ABC RN Breakfast interview with Fran Kelly

  • Transcript, E&OE

JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop joins us now. Julie Bishop, welcome back to Breakfast.

JULIE BISHOP: Good morning Fran.

JOURNALIST: John Howard once called Robert Mugabe a grubby dictator; how do you remember him?

JULIE BISHOP: President Mugabe was a tyrant. He used fear and violence in his brutal rule of the Zimbabwean people over decades. I was in Zimbabwe as a Commonwealth electoral observer for the 2000 and the 2002 elections and he used the military and the police to crush his opposition. There was state-sponsored violence and intimidation and it continued.

I think the tragedy is that a once strong economy was utterly trashed as he drove commercial farmers off their land and gave it to his cronies and the Zimbabwean economy tanked. Once it had such enormous potential to deliver a good standard of living for all Zimbabweans and there was so much corruption and mismanagement, it was overwhelming. President Mugabe promised so much as an independence leader but he badly let down the people of Zimbabwe in a most tragic way. He's now, at last, lost the support of ZANU-PF, his party, and the Zimbabwean people at last have a chance to rebuild a better society.

JOURNALIST: And talk of rebuilding; let's look at the way this came crashing down because, as you say, he began his rule - Robert Mugabe - as a hero of Zimbabwe's independence but ended it as a tyrant or a despot. John Howard was very critical of South Africa as the dominant force in the region for not pushing earlier for democratic change and as we've seen in the last days, it's taken the military in Zimbabwe to remove him which is not really the democratic change that Howard and the Australian Government was hoping for.

JULIE BISHOP: That's right, but at the end of the day, the military backed the will of the Zimbabwean people. Something had to break, there had to be a circuit breaker and, at last, the people have a chance for serious political change in Zimbabwe.

JOURNALIST: And do they? I mean, do you have any optimism that the man who is now set to take over from Robert Mugabe - the man who was sacked by Robert Mugabe - the former vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa will unify the country and will be able to improve the economy?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, I am concerned that Vice President Mnangagwa was a Vice President in the ZANU-PF party which supported President Mugabe for so long. He's been made president of the ruling ZANU-PF party, he may take over the presidency, but this is still to unfold. We are urging all parties to remain peaceful and follow the constitution in Zimbabwe and the transition process. There are no threats to civil order currently but I'm certainly concerned as to how this matter will play out. It has been a long time coming and many countries, including Australia, have been highly critical of Zimbabwe for a very long time, but at last the people have an opportunity for important political change.

JOURNALIST: Let's bring it back home; the decision to cancel next week's sitting of the lower house prompted the Labor Senator Kimberley Kitching to liken Malcolm Turnbull effectively to Robert Mugabe and on a number of levels, obviously, that's an outrageous comparison. But Parliament is central to our democracy; cancelling a week of Parliament at a whim is not a good look, is it?

JULIE BISHOP: Well that was an outrageous and stupid and ridiculous thing for a Senator to say, particularly in the context of Robert Mugabe's tyrannical rule over the Zimbabwean people. I mean, seriously?

But in relation to the sittings of the House of Representatives, there was always going to be two sitting weeks before Christmas, there are still going to be two sitting weeks before Christmas …

JOURNALIST: Well, are they? You're not mandating that. You're saying one week and then, if necessary, the second week.

JULIE BISHOP: Well that's right, it's available. So I've certainly cleared my diary for that second week and it would be foolish not to, but we want to make sure that the Parliament can sit on the basis that the citizenship matter is cleared up. We are moving a motion in the House of Representatives on 4 December and requiring members to file a citizenship declaration on 5 December. - this gives us an opportunity to clear up the circumstances surrounding those who have very serious questions to answer about their eligibility to sit in Parliament and, indeed, they are Labor members. So I think that the Labor Party should stop being sneaky and deceptive and be supportive of this attempt to clear up the citizenship issues.

Likewise, the Senate has set a timeline that means it's unlikely to finish debating the same sex marriage bill until 30 November, so then the House can resume on 4 December at 10am and sit until the Marriage Act is law and until all citizenship issues have been dealt with by the house.

JOURNALIST: The decision to scrap that week has been widely criticised by your political opponents, but even some on your own side have been left confused by the decision. Here's Tony Abbott:


TONY ABBOTT: Look, you might not always want to go back to Parliament but you always have to go back to Parliament because that's your job. I think, perhaps on both sides of the Parliament, it's been the era of toxic egos. I think this has been part of our problem, too many people have put themselves first and not their country.


JOURNALIST: So too many toxic egos and even if you don't want to go back to Parliament, you have to go back to Parliament, that's your job.

JULIE BISHOP: That's right…

JOURNALIST: Julie Bishop, even some in your own party believe that you're too frightened to front up next week when you'd be two votes down.

JULIE BISHOP: We are going back to Parliament, this is our job. We are going back to Parliament on …

JOURNALIST: You're not going back at the time when you are most vulnerable given the numbers in the Parliament.

JULIE BISHOP: Well, that's not right, Fran. Barnaby Joyce is facing a by-election on 2 December, John Alexander is facing a by-election on 16 December. We are returning to the Parliament on 4 December, we are going back. There are two weeks available, there were always going to be two weeks, and Parliamentary schedules have changed in the past. This is not the first time this has been done. So the numbers are the same on the week of the 27th as they are on the week of the 4th. What this means …

JOURNALIST: So let me ask you this, though …

JULIE BISHOP: Hang on, Fran. What this means is we can deal with the citizenship issue seamlessly, we can deal with the same sex marriage bill seamlessly and they are priorities for us.

JOURNALIST: And if Barry O'Sullivan, a Senator on your side, introduces a private members bill about a commission of inquiry into the banks into the Senate, will the Government ensure that that second week – that week later in December – will be available if the Parliamentarians want to debate that?

JULIE BISHOP: Well the Senate is sitting as usual so the Senate …

JOURNALIST: I'm talking about the Reps.

JULIE BISHOP: Yes, well you just said if Barry O'Sullivan introduces a bill into the Senate. Yes, so the Senate is sitting, so that could occur, and it will depend on the priority of the bills. I would have thought that getting the same sex marriage bill through the House before Christmas was a priority. I also think clearing up the citizenship issue when there are Labor members who have admitted that they had dual citizenship at the time they were pre-selected or elected, I think that that is a priority that needs to be determined – the eligibility of the people to sit in Parliament – and then we can look at the priority for other legislation or other bills.

JOURNALIST: Your name has been mentioned recently in dispatches when it comes to leadership of the coalition- of the Liberal Party. Polling shows you're more popular than Malcolm Turnbull in the last Newspoll that polled on that. If you were Prime Minister, would you have scrapped Parliament?

JULIE BISHOP: Well Fran, this is a hypothetical. I'm the deputy leader of the party and I was part of the leadership discussion on this issue.

JOURNALIST: You're listening to RN Breakfast, it's 7:43. Our guest is Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

Minister, on another issue, the UNHCR is on Manus Island at the moment. Their representative is calling again for Australia to play an active role in finding solutions to what it calls the humanitarian crisis playing out there: 300 men still living in that detention centre without water, electricity, health services, and medication. In the words of Nai Jit Lam who is the UNHCR deputy representative in Canberra, Australia has in effect created in abandon a humanitarian crisis at the doorstop of the international community. This is the criticism made yesterday. What's your response?

JULIE BISHOP: That's not correct. The stand-off on Manus Island can be ended if the men on Manus Island move from the regional processing centre to the alternative accommodation that is being offered. So there is accommodation that is perfectly acceptable. Indeed, many people have moved there already and those who have stayed on Manus Island are choosing to do so to try and force Australia to take them, and Australia will not change its policy. We will not be resettling these men on Manus Island, and they can access accommodation and medical supplies and food and water and electricity if they move to the alternative accommodation where other refugees have already been located.

JOURNALIST: Alright. Finally and importantly too, the Government is stepping up its support for the 600,000 Rohingya refugees who've been forced to flee Myanmar. Our Government will match dollar for dollar donations given to the emergency appeal that's on at the moment. It's been described as the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world. How will these funds be used?

JULIE BISHOP: The humanitarian crisis in Myanmar's Rakhine State continues. Over 620,000 people have fled to Bangladesh to get away from the violence. And since August, most of them are women and children, reliant on humanitarian aid to survive.

Already, the Government has contributed about $30 million in assistance that we're providing in response to the crisis. We've now announced a four-week joint appeal with leading humanitarian agencies to help raise public contributions. I know the Australian people want to contribute to support people who've been displaced by the violence in Rakhine State. So far, the public has donated about $1.2 million to the appeal, and we are going to match funding up to a total of $5 million, and there are key partners like CARE and Caritas, Oxfam, Plan International, Save the Children, World Vision, and of course the ABC is supporting the appeal through their website.

Now, all of the agencies participating in the appeal are very experienced in providing humanitarian assistance and people can be very confident that their donations to these agencies will reach those most in need, and we're talking about emergency shelter, food, clean water, sanitation, health care, trauma counselling etc for those affected including close communities in Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh.

JOURNALIST: Meanwhile, the British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson overnight has told the House of Commons that the UK has received - quote - very troubling evidence that may suggest genocide has been committed against the Rohingyas. He says the purge amounts to ethnic cleansing. Does the Australian Government regard the treatment of the Rohingya as a crime against humanity?

JULIE BISHOP: The Australian Government is focused on ensuring that there is an independent investigation of the violence and the atrocities that have occurred in Myanmar, and we have called for and supported an independent investigation, particularly by the UN, and we'll continue to focus on the humanitarian needs which is our immediate concern.

JOURNALIST: And just briefly and finally, Aung San Suu Kyi also overnight says she hopes to get an agreement soon with Bangladesh to repatriate those hundreds of thousands of Rohingya, but aid agencies and media observers still aren't allowed into Rakhine State. Does that need to happen first before anyone's allowed to go home?

JULIE BISHOP: Well clearly, we are working very closely with Bangladesh. I spoke to the Foreign Minister the other day about the heavy burden that they are carrying. We are working closely with Indonesia, driving the regional approach to the crisis, including working through the Bali Process which we co-chair with Indonesia. We're working with Indonesia on aid delivery, and we're co-leading with the United Kingdom, a donor working group, to help co-ordinate aid for Rakhine State and supporting the implementation of Kofi Annan's report on Rakhine State. So Australia is certainly playing its role in ensuring that we can end this humanitarian crisis …


JULIE BISHOP: …and people can return to Rakhine State.

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

JULIE BISHOP: Thanks, Fran.

JOURNALIST: Julie Bishop is Foreign Minister and Deputy Liberal Leader, and as she mentioned the ABC is partnering with the Government on the Rohingya appeal. If you'd like to donate, you can go to the ABC appeal's web page where all the different agencies are listed.

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