Doorstop interview

  • Transcript, E&OE
01 April 2016

JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. You've been here at the Nuclear Security Summit with the President and fifty world leaders, what do you think this has achieved?

JULIE BISHOP: I lead Australia's delegation here as an example of how dedicated Australia is to securing all nuclear material we have in our possession but also to show how committed Australia is to the global effort to secure nuclear material. There is a high level of concern about the potential for terrorists to gain access to nuclear material and carry out a nuclear terrorist attack. There's also a very high level of determination to prevent that from happening.

Australia has a very strong record in securing our nuclear material as a uranium producer and exporter and also our nuclear research reactor and we all shared our experiences. And there was a very high level of interest and concern that we were adopting the very best practices that we could in securing nuclear material and preventing nuclear terrorism.

JOURNALIST: The United States has praised Australia for its reduction of reduction of heavily enriched uranium down to, I think, less than 3 kilograms now. Is there any time scale now for that to be eliminated entirely?

JULIE BISHOP: At one point Australia was holding about 300 kilos of highly enriched uranium. We converted our reactor to use low-enriched uranium and we now hold less than 3 kilograms. That is for research purposes but we are constantly reviewing our need for that. A number of countries here over the last two days have committed to repatriating highly enriched uranium holdings to the United States in particular. So there is great will amongst countries to ensure that nuclear material is held as tightly and securely as possible.

JOURNALIST: What scenarios where you faced with this afternoon in that working session and were they confronting?

JULIE BISHOP: The threat of terrorism is frightening enough and then when you see a video of a hypothetical scenario you can see that there are still some terrifying possibilities. The scenario presented was plausible. It involved the use of drones and access to nuclear material and it was something that could happen. What is different about this summit is that, instead of dealing with a scenario that has already occurred and how we are going to cope, we are dealing with hypotheticals – what could occur and how we can prevent it. And so there was a very lively discussion about what different nations would do in response. There's also been a very high level of commitment to the UN to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Interpol and other global organisations - a high level of support, collaboration and co-operation.

JOURNALIST: All this work is being done to secure deposits. Do you think despite this the risk is still increasing?

JULIE BISHOP: There is a high level of concern that nuclear material could fall into the hand of terrorists or terrorist groups or that they would get sufficient material to make a dirty bomb. And that's why it was so heartening to see so many countries represented here exchanging ideas, exchanging experiences and working collaboratively to ensure that the nuclear material, for civilian purposes, is held as tightly and securely as possible with a commitment to reducing the risk that terrorist could gain control.

JOURNALIST: Talking about risk, the Republican front-runner Donald Trump talked about giving nuclear weapons to South Korea, Japan and Saudi Arabia amongst other countries. That's been attacked by Ernest Moniz, the US Energy Secretary and the top nuclear negotiator for President Obama for being detrimental and outrageous. What's Australia's response?

JULIE BISHOP: Australia is a long standing supporter of the Non Proliferation Treaty and all that it stands for. Australia is committed to reducing the spread of nuclear weapons. I cannot envisage a scenario where Australia would support the spread of nuclear weapons.

JOURNALIST: Has anyone from the Australian embassy met with the Trump campaign yet?

JULIE BISHOP: We have had contact with representatives of the Trump campaign through our embassy in Washington yes.

JOURNALIST: You haven't spoken to him directly?

JULIE BISHOP: No I have not.

JOURNALIST: Can you tell us about that contact?

JULIE BISHOP: It was through the embassy dealing a number of Mr Trump's advisors, making and initial contact as we have with all of the presidential candidates over the last few months. And as they drop out of the race we concentrate our efforts on those that are still in the race.

JOURNALIST: You've had a lot of meetings with Leaders over the last few days – has anyone spoken to you about the United Nations Secretary-General position?

JULIE BISHOP: Yes a number of people have mentioned the interest of different candidates and it's quite apparent that there are still a number of people yet to put their hand up so Australia will wait to see the full list of candidates before we take a recommendation to cabinet.

JOURNALIST: When you say it's apparent there are a number of people yet to put their hand up – has Kevin Rudd's name be mentioned?

JULIE BISHOP: Yes it has. It seems that Mr Rudd has visited a number of people and expressed and interest. He has not formally asked the Australian government for support but there are a number of other countries who have also indicated to us that they will be nominating another candidate.

JOURNALIST: When you spoke to people, did they indicate a support for Kevin Rudd?

JULIE BISHOP: No, they were talking about the number of potential candidates. I think the field is quite wide open. There is a view that it's Eastern Europe's turn. If one subscribes to that view, there are a number of candidates from Eastern Europe. There are others who believe it is time for a woman to be nominated as a Secretary-General and there are a number of female candidates. So I think there's a long way to go before we know who the Secretary-General of the United Nations will be in the future.

JOURNALIST: With the meetings over the last 24 hours you've met with the leader of Ukraine, you've met with the leader of Holland, obviously the Russians are not here, but what progress is being made on the case of MH17?

JULIE BISHOP: We are a member of the joint investigation taskforce and the officials have been meeting regularly to determine options for potential prosecutions. The final reporter of the investigator is due shortly, I expect before the middle of the year and at that time we want to have a range of options available as to a potential prosecution. It could be an international tribunal, it could be a national prosecution, and so I discussed with both president Poroshenko and with Netherlands prime minister Mark Rutte the progress that we're making. We are determined to hold those responsible for this atrocity to account and we will find the most effective way of prosecuting those responsible for it.

JOURNALIST: But you haven't decided exactly what mechanism yet?

JULIE BISHOP: At this stage the five countries of the joint investigation taskforce are narrowing down the options, and I believe at this stage it would either be an international tribunal or a national prosecution. But there are issues such as extradition, jurisdiction, other legal technicalities that have to be resolved.

JOURNALIST: The meeting with David Cameron how did that go?

JULIE BISHOP: I had a very positive meeting with the British prime minister David Cameron. I took the opportunity to inform him that while Australia acknowledges that while the referendum on Brexit is a matter for the British people, Australia believes it would be in our interests if a strong United Kingdom remained a part of the European Union. The EU is a significant trading partner for us, a strong UK as part of the European Union would be in Australia's interests.

JOURNALIST: Just another quick one on foreign affairs, any discussions here about the South China Sea? The Assistant Deputy Defense Secretary did say that they would not, the US would not recognise, any exclusion zone in the South China Sea, just 24/48 hours ago, any further discussions in your … I mean you were sitting down with President Xi at the White house the other night for dinner…

JULIE BISHOP: I had a number of discussions with others, not with President Xi. I canvassed this issue at length with foreign minister Wan Yi on my visit to Beijing recently, but I had a long discussion with the deputy prime minister of Vietnam about this. Vietnam is one of the claimant states and Vietnam, I think it's fair to say is deeply concerned about the prospect of militarisation of the islands and is awaiting the outcome of the Philippines arbitration case, which will look at the legitimacy of China's claim of the nine dash line and also the question of whether construction on the top of reefs gives rise to some kind of maritime zone. So these questions will be determined by the international Court of Justice and we expect that the judgment will be handed down by the middle of the year.

JOURNALIST: Is there anything more you can tell us about that dinner last night? Did you have any conversations with Mr Trudeau?

JULIE BISHOP: Yes, I did, I had a long conversation with Prime Minister Trudeau about Canadian Australian relations, how he was finding being prime minister of Canada, about my visit to Canada last year. Yes, it was a very delightful discussion, he's a very charming man. It was an informal meeting in the sense that we met beforehand and people exchanged views in a very convivial atmosphere and then it was a working dinner where we made statements on behalf of our respective nations as to what we are doing to secure nuclear material. But it was a very pleasant evening – my first time at the White House for a dinner, I have visited the White House for meetings before but the East Room at the White house is a very delightful place to have dinner.

JOURNALIST: Turning to domestic matters, yesterday was a bit of a disappointing day for the PM at COAG. How disappointing was his backdown on the tax proposal?

JULIE BISHOP: Not at all. The prime minister is willing to put forward big ideas to ensure that the states more effectively and more efficiently deliver services in health and education. And I'm glad that the prime minister is pushing the states to be more accountable for the services that they provide. He was giving them the opportunity to take greater responsibility over their revenues, take greater responsibility over the outcomes of their service delivery and it seems that a number of states aren't prepared to take that responsibility. They'd rather leave it with the Commonwealth, whereas I believe that as Colin Barnett the premier of Western Australia believes, that there is a great opportunity for the states to be far more effective in delivering services, particularly in health and education, if they had greater responsibility over their revenues.

JOURNALIST: There was criticism that the policy wasn't well thought out enough and wasn't delivered to the states in time for them to consider it properly. Do you agree with that?

JULIE BISHOP: No, I don't. This is about exploring ideas, and Malcolm Turnbull has the courage to put forward big ideas and he would have expected a level of sensible dialogue which he got from some quarters, but other states are just prepared to pass the buck to the Commonwealth. I think that in time the states will see some of these opportunities more positively and I hope that there will be a dialogue that will lead to an assumption by the states of greater responsibility for their actions and the services that they provide and their commitment to their taxpayers.

JOURNALIST: We're coming up to the anniversary of ANZAC Day of course and Gallipoli, and young Australians, any Australians will be heading over to Turkey. You've issued a travel warning, what concerns to you have given the bombings that are occurring now on unfortunately a more regular basis now in Ankara and in Istanbul? What concerns do you have for Australians' safety heading there?

JULIE BISHOP: There is a concern about the security environment in some cities in Turkey and the Australian government has increased its travel advice to "reconsider your need to travel" to Istanbul and Ankara. There is no specific intelligence that would indicate Australians or Australian interests are being targeted, however civilians have been targeted in the past. There is no change to our travel advice for Gallipoli and the ANZAC day services will proceed, however, if Australians are transiting through Istanbul or Ankara, we suggest that they limit their time, that they exercise a very high degree of caution. If they haven't left Australia then we suggest they reconsider their need to travel through Ankara or Istanbul.

JOURNALIST: You are an AFL fan just turning to another issue. Last night at the MCG in front of 70,000 people a game between Richmond and Collingwood, a banner was put up that said "Go Pies? No more mosques." It was pulled down, what are your thoughts on those sorts of expressions being made at public events?

JULIE BISHOP: It was deeply unfortunate that people would choose a football game on a Friday night in Australia to make some kind of political or some kind of protest statement. I think football is there for people to enjoy the spectacle, the game, and whilst we embrace freedom of speech in Australia, there is a time and a place, and that was not the time and not the place. And I don't believe that those sentiments add anything to the debate about what is a serious challenge, and that is trying to ensure that Australians live side by side, exercising a high degree of tolerance and appreciation of each other's cultures, backgrounds and differences.

JOURNALIST: Thank you very much for your time.

JULIE BISHOP: Thank you.

Media enquiries