Doorstop interview

  • Transcript, E&OE
16 October 2017

JOURNALIST: The US Secretary of State says diplomacy will continue until the first bombs fall in the situation with North Korea, does that send mixed signals seeing as Donald trump says it's a waste of time, all these diplomatic efforts?

JULIE BISHOP: Australia is part of a collective strategy that includes the United States, China, South Korea, Japan and others to impose maximum diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea to ensure that they re-calculate the risk and are deterred from carrying out any further illegal missile and nuclear weapons tests, and are compelled back to the negotiating table. That collective strategy remains the case. Australia will do its part in imposing sanctions, implementing the sanctions mandated by the UN Security Council, as well as our own. We will continue through diplomatic channels to urge other countries to do the same. I believe that North Korea can be deterred from its current course through diplomatic and economic means.

JOURNALIST: Minister, the former Defence Minister Kim Beazley has suggested ASD run a ruler over all SMEs participating in defence contracts. Do you think that is a worthy idea?

JULIE BISHOP: Well I'm not going to comment on the work of our intelligence agencies but I can assure you they have a very proactive approach to these matters.

JOURNALIST: Australia is due to be elected uncontested to the UN Human Rights Council for the first time, at the same time as a UN committee grills Australia on its human rights record particularly when it comes to asylum seeker policy and indigenous affairs. Do those two specific examples in any way de-legitimise Australia's claim to that seat?

JULIE BISHOP: Australia is open to being investigated and open to views from outside, but that does not mean that we shouldn't rightfully take our place on the Human Rights Council. We are a transparent, accountable nation. We will bring a principled and pragmatic approach to the work of the Human Rights Council should we be elected. I've been buoyed by the enormous level of support that was shown when it was a contested campaign and now that there are two nations competing for two seats, I am hopeful that Australia will be elected. We will continue to be an open, transparent, accountable country, committed to the rule of law and human rights.

JOURNALIST: Minister, last weekend your Secretary highlighted the interference by the Chinese Government on Australian campuses. Is this something that requires a collective response from other Western nations so that no one is disadvantaged if we insist on higher standards?

JULIE BISHOP: Australia is an open, liberal democracy and we welcome students and visitors to our shores. Over half the Australian population were either born overseas or have a parent born overseas, so we are a very multicultural nation. People come to Australia because of our values of openness and freedom, and so we want to ensure that everybody has the advantage of expressing their views, whether they are at university or whether they are visitors, and so we don't want to see freedom of speech curbed in any way involving students or foreign academics. This country prides itself on its values of openness and upholding freedom of speech, and if people want to come to Australia, they are our laws, that's who we are and they should abide by it.

JOURNALIST: Back to the ASD issue. In terms of that company had to comply with US regulations in terms of having access to the information that it did, has the US raised any concerns with Australia over that particular company in the case of defence contractors having access to that information?

JULIE BISHOP: This was not classified information, this was not information from the Australian Government. It was commercially sensitive between contractors. The United States has been subjected to a number of very high profile hackings in the past, of course we share experiences and share information to ensure that our cyber security is as strong as it can be.

JOURNALIST: On the Middle East, Islamic State looks like its lost a lot of its territory in Iraq, there's reports that foreign fighters and local fighters are fleeing Raqqa as a final assault is sort of launched on that. Has there been any indication that Australian foreign fighters, that there's been a greater desire on their part to get back home?

JULIE BISHOP: As I've been indicating for months if not years, the risk of success in Iraq and Syria in taking back territory claimed by the terrorist group ISIS is that those foreign terrorist fighters who survive, will want to make their way back home including to Australia. That is why we have resourced our security and intelligence and law enforcement agencies to work very closely with other partners in the region to track them so that we know where they are and what opportunities they are taking to return home. So they will be under very close scrutiny should they seek to return to our region or Australia.

JOURNALIST: Minister, what do you think about the China 19th Communist Party (inaudible) and what do you think about the Congress?

JULIE BISHOP: The Chinese 19th Party Congress will be an opportunity for the Party to put forward their future direction. It's anticipated that President Xi Jinping will outline a future plan for China, and so we look forward to observing proceedings and we will await the outcome.

JOURNALIST: North Korea says Australia faces disaster if it continues to support the US in the situation there. To put it frankly, how much are you and the Government willing to cop before you change your strategy or direction in dealing with North Korea in the face of those threats.

JULIE BISHOP: North Korea's threats only strengthen our resolve to find a peaceful solution to North Korea's belligerent, provocative and illegal behaviour that is raising tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The current tensions are entirely the responsibility of North Korea, by continuing to carry out illegal ballistic missile and nuclear weapons tests, by threatening to strike other nations and by acting in direct defiance of the UN Security Council. I do not intend to change course to reward North Korea's illegal, provocative and threatening behaviour.

JOURNALIST: Minister, have you been briefed any evidence of what happened Australian universities about Chinese students being, I mean the university being interfered by Chinese Government?

JULIE BISHOP: Well you will have read the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's speech in that matter, and I can assure you that I am aware of the content of the speech and the substance behind it.

JOURNALIST: You've said China faces a huge burden in dealing with North Korea but you also said the US is going to be the only superpower, global superpower in the foreseeable future. Do you worry you are sending mixed messages to China?


JOURNALIST: Minister, you said yesterday that you thought there was a possibility that North Korea might seek to embarrass China by conducting new tests during the Party Congress, is that based on any specific intelligence or how sure are you?

JULIE BISHOP: This is a view expressed by China and by South Korea and others, that there seems to be a pattern of behaviour, that the North Korean regime is determined to embarrass China by conducting these illegal missile tests or nuclear weapons tests at a time when China is rightly showcasing its nations achievements on the world stage, and so given that the 19th Party Congress will attract international attention there is a fear expressed by a number of countries that North Korea may take that opportunity to conduct another provocative, threatening act. The uncertainty and unpredictability surrounding the North Korean regime may mean that that doesn't occur.

JOURNALIST: On the Foreign Policy White Paper, how would you differentiate the Government's policy from Labor's? And can we expect more continuity or change from that White Paper?

JULIE BISHOP: I'm not aware of what Labor's foreign policy is. I have seen a speech by Chris Bowen last week but I thought that that was very light on substance. The Foreign Policy White Paper, as I said in my speech, will set out a very detailed approach underlining our interests, our priorities and our values. One thing I do note, I have spoken about our New Colombo Plan which is a considerable investment in our future engagement with Asia. At the last election, the Labor Party threatened to reduce funding to the New Colombo Plan but that would be a very retrograde step and the one program that the region acknowledges is one of the most significant investments and efforts by any Australian Government ever to become more Asia-literate and more engaged in Asia is under threat from an incoming Labor government. I don't think that speaks well of Labor's approach to foreign policy.

JOURNALIST: You've talked about the importance of sanctions to compel North Korea back to the negotiating table, how realistic though is it for North Korea to go back to the negotiating table with Donald Trump who has shown his willingness to tear up agreements that have been previously negotiated ie the Iran nuclear agreement. Why exactly would North Korea want to think it could negotiate with someone like that?

JULIE BISHOP: The United States hasn't torn up the JCPOA, the President has removed the responsibility for certifying Iran's actions to Congress. The JCPOA continues in existence.

Why I believe the sanctions will work is they have worked in the past, they have compelled North Korea back to the negotiating table in the past. China has the closest economic relationship with North Korea of any country on earth and I am pleased to see China taking such a proactive stance in supporting the unanimous UN Security Council resolutions of 5 August and 11 September, which imposed the toughest and most comprehensive sanctions against North Korea. For the first time, sector-wide sanctions rather than just against individuals and entities. China has said that it will be fully implementing these sanctions including ending joint ventures with North Korean entities, including returning North Korean foreign workers, and including the prohibitions on LNG, textiles and other parts of the import/export relationship. The Chinese Central Bank has said that it will fully implement the financial sanctions. So these sanctions will take time to have a full impact but I believe that they will work.

- Ends -

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