Doorstop interview - 11:30AM

  • Transcript, E&OE

JULIEBISHOP: This morning,the Australian Government decided not to proceed with the ratification of theExtradition Treaty with China at this time. The decision was taken by theleadership group during our morning meeting at 8:30am and during the course ofthat meeting, the Leader of the Opposition formally advised the Prime Ministerthat Labor would not support the ratification of the Treaty at this time. Sounder those circumstances, we thought it best to repeal the legislativeinstrument, that is the treaty regulations, and we will debate it at anothertime. In the meantime, my office has contacted the Chinese Embassy and informedthem and I hope to speak with the Chinese Ambassador later in the day. This isa decision I support. It is very much in Australia's national interests for usto have the highest level of cooperation with China and other countries withwhom we have an extradition treaty.

So atthis stage we will continue our discussions with the Labor Party – I must say Ihave had very constructive discussions with Senator Wong throughout, I've had adiscussion with the Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten and the ShadowAttorney General Mark Dreyfus, and we want to continue those discussions. It isin Australia's national interests to ensure that we can send back to Chinathose who have committed crimes, subject to the significant safeguards that wehave in place, and I have faith in our legal and political system to ensurethat those safeguards would work so that the Extradition Treaty would operateas expected. And likewise, it is in Australia's interests to be able toextradite back to Australia any Chinese national who may have committed a crimehere and have them returned to China. So I'll continue to pursue discussionswith the Labor Party in relation to this matter.

JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister,weren't you, I mean you, Barnaby Joyce, Steve Ciobo, you were all out this morningsaying this Treaty should be signed, this is very important. By 8:50am it wasdead. Isn't this an omnishambles? Couldn't the Government have handled this alittle bit better?

JULIEBISHOP: Not at all. Itis the policy and has been the policy of successive Australian Governmentssince 2007 to ratify this Treaty, but I don't make unilateral decisions on amatter as significant as withdrawing a legislative instrument from the Senate.This has to be the discussion that takes place by our leadership team and ourmeeting is at 8:30am – I think I indicated to you all I was on the way to theleadership meeting – and it was during that meeting that Bill Shorten informedus formally that the Labor Opposition would not support the ratification of theTreaty. It was a very constructive discussion between the Prime Minister andBill Shorten, and we agreed that we would repeal the legislative instrument andthat we would continue discussions about this matter.

JOURNALIST: ForeignMinister, the Treaty report last December looked at this Treaty. Labor'sposition was fairly clear, they didn't formally announce a position but it waspretty clear that they were going to take this line that they've taken. Why didthe Government table this on March 2 knowing that there was going to bedifficulty getting it through the Senate?

JULIEBISHOP: This is aTreaty that was signed in 2007. Every subsequent Australian government has hadas its policy the ratification of the Extradition Treaty with China, and thesetake a long time. I recall working closely with the Labor Government when wewere in opposition over a similar treaty with the United Arab Emirates. Theytake a long time to negotiate. We put this Treaty through the usual processes,through the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, the majority report was thatthe Government should ratify the Treaty. The Labor report related to a desireto see the Extradition Act reviewed and in our discussions with Labor it wasclear that Labor had already reviewed the Extradition Act, in fact it took themfive years to review the Extradition Act in 2012. So that basis of theiropposition I think was answered by the fact that the Extradition Act had beenreviewed. When Bill Shorten formally advised the Prime Minister this morningduring out leadership meeting that Labor would not support the ratification ofthe Treaty, we decided that the best thing in those circumstances was to repealthe treaty regulations and continue discussions with Labor. That's the responsiblething to do.

JOURNALIST: Minister, whathappens next? What happens next with this?

JULIEBISHOP: Well next wewill speak with our Chinese friends in more detail and then we will consider aprocess to ratify the Treaty.

JOURNALIST: Given members ofthe leadership team including yourself had spoken so fondly of this thismorning, is this a captain's call by the Prime Minister and has he pulled therug out from underneath your feet?

JULIEBISHOP: No not at all.The Prime Minister and I have been engaged in this matter since I advised himin October 2015 that the Treaty with China should be ratified, as previousgovernments had determined. So we've been working in lockstep all the way. Itwent through the Treaty Committee process and that Treaty Committee by amajority recommended the Australian Government ratify the Treaty.

Wehave a very close level of cooperation with China over some matters of deepnational interest to Australia – in counter terrorism work, in the war againstdrugs, and Michael Keenan the Minister has indicated the extent of the AFPcooperation on the drugs issue with China which is so very important to us. Wealso have a very high level of cooperation on consular matters.

Andas I pointed out to you this morning, when the Howard Government signed thisExtradition Treaty, we also agreed for an International Prisoner TransferAgreement at the same time – China implemented that in 2008 and the AustralianGovernment and the Australian people have been the beneficiary of thatInternational Prisoner Transfer Agreement. Indeed we have had Australianprisoners who were in jail in China brought back to Australia to serve theirsentences in Australia. So it has been in our national interest to have thisarrangement with China and we'll continue to discuss it with our counterpartsin the Labor Party and also with the Chinese.

JOURNALIST: Is it your opinionthen that there will be serious consequences for the Australia-China relationshipfrom a failure to ratify this Treaty?

JULIEBISHOP: Well clearly thewhole idea of foreign policy is to engage with other countries on the basis oftrust, and we signed an agreement with China and there would be an expectationthat having signed a Treaty we would ratify it. So that's what I'm seeking todo now, to find a way that we can honour the agreement we made.

JOURNALIST: Has there been anyimplied threat from the Chinese Government what the consequences might be if wedon't ratify this for people who are currently, Australians who are currentlylocked up over there?

JULIEBISHOP: China has askedus to uphold our end of the deal, which is to ratify the Treaty, and that'swhat we've been seeking to do. So I'll now talk to the Chinese Embassy and toothers in China about the steps from now on but the decision has been made. TheLabor Party has advised us that they can't support the Treaty at this time so Ithink it's in the best interests of our relationship with…

JOURNALIST: [Interrupts] Butwhy aren't you pressing on anyway? Do you not have the numbers to get itthrough?

JULIEBISHOP: …the LaborParty. We don't have the numbers in the Senate. We need the Labor Party tosupport it and the Labor Party have advised that they won't.

JOURNALIST: Would youadvise Chinese Australian academics to travel to China and do you think thatthe families of critics of China in Australia, that their families are safe inChina?

JULIEBISHOP: Clearly ifyou're a dual citizen, China does not recognise the Australian side of the dualcitizenship arrangement. I would advise people to travel on their Australianpassport but also be aware that China doesn't recognise dual citizenship. Wehave a consular agreement in place with China and in my experience, China hasupheld their obligations under that consular agreement.

Butthe point I have made, not only in relation to China but in relation to anyother country – once you leave Australia you leave behind the legal andjudicial system of this country and you're subjected to the legal and judicialof another country. That is a fact. So of course I would suggest that peopleread our Smartraveller travel advice before they travel anywhere overseas.

Myother point about the Extradition Treaty which I just wanted to make isAustralia has extradition treaties with 39 countries and they are all enteredinto because it's in Australia's interests to do so. And we have extraditiontreaties with countries with very different legal and political and judicialsystems than ours, and I give as examples Venezuela, Vietnam, United ArabEmirates, and I'm not suggesting that their systems are any better or worsethat China's, I'm just pointing out that we have extradition treaties becauseit's in our interests to do so. So as Foreign Minister, I'll continue to workwith the Labor Party and with the Chinese to see if we can find a way to ratifythis Extradition Treaty which I believe and in my opinion, is undoubtedly inAustralia's national interest.

JOURNALIST: Isthere a link between the Prisoner Transfer Agreement and the – the prisonertransfer you mentioned and the Extradition Treaty?


JOURNALIST: Is there alink between the two?

JULIEBISHOP: Yes, they weresigned at the same time in 2007.

JOURNALIST: So, the Chinese see that as being linked?

JULIEBISHOP: Yes they do.

JOURNALIST: When do youhope to bring back this legislation - you say that you haven't given up on it,when do you hope to bring it back and when do you hope to find a way forwardwith Labor and would you be able to contemplate any changes – substantivechanges to those objections?

JULIEBISHOP: It's just acouple of hours since we made the decision. We've advised the Party Room and soI'm not about to reveal any further strategies. Obviously this will be a matterfor discussion within the leadership, with the Prime Minister and of coursewith our Cabinet.

JOURNALIST: Do youexpect there to be any repercussions at all from Beijing?

JULIEBISHOP: What I think wouldhave been difficult was if there were a debate in the Senate that ended up in avote against the ratification of the agreement. I think it is far preferablefor us to repeal the instrument and have further discussions. The Labor Partymade it clear that they were not able to support it at this time and I note theconcerns they had in the Minority Report in the Joint Standing Committee onTreaties. I thought those concerns had been dealt with – that related to thereview of the Extradition Act – but clearly there are other concerns so I willcontinue to work with the Labor Party and as I say, the leadership in BillShorten and Penny Wong and Mark Dreyfus have been very constructive in thediscussions we've had today.

JOURNALIST: Dr Feng'splight was that bad timing this week, do you think that had any influence onLabor's position?

JULIEBISHOP: I don't thinkthe timing of any consular matter should be put in this context. We will continueto do what we can to make representations to the Chinese authorities. Again,he's not an Australian citizen, he was not traveling on an Australian passportso there are limitations as to what Australia can do – but we will certainlyuse whatever influence we have to ensure that he's dealt with fairly.

JOURNALIST: Minister,can I take from your previous answer then that you thought you did have Laboron board because otherwise you wouldn't have put it up in the Senate?

JULIEBISHOP: No, I didn't saythat. I said I am aware that there were concerns within the Labor Party becauseI saw their dissenting report that focused mainly on the review of theExtradition Act but the Act has been reviewed recently – 2012. I'm yet to havea discussion with the Labor Leadership as to whether there are other issuesthat they would like us to consider as we go forward.

JOURNALIST: ForeignMinister, you keep mentioning the concern in the Labor Party about this – lastnight you and the Justice Minister Michael Keenan heard from about a dozenbackbenchers on your side who also had concerns. How significant were thoseconcerns on the Liberal side of politics in this decision?

JULIEBISHOP: This Treaty wentthrough a committee process that took public submissions, that held hearings,took evidence and I don't recall any of those who are now raising concerns –raising concerns during the Treaty-making process. My meeting last night gaveme an indication that there were a number - not a majority by any means - atthat meeting who had concerns about it. We of course were relying on the LaborParty to support it because we don't have a majority in the Senate. We can'tdeliver it on our own. We were relying on the Labor Party and when Bill Shortenformally advised us – I'm not criticising Bill Shorten, he went through theproper process on the Labor side, took it to a Shadow Cabinet meeting - andadvised that they couldn't support it at this time. So we regroup and we keepdiscussing with Labor.

JOURNALIST: Does the,could the Treaty endanger critics of China who live in Australia?

JULIEBISHOP: I don't want tospeculate on this. We've got a very constructive relationship with China on awhole range of consular, law enforcement, security, counter-terrorism mattersand of course we'll be working very hard to ensure that continues. MichaelKeenan announced yesterday a significant drug haul that was able to beundertaken because of the close cooperation between the Australian FederalPolice and the Chinese authorities. We clearly want that to continue because wewant to stop the importation of ice into Australia through channels in Chinaand beyond and we need to continue to work with the Chinese officials to ensurethat can be furthered.

JOURNALIST: Did theChinese Premier specifically raise this Treaty and his desire to have it passedin his recent visit?

JULIEBISHOP: I understandthat it was raised. Yes, it's raised by – and has been for years - by premiers.

JOURNALIST: And what washis message?

JULIEBISHOP: They want theExtradition Treaty because they are seeking to crack down on criminals wholeave China and seek safe haven in Australia. That's been a longstandingposition of President Xi Jinping I understand in his campaign againstcorruption.

JOURNALIST: Minister, doyou know if this was raised with Tony Abbott when he was Prime Minister andwhether he gave any assurance that it would proceed?

JULIEBISHOP: Yes, it's beenLiberal Party policy since John Howard. Of course I was the Foreign Minister inTony Abbott's government as well and it has continued to be Liberal Partypolicy that we would ratify an extradition treaty with China.

JOURNALIST: And whatdiplomatic level has the case of Chongyi Feng been raised?

JULIEBISHOP: It's been raisedat the consular level.

JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister, Steve Ciobo seemed to suggest this morning that not signingthis Treaty could impact on the Crown employees apparently being held – how isthat possible when their already being held in China? How would an extraditiontreaty affect them?

JULIEBISHOP: We are deeplyconcerned about the fate of the Crown employees and we'll continue to work withthe Chinese Government and hope that we'll be able to make representations – aswe are continuing to do. I've been involved in making such representations. Ofcourse we are providing consular access under the Consular Agreement with Chinaand I hope that that will continue.

JOURNALIST: Areextraditions still happening over the past ten years even without the Treaty?And how much more difficult does it make without having a treaty?

JULIEBISHOP: There areinternational conventions that relate to the extradition of prisoners and ofthose charged with criminal offences and the like. Why we enter into bilateralextradition treaties is because they can be more specific to the circumstancesbetween the two countries – that's why we have 39 extradition treaties inaddition to the international conventions. I stress again, there aresignificant safeguards that are implicit, inherent, explicit, in our treatieswith other countries.

Inthe case of the China Extradition Treaty, as everyone will have seen – becauseI'm sure you've followed the processes of the Joint Standing Committee onTreaties in great detail – we have safeguards that means the Ministerresponsible for this Treaty has an absolute discretion to refuse extradition ona whole range of grounds that include; if the death penalty is attachedto the offence then we can refuse extradition; if there is any suggestion thatthe person will be subjected to cruel or inhumane punishment or torture; ifthere are humanitarian grounds – and that can include whether they'll receive afair trial.

Sothere is a broad discretion - a total discretion - on the part of theAustralian Minister responsible for treaties. Then the backup safeguard is –should a Minister make a decision to extradite the person - that person has thecapacity to appeal it to the Federal Court. Our Federal Court, our legal systemwould be seized of the facts and the concerns and would make a judgement on whetherthat person should be extradited.

Ihave complete faith in our political system with this Ministerial discretion,and our legal system through the Federal Court, to ensure that extraditiontreaties operate as they are intended.

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