ABC’s AM Program, Sydney - interview with Chris Uhlmann

  • Transcript, E&OE

CHRIS UHLMANN The pieces are falling into place for an international campaign to try and roll back Islamic State militants in Iraq. The Iraqi Parliament is preparing to vote on a new government; an essential step if the country is to have a united front in the fight.

In Cairo, a meeting of Arab League Foreign Ministers has called for a decisive resolution to confront Islamic State militarily, politically, economically and culturally.

Here, one of the people at the centre of Australia's preparations is Julie Bishop, the Foreign Minister.

Julie Bishop, welcome to AM.

FOREIGN MINISTER Good morning, Chris.

CHRIS UHLMANN How important is it to have Arab League members on side with any action against Islamic State?

FOREIGN MINISTER I believe it's absolutely vital. The United States has called for many nations to come together to develop a plan to disrupt and degrade ISIL and to contain its activities and to protect the innocent civilians that it's targeting, and in defining the resources and assets that will be required and determining a realistic set of goals, it's important that many countries contribute to the effort.

My expectation is that the Arab states will join the effort to disrupt and degrade and contain ISIL. The contribution may not necessarily be military, but it could well be targeting the financial flows, the recruitment activities and the social media campaigns of ISIL and its ilk.

CHRIS UHLMANN Why wouldn't it be military? These states have an enormous amount of skin in the game.

FOREIGN MINISTER No, I said many countries will be asked to join the effort. Some may well contribute militarily, and I would imagine that there's an expectation that the Arab states, or some of them, could do that, but globally, the United States is seeking support from countries around the globe, particularly those who count among their citizens foreign fighters.

So, Australia, of course, is a country that has a number of Australian citizens and residents fighting on the ground with ISIL and we understand that a number of Australian citizens seek the prominence amongst the leadership of ISIL.

So, when Australia responds to a request, we will define what would be a proportionate role for our country, and I assume that the Arab states will do the same.

CHRIS UHLMANN Now, we are expected to see the President, Barack Obama, outline his strategy for Iraq and Syria later this week. What will be a proportionate role for Australia?

FOREIGN MINISTER Well first, we need to see a clearly defined set of objectives developed. We need to determine the overall goal by which any success of the mission would be judged and assess what resources and assets would be necessary to achieve the objectives. We'd also want to know a realistic timeframe for the effort and then we would be in a position to determine a proportionate role for Australia.

CHRIS UHLMANN Well, it's been most discussed that we might send war planes to the region. What about Australian military trainers and advisers?

FOREIGN MINISTER The first step is to seek to contain ISIL to prevent it from attacking innocent civilians. Ideally, it would be best for the Iraqi security forces to defend the country against the murderous band of terrorists, but there is an anticipated role for some countries to provide trainers and advisers.

Australia hasn't had a specific request and so we will consider any request when it's received, weigh the risks and assess what role we can play.

CHRIS UHLMANN To the Ukraine and pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine apparently have released 1200 prisoners. Do you think that this ceasefire will hold?

FOREIGN MINISTER We certainly hope that it does. We have been calling on Russia for many months now to de-escalate the tensions between Ukraine and Russia, to withdraw its troops and assets and resources from Ukraine and stop supporting the separatist movement inside Ukraine.

The ceasefire is very welcome. I hope it holds. Russia's breach of Ukraine's sovereignty has been condemned far and wide. Let us hope this ceasefire does hold and that Ukraine and Russia can get on with rebuilding the shattered relationship between the two countries.

CHRIS UHLMANN The Dutch Safety Board will issue its preliminary report into MH17 later today. Have Australian authorities seen the report?

FOREIGN MINISTER I'm not aware that they have, although I have an expectation that we will see the report. We have arranged for the families of the victims killed on MH17 to have an advance copy of the report, so I'm assuming that our authorities will also have access to it. I spoke with the Dutch Prime Minister and the Dutch Foreign Minister in Wales last week at the NATO meeting. They expect that such a report will state facts. It's an investigation into whether the airline, the aircraft itself, was at fault. So, we're not expecting to learn anything beyond the state of the aircraft at the time.

There will be a criminal investigation that will follow to determine who was responsible for the downing of the plane. As you well know, it's been the Australian Government's view that the plane was shot down by a surface to air missile inside the Ukrainian border, and we believe it was equipment supplied by Russia. Now, I'm not expecting this aviation report to go into that detail. This report focusses on the aeroplane and the cause of the crash insofar as the plane is concerned.

CHRIS UHLMANN To a domestic issue, Japan appears to be the frontrunner to build 12 new submarines. You've just had a meeting with the Chinese Foreign Minister. Did he raise any concerns about that?

FOREIGN MINISTER No, he didn't. We discussed the relationship between China and Japan more generally, but that specific topic wasn't raised. Indeed, no decisions have been made by the Australian Government. There are a number of countries that are proposing a role in constructing a submarine programme for Australia.

CHRIS UHLMANN Finally, though, the Australian Industry Group says that the prospect of buying subs from Japan raises significant issues for small businesses in Australia, so is that all being taken into account by the Government?

FOREIGN MINISTER Yes. The Australian Government will take into account all of the consequences and implications of the purchasing of submarines, but no decisions have been made by the Australian Government, so it's speculation at this stage.

CHRIS UHLMANN Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop.

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