Doorstop interview

  • Transcript, E&OE

JULIE BISHOP:I'm pleased to launch Australia's Consular State ofPlay 2016-2017. This document sets out the fact that more Australians aretravelling overseas than ever before. There were about 10 million exits fromAustralia last year. We issued 2 million passports in the year and now thereabout 14 million valid passports owned by Australian citizens.

Australians arealso taking cruises in record numbers. About 1.2 million Australians undertooka cruise during the 2016-2017 season. But things can go wrong and the State ofPlay document sets out the statistics. There were about 1700 hospitalisationsor illnesses reported by Australians overseas, over 1600 deaths overseas about1800 cases of tracing someone's whereabouts. AndAustralia's consular staff in 112 postsoverseas do an extraordinary job assisting Australians who get into trouble orneed assistance while they are overseas. Our message is that the AustralianGovernment cannot do everything for you if you get into trouble. For example wecan't get you out of jail. We can't pay your medical bills, but we can provide supportand assistance and our consular strategy sets out what government can and cannotdo. Our message is be prepared for overseas travel. Research the destination towhich you're travelling. Log on to ourSmartraveller website and register so that we know you're overseas. But most importantly take out the righttravel insurance and you can get the right cover for the activities you're undertaking. Our message is make sure you've got travel insurance because if you can't afford you really can't afford to travel overseas. Ok any questions?

JOURNALIST: Minister the Government iscalling on the states and territories to strengthen their anti-terror laws. Doyou expect the changes to go through without any difficulties?

JULIE BISHOP:The Australian Government places the highestpriority in keeping Australians safe at home and abroad and today the PrimeMinister has met with the State Premiers and Chief Ministers of our territoriesto discuss how we can strengthen our laws and our cooperation to ensure thatAustralians are kept safe and that we can do all we can to prevent a terrorist attackhere in Australia. In fact our law enforcement and security intelligenceagencies have thwarted about 14 attempted terrorist attacks since 2014. ThePremiers and the Prime Minister and Chief Ministers are discussing ways were we cancooperate across the states. We are urging the states to introduce terror lawsthat focus on how long a person can be detained if they are a suspect of aterrorist plot and we want some consistency across the country. Different lawsapply to different states. We are also looking into introducing some new lawsthat relate to the possession of terrorist propaganda and also carrying out aterrorist hoax. We are also wanting to cooperate when it comes to the use ofbiometric data, facial recognition from visas and passports and share thatamongst our states. Already that is shared amongst agencies but we need a moreconsistent approach across the country. So I welcome the support from premiersand chief ministers and I would imagine that there would be bipartisan supportfor our initiatives which are designed to keep Australians safe.

JOURNALIST: Are you able to give us anupdate on Las Vegas from (inaudible)?

JULIE BISHOP: I understand that the deathtoll remains at a shocking 59 victims. Over 500 people were injured. Our adviceis still that no Australians are among the victims among those killed or amongthose injured. A number of Australians were in the vicinity and were indirectlycaught up in this horrific incident but my advice from our consular staffoverseas based on the advice they've received fromlocal authorities is that no Australians are among the victims or thoseinjured. We are working hard to ensure that any Australians who might requireassistance in Las Vegas are receiving that. We have additional consular staffin both Los Angeles and Las Vegas and we are working to ensure that allAustralians in the vicinity are accounted for.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that Las Vegas isone of the biggest in the world, do you think that they need more staff theregiven when we have incidents like this?

JULIE BISHOP:Well the Australian Governmenthas a number of posts in the United States. We have a very significant missionin Washington and in fact some of our experienced Washington staff aretravelling to Las Vegas for this purpose of assisting consular requirements. Wehave a post in New York, in Chicago, in Houston, we have a trade post in SanFrancisco and a significant consular post in Los Angles so I believe that wehave sufficient staff. We just make sure that where an incident occurs we canensure that staff are there so I'm satisfied withthe number of consular staff. They do work around the clock at times like this.They are exceedingly busy; it is certainly a complex and harrowing time for ourconsular staff as well. They act withgreat professionalism and do all they can to ensure that Australians are keptinformed of what's going on and if they requireassistance then that is provided.

JOURNALIST: On another note the formerAustralian Admiral James Goldrick has called for operations in the Middle Eastto be re-deployed to south east Asia (inaudible) - does Australia need toreconsider its strategy?

JULIE BISHOP:Australia deploys our navy and indeed ourdefence forces where our national interests are best served and thesejudgements are made on a constant basis. Our deployment in the Middle East is focused on counter terrorism work,on anti-piracy, on preventing smuggling of drugs into our region and alsoweapons and arms. So they are carrying out very vital work which is in ournational interest in the Middle East. We also have the navy deployed in theIndo-Pacific and we have a number of navy ships in the Indo-Pacific. We areable to be present in both areas because in both areas they are acting in ournational interest and this is a matter that is under constant review.

Just on Vanuatu, there is a considerable fearthat volcanic activity in Vanuatu would damage and affect the islands and wehave sent humanitarian assistance. HMAS Choules our navy ship has arrived withhumanitarian support. Over 11,500 people have been evacuated from Ambae Islandwhere the volcanic activity is taking place and also we've had a transportplane assist - a c17 - provide humanitarian assistance as well. So that's another example of the Australiandefence force playing a role in our region in assisting a humanitarian crisiswith one of our dearest neighbours in Vanuatu. Thank you.

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