Doorstop interview

  • Transcript, E&OE

JULIE BISHOP: I'm pleased to be here in Washington DC. I have takenthis opportunity to meet with members of the new Trump Administration,including Vice President Mike Pence today. This is my third engagementwith the Vice President and we had a very warm, friendly and constructivediscussion.

I'll be meeting with Secretary ofState Rex Tillerson tomorrow and I've also taken the opportunity to meet withother branches of the US government, including members of the Intelligencecommunity and also speaking with Congressmen and women. This has been avery positive meeting here and I'm pleased that I've been the first Australianminister to visit Washington since the Trump Inauguration; And for theopportunity here today also to unveil the scaffolding around the AustralianEmbassy promoting tourism and my thanks to Qantas for supporting thisinitiative.

JOURNALIST: Minister, on the issues, did youdiscuss the Manus, Nauru refugee deal with Vice President Pence and, if so,what's the status of it?

JULIE BISHOP: The agreement is progressing and our officials are workingtogether with United States officials to vet the applicants for settlement inthe United States.

JOURNALIST: Just on that deal Minister, wouldyou characterise it as a people swap deal?

JULIE BISHOP: No I would not.

JOURNALIST: Mr Dutton had said last nightthat it could be categorized as that way – do you disagree with him?

JULIE BISHOP: That's not the way I would categorize it. Australia isa very generous nation when it comes resettling those who are found to berefugees from all over the world and we'll continue to do so. We areseeking to resettle a number of people who came via the people smuggling trade,and have been in Nauru in particular, with the United States but we willcontinue to take refugees from across the world as we've always done.

JOURNALIST: What's your realisticassessment of the fact that the Trump Administration has said yes this deal maygo ahead but oh sorry on the vetting few or none of them are actually going toget resettled here?

JULIE BISHOP: It's always been subject to the United States considerationof those that they wish to resettle and the United States is likewise a verygenerous nation when it comes to resettling refugees and I'm sure they'llcontinue to do so.

JOURNALIST: Did you discuss Australia'soffer to resettle refugees from Cost Rica with Mike Pence and did you convey tohim the sentiments from Minister Dutton that they wouldn't be resettled untilour refuges were resettled and from your discussions do you think Mike Pencesees this as a people swap arrangement?

JULIE BISHOP: That didn't come up in our conversation.

JOURNALIST: Minister Dutton had expressed theview that movements may occur "in the next couple of months". Did youdiscuss a timeline for movement of people?

JULIE BISHOP: The matter is being dealt with atofficials' level and the agreement is still being progressed.

JOURNALIST: Did you discuss morecommitment from Australia to the fight against Da'esh in Iraq and Syria?

JULIE BISHOP: We discussed the fight against ISIS ingeneral terms. There is a review in the United States underway as to thestrategy for defeating ISIS and I gave some input into the Vice President'sthinking. We had quite a broad ranging discussion but I'm not going to gointo any specific details obviously but there is a review underway andAustralia will continue to provide our input, our thoughts and our ideas onthat matter.

JOURNALIST: Did the scope of thatconversation entertain the possibility of an enhanced or an enlarged Australianmilitary contribution in the Middle East?

JULIE BISHOP: No it did not.

JOURNALIST: Can you give us the scope ofthe input that you gave the Vice President?

JULIE BISHOP: Well clearly we want to be part of thestrategic thinking of the United States because we have been a majorcontributor to the Coalition to defeat ISIS and we will continue to doso. This affects Australia, it affects our security. The number offoreign terrorist fighters leaving Iraq and Syria as more gains are being madeagainst them is a concern for our region and we discussed our counter terrorismcooperation in South East Asia as well.

JOURNALIST: What about the potential fora strategic realignment in the Middle East between the US and Russia? Didyou express any view on that possibility?

JULIE BISHOP: We certainly discussed many global andregional as well as bilateral issues and we certainly spent some timediscussing the situation in Iraq and Syria where gains are being made, but ofcourse we have to look at post-defeat of ISIS environments and scenarios.

JOURNALIST: Did the Vice President giveyou any indication of what might be coming in the revised executive order onimmigration?

JULIE BISHOP: We discussed that but not in the sort ofdetail that I can share with you.

JOURNALIST: Did you discuss the two-statesolution for the Palestinian crisis?

JULIE BISHOP: Not in detail.

JOURNALIST: Mr Pence had just returnedfrom Europe where he had asked NATO partners who he thought were underdone onmilitary contributions there to lift their game. Did he address at allAustralia's effort in our region?

JULIE BISHOP: In all of my engagements with VicePresident Pence, including today, he has spoken very warmly of the alliancebetween Australia and the United States. He spoke in very positive termsabout our commitment to working with the United States and other partners andallies to meet global and regional challenges, and he most certainly spoke invery positive terms about our contribution to military efforts, including inIraq and Syria.

JOURNALIST: Can you give us an idea ofwhat you might discuss with the Secretary of State tomorrow?

JULIE BISHOP: Well clearly we will discuss global,regional and bilateral issues. I'm not going to pre-empt the discussion Ihave with the Secretary but I've already had a long telephone conversation withSecretary Tillerson. It was very positive and I expect that we willcontinue that discussion on areas of common interest and concern, and I'llcertainly take the opportunity to put Australia's perspective – our views, ourthoughts and our ideas. This is an opportunity for us with the new Administrationto make known Australia's interest and priorities. Of course we sharecommon values and interests with the United States and there are newconsiderations, new strategies, new thoughts being implemented by thisAdministration and we want to be part of that thinking.

JOURNALIST: Minister, when they ask whatis Australia's position on the two-state solution, what's your answer?

JULIE BISHOP: Our answer is consistent. Ouranswer is that Australia has long supported, on a bipartisan basis, a two-statesolution where the Israeli people and the Palestinian people can live side byside and behind internationally recognized boundaries. We want to see thePalestinians return to the negotiating table with the Israelis. Webelieve that the final outcome will only be resolved by two parties – theIsraelis and the Palestinians.

JOURNALIST: Minister, it was obviously abumpy start to the relationship between Australia and the US after that phonecall between Mr Trump and Malcolm Turnbull. How would you characterise itnow – were you in there to sort of soothe things today with the Vice President?

JULIE BISHOP: I've had two previous telephoneconversations with the Vice President. This was my opportunity to meethim face to face. It was very warm, it was very friendly. We spokeabout many things. The meeting went longer than scheduled, which isalways a good sign, because we had so many issues to discuss. Weexchanged information and ideas and it was a positive, constructive discussionbetween partners, allies and friends.

JOURNALIST: Did he explain or express anyregret about the way that conversation panned out – particularly the leakaspect of it?

JULIE BISHOP: That matter didn't come up. Wespoke about areas where we're working together, areas where we have commonchallenges and where Australia and the United States can hopefully solve someof the issues confronting our region and globally. We are very strongstrategic and defence partners. We are very strong economic partners.It's great basis upon which to strengthen this already remarkable relationship.

JOURNALIST: Minister, the US Commander inAfghanistan has said that there's a stalemate there. He's indicatedthere's a shortage of coalition troops there. Did Afghanistan come uptoday in your discussions with the Vice President?

JULIE BISHOP: Yes it did.

JOURNALIST: Are they entertaining morecommitments there? And if so would Australia entertain the idea of morecommitments to Afghanistan?

JULIE BISHOP: These are early days for the newAdministration and there are still a number of significant appointments to bemade or confirmed and so many matters are under review. And Australia ishere to be helpful to offer ideas and insights and support wherenecessary. Of course our troop commitments are always under review and Ibelieve our contribution in Afghanistan is appropriate at present.

JOURNALIST: Is any further contactbetween the President and the Prime Minister likely - or any more likely afteryour discussions today?

JULIE BISHOP: I'm sure that the Prime Minister and thePresident will meet and will continue to engage as leaders of our nationsalways have and always will I suggest.

JOURNALIST: When do you believe they willmeet? Are their plans underway for them to meet?

JULIE BISHOP: There are plans underway.

JOURNALIST: And do we have any dates ofwhen that might be?

JULIE BISHOP: Not that I can share with you.

JOURNALIST: Would you expect it this yearsometime in Washington, Minister?

JULIE BISHOP: I would hope so. They are both going to a number ofmeetings I believe – although the President's schedule and the Prime Minister'sschedule are not yet confirmed for later in the year but I would expect therewould be an opportunity for them to meet.

JOURNALIST: Did Vice President Mike Pencegive you any indication of what's happening with the Paris Climate Deal?

JULIE BISHOP: We discussed a range of issues but didn'tgo into a great deal of detail. I expect to have longer discussions withSecretary Tillerson tomorrow. I did invite the Vice President to visitAustralia and he certainly hopes to do that as soon as possible. I thinkit's important that a senior member of the Administration visit Australia andvisit our region. The Secretary of Defence has been in South Korea andJapan – Secretary Mattis – and I'm hoping that the Vice President will also beable to visit Australia when he tours the region.

JOURNALIST: Ms Julie Bishop we had theextraordinary series of meetings in Bonn and Munich last week where Mr Pence,Mr Tillerson and others from the new Administration were all lining up behindmicrophones to tell audiences that our President didn't mean what he said or wedon't mean what our President said. Where does credibility stand inglobal diplomacy these days and how can you believe a word that anyone tellsyou in this city?

JULIE BISHOP: That's not how I'd characterise theirmedia appearances. I watched them and I thought that the Secretaries andthe senior members of the Administration were setting out US policies. It's a new Administration, of course people are very interested to hear whetherthere's going to be a change in policy, and I found the statements veryreassuring as I'm sure other NATO allies did as well. The United Statesis committed to a leadership role. The United States is asking othercountries to share the burden of ending conflicts and resolving challengesaround the world and Australia is certainly of that mind set. We believethat we have a role to play in working with the United States and otherpartners and allies in ending conflict and trying to bring peace, stability andsecurity – certainly to our part of the world.

JOURNALIST: Do you feel there is adisconnect, though, between the President and the Vice President now that we'vehad a few weeks to deal with both of them?

JULIE BISHOP: That's certainly not the impressions thatI gained from my meeting with Vice President Pence today.

JOURNALIST: Minister, you met with theintelligence agencies or spoke to them today – the President has been prettycritical of them or some of the leaks purporting to come out of them. Australia's Intelligence agencies have a very, very close working relationshipwith intelligence agencies here – what sort of faith do you and intelligenceagencies in Canberra have in US counterparts?

JULIE BISHOP: You are absolutely right, there is a veryclose relationship between our security and intelligence agencies and those inthe United States and I have no doubt that that will continue. It's inthe interest of our country and might I suggest it's in the interest of theUnited State for us to maintain a very close engagement on matters of securityand intelligence, and Australia's contribution and Australia's role was deeplyappreciated and that has come from the White House and also from theintelligence agencies. Of course issues such as leaks are a concern forany government at any time and I understand that these matters are being takenvery seriously by the White House.

JOURNALIST: Did the topic of China andSouth China Sea come up in today's discussions?

JULIE BISHOP: Yes it did.

JOURNALIST: What's your assessment in theearly days of US-China relations- things seem to have calmed down a little bitover the last week or two since Mr Tillerson's provocative comments some weeksago about potential to block US ships from accessing islands in the South ChinaSea.

JULIE BISHOP: You might recall that Chineseforeign Minister Wang Yi visited Canberra about two weeks ago and duringa very long press conference he made it clear that from China's perspective therelationship with the United States was one of the most significant, ifnot the most significant bilateral relationship in the world today, and thatbecause both sides had so much at stake they would be working towards avery constructive relationship with the United States, and that's an impressionthat I've also gained from my discussions with the Secretary of State and theVice President – that the region, indeed the globe, needs aconstructive relationship between the United States and China and thatboth sides are working towards that.

JOURNALIST: Just on trade, the White House, orits spokesman, has recently as today said that all trade agreements would bereviewed by this administration. Was that discussed with Vice President Pencealong the lines of Australia either being exempt, or fully included, in thatreview?

JULIE BISHOP: No, the Australia-US free trade agreement was not raised andas I've said previously, the United States enjoys a trade surplus in that freetrade agreement – it's been in place since 2005, it has benefited both ourcountries enormously and if there were to be a review of the Australia-US freetrade agreement I'm sure it would find that it has been of benefit to theUnited States, it has been of benefit to Australia.

Indeed, I did note, that one of thebiggest investors in the shale revolution in the US is BHP Billiton, and AustalShips is now the fourth largest ship builder in the United States. SoAustralians are benefitting from access to the US market, and as I said the USruns a trade surplus with Australia – so both sides benefit in terms ofeconomic growth and job opportunities as we export our goods and services intoeach other's market.

JOURNALIST: Ms Bishop – how longwas your meeting with Mr Pence?

JULIE BISHOP: I think it was almost an hour.

JOURNALIST: Did you happen to have manychance encounters or come across Mr Trump while you were at the White Housetoday minister?

JULIE BISHOP: No I didn't, I was in the VicePresident's office and it was just the Vice President and his chief of staffand a couple of others.

JOURNALIST: You haven't been invited toMar-a-Lago for the weekend?


JULIE BISHOP: I won't be in the United States on theweekend, so no, I won't be there.

JOURNALIST: Your meeting with the ChineseForeign Minister recently, Australia's former Ambassador to China Geoff Rabysuggested in an opinion piece that you had subtly changed Australia'sposition on the South China Sea, and if I could verbal him, he suggestedthat essentially, rather than foreign powers such as the US gettinginvolved in the debate he suggests that you are now agreeing with China that this should just be up to the claimants from Asia to determine. Isthat a correct characterisation?

JULIE BISHOP: I haven't changed my position on theSouth China Sea at all. In fact I re-stated the position, which has beenconsistent throughout, to Foreign Minister Wang Yi and he's heard me say thatmany times before – and that is that Australia is not a claimant state, wedon't take sides on the varying disputes and claims. What we call for is for ade-escalation of tensions, we do not support land reclamation or themilitarisation of the islands, and we urge the parties, the claimants toresolve their differences peacefully, negotiate as long as the outcome is inaccordance with international law, or resort to arbitration as thePhilippines did through UNCLOS. That has been my position, that has beenthe Australian Government's position, it's been consistent.

JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister, surely it is inthe interests of de-escalating tensions in the region if the Secretary of StateRex Tillerson doesn't say things like China's actions in the region aresimilar to the annexing of the Crimea. Are words like that de-escalatingtensions?

JULIE BISHOP: They are not the words that SecretaryTillerson has used in any conversation with me, nor have I heard him say it atthe G20 foreign minister's meeting. I think Australia has a role to play inputting our perspective and we have been consistent on the South China Sea.It's a matter we say publicly and privately to the United States, to China, andother claimant states, and it's a matter that we will continue to urge – thatthere be a de-escalation of tensions and that the parties resolve theirdifferences peacefully. After all Australia has a very deep nationalinterest in peace and stability in the South China Sea, the majority ofour exports go through the South China Sea, that's why we continue toexercise our rights to freedom of overflight and freedom of navigation toensure that international trade can continue unimpeded.

JOURNALIST: Did the joint strike fightercome up today in the program minister?

JULIE BISHOP: Not in that sort of detail. We spoke generally about our military commitment and our defence industry andour increases to military spending and the fact that we will be having a muchenhanced defence industry in Australia.

JOURNALIST: Is that something that theVice President expressed interest in Australia – making sure it gets to 2per cent of GDP as quickly as it can like he was saying to NATO membersthe other day?

JULIE BISHOP: The United States is already aware of ourproposal, and our policy is that defence spending be 2 per cent of GDP,they're very well aware of that.

JOURNALIST: On ISIS in the Middle East,the former Prime Minister Tony Abbott has come out and said thatAustralia should be providing more troops. He says "providedthere's a sensible plan we should be prepared to help our allies" andthen he goes on to say "including by doing more in the Middle East." Not on thetroops deployment as such, but on Tony Abbott's involvement, is that helpfulfor you on the world stage for him to be providing these, this commentary formedia?

JULIE BISHOP: Australia is already one of the majorcontributors to the effort to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Indeed at onepoint we were the second largest contributor after the United States, I believewe're now the third largest contributor, and we have been there from theoutset. Of course, our deployment is always under review and I believe it isappropriate at this time we are contributing to the effort, progress is beingmade, yet of course we always have our contribution to a military effort underreview.

JOURNALIST: Should Tony Abbott beintervening in this debate and making statements like that?

JULIE BISHOP: Well I don't know that he's intervening.His comments are being reported by the media and as a Member of Parliamentthat's perfectly appropriate.

JOURNALIST: So the commitment's alwaysunder review, it's appropriate at the moment, but you're open to thepossibility of that being changed at some point in the future?

JULIE BISHOP: We've not been asked to change ourcontribution. Our contribution is appropriate, we are one of the majorcontributors. I've been to a number of meetings of the coalition–the anti-ISIScoalition, the Friends of Syria meeting–and at every occasion Australia'scontribution has been welcomed and acknowledged.

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