ABC RN Breakfast, interview with Fran Kelly

  • Transcript, E&OE

JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop joins us in our Parliament House studios. Minister, welcome back to Breakfast.

JULIE BISHOP: Good morning Fran, good to be with you.

JOURNALIST: Minister, when you launched Australia's bid for the Council you said we would bring a "principled, pragmatic and passionate approach to human rights." We've now got three years to make our mark, what will Australia's priorities be?

JULIE BISHOP: Fran, first might I put this in perspective. We won 176 votes last evening. When we were elected to the Security Council it was considered a resounding win with 140 votes. So at 176 that's a very strong endorsement by the international community of Australia as a contributing member to the UN generally, but specifically we are a principled and pragmatic voice when it comes to human rights. Our focus will be on a number of issues including the empowerment of women, indigenous rights, strong domestic human rights institutions and the like. We will also bring our views on the abolition of the death penalty and we'll also be focussing on some of the human rights crises around the world including in North Korea and Syria. This is the first time Australia has been elected to this body and I am very proud of the fact that our team worked so hard and garnered such incredible international support.

JOURNALIST: We've been elected along with Senegal, which has issues with child trafficking and exploitation; Mexico, whose security forces have consistently been accused of extrajudicial killings; the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has a terrible record when it comes to torture and child soldiers; not to mention Pakistan, which still sees women stoned to death for alleged sexual infidelity or less. Is this the type of company we want to keep?

JULIE BISHOP: We were encouraged to run for the Human Rights Council precisely because we are an open, liberal democracy committed to freedoms, human rights, the rule of law and we are a strong advocate and promoter of the international rules-based order which is how states should behave and towards each other. We were elected by the Western Europe and Others group. Now other regions in the world choose whom they want to represent them on the Human Rights Council. I think it is better for countries to be on the Council, to be subject to scrutiny, to be accountable and more transparent, and so while the human rights records of a number of those who have been elected this time and in previous elections is questionable at best, I believe that it is an opportunity for other countries to scrutinise their record and to hold them to account.

JOURNALIST: Well except what it the cost of that? I mean as you say there's already others there on the Council, the Philippines is a member of the Council, when we've talked before about Manila's extrajudicial war on drugs which has killed more than 6,000 people. Saudi Arabia is a member, it's one of the world's most prolific users of the death penalty and it severely restricts the rights of women. There are calls to reform the Council, to make it more difficult for countries that violate human rights at home to be elected. This is a prize, we fought hard for this prize, why should countries that have this kind of record be there and is that something Australia would support, to change the rules?

JULIE BISHOP: We most certainly embrace the call for reforms and when I was in New York recently at the United Nations General Assembly Leaders Week I joined with other likeminded nations in calling for reform of the Human Rights Council and of the UN more generally. In fact the calls for reforms to the Human Rights Council were embraced by a majority of countries. We recognise its shortfalls, we recognise its failings, but we are prepared to be part of an effort to change it, along with the United States who encouraged us to run in the first place for the Human Rights Council and is leading the charge on reforming the Council so that countries' appalling human rights records are subject to greater scrutiny and they are held accountable.

JOURNALIST: Look at, let's look at Australia's human rights records because tomorrow in Geneva government officials will appear before the UN Human Rights Committee, which is a different body, to answer questions on Australia's human rights records. How can we take a stand on human rights abuses in other countries when our record here at home is not clear, I mean two issues in particular: the treatment of asylum seekers offshore and the high rates of indigenous incarceration?

JULIE BISHOP: First, our appearance tomorrow is standard procedure. Australia has not been hauled before the Human Rights Committee as some have suggested, this is standard procedure. We regularly appear as do other nations before Human Rights Committees, and of course Australia is open to scrutiny, we're accountable, we're transparent. We are considered to be one of the most successful multicultural nations on earth, we have resettled over 865,000 people who sought asylum in Australia since the Second World War and…

JOURNALIST: Many in the world condemn us for our treatment and offshore detention of people who have been stuck there for four years and have no future.

JULIE BISHOP: The Australian Government has been closing down detention centres, we've taken all children out of detention who were placed there under the previous Labor Government, we have smashed the people smuggling trade and we have prevented any further deaths at sea. We are now dealing with the caseload that we inherited from the Labor Government. We are working with other countries to ensure that we don't promote the people smuggling trade again but that we can give those who are genuine refugees an opportunity for resettlement in another country. But Australia is…

JOURNALIST: Do you think those on Nauru or Manus Island would think that Australia has protected their human rights?

JULIE BISHOP: These are people who, if they are found to be refugees…

JOURNALIST: Which many of them have.

JULIE BISHOP: …are being given opportunities to be resettled in other countries and those who have been found not to be refugees, who are not entitled to protection, should return home.

JOURNALIST: You're listening to RN Breakfast, our guest is Julie Bishop, Foreign Minister of Australia and Deputy Liberal Leader. Bringing it back home Minister, Cabinet's decision to adopt a National Energy Guarantee which will force electricity retailers to buy a minimum amount of baseload power from coal, gas or pumped hydro. How will this allow us to meet our Paris emission reduction targets?

JULIE BISHOP: I don't want to pre-empt the announcement because…

JOURNALIST: Well it's in all the papers.

JULIE BISHOP: Yes but I know it has to go to the Party Room, the papers can write one thing but I know that it has to go to the Party Room. It also has to be approved by the State and Territory Governments through COAG. But last evening the Cabinet decided on a proposal that we believe will guarantee affordability and, importantly, reliability and will enable us to meet our Paris Agreements, our international obligations…

JOURNALIST: That's what I'm asking you, how does that work? How can we reduce emissions in this way while mandating an increase in coal and gas?

JULIE BISHOP: Well if you read the papers this morning you'll see that the mechanism provides two limbs: affordability and reliability, and emissions reduction. So the whole mechanism is geared towards reliability but it ties it to environmental policy. So for the first time you have energy policy and environmental policy working together to guarantee reliability of supply, it will make prices more affordable and it will also enable us to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with our international obligations.

JOURNALIST: I'm sure you've thought this through but by definition, if there's more coal and gas – more coal in particular – in the system because this encourages that, there's the baseload power is elevated as a quota, how can it be bringing our emissions down?

JULIE BISHOP: Because we have nationally determined targets which we agreed in the Paris Agreement, and the guarantees will work to ensure that we meet those targets at the same time as ensuring that there is reliability of supply so that we can avoid the blackouts that we saw in South Australia because there was a too high dependence on renewables. Companies will be required to ensure not only is there supply, but that it's reliable, it's 24/7. I think it's an ingenious scheme, it was suggested to us by the regulators. I'm on the Energy Subcommittee of Cabinet, I believe this will be a game changer in the energy debate.

JOURNALIST: The Government says, well according to the papers, estimates this plan will see customer save up to $115 a year. How does this bring costs down?

JULIE BISHOP: It will ensure investment in energy production, it will give certainty to the market and it will also increase…

JOURNALIST: Not to the renewables market, will it?

JULIE BISHOP: Yes, it will also increase supply and price is a function of supply and demand.

JOURNALIST: Labor says it can't support a policy that doesn't include a clean energy target. This plan has no chance of surviving a change of government, how can it be an enduring solution to the energy crisis?

JULIE BISHOP: I would suggest that Labor actually listens to what the experts, the regulators, propose. This is a very secure way of ensuring reliability, affordability and meeting our Paris commitments. I would suggest that Labor listen to what the experts, the energy regulators, have come up with. It doesn't require a clean energy target, it doesn't require a carbon tax, it works on market mechanisms and it will drive prices down. Now I believe…

JOURNALIST: Well it really works on government intervention, doesn't it? The threat of having retailers having their licences revoked if they don't come up to these quotas.

JULIE BISHOP: Well I'll allow Minister Frydenberg to articulate the plan once it has gone through the Party Room. I have listened to the briefings very carefully and I believe that the energy regulators have come up with a proposal that should be embraced by all States, Territories, and most certainly the Opposition because we are focussed on reliability, affordability and meeting our international commitments, and this does all three.

JOURNALIST: Will this have to be legislated?

JULIE BISHOP: I'm not aware of the specific details, obviously that will be a matter for consideration once the design is completed.

JOURNALIST: And just finally the backbench push to scrap renewables subsidies was led by Tony Abbott, he's been talking about it for most of this year, he threatened to cross the floor on this issue. Tony Abbott has now hinted at a possible or a way for him to return to the leadership, he said on radio yesterday the only way that can happen for an ex-leader is for them to be drafted. Did you hear that as an invitation to your colleagues to come to him for help?

JULIE BISHOP: Not one person has raised that possibility with me, not one of my colleagues has raised that as an option or something that they are considering.

JOURNALIST: He didn't, quite clearly didn't rule out a comeback though yesterday, and expressly told the listeners how he could make a comeback – you could draft him – and there are obviously precedents of that happening. Will Tony Abbott every lead the Liberal Party again?

JULIE BISHOP: Not one person in the Party has raised with me any suggestion that there would be a change of leader. There is support for Malcolm Turnbull; this energy policy is yet another example of the Coalition Government under the Prime Ministership of Malcolm Turnbull, getting on with the job of ensuring that we are acting in the interests of the Australian people. This is fundamental. We are driving down power prices for Australian consumers. It's just one of a whole range of issues that the Turnbull Government is tackling and I believe there is overwhelming support for Malcolm Turnbull to continue as the Prime Minister of this country.

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

JULIE BISHOP: Thank you.

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