Channel 9 Today Show, interview with Lisa Wilkinson

  • Transcript, E&OE
17 June 2014

LISA WILKINSON: Good morning to you.

JULIE BISHOP: Good morning Lisa.

LISA WILKINSON: Minister it's not looking good is it?

JULIE BISHOP: No it's a very volatile situation in Iraq, a very fluid situation, the details are sketchy. Of course we don't have teams on the ground, we have an embassy that we have reduced to a core staff but it is a very volatile situation and the fighting between ISIS, this brutal terrorist group, and the Iraqi Security Forces is going on at present. We are supporting the Iraqi Government in countering terrorism attacks but this is a particularly vicious and extreme terrorist group that's even too extreme for Al-Qaeda so we are deeply disturbed about the situation in Iraq.

LISA WILKINSON: Reports in the Fairfax press this morning say Australian SAS troops are ready to be deployed to Iraq to rescue diplomats there. Is that correct?

JULIE BISHOP: Well Lisa we have contingencies in place for our staff, obviously that is our priority to ensure that Australians serving our country overseas are looked after. So we have evacuation plans in place. The SAS would obviously be a last resort, that's not necessary because we have evacuation plans in place.

But I have been in touch with our Ambassador in Iraq and she says the situation is tense but calm and we stand by to support our Embassy staff should they need it. You might be aware that we have been in discussions since earlier this year with the British about co-locating our embassy with the British Embassy, working closely together with the United States and the United Kingdom on the ground, in Iraq to ensure that our staff will be looked after.

LISA WILKINSON: Prime Minister Tony Abbott warned yesterday that a full blown terrorist state could emerge from all of this. Authorities in Baghdad are saying if they don't get help right now it will be too late. We have to act now don't we?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, the United States has all options on the table as I understand it. They have moved military assets into the Gulf region. The Iraqi Government you will recall negotiated with the United States for them to leave, the United States to leave in 2011, didn't want the United States forces to remain. So clearly the Iraqi Government believed it had the capacity to deal with insurgents and these Sunni insurgent groups.

I believe that the Iraqi Security Forces are hitting back. There's talk of taking towns overnight, so I think while the United States stands ready to assist what we can do is focus on the humanitarian crisis that is occurring and I understand that about 500,000 people have fled from Mosul and the northern towns. That adds to about 300,000 people who've been displaced by the previous conflicts earlier this year in the Anbar Provence and of course there are refugees flooding in from Syria where ISIS is also active in the conflict in Syria. So the humanitarian crisis in Iraq is very significant at this point.

LISA WILKINSON: Indeed, if the US ask though why wouldn't you send in ground troops?

JULIE BISHOP: Well the United States hasn't asked and neither has the Iraqi Government more to the point, the Iraqi Government has not asked us for that. The United States has clearly got options on the table. They have military assets in the Gulf and Australia stands ready to assist in the humanitarian area. We've not been asked to assist on the humanitarian front either at this stage but I do point out that I'm looking at options as to ways that we can assist the Iraqi people.

LISA WILKINSON: But the speed of this insurgency I think is taking everybody by surprise if the US do ask would you send in Australian troops?

JULIE BISHOP: I don't envisage a circumstance where Australia would send in troops.

LISA WILKINSON: Tell us what is Australian doing to help with aid at this point?

JULIE BISHOP: We don't have a team on the ground, we have a very small staff at the Embassy. I have asked that the Embassy be reduced to a core staff and so a number of our staff have left. But the British have a team on the ground who have assessed the humanitarian situation. They are providing aid in the form of water and food, basic items like shelter and Australia stands ready to assist.

I'm discussing with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade the way we could provide humanitarian aid if it is requested and if the British or US team on the ground thinks that we can assist. So again, we have contingencies in place depending upon what we're asked to do. There is a sovereign Government in Iraq and so we need to wait to be asked by the sovereign Government or indeed through the United States if that be the case.

LISA WILKINSON: Ok, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop thank you very much for your time this morning.

JULIE BISHOP: Thanks Lisa.

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