ABC RN Breakfast - Interview with Fran Kelly

  • Transcript, E&OE

FRAN KELLY: Julie Bishop is the Foreign Minister of Australia and the Deputy Liberal Leader. She joined us in our Parliament House studios. Julie Bishop welcome back to RN Breakfast.

JULIE BISHOP: Good morning Fran.

FRAN KELLY: Before we get to the Human Rights Council can I ask you about this case involving the Border Security Chief Roman Quaedvlieg? He's been stood down on full pay while the Government investigates whether he helped his girlfriend get a job at Sydney Airport. How does the public make sense of this, a senior public servant being paid half a million dollars to sit at home while he's being investigated?

JULIE BISHOP: Fran, I understand the matter is under investigation and it's quite proper that it should be, but it would be highly inappropriate of me to make a comment on this while it is under investigation.

FRAN KELLY: No, but can you just bear a thought for people sitting at home going what is going on here? As one of our listeners pointed out, there's plenty of people on Centrelink payments who wish they could sit at home for 9 months on full pay while their case is investigated.

JULIE BISHOP: I'm not aware of the specific details. He doesn't work in my Department. I know there is an investigation underway. I do not know the details but I'm sure when the investigation is completed there will be answers.

FRAN KELLY: Alright, but as a senior member of the Government are you frustrated this has taken 9 months?

JULIE BISHOP: I'm always concerned when investigations take a long time but obviously there are complexities involved. As long as the investigation is thorough and that there are answers at the end of it, then I'm sure it would have been worthwhile.

FRAN KELLY: Okay, let's go to matters within your portfolio. The UN Security Council passed a resolution just the other day for a 30 day ceasefire in Syria. Within hours it was breached. Syrian Government forces have been shelling civilians in the rebel held enclave in East Ghouta near Damascus. Now the Russian President Vladimir Putin has intervened and ordered a daily pause in the fighting - 5 hours every day - to allow people to get out. It's a welcomed intervention but it also shows, doesn't it, who is calling the shots in Syria?

JULIE BISHOP: It is a deeply complex situation. We have been involved in supporting Coalition forces fight against ISIS. The terrorist group was able to take hold in Syria because of this complex civil war that is raging, and ISIS, the terrorists, were able to fill the ungoverned spaces and take territory like Al Raqqa. So while there are Coalition forces seeking to fight the terrorists, there's a civil war raging and there are such complexities because other nations are backing different sides in the civil war. Russia is quite obviously, and openly, backing the Assad forces and it seems Russia is calling the shots when it comes to President Assad. If Russia is able to obtain a ceasefire from the Assad forces, who have been bombarding Eastern Ghouta, well then that's a good thing, that's a positive sign that there is going to be some kind of ceasefire. The United Nations Security Council has resolved, in fact it was last Saturday, that there be a 30 day pause to enable humanitarian aid to be delivered to those affected by the bombing. It's a terrible situation. There are shocking allegations of the use of chemical weapons. Australia is now on the Human Rights Council and overnight the Human Rights Council condemned what is going on in Syria. We're also imposing sanctions on individuals and entities that are thought to have committed some of these atrocious crimes including crimes against humanity, the use of chemical weapons, and Australia is supporting a UN investigative mechanism that has been set up to investigate, and hopefully prosecute those involved in these crimes.

FRAN KELLY: Does it show, not just that Russia is supporting Assad, backing Assad as you said, but it's controlling the Assad forces if it can force this ceasefire so immediately? Is there any more Australia can do through the forum of the Human Rights Council to press Russia in particular? I mean, Russia is a member of the National Security Council.

JULIE BISHOP: I think it's evident that Russia has been backing the Assad regime for some time. They're quite open about that.

FRAN KELLY: And controlling, yeah.

JULIE BISHOP: They intervened specifically to support Assad against those who were seeking to remove Assad, and Russia has thrown its weight behind President Assad. We are deeply concerned about the allegations of use of chemical weapons and Australia has been involved in supporting resolutions against those that we believe to be responsible. We're providing funding to the UN investigative mechanism and as you say, Russia is a member of the UN Security Council - it is one of the Permanent Five. It has a unique responsibility to bring stability and peace to the region along with the other Permanent Five members.

FRAN KELLY: Can we move to the Human Rights Council now? We heard earlier on the program from Daniel Webb, and we heard a little bit there, he's from the Human Rights Law Centre. He says there is: "A staggering gulf between what the Australian Government says about human rights on the world stage and what it does domestically". Are you prepared for the greater scrutiny that will come, likely come, with being a member of the Human Rights Council?

JULIE BISHOP: Absolutely. Australia has now taken a place on the Human Rights Council for the first time. The Turnbull Government sought this seat, we campaigned for the seat, because there is an election, we were overwhelmingly elected to the Human Rights Council and I was very proud that overnight our Governor-General, as our Head of State, made an opening statement for Australia marking our first term on the Human Rights Council. We are an open liberal democracy. We are a nation that's committed to freedom, the rule of law, democratic institutions, and countries like Australia should serve on the Human Rights Council to assist other countries to improve their human rights record. It's not about lecturing other countries, it's about working with others collaboratively to try and improve human rights situations around the world. There are more -

FRAN KELLY: But is our credibility affected in that if we, as you say, an open, liberal democracy, have offshore detention policies criticised by many as being unjust?

JULIE BISHOP: There are many who believe that what we have done in turning back the boats and imposing very strong border protection laws is the right thing to do. There is nothing humanitarian, there is nothing humane about enticing people to their deaths via the people smuggling trade as we saw under the weak border protection laws from the previous Labor government. What we are doing is what every sovereign government should do – protect our borders and determine our immigration flows. Australia has one of the proudest records of bringing in refugees. Since the Second World War, 865,000 people have come to Australia on refugee and humanitarian visas. Every year we resettle 18,750 people on refugee visas. We've taken 12,000 additional refugees from Syria. It is a record that Australians should be proud of and it is certainly one that I am prepared to have scrutinised by the Human Rights Council and any other nation around the world.

FRAN KELLY: China's military build-up in the South China Sea was the backdrop, in part, to the PM's recent visit with the US President in Washington. Donald Trump told Malcolm Turnbull he would love to see Australia support US freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea. I know you've said this is an operational matter but if this could be done without breaching international law, why wouldn't Australia join a show of force against China?

JULIE BISHOP: We carry out exercises in the South China Sea. It is not about a show of force - we already uphold our right of freedom of navigation, freedom of overflight in the South China Sea. We were part of an expedition through the South China Sea recently so Australia does carry out exercises in the South China Sea. The United States has a global FONOPs program and they carry out operations around the world. Australia does not. So what we do is continue to uphold our right to keep our seas open and free according to international law and that's what we'll continue.

FRAN KELLY: Do you think we are going to come under more pressure to do more? I mean, we've got Admiral Harry Harris now about to take up his post as US Ambassador. He is a well-known critic of China's expansionary efforts. Are we going to come under increasing pressure to take part in [inaudible] and overflights?

JULIE BISHOP: Australia makes its own decisions as to what is in our national interest and if we decide that we need to undertake more exercises in the South China Sea, then we will do it, but it is not for other countries to dictate to Australia, and they don't.


JULIE BISHOP: The United States has a global FONOPs program. We don't align every effort that we do with the United States. We complement each other but we take our own decisions.

FRAN KELLY: Can I just ask you briefly on another matter – the North Korea sanctions? The US President Donald Trump said if sanctions didn't work with North Korea the US would launch phase two of its plan and he went on to say 'phase two' may be: "A very, very rough thing – very unfortunate for the world". What do you believe 'phase two' looks like?

JULIE BISHOP: I am focused on what we are currently doing and that is the maximum diplomatic and political and economic pressure and I believe it is working. I believe the economic sanctions on North Korea are the reason why we saw North Korea try to make efforts to open communications with South Korea in the Winter Games. It is the pressure on North Korea that has made it take these moves. As far as I can see, the diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea is working and we must continue to maintain that pressure to bring it back to the negotiating table so we can talk with North Korea about how we are going to denuclearise the Korean Peninsula.

FRAN KELLY: Can I just ask you finally, matters around the Barnaby Joyce saga? You are a senior female political leader in WA, politician in WA. Catherine Marriot is a senior community leader from the ag community in WA. What do you think of the way her confidential complaint against Barnaby Joyce has been handled?

JULIE BISHOP: That's obviously very distressing for her. I don't know her. I had no idea about these allegations until I read them in the press. But, clearly, if somebody wanted these allegations to be investigated, and want them to be confidential, it is very distressing that they have been made public, and I certainly hope the person who made them public regrets it.

FRAN KELLY: There is talk now that the complaint was 'weaponised' – that is the word being used – to use against Barnaby Joyce. But have we lost the plot here? We're talking about the politics, not about the impact of this going public on this woman.

JULIE BISHOP: I understand this matter is being investigated. Again, it is not appropriate to run a commentary on a matter under investigation.

FRAN KELLY: Just finally, why did the Prime Minister wait two weeks before ordering a departmental investigation of whether Barnaby Joyce had breached the Ministerial Code of Conduct?

JULIE BISHOP: There was certainly no evidence that he had. Any matter in relation to his travel entitlements is subject of independent investigation anyway. You will recall that the Prime Minister set up this independent body to look at parliamentarians travel entitlements and they are able to do that of their own volition.

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

JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.

Media enquiries