Doorstop interview

  • Transcript, E&OE

JULIE BISHOP: I have just concluded two very productive meetingshere in Washington. The Counter ISISGroup met as a large Coalition of 68 member countries this morning and thisafternoon the smaller group of 22 countries. During my intervention I stressed the need for there to be a focus onthe drivers of extremism - that is the lack of economic opportunity and thealienation from the political situation in countries, particularly Syria. The countries reaffirmed their commitment todefeating ISIS both within Iraq and Syria and outside. And we committed to ensuring that ISIS can nolonger inspire attacks, that it can no longer gain the resources or attract thefinancing and the foreign terrorist fighters that had been supporting itsefforts in the past. So it was veryreassuring that all nations recommitted to defeating ISIS, to assisting theIraqi government find political reconciliation and in Syria a politicalsolution because the military solution would not be the end of the matter.

During the course of themeeting there was also a reference to the attacks in Britain and I extend theAustralian government's deepest sympathies to the people of the United Kingdomover this latest incident. I understandthe British police are treating it as a terrorist incident, until otherinformation comes to hand. I can assureAustralians that to this point no Australians have been identified as beinginvolved. I've spoken to ForeignSecretary Boris Johnson and passed on our concerns and our condolences. I've also made contact with Australia's HighCommissioner in London and confirmed that at this point there's been noreference to any Australians being involved in the incident.

JOURNALIST: Minister, Secretary Tillerson in his opening remarksand Secretary Mattis on the Hill today spoke about a disbursement effect orstrategy by ISIS stemming from the military pressure that's being appliedthere. Have you any reason to suspectthat the London attack was ISIS related?

JULIE BISHOP: It's too early to say. The British police are looking into the matter. They are treating it as a terrorist incidentuntil such time as they can discount that. It certainly has the hallmarks of some of the recent ISIS inspiredterrorists attacks that we have seen elsewhere but it's too early for any conclusion to be made on that point.

During my intervention I alsofocused on the fact that ISIS inspired attacks have taken place in South EastAsia and that the Australian government was working very closely withcounterpart nations in our region, in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines toensure that we can defeat, disrupt these ISIS networks or claimed ISIS networksthat are seeking or planning to carry out attacks in our part of the world aswell.

JOURNALIST: The big emphasis here has been on lone wolf attacks like this one inLondon. Is there any suggestion these might be on the rise in places likeAustralia?

JULIE BISHOP: There'sno doubt that as we continue to pressure ISIS militarily in Iraq and Syria thenthe foreign terrorists fighters will seek to leave, if they're able to leave,and they may well seek to carry out attacks elsewhere. We've seen examples of that in the past butthis is a focus of the Coalition not only ISIS within Syria and Iraq but ISISinspired attacks outside the Middle East.

JOURNALIST: This man had posted a lot of materialonline about threats and we heard Rex Tillerson again say today that the internetis being used as a recruitment ground for ISIS. What is the AustralianGovernment doing to stop lone wolfs like this one in London happening in ourcountry?

JULIE BISHOP: We're doing all we can to work with our lawenforcement agencies, our intelligence agencies and share information withother countries. We are focusing on ensuring that those who pose a threat toour national security are monitored, are deterred from their actions. And that's why the Australian Government hasinvested so heavily in our law enforcement, our intelligence agencies and ourdefence force to ensure that we can track these people, that we can monitortheir activities.

Now clearly when it's a lonewolf attack, that is a person is not brought to the attention of authoritiesprior to taking action, it's very difficult but we're doing all we can toensure Australia is safe from this kind of attack. But as we've seen in the United Kingdomtoday, these events can occur. What wehave to do is ensure that we take every step, including providing the resourcesand the legislative power to our law enforcement agencies and authorities inAustralia.
JOURNALIST: Minister, there are some thousandAustralian military personnel involved in air strikes in Syria. Are there any plansto change the position and perhaps put boots on the ground in Syria or will itremain that this is done from the sky?

JULIE BISHOP: There are a thousand Australian Defence personnelinvolved in both Iraq and Syria. We aretaking part in air strikes – in fact Australia has taken part in about twothousand sorties over Syria, and we have Australian Defence personnel, trainingand advising and assisting the Iraqi Security Forces who are making gains,particularly in Mosul. There has been norequest and there hasn't been any offer to increase the number. We are already one of the largestcontributors to the effort to defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq and we willcontinue to work within the Coalition, as I reaffirmed today.

JOURNALIST: Minister, in your statement today yousaid that you called on regional neighbours of Syria to do more to assist thebattle against ISIS rather than pursue their own geopolitical ends withinSyria. What did you mean by that and what countries were you referring to?

JULIE BISHOP: Well clearly the focus has to be ondefeating ISIS in Syria. That's why Australia is taking part in air strikes toprotect Iraq from ISIS moving back and forth across the Syria/Iraq border. WhatI'm referring to is other proxy battles that are going on within Syria, wherebythe focus is not on defeating ISIS, but other countries and other stakeholdersare involved in other conflicts in Syria. My point is that we have to focus ondefeating this terrorist organisation that has carried out such shockingattacks in Syria, Iraq, elsewhere, and has the potential to inspire attacks inour part of the world and elsewhere.

JOURNALIST: Secretary Tillerson looks forward to whathe calls a stabilisation phase and he also foreshadowed delivery on President Trump'spromise of these safe havens in Syria. Can they be made to work militarily?

JULIE BISHOP: We didn't go into that much of a specificdetailed plan but we certainly spoke about options that are available and we'llcontinue to do so. As the Coalition forces - and supported by Australia - andas the Iraqi security forces are able to take control of Mosul, then we'll seean opportunity for those who've been displaced to come back home. So we'reseeking to ensure that only do we defeat ISIS, but we're also able to maintainpeace in areas that have been taken back by ISIS. So that's in Iraq and Syria.There are numerous different options as to how that could be achieved and allthose options are on the table.

JOURNALIST: Secretary Tillerson spoke of a need toaccelerate the fight against ISIS. Is there anything new and firm put on thetable today?

JULIE BISHOP: The Iraqi Government certainly gave avery robust outline of what the Iraqi security forces are doing to retake Mosuland they are making significant gains and we want to maintain that momentum,whereby the Iraqi security forces that have been supported by Australia andother countries in advising, assisting and training them, are able to maintainthat momentum. Likewise in Syria where gains have been made against ISIS, wemust maintain the momentum and not be distracted by other conflicts that aregoing on within Syria.

JOURNALIST: You've stressed the need in the past forthe Trump administration to define what victory would look like against ISIS.Have they communicated that to you yet and if so what have they said?

JULIE BISHOP: We certainly had a very positivediscussion today both in the broader Coalition meeting of 68 foreign ministersand also in the smaller group of some 22 foreign ministers. Clearly we have toretake the territory that has been claimed by ISIS, in other words deny themthe caliphate that they claimed and ensure that the territorial integrity andthe sovereignty of both Iraq and Syria is returned and maintained, that we alsohave to ensure that ISIS is not able to inspire attacks or inspire trainedforeign terrorist fighters to carry out attacks elsewhere in the world and thatwas obviously a focus of the discussions today. But also we focused on the keydrivers, that is; lack of economic opportunity and an alienation from thepolitical systems of the respective countries. Young people, in particular,have to feel that there is an opportunity for them that their state isproviding an environment for economic growth and job opportunity, that theirstate is protecting them and providing security for them. And so there was adiscussion about how we can help create economic environments that wouldattract private sector investment that would provide jobs for young people whoare otherwise attracted to the magnet that is ISIS.

JOURNALIST: The proxy forces you speak of presumablyin Syria, that includes Russia does it?

JULIE BISHOP: There are a number of countries that are currentlyoperating in Syria and our point is that we need to all focus on defeating ISISand not look for other geopolitical gains. That the first and foremost priority of all must be to defeat ISIS sothat we can defeat it at its root and therefore ensure that it doesn't have thecapacity to inspire attacks elsewhere in the world – particularly fromAustralia's perspective in Southeast Asia.

JOURNALIST: Did it come as any surprise to youthat Russia wasn't represented at this meeting?

JULIE BISHOP: Russia has not been part of thisCoalition. This Coalition was formed inlate September 2014. And myunderstanding is that countries opted in to the Coalition and those who did arerepresented here today.

JOURNALIST: As Islamic State loses ground inSyria and Iraq, Rex Tillerson spoke about the need to stop the seeds of hatefrom being planted elsewhere. Are youconfident that Australia is doing enough to stop the threat of returningforeign fighters?

JULIE BISHOP: We are doing all we can in terms ofcooperating with partner countries in the Middle East, throughout Europe,throughout South East Asia, in East Asia. Weare cooperating with other countries, sharing real time intelligence andinformation, tracking those who we believe would pose a threat to our security,working exceedingly closely with Indonesia, with Malaysia, with the Philippinesto make sure that those who are returning, or are able to return to South EastAsia, are being monitored. So we'redoing all we can to work with other countries and support them in their fight againstterrorism. And most certainly withinAustralia we have invested heavily in ensuring that our law enforcementagencies, our intelligence agencies, our authorities are in a position tothwart attacks. But I can't give anyguarantees, no country can. We mustcontinue to be vigilant and ensure that our resources, our investment is ableto do the best that we can to keep Australia safe.

JOURNALIST: Boris Johnson appeared absent fromthe family photo. Is it yourunderstanding that he did have to scurry off to deal with the London attacks inthe middle of this conference?

JULIE BISHOP: I understand that he has been incontact with authorities in Britain. Ihave spoken to him about the matter. Hewas present at the afternoon meeting. And of course the British police and authorities are carrying outinvestigations now, but I certainly passed on Australia's condolences and ourconcerns to him and, as I've said, I've made contact with our High Commissionerto confirm whether any Australians were involved and at this stage noAustralians were involved in this.

JOURNALIST: He must have been upset consideringhe was the mayor of London as well and it struck his home city?

JULIE BISHOP: I'm sure it's been deeply concerning tohim and yes he was to be in the photograph but he was off attending to what isobviously a very grave situation in London and we clearly send the Britishpeople and the British government our condolences and our support for whateverthey might need to get to the bottom of this recent attack.

JOURNALIST: Does it worry you seeing theseattacks using vehicles that may be replicated in Australia one day?

JULIE BISHOP: We are certainly aware of thispossibility – we've seen it elsewhere in the world. And we learn lessons from every attack andAustralia has certainly taken on board the examples that we've seen in othercountries. And we're working closelywith state police and with our law enforcement agencies across the country toensure that we are as well prepared as we can be to thwart any such attack.

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