Doorstop interview

  • Transcript, E&OE
29 November 2017

JULIE BISHOP: Good morning. The Attorney-General and I can announce today a major step forward in the fight against ISIS. We have confirmation that the city of al-Raqqa in al-Raqqa province in Syria is no longer under the control of the terrorist organisation ISIS as a result of military action taken by the anti-ISIS forces, backed up by the coalition forces including Australia. This means that Australian citizens who travel to al-Raqqa will no longer be subject to the Criminal Code offences that made it an offence to travel to al-Raqqa without legitimate purpose.

This is an important milestone in the fight against ISIS, because the re-taking of al-Raqqa deprives this terrorist organisation of an operating base in Syria, it takes away revenue that it has been receiving to fund attacks elsewhere, and it destroys the propaganda that ISIS is invincible. ISIS remains a dangerous threat. It is likely to emerge elsewhere, with its violent insurgency activities and we will continue to be committed to the fight against ISIS.

In terms of travel to Syria and Iraq more generally, the Australian Government's advice is that Australians should not travel to Syria, Iraq, and it remains so designated on the Smartraveller website.

Just before I hand over to the Attorney-General on this matter, I also state in relation to North Korea's missile test today that the Australian Government condemns in the strongest possible terms North Korea's continued violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions. We call on the North Korean regime to abandon its illegal programs and focus on the plight of the long-suffering North Korean people.

This week, I have designated a further nine individuals and 11 entities who have been associated with the illegal weapons programs in North Korea, in support of the collective international effort to impose sanctions on North Korea to bring it back to the negotiating table. So we seek to compel North Korea back to the negotiating table and to deter it from further illegal actions.


GEORGE BRANDIS: Thank you very much, Julie. As the Foreign Minister has said, the revocation of the declaration in relation to al-Raqqa is a very important success. It remains the case that any Australians who travelled to al-Raqqa between 5 December 2014 and yesterday will still be in breach of the relevant provision of the Commonwealth Criminal Code and liable to prosecution.

At the moment, there are five arrest warrants that have been issued in relation to breaches in the Middle East of the declared area offence. But of course, the most important effect of that offence has been its deterrent effect, a point that the Australian Federal Police Commissioner, Andrew Colvin, and others have made many times.

The declaration of declared areas was a provision in the second of the now 10 tranches or instalments of national security legislation that this Government has introduced since 2014. We have a belts and brace approach to national security. We have very deliberately crafted this legislation to ensure that Australia takes every possible opportunity to mitigate and to defeat the terrorist threat and the declared area offence is an element of that legislative architecture.

It remains that Mosul is a declared area, and it remains an offence for an Australian citizen to be present without lawful reason in the area of Mosul. Any Australian who travels to Mosul should know that they will be detected and they will be prosecuted as five Australians currently are subject to prosecution.

JOURNALIST: The US Defense Secretary said this morning that the North Korean missile went higher frankly than any other shot they've previously had. Is there a concern that North Korea's missile program is improving faster than expected?

JULIE BISHOP: Of course. North Korea's ambition is to have the capacity to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile with a miniaturised nuclear device attached to it that has the capability of reaching Japan and mainland United States. Each and every test that North Korea carries out deepens our concern because it is an opportunity to improve its capability. So yes, we share this concern. North Korea is a threat to its neighbours, it is a threat to the region and it is a global security risk.

JOURNALIST: The sanctions don't appear to be working?

JULIE BISHOP: I disagree. We are only just beginning to place significant economic pressure on North Korea. The two UN Security Council resolutions that impose sector-wide sanctions were passed on 5 August and 11 September, and some of the provisions are only just starting to take effect and some won't even be imposed until 2018, but at last we have sector-wide sanctions on important sections of the North Korean economy. Importantly China, which provide about 75 percent of North Korea's trade and 95 percent of its foreign direct investment, is fully committed to implementing the sanctions and that will have a significant impact. So I believe that the sanctions must be given time to take effect, but this is part of a diplomatic and economic effort to put pressure on North Korea to bring it back to the negotiating table so that there can be a peaceful resolution to this security…

JOURNALIST: But if North Korea's missile program is progressing faster than people expected, is 2018 really too late for the sanctions really be biting?

JULIE BISHOP: We have a sanctions regime in place now. As I indicated, Australia is adding further to our autonomous sanctions regime, but there are also discussions behind the scenes, we are working closely with other members of the Security Council and other countries in the region to impose maximum pressure on North Korea so that it will cease its illegal weapons program. It is in direct violation of eight UN Security Council resolutions and it must be stopped because it poses a regional and global security risk.

JOURNALIST: Attorney-General and Foreign Minister, it is reported this morning that Senator Sam Dastyari warned a Chinese donor that his phone was being tapped. With this same donor in June 2016, he repudiated the Labor Party and Australia's foreign policy standing in his company. He also, when he was General Secretary of New South Wales, swapped Eric Roozendaal out of the Upper House in New South Wales into Mr Huang's company and swapped an associate of Mr Huang's into the Upper House of New South Wales. How would you describe that pattern of behaviour?

JULIE BISHOP: Senator Sam Dastyari must reveal publicly each and every discussion he had with his Chinese benefactor and the action he has undertaken in relation to representations made to him by his Chinese benefactor. We are aware of these allegations. Sam Dastyari must answer them, for it they are accurate it will show that Senator Dastyari was acting against Australia's national interests, against Australia's national security concerns, and that would make his position as a Senator untenable.

Perhaps the Attorney-General might add to that?

GEORGE BRANDIS: I might add to the Foreign Minister's remarks, Chris. This is a real test for Bill Shorten. This is not the first time that very concerning allegations have been made against Senator Sam Dastyari and his evident subjection to foreign influence. If the allegations reported in Fairfax papers this morning are true, then serious questions arise about Senator Dastyari about his loyalty to Australia, about the extent to which he is under the influence of foreign interests and one has to ask the question, why would anyone acting in good faith, warn a benefactor to have a conversation in circumstances that are only consistent with engaging in counter-surveillance activity? Why would an innocent person do that? What was he trying to hide? What was he worried that those whom he suspected were carrying out surveillance might learn about what he was telling the Chinese benefactor? Now Senator Dastyari, of course, has very serious questions to answer that we will be raising, I will be raising in the Senate during the course of the day.

But more importantly, Mr Shorten has questions to answer. He benched Senator Dastyari very briefly last year. Senator Dastyari was swiftly re-included in the Senate Leadership Team of the Labor Party. We know he remains one of Bill Shorten's Praetorian Guard. As the Foreign Minister has said the positon is untenable, but it's not just a test for Senator Dastyari, it's a test of Mr Shorten too.

JOURNALIST: Isn't the problem here that we still allow foreign money in our political system? Why hasn't the Government banned foreign donations yet?

JULIE BISHOP: Well the problem is that the allegations are Senator Dastyari was actively seeking to thwart an intelligence agency investigation. That is the accusation and that is very serious, acting against our national security interests is acting against Australia's national interests.

GEORGE BRANDIS: Now the Prime Minister has announced that it is the Government's policy to ban foreign political donations. I've been working with the Special Minister of State to develop a package of legislation that covers both that issue and the broader issue of foreign interference and that legislation will be introduced into the Parliament soon.

JOURNALIST: Senator Brandis, do you know whether Bill Shorten would have been privy to national security information from ASIO that he conveyed via back channels to Senator Dastyari?

GEORGE BRANDIS: Well under the ASIO Act, the Leader of the Opposition is entitled to receive briefings from ASIO and from time to time, ASIO gives those briefings. They are, and I remember from my days in opposition when I attended such briefings, generally very high level and generic briefings, they do not go to operational matters. But what Mr Shorten may have done is really a question that he needs to tell you.

JOURNALIST: Were security agencies aware that this conversation took place between Senator Dastyari and the Chinese donor?

GEORGE BRANDIS:Well we don't talk about particular, or indeed, confirm the existence of, particular investigations but the question here is why is it that a senior Australian politician, a senior member of the alternative government, would consciously and deliberately take steps to engage in counter-surveillance activities?

JOURNALIST: Attorney, can I just ask you about the same sex marriage legislation?


Journalist: Given the amendments that were moved and knocked back, are you satisfied with the protections in the Bill as it stands?

GEORGE BRANDIS: Lane, the Government is committed to legislating for marriage equality before Christmas, and I expect the bill will pass the Senate today. It could be as soon as this morning. Now we had a very, very thorough debate, as you know, in the Senate yesterday about a variety of protections for religious freedom. The Labor Party opposed every single one, every single one, including a very modest amendment that I moved which merely said that nothing in the bill should derogate from the right of a person to observe or worship according to their religious faith. They voted against that. Nevertheless, the legislation will pass the Senate, I expect today. It will go to the House of Representatives next week and as the Prime Minister and I have promised, there will be Marriage Equality by Christmas. Meanwhile, the issue of religious protections is going to be looked at by Mr Ruddock as the Prime Minister announced last week, and Mr Ruddock is going to report in March.

JOURNALIST: Will you be seeking to put to the House of Representatives that amendment of yours that the Labor Party knocked back to get that into the Bill?

GEORGE BRANDIS: Well, I'm not a member of the House of Representatives. It's a Private Member's Bill, it's not a Government Bill, and I have taken a very firm view that this ought not to be micromanaged by the Government. What the Government promised to do was to facilitate a debate and that is what we have done. Now that debate has thrown up a variety of different amendments from Government Senators, from crossbench Senators. I expect that in the House of Representatives we'll see the same process recur. I would be happy if the House of Representatives were to adopt the amendment, that I moved unsuccessfully last night in the Senate, to protect religious freedoms.

JOURNALIST: Will the Government move to censure Senator Dastyari on the floor of the Senate and is his leadership position tenable?

GEORGE BRANDIS: Well I agree with what the Foreign Minister has said. I think Senator Dastyari's position is untenable on the basis of these allegations. He has a lot of explaining to do. As to what course we'll take in the Senate, that's a matter that I'll be discussing with my senior colleagues.

JOURNALIST: Labor is saying it is very questionable where this came from given you were quoted quite extensively in that piece. Did the source come out of your office or the Government?

GEORGE BRANDIS: No, the first I knew about the matter was when my office was contacted by Fairfax on Monday afternoon.

JOURNALIST: Does the Prime Minister need to unleash his inner mongrel?

JULIE BISHOP: I think the Prime Minister is doing a fine job as an intelligent, committed and dedicated member of the Liberal Party, and he's also doing a fine job as the Prime Minister of this country. He's tackling some very difficult challenges and I think that Malcolm Turnbull – he's been a public figure for many years and people admire and respect his intelligence and his commitment.

GEORGE BRANDIS: The Prime Minister has a very attractive blend of toughness, strength and calm deliberation, which is exactly what Australia needs in these times.

JOURNALIST: Is the solution to winning back voters who may have voted for One Nation in the Queensland election to move further to the right, to be more conservative, or is it more complex than that?

GEORGE BRANDIS: Well Queensland is a very complex political system, as you know, but my view, having lived in that political system all my adult life, is that One Nation, as I've said before, One Nation is poison for non-Labor politics. One Nation is absolutely poison for non-Labor politics and One Nation has nothing to offer the people of Queensland and nothing to offer the people of Australia. Thank you.

Media enquiries