ABC RN Breakfast, interview with Fran Kelly

  • Transcript, E&OE

JOURNALIST: US intelligence estimates North Korea now has up to 60 nuclear warheads which could be miniaturised and placed on intercontinental ballistic missiles. Is the world now dealing with a fully-fledged nuclear weaponised rogue state?

JULIE BISHOP: These reports still have to be verified by the Pentagon but reports that nuclear devices could be placed on an intercontinental ballistic missile are of course deeply concerning. Our collective plan and strategy to deal with this has not changed, and that is to bring sufficient diplomatic and economic pressure to bear on North Korea so that it changes its course of action and it stops its nuclear and missile tests.

JOURNALIST: So far there has been no response except for a belligerent response from North Korea to the threats and to the latest sanctions, which everyone agreed were the toughest sanctions ever imposed. You're obviously taking the threat of some kind of nuclear break out seriously; you speak of an existential threat to this country because we are potentially in range of a North Korean nuclear warhead. If that nightmare scenario played out, would the US network of missile defences offer us some protection here in Australia?

JULIE BISHOP: Well Fran we are seeking to avoid that outcome. We are doing all we can to work with countries around the world now supporting the UN Security Council measures against North Korea, so we are not planning for this to occur. We must ensure that North Korea is diverted from its course of action.

JOURNALIST: I think people want to talk about the nightmare scenario a bit because this has blown up so rapidly over the last 24 hours, this use of bellicose language, the US President threatening to respond to threats, to words with actions, with "fire and fury" is the quote, North Korea then responding with threats of nuclear strikes. How easily could all this incendiary rhetoric get out of control and end up in nuclear conflict do you believe?

JULIE BISHOP: As Secretary of State Rex Tillerson put it, the United States President was responding with language that Kim Jong-un should understand because he is clearly not understanding the diplomatic messages that are being sent. We have a long way to go in enforcing the economic sanctions, the measures that the UN Security Council voted unanimously upon in recent days, and the important message is that both China and Russia fully backed these comprehensive measures against North Korea. So these sanctions have to be able to be implemented. We call on all nations around the world to cease diplomatic and economic engagement with North Korea so that it must change its behaviours and the full implementation of sanctions can have a very strong deterrent impact.

JOURNALIST: And that clearly was the plan, that was the plan when those sanctions were announced by the UN Security Council over the weekend, and it was the plan when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson just a day or so ago was talking about calm. And then we've got reports today that the President's "fire and fury" threat was actually improvised on the spot, it wasn't a calculated intervention. We've got the Secretary of State out again this morning urging calm. Doesn't this suggest the US lacks a coherent strategy towards North Korea or else just can't manage to keep the President in check and in line?

JULIE BISHOP: I was in Manila on Monday and met with counterpart foreign ministers – Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with the Chinese Foreign Minister, the Japanese Foreign Minister, the South Korean Foreign Minister and there is a collective strategy to deal with North Korea. It begins with the numerous UN Security Council resolutions that ban North Korea's actions in developing ballistic missiles and a nuclear weapon capability. North Korea is causing the tensions and the instability on the Korean Peninsula by successive violations of UN Security Council resolutions, they are in violation of international law. So the collective strategy is to bring diplomatic and economic pressure to bear on North Korea. That was agreed in Manila on Monday and that's what we're pursuing.

JOURNALIST: Not only could a North Korean missile feasibly hit Australia, we know that now, but we also have the ANZUS Alliance of course, we are a party to the ceasefire that ended the Korean War in 1953. So we are in this fight if it becomes a fight, aren't we? Has our Government sought some assurances from the White House or the Pentagon around American intentions?

JULIE BISHOP: In fact we were not a party in the legal sense to the armistice so there is no automatic trigger for Australia to be involved. As far as the ANZUS Alliance is concerned, that is an obligation to consult. But of course we have been in constant discussion with our friends in the United States and as I said, I spent Monday in meetings with Rex Tillerson in Manila.

JOURNALIST: You're listening to RN Breakfast, our guest is the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Minister, I know you have got a lot on your plate but can I just ask you about a significant issue here, back home, on same sex marriage. We were just speaking with the former High Court Judge Michael Kirby and he gave this description of this postal ballot:


MICHAEL KIRBY: Well this isn't a plebiscite now, it's a completely novel voluntary, non-binding, non-compulsory vote of a few citizens and it's just something we've never done in our constitutional arrangements of Australia. It really is unacceptable.

[End of excerpt]

JOURNALIST: "Unacceptable". He's not the only one who shares that view, what is your response?

JULIE BISHOP: We have been trying to find a solution to the issue of same sex marriage. Labor and the Greens have put obstacles in the way, every step of the way. Our preference was for there to be a plebiscite, had Labor and the Greens backed that last year there could have been a plebiscite in February, the matter would have been done and dusted, it would have been over with. But Labor and the Greens for their own base political purposes have put obstacles in the way, and we now have no other option. So I think people need to -

JOURNALIST: Well you do have another option; we could have had a free vote in the parliament.

JULIE BISHOP: We need to sit back and see what Labor has been doing here. When they were in government, they had six years to do something about same sex marriage -

JOURNALIST: But community opinion has changed on this issue thought Minister, radically in the last five years.

JULIE BISHOP: Hang on Fran, Labor's policy was "no change" when they were in government and had an opportunity to do something about it. Now they are in opposition, they say they support same sex marriage yet the fastest way to achieve that would have been to back our plebiscite legislation last year – the plebiscite would have been held in February, the issue would have been determined once and for all.

JOURNALIST: I'm sure you heard or saw some of Penny Wong's plea in the parliament yesterday and concerns about the tone of this debate. What will the Government do, what will you do to ensure that this ballot doesn't turn into a two month hate campaign? And will you come out on either side of this debate?

JULIE BISHOP: Well with the plebiscite the people have their say. This is an opportunity for the Australian people to vote on an issue that is of great concern to a number of people and of less concern to others, but they all have an opportunity to have their say. We call for calm, we call for respect, we call for the Australian people to exercise their democratic right to have a say on an issue and that's what I expect of the Australian people.

JOURNALIST: Will you take a position on this and will you lead on this?

JULIE BISHOP: There will be no formal "yes" and "no" campaign. This is another issue that Labor have now delivered by voting against the plebiscite legislation where there could have been formal "yes" and "no" campaigns. Now there will not be formal "yes" and "no" campaigns. So -

JOURNALIST: We saw Tony Abbott come out yesterday urging people to vote "no".

JULIE BISHOP: Well I'll work within my electorate, I'm the Member for Curtin, I'll work within my electorate in relation to this matter but because we don't have the plebiscite legislation that we've now put to the Senate twice, of course we're left with the postal vote.

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

JULIE BISHOP: Thank you.

- Ends -

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