Doorstop interview - New York

  • Transcript, E&OE

JULIE BISHOP I'm here in New York experiencing the 44 degree temperature difference between the G20 in Brisbane and the UN Security Council in New York.

Today I presided over a meeting of the United Nations Security Council on the issue of foreign terrorist fighters and we identified specific ways where we can broaden, increase and, indeed, accelerate international cooperation to disrupt and degrade ISIL, al Nusra, al Qaida affiliates, and other terrorist organisations.

Our Presidential Statement today identified a specific action plan where there can be increased international cooperation in information sharing in relation to foreign terrorist fighters. We can identify specific flows of funds to terrorist organisations that can be stopped; indeed, we discussed the number of ways to starve terrorist organisations of fighters and funds and legitimacy.

I pointed out, on behalf of Australia, the steps that we are taking at home to not only change our laws, enhance our laws, to deal with this phenomena of foreign terrorist fighters, but I also spoke about the ways that we are seeking to engage communities in Australia to counter violent extremism, to counter the radicalisation of, particularly, young people and work with our communities, religious and local institutions, and schools and parents to ensure that we can send home a message to young Australians that not only are they putting their own lives in mortal danger if they travel to the Middle East to fight with terrorist organisations, but they are adding to the suffering of the people of Iraq and Syria in particular.

The fact that our Presidential Statement was supported unanimously does underscore the work that Australia has been doing on the United Nations Security Council, particularly as Chair of the al Qaida Sanctions Committee.

I have also hosted a working lunch in honour of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other members of the UN Security Council, where we discussed other crises around the world – particularly in Africa. We spoke about South Sudan, Somalia, about the activities of Boko Haram in Nigeria, Burkina Faso, and we also discussed Ebola.

Tomorrow I will be chairing a meeting in relation to peacekeeping and the role of police in United Nations peacekeeping efforts and on Friday I will be chairing a special session on Ebola and the international response to Ebola.

JOURNALIST So, your comments today and also some of the other comments that we heard in the Chamber, it seemed to be on a particular theme – and that is, that not enough countries are doing enough to stop this flow of foreign fighters. Would that be right?

JULIE BISHOP This is a global terrorist threat. It is not just a regional threat, it is a global threat. There are over 80 countries that can claim to have foreign terrorist fighters amongst their citizens. And we believe that about 16 000 terrorists, fighters for the terrorist organisations, have travelled to Iraq and Syria to take up arms and to fight for these terrorist organisations. About 30 countries have joined the United States in assisting the Iraqi Government to try to take back territory and protect their own citizens from the brutalisation of the country by ISIL.

So we are of the view that it requires an international effort, and we believe that the United Nations is uniquely positioned to take a leadership role and particularly the Security Council. So far the Security Council has been at one in condemning ISIL and similar terrorist organisations, but we need to see more done in country. In each particular country, laws have to be reviewed, efforts have to be made to stop the flow of funds and fighters and we have to come up with an alternative narrative to the hateful ideology that is being spread by these terrorist organisations. I also urge countries to work with religious communities - the Muslim community itself must do more - and also to condemn the preachers of hate that are in our midst.

JOURNALIST Do you think the rest of the world will adopt your idea for an envoy against terrorism?

JULIE BISHOP There is some interest – it was, in fact, Prime Minister David Cameron's idea to have a United Nations Envoy specifically dedicated to this issue of foreign fighters and coming up with an alternative narrative to the toxic ideology of these terrorist organisations, because there is agreement that this is not about Islam, this is not about a state, it's about a brutal, murderous, criminal organisation and they should be treated as such. Each terrorist should be held to account.

JOURNALIST Did you receive any commitments about disrupting the Islamic State's financing and the illegal funding, financing that they do?

JULIE BISHOP Already a great deal of work has been done in this regard and there is a task force that is meeting to establish ways to cut off funding to terrorist organisations. They are becoming increasingly clever in the way that they seek funding and so we must take every step, every moment, every day to ensure that terrorist organisations are starved of funds, are starved of foreign fighters, and they are certainly denied any legitimacy whatsoever.

JOURNALIST Getting down to specifics, you have been able to take the passports of more than 70 young Australians. Do you think and did you get the message in here that some countries will find that very difficult to do?

JULIE BISHOP There is, of course, always an argument that if you cancel the passports of young Australians or other citizens then they remain behind and they could seek retribution, as we saw occur in Ottawa in Canada recently. But we believe that each country has a responsibility to prevent terrorism, to prevent terrorists or potential terrorists from leaving their country. And in the case of Australia we believe that we need to prevent young people from leaving the country so that they don't become experienced terrorists, working with these terrorist organisations in the Middle East and picking up their tactics and ideas and coming home as battle-hardened terrorists. So we believe that we need to prevent them going, but if they have gone, then you should prevent them from coming back other than to face justice in Australia because to be part of terrorist organisations is a breach of Australian law. It's against the law in Australia.

JOURNALIST But do you think it is realistic that other countries might follow that? You know, they just don't think they can do that, in a way.

JULIE BISHOP Other countries are already doing it. Not all countries, but what we're urging today is a review of other countries' legislation to look at their legislative frameworks and see if there is more that they can do. What Australia has done in proposing new laws to fight terrorism has been taken into account by a number other countries. I've been asked by other Foreign Ministers for copies of our legislation so that they can consider what they could do in their countries.

JOURNALIST Barack Obama has talked about asking those who are already part of this coalition to augment or supplement the commitment that they've made. Now, have those discussions been had with the Australian Government and have commitments been made?

JULIE BISHOP The Australian Government has already made a significant commitment and that has been recognised by President Obama and other countries. Indeed, it has been recognised by the Iraqi Government. We are in Iraq at the invitation and the consent of the Iraqi Government and we've not been asked by the Iraqi Government to do more than we're already doing. And that is, providing support for air strikes which have been effective and providing Special Forces to assist and advise the Iraqi security forces as they build capability and capacity to deal with this terrorist organisation that is currently brutalising Iraq, taking territory off the Iraqis and committing atrocities throughout that country.

JOURNALIST But have the Americans asked?

JULIE BISHOP The Americans have not specifically asked for any increase in support from Australia. They have recognised that Australia responded quickly, that we have done what we can to provide within our capability, aircraft to take part in air strikes which have been, to a certain extent, quite successful and also a significant number of Special Forces to help train the Iraqi security forces. We have not been specifically asked to do any more.

JOURNALIST Would we do that if we were asked to?

JULIE BISHOP We would consider any request that included the consent of the Iraqi Government. We don't believe that the Iraqi Government and the Iraqi people should be left to face this terrorist threat alone. It must be stopped at its source. Currently it is in Iraq and Syria. We should be seeking to wipe out these terrorist organisations wherever and however they occur and our focus currently is working with the Iraqi Government to degrade, disrupt, destroy ISIL – or Daesh as it's called – in Iraq.

JOURNALIST Now that those Special Forces have gone in, can you tell me what they're doing?

JULIE BISHOP Advising and assisting the Iraqi security forces. Their role is to assist in training, to build capacity for the Iraqi security forces so that the Iraqis are able to defend their country. This terrorist organisation will be defeated by the Iraqis in Iraq, but they do need the support of others and that is why Australia has been prepared to send our very experienced and very capable Special Forces to help advise and assist the Iraqi security forces.

JOURNALIST Minister, just on the UNSC. Do you feel foolish that your Government opposed this bid when your own Government has made such a good use of Australia's Presidency and of role here?

JULIE BISHOP No, not at all. We have always said that Australia should seek a seat on the Security Council from time to time. Back in 2008 when Kevin Rudd first announced the bid, it was against the specific advice of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, who advised that a later date would be preferable. Otherwise significant resources would have to be deployed and diverted and that's most certainly what did happen over a couple of years as Australia sought to win a seat on the Security Council. Significant resources were diverted away from other foreign policy priorities. Of course, we welcomed the fact that Australia won a seat on the Security Council and we said from the outset that, should Australia win, and should we be the government at the time, we would see that Australia served with distinction. And Australia certainly has. We have provided the resources and the support to our team here at the United Nations and they have done a remarkably good job in ensuring that Australia has played its part in getting some Security Council resolutions passed. We've been a significant contributor and I have been pleased to hear from other Security Council members of the positive role that Australia has played over the last two years.

JOURNALIST But doesn't that show that the advice was wrong? That we could go prematurely and win it and do well.

JULIE BISHOP Well, it depends at what cost. Of course, we did divert significant resources, funding, and personnel, away from other foreign policy priorities, and of course it's a question now of having to catch up in those other areas. So of course Australia should seek a temporary seat on the Security Council from time to time, but I was relying on the advice of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade at the time. But at no time have I ever said that Australia should not seek a temporary seat on the Security Council. Indeed I believe that we should from time to time.

JOURNALIST One quick one Minister on the subject of refugees. At a time when there are more refugees and asylum seekers than at any time since the end of World War Two, Australia is reducing its intake and making it harder. Why is that?

JULIE BISHOP What Australia is doing is ensuring that the Geneva Convention on Refugees works as it was intended. And that is, for those seeking asylum to go to the first country of asylum and seek resettlement there. What has been happening has been jurisdiction shopping. And those seeking asylum and claiming persecution have been going from country to country to get to Australia and ignoring the requirements of the Geneva Convention [on Refugees] that they should seek resettlement in the country of first asylum.

Indonesia is also a victim of the people smuggling trade and as former President Yudyhono said, both Australia and Indonesia are the victims of this. So we're seeking to prevent people smugglers using the misery of people seeking asylum to bring them all the way to Indonesia but not stopping in the first countries of asylum as the Geneva Convention [on Refugees] intended.

JOURNALIST What was Indonesia's reaction?

FOREIGN MINISTER We are working closely with Indonesia on that. A significant number of meetings have been held with Indonesian representatives over recent weeks. In fact, I spent quite some time with the new Foreign Minister over the weekend in Brisbane at the G20 and Ibu Retno and I spoke about a whole range of issues, including the issue of border protection and asylum seekers, and we've agreed to work very cooperatively together.

JOURNALIST Did you tell her about this specific idea?

JULIE BISHOP The Indonesian authorities have been briefed in detail about this, and we agreed to continue our efforts in the Bali Process to find regional solutions.

So altogether, I'm very pleased with the efforts that we've been making at the UN Security Council today. I won't keep talking because you're all going to freeze, but I do want to place on record how pleased we are that Australia has been able to make a significant difference in a number of areas, including the humanitarian resolutions in relation to Syria; our work on peacekeeping – in fact, tomorrow, the resolution, the statement, that we will be bringing forward on peacekeeping and the role of police will be the first time that this has happened at the UN. Also the work that we've done on the small arms trade and the Arms Trade Treaty; and also the work that we have done in relation to MH17. So all in all it's been a very successful two years on the Security Council. We're finishing up at the end of December but I'm pleased to have this opportunity to preside over the Security Council in the very cold month of November.

Thank you.

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