ABC RN Breakfast - interview with Fran Kelly

  • Transcript, E&OE

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull isabout to touch down in New York later today for his first face-to-face meetingwith the US President Donald Trump. The get together on board the USS Intrepid is an opportunity to reset the relationship following their infamous blow-up inthat first January phone call over the refugee resettlement deal. US engagementin Asia and the threat of nuclear war on the Korean peninsula are expected todominate these talks. Over the past few months the Foreign Minister JulieBishop has worked with the Vice President Mike Pence to try and smooth thetensions in relations between the two countries. Julie Bishop, welcome back tobreakfast.

JULIE BISHOP: Thank you Fran, good morning.

JOURNALIST: Julie Bishop as Foreign Minister,what do you see as the primary objectives of these talks?

JULIE BISHOP: I have great confidence that our engagement with the United States willcontinue to be strong and intimate and filled with the trust and confidencethat's characterised it for so many years and I think the visit by PrimeMinister Turnbull is timely. The alliance with the United States is thecornerstone of our strategic and security framework, it's our major economicpartner in terms of foreign investment and trade. The Prime Minister's visitcomes at a very important time, immediately after Vice President Pence's visitto Australia. Given that our relationship has been forged over so many decadesthrough times of war and times of peace it's important that our two leadersmeet to discuss matters of mutual interest and to discuss the regional andglobal challenges that we face.

JOURNALIST: We'll come to the regional and globalchallenges but it is important, I mean personal relationships are importanttoo, aren't they at this level and we know these two men got off to a bad startin that phone call which from their own lips was testy, I think the Presidentsaid it was the worst phone call ever. How important is it for an AustralianPrime Minister and the US President to actually get on for the sake of thealliance and all it entails?

JULIE BISHOP: Well they don't have to be best friends but of course they will begracious towards each other. We strong national interests; the AustralianGovernment's engagement with the new administration has been strategic and highlevel and targeted and consistent and I have no doubt that the Prime Ministerand President Trump will find a lot in common. I'm sure they'll get along well.I wouldn't overstate the phone call. It was a new administration, briefingswere coming from across the administration and there was a moment when thePresident expressed less than admiration for an agreement that the previousadministration had entered into. The important point is the US administrationis honouring that agreement and we had a very successful visit from VicePresident Pence and I look forward to welcoming the Secretary of State RexTillerson and the Secretary of Defense General Mattis to Australia this yearfor our annual Australia-US Ministerial meetings. The relationship is farstronger than whoever is in the White House or whoever is in Canberra.

JOURNALIST: Do you think the Presidentappreciates that?

JULIE BISHOP: I believe so, I'm sure he does and I think that because ourrelationship with the United States has been so strong over so many decades.And there is no better illustration of that than the battle of the CoralSea, and of course 2017 marks the 75th anniversary of the pivotalbattle where Australian and US forces fought together successfully againstJapan and that turned the course of the Pacific War. I think that the historicsetting of the Prime Minister's meeting with President Trump is also important,they are meeting on the USS Intrepid and there is a Coral Seacommemoration service that they will both attend.

JOURNALIST: As is customary our Prime Ministerwill come bearing gifts for the President, I understand it's a jarrah timberbox to hold a dozen golf balls crafted in Bungendore just out of Canberra. Willhe have anything else, do you think, to try and underscore the importance of therelationship, perhaps an offer that Australia could be used as a base forfurther elements of the US military, B1 bombers to rotate through the north?

JULIE BISHOP: I won't speculate on the defence relationship to that extent but ofcourse the Prime Minister will be very keen to discuss a whole range of issueswhere we have common interests and we have no closer partner strategicallyspeaking than the United States.

JOURNALIST: We are working alongside the US inIraq and Afghanistan, are you expecting President Trump to request more troopsfrom Australia?

JULIE BISHOP: At this point the United States has not requested additional defencesupport.

JOURNALIST: Do you think the President will?

JULIE BISHOP: I have no expectation that he will. The United States is currently inthe process of reviewing its engagement in Syria and in Iraq and we areproviding input into that review. Australia is already one of the largestcontributors to the counter-ISIS effort and that's been acknowledged bySecretary Tillerson and by others in the US administration.

We are also committed to spending, investing, two per cent of our GDP ondefence capability and that's a benchmark that the United States appreciatesand has been calling on its NATO partners to do likewise. I believe Australiais already making a significant contribution to protect our national interestand protect the security of Australians both here and abroad.

JOURNALIST: It's 18 minutes to eight our guest isthe Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Minister North Korea will be discussed,tensions have been escalating. Will the Prime Minister be seeking some clarityon the present strategy towards North Korea?

JULIE BISHOP: I have no doubt that North Korea will be a significant topic ofdiscussion. As Australia has often said, North Korea's long-term interestswould be best served by ceasing its nuclear and missile programs and engagingpositively with the international community.

JOURNALIST: There's no sign of that happeningthough. If it doesn't happen – and certainly that's not the rhetoric coming outof North Korea – is there a plan as you understand it from America to go beyondmilitary exercise to a military strike?

JULIE BISHOP: I understand that the United States wishes to pursue further economicsanctions and dialogue and diplomacy and we'll continue to work with the UnitedStates and the Republic of Korea and Japan and China to increase the cost ofthese ongoing actions on the part of North Korea. It does present a gravethreat to its neighbours and if left unchecked to the broader region includingAustralia. We of course have an interest in working with the United States andothers. The Trump administration has said it's seeking out new and creativeways to meet this North Korean challenge and I'm assuming the Prime Ministerwill be part of those discussions.

JOURNALIST: Is it your understanding then thatdespite the show of force, the USS Carl Vinson strike force, the USbombers overhead in training drills, that sanctions is the limit, the economicsanctions is the limit of what America is planning at the moment in terms ofNorth Korea, if particularly these ballistic missile tests go on?

JULIE BISHOP: I wouldn't say that. I would say that the Trump administration islooking at further ways to curb North Korea's destructive behaviour. PresidentTrump has stated that he believes that it to be intolerable that North Korea isdeveloping the capability to deliver a nuclear weapon against the United Statesmainland. If that were to happen it would mean North Korea would have thecapacity to hit Australia. President Trump has indicated that all options areon the table which clearly include military options. He also is looking atother ways to curb this behaviour and that's where China comes in to thesituation. It's not in China's interest to allow a nuclear armed North Korea tothreaten its neighbours or the US. This creates huge instability and may leadto conflict. It's important for China to use its leverage over North Koreawhich is unique and, I would suggest decisive.

JOURNALIST: If North Korea proceeds withballistic missile testing, god forbid nuclear missile testing, if it proceedswith that, is it your understanding that the US will strike?

JULIE BISHOP: My understanding is that the United States is reserving its position interms of military options. In other words it has said 'all options are on the table'.Clearly the deployment of the Carl Vinson strike group including the USS Carl Vinson to sail north and operate in the region is part of sending amessage to North Korea that its behaviour in testing nuclear weapons ordeveloping intercontinental ballistic missiles will not be tolerated by theinternational community. That's why we support UN Security Councilresolutions to impose sanctions and we're in fact considering further andadditional sanctions on North Korea. Again I point out that China has theleverage over North Korea. Over three quarters of North Korean exports goto China, China accounts for about 95 per cent of investment back in to NorthKorea, so it's the overwhelming source of finance for the programs that NorthKorea is undertaking.

JOURNALIST: Minister, on other matters in yourportfolio the case of Cassie Sainsbury the Australian girl accused of trying tosmuggle more than 5 kilos of cocaine out of Colombia. She's receiving consularassistance from DFAT. Have you personally intervened in this, do you have anyplans to intervene or to speak with your Colombian counterpart?

JULIE BISHOP: Our Consulate-General in Bogota has been deliveringher consular assistance and that has included providing a list of lawyers to ensurethat she has legal representation and providing other consular support. I havelong warned that when Australians travel overseas, Australian laws don't applyoverseas and there are significant limitations to what the AustralianGovernment can do. I have not contacted Ms Sainsbury's parents, this has beendone through our consular service which is entirely appropriate. I don't thinkit's helpful to speculate on the details of her case because clearly aninvestigation is underway. I do point out that the Government has long warnedAustralians that if they travel to Colombia they are subject to Colombia'slaws, and penalties for possession or use or trafficking of illegal drugs inColombia are severe and they include imprisonment in local jails. I'm relievedthat she has legal representation and our Consulate-General
is providing consular support but there is a limit to what Australia cando, just as there is a limit to what other foreign governments could do iftheir nationals were caught up in legal proceedings in Australia.

JOURNALIST: Can I just ask you finally theGovernment's announced the Gonski mark two schools policy, some Liberals led byTony Abbott are angry that some private and Catholic schools will lose funding,he says it's an article of faith that the Liberal Party stands for parentalchoice in education, do you see that choice being wound back by these cuts? Doyou support these cuts?

JULIE BISHOP: I certainly support what the Turnbull Government is doing in these reformsto deliver fair and needs-based funding for all Australian students. I was anEducation Minister and needs-based funding is essential. In relation toCatholic schools I understand that they are receiving an annual per-studentgrowth of 3.7 per cent over the next four years. That is an extra $1.2 billion.Last year the Catholic schools received less, 3.56 per cent and welcomed thatoutcome, so this year's announcement is indeed more for Catholic schools. Whatwe're trying to do is address the inequity in the current schools funding modeland I think the Government should be supported for seeking to do what previousGovernments have not had the courage to do.

JOURNALIST: Julie Bishop thank you very much forjoining us.

JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.

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