Channel 10, The Bolt Report - interview with Andrew Bolt

  • Transcript, E&OE

ANDREW BOLT: President Barack Obama pulled the last US troops out of Iraq in 2011 despite being warned this was too soon. Obama also effectively did nothing as Islamist terrorist groups took over large parts of neighbouring Syria. Now, the worst of those terrorist groups, ISIS, has taken over Iraq's second biggest city, seizing weapons and nearly half a billion dollars making them now the world's richest terrorist group. Joining me is Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop. How serious is this?

JULIE BISHOP: This is a deeply disturbing development in Iraq, this particularly extreme and brutal terrorist group, ISIS, has captured the second largest city in Iraq but it's also attacking other cities and key infrastructure including oil refineries.

It's a humanitarian crisis because not only have hundreds been killed in the last few weeks and months, but it's estimated that about 500,000 people are fleeing Mosel and other cities in the north-west. That adds to the about 225,000 Syrian refugees that are currently in Iraq as well as about 300,000 displaced people as a result of previous conflicts and fighting earlier in the year. So, a humanitarian crisis is unfolding and this highly extreme and violent and brutal terrorist group is now in control of a lot of cities in the north-west of Iraq.

ANDREW BOLT: Has Barack Obama been too weak? Did he pull out of Iraq too soon?

JULIE BISHOP: I don't think anybody could have predicted what would happen in Syria and this particular terrorist group is an offshoot of Al-Qaeda and it's too extreme even for Al-Qaeda; it seems that they have parted company. But the situation in Syria is extreme. The situation in Iraq is now deeply disturbing but the President has said that he's left options on the table as to what the United States would do. I gather overnight he's ruled out sending in troops on the ground. But the situation is very volatile and it's not just a security threat in Syria and in Iraq. This is likely to undermine stability in the region as a whole and therefore impacts globally.

ANDREW BOLT: But did he pull out of Iraq too soon? He was warned not to.

JULIE BISHOP: Well, it's too early to make those sorts of statements, Andrew. What we're doing is focusing on the situation in Iraq at present. We're calling on any Australians who are in Iraq to leave the country immediately because the airport in Baghdad is still open, commercial flights are still operating out of Baghdad.

But if Australians must stay in Iraq they must ensure that their personal circumstances and their security is absolutely safe because given the circumstances our embassy in Baghdad will be very constrained in the kind of consular support that we can provide. So, that's the focus that we have at present.

ANDREW BOLT: Now Barack Obama at his meeting with Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, said that he would not rule out anything - which includes troops. Our Prime Minister then said he would not rule out sending troops either. Then hours later, Obama did rule out sending the troops so clearly then we won't be sending troops either.

JULIE BISHOP: Well, clearly the United States would have the lead on any military action in this circumstance and intelligence and information is coming in all the time.

The Americans have teams on the ground, the British have teams on the ground, we have an embassy - in fact I spoke to our ambassador in Baghdad, Lyndall Sachs, overnight to ensure that the Australian personnel were safe and secure but information is coming in all of the time and so judgements will be made accordingly.

ANDREW BOLT: But we won't be sending in troops then obviously if the US has ruled them out, we will rule them out too.

JULIE BISHOP: Well, I didn't envisage a circumstance where we would be sending in troops. But we certainly stand ready to support the humanitarian crisis should a request be made.

I know that Britain has provided them some funding for humanitarian purposes now - Britain has a team on the ground; it can make its own assessment. There hasn't been a request from the Iraqi Government as far as I'm aware.

ANDREW BOLT: But see this is the vacillating leadership of Obama, that just sends out all the wrong signals, doesn't it? One minute oh, we might send in troops, the next minute oh no, we won't. It's this kind of thing that's left a sort of vacuum in which terrorists - well they fill it.

JULIE BISHOP: Andrew, it's a very volatile situation in Iraq, in Syria, in the Middle East generally. And the situation changes from moment to moment. What we're doing at present is focusing on what has occurred in Iraq over the last couple of days, the capturing of Mosel, how that will impact on the security of Baghdad, I understand that the Iraqi Security Forces are amassing north of Baghdad to repel any effort by this Jihadist group to take Baghdad.

Now, I'm informed that there's no possibility of that but it's a very volatile fluid situation and we respond accordingly and make judgements on the information that we have.

ANDREW BOLT: Well, given what's happened in Iraq, since the pull-out in 2011, should Obama now review his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2016 which was a timeline or a setting of a deadline imposed by his former defence secretary, Robert Gates?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, Andrew, these are issues that have to be assessed from time to time. A decision has been made to pull out of Afghanistan but we obviously always update our assessments given what's happening in the Middle East, and the situation…

ANDREW BOLT: So, this should be reviewed, this idea… this nominating of 2016 as the pull-out should be reviewed in your view?

JULIE BISHOP: I'm not providing advice to President Obama. He has teams of people to give him advice on the situation in Afghanistan. What I'm saying is, the situation in the Middle East is extremely volatile and particularly in Syria, it's impacting on Australia because, as you know, it seems that Australian fighters are being attracted to Syria and are taking part in the conflict there. They're being radicalised, they are working with extremist groups, indeed I fear that they're working with the more extreme terrorist groups in Syria and then coming back to Australia.

Now, this is a very serious situation not just for Australia but for Indonesia, other countries in South East Asia, the Europeans - and I've been speaking to my Foreign Minister counterparts across the world about how we deal with these often dual nationals who are being drawn to the conflict in Syria and becoming radicalised and learning how to undertake terrorist activities and then presumably returning back to their home countries.

ANDREW BOLT: Was the liberation of Iraq in 2003 a mistake?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, I supported the liberation of Iraq at that time. I thought Saddam Hussein was one of the worst dictators on the planet at that time. And his removal was a good thing.

ANDREW BOLT: But it's unleashed the vacuum again in which terrorism seems to be flourishing.

JULIE BISHOP: Well, a lot of events have occurred since that time. The Arab Spring, the calls for democracy and uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa - I don't think anybody could have predicted the Arab Spring - so many events have occurred. My focus and my concern is about how this will affect Australia and so that's where we're putting our efforts at present.

ANDREW BOLT: You've come back from signing or making agreements with Japan on deeper cooperation and security issues. How nervous is the region about the rise of China as a military giant and what should it do to stem those fears?

JULIE BISHOP: My understanding is that all countries in the region welcome China's peaceful rise and many of them now have China as their major trading partner. Of course, that's the situation with Australia. Our economic and investment ties with China are very close - China is our largest trading partner. Indeed, China is the largest trading partner for over 120 countries around the world. So, all countries want to engage more closely with China, to encourage its peaceful rise. They are concerned by some of China's behaviour in recent times in relation to the East China Sea and the South China Sea.

So, we want to work with countries in the region, the ASEAN countries of South East Asia, to engage China so that these territorial disputes can be negotiated and settled peacefully according to international law.

ANDREW BOLT: And, just quickly, Israel, the change in language in calling East Jerusalem disputed territory, instead of occupied, was that free-wheeling by the Attorney-General, or is that a Government policy?

JULIE BISHOP: There is no change in Government policy. We support a two-state solution where Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace behind internationally recognised boundaries. What we won't do is pre-empt the 'final status' negotiations that are part of the peace negotiations. And so what Attorney-General George Brandis did was state the fact that the Australian Government does not refer to East Jerusalem by any name other than East Jerusalem. This is a complete and utter overreaction by Labor.

ANDREW BOLT: Julie Bishop, thank you so much for your time

Media enquiries