind of comment of him talking about that kind of violence on our soil. It's outrageous, isn't it?

JULIE BISHOP: Well clearly, that is not going to occur, but this summit provides an opportunity to raise with ASEAN leaders the value that we attach to protecting and promoting human rights, and I can assure you we will take every opportunity to do so.

FRAN KELLY: Another issue you're planning to raise at ASEAN is Britain's call for united global response against Russia's alleged chemical attack on the former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter. Australia supports Britain's retaliatory measures so far, which include expelling 23 Russian diplomats. Will we take similar action in solidarity?

JULIE BISHOP: Well Fran, let me put this incident in context. It has global security ramifications. The United Kingdom, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, has accused Russia, another permanent member of the Security Council, of deploying a military-grade and illegal- a banned nerve agent, a chemical weapon – in an attempt of an assignation on British soil. So Russia has had particular responsibility to uphold international peace and security as a member of the Security Council. There seems to be no plausible excuse. Either the Russia state was behind it or Russia has lost control of its chemical weapons stockpile. So either way Russia must answer these accusations.

FRAN KELLY: Has our government spoken to Russia about this, and demanded a response?

JULIE BISHOP: We have certainly sent people into Moscow, absolutely. But in addition to whatever other more immediate measures the Australian Government might decide is appropriate, we believe that this challenge demands an effective and concerted and coordinated international response to strengthen bans on the use of chemical weapons, and Australia has particular interest and responsibility. We chair The Australia Group. This is a grouping of 43 member states who are dedicated to preventing the proliferation of biological and chemical weapons, and so there could be further avenues that Australia can pursue at the international level and most certainly at a regional level to ensure that this type of thing can't happen again.

FRAN KELLY: In the short-term, though, are we planning any acts of retaliation here?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, in the short-term, we have decided to work very closely with the United Kingdom. You will be aware, of course, that we already have sanctions imposed on Russia. We introduced targeted financial sanctions on Russia in response to its threat against the territory and integrity of the Ukraine back in 2014. In 2015, the sanctions were expanded to cover trade with Russia in certain goods and services, and we've also imposed targeted financial sanctions on 48 entities and 153 individuals as well as travel bans on these individuals. So, we keep our sanctions against Russia under constant review, and we will continue to work very closely with the United Kingdom and other like-minded partners as the UK's investigation into this horrendous act continues.

FRAN KELLY: Bill Browder, the US businessman who employed the lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, who was tortured and murdered by Russian authorities back in 2009, has managed to get governments around the world to adopt what's called the Magnitsky Act, to sanction Russians connected to human rights violations. He told PM yesterday that Australia should do the same. Let's listen.

BILL BROWDER: Well, Australia should absolutely follow suit, and we have a situation where the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, have all got Magnitsky Acts, and Australia doesn't. And it doesn't make sense. Australia is one of our closest allies, there's no reason why Russians should feel comfortable keeping their blood money in Australia when none of the other countries will take it.[End of excerpt]

FRAN KELLY: Will we adopt a Magnitsky Act?

JULIE BISHOP: Australia has no existing sanctions or legislation similar to the Magnitsky Act, but we have autonomous sanctions - that is Australian-imposed sanctions - on Russia, as I've just gone through with you, including targeted financial sanctions on a number of entities and individuals.

FRAN KELLY: I understand that, but should we follow these other countries and adopt a Magnitsky Act?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, we keep the structure of our sanction regime under regular review, and at present we're considering what further action may well be necessary in the light of this recent attempted assassination using a military-grade nerve agent developed by Russia.

FRAN KELLY: It's 7.45 on Breakfast; our guest is Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Julie Bishop is heading into the more formal formalities of the ASEAN Special Summit that's being held in Sydney over the weekend.

Away from ASEAN, Minister: Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton wants to give humanitarian visas to white South African farmers who are under threat of violence and land seizures. Do you support special visas for these white South African farmers?

JULIE BISHOP: We do have an existing offshore humanitarian visa program to which any eligible person, including those claimed to being displaced through persecution, including those in South Africa, can apply for entry into Australia. All claims for humanitarian visa entry into Australia are assessed on their merits, of course, and so I'm working with the Home Affairs Minister to ascertain if any changes are needed to our existing offshore humanitarian visa program.

FRAN KELLY: But why are we doing this at this point? I mean, as one listener's written in already - I mean, I've had a lot of actually listener concern over this - has Minister Dutton spoken up about concern for the Palestinian farmers persecuted and oppressed by the Israelis?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, he monitors and has responsibility for the offshore humanitarian visa program. And he has been- what his department has been …

FRAN KELLY: [Interrupts] I think the point is double standards here: singling out these without necessarily being asked, and not coming to the aid of others.

JULIE BISHOP: Well, I'd reject that. What we do in our humanitarian visa program is assess visas on their merits, so people apply for the visas and they're assessed on their merits, and that's what Peter Dutton, as Home Affairs Minister, does every day. We assess these claims for refugee or humanitarian status into Australia, and they can come from all over the world and they do.

FRAN KELLY: Alright. South Africa, as we've heard this morning in the news, has called in our High Commissioner, demanding that the Minister Peter Dutton retracts his comments that white farmers are being persecuted and deserve protection with special visas. Will our government retract that?

JULIE BISHOP: Our High Commission in South Africa has regular discussions with the South African Government on a range of issues and concerns. For example …

FRAN KELLY: [Interrupts] Can you confirm they've been hauled in to do that?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, we do have regular discussions with the South African Government. We closely monitor reports, for example, on murder rates and patterns across the country in cities and rural areas, and I know that our High Commission is very concerned that there were 19,000 murders reported in South Africa in 2017, and that's why our travel advice for South Africa reflects that. The message that we urge upon the South African Government is that they seek to ensure the security of all their citizens, and we certainly urge the South African Government to ensure that any changes to land ownership, for example, are not disruptive to the economy, nor lead to violence.

FRAN KELLY: Julie Bishop, thank you very much for joining us.

JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.

FRAN KELLY: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop joining us ahead of the Special ASEAN summit in Sydney this weekend.

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