Doorstop interview

  • Transcript, E&OE

JULIE BISHOP: In relation to the recent chemical weaponsattack in Syria, overnight Australia has co-sponsored a United States UNSecurity resolution calling for the establishment of a new UN investigativemechanism to assess this chemical weapons attack. Russia vetoed thisresolution. We urge Russia not to stand in the way of an investigation into theuse of chemical weapons in Syria. Australia condemns the use of chemicalweapons by anyone, anywhere. We have advised the Russian Ambassador in Canberrayesterday that we expect Russia to fulfil its responsibilities as a permanent memberof the United Nations Security Council, to not shield the Syrian regime from aninvestigation into the use of chemical weapons which has killed a number ofcivilians. We will continue to work with other countries to ensure that thischemical weapons attack is investigated. This new UN mechanism would havesupported the efforts of the Organisation for the Prohibition Against ChemicalWeapons to undertake its work. We urge a political solution to the conflict inSyria, but in the meantime, we must take action to ensure that there is a haltto any use of chemical weapons in Syria.

JOURNALIST: Now that Russia has vetoed furtherinvestigation into the chemical weapons, should a campaign of US-led airstrikesstart?

JULIE BISHOP: The United States has been considering itsresponse at present and I know it is in contact with other allies in relationto it. The United States has been working with France and Great Britain who areboth also members of the Security Council. On the last occasion that the Assadregime was responsible for the deployment of chemical weapons against civilians,the independent UN investigative mechanism and the Organisation for theProhibition Against Chemical Weapons found that the Assad regime wasresponsible for those chemical attacks that killed around 90 people. At thattime the United States did take action and undertook military strikes againstthe Syrian airfield. We supported that action, it was calibrated, it wastargeted and it was proportionate.

JOURNALIST: Al Jazeera is reporting this morning thatUS planes with bombs aboard are heading over Syria now, are you aware of that?

JULIE BISHOP: I'm not going to comment on US militaryoperations but if the United States does carry out an airstrike in response tothis illegal use of chemical weapons against citizens, Australia will supportany action that is targeted, calibrated and proportionate.

JOURNALIST: Are you encouraged by Xi Jinping's pledgefor openness and does it ease fears of a trade war?

JULIE BISHOP: We were pleased to hear President XiJinping speak 12 months ago at the Davos Forum when he supported greater tradeand investment openness. His speech overnight has taken that further and wewelcome his specific commitment to open the Chinese economy in areas such asmanufacturing and his commitment to more open trade and investment. Australiawill certainly continue to work closely with China and other countries as weengage in open trade and investment. It is to the benefit of all countries andwe certainly welcome the President's comments.

JOURNALIST: Why were you so unfazed about the conceptof Chinese militarisation in the Pacific yesterday when the Prime Minister feltthe need to publicly denounce it. Is there a difference of view within theGovernment about Chinese interests in the Pacific with other nations?

JULIE BISHOP: Not at all. I was asked specificallywhether there was a Chinese proposal to build a military base in Vanuatu. Ihave been assured by the Vanuatu Government that there was no such proposal.Subsequently, the Vanuatu Foreign Minister has confirmed there was no suchproposal. The Chinese Government has said there was no such proposal so I wasresponding to those claims. The Prime Minister was making an entirely differentpoint. He was saying that Australia is very concerned to ensure that there ispeace and stability in our region and that Australia remains the naturalpartner of choice when it comes to security matters for Pacific island nations.

JOURNALIST: Does China's control of debt and economicinfrastructure in Vanuatu open the way for creeping and expandingmilitarisation over the country?

JULIE BISHOP: Australia is concerned to ensure that alldevelopment assistance in the Pacific is enhancing their productivity, is buildingstronger economics and stronger societies. We don't want to see any developmentassistance turning into a burden on vulnerable economies. We work with alldevelopment partners in the Pacific to ensure that their investment is for thebenefit of those nations. We work with China on development assistance into PNG,but our overriding message is that we welcome infrastructure investment in thePacific but we want to ensure that vulnerable economies are not burdened bydebt that they cannot repay.

JOURNALIST: Yesterday you said a cut to immigrationsuggested by Peter Dutton was never taken to the Cabinet. Was it ever discussedamong Cabinet colleagues?

JULIE BISHOP: I was asked whether there was a Cabinetleak and I said that there was not because it was never taken to Cabinet. I amnot aware of any such proposal, it was never discussed with me, it was notdiscussed in the National Security Committee or the Expenditure ReviewCommittee. I don't know what people talk about amongst themselves but I wasasked about a Cabinet leak and so I can categorically deny that there had beenone.

JOURNALIST: It's come out this morning that EmmanuelMacron is coming to Australia next month, what will come out of this visit?

JULIE BISHOP: We are delighted to welcome President Macron toAustralia. We have a very deep connection with France already. This is anopportunity for us to further deepen our economic ties and security ties, the defenceindustry in particular. We are working very closely with France on thesubmarine project but there are other opportunities. I am hoping to meet withthe President along with the Prime Minister and other Ministers and we willtalk about ways we can enhance our relationship. Of course, in a post-Brexitworld there will be more opportunities for Australia to enter into deepereconomic ties with other nations and we hope to promote the negotiation of freetrade agreement between Australia and the EU. That will be a topic ofdiscussion with President Macron.

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