Doorstop interview, opening of Forrest Hall, Perth

  • Transcript, E&OE
29 March 2018

JULIE BISHOP: I am honoured to officially open Forrest Hall at the University of Western Australia and I applaud the vision of Nicola and Andrew Forrest to create a world class research hub here in Western Australia that will bring to this state some of the best and brightest scholars from around the world to undertake ground-breaking research.

It is an example of the Forrest family's extraordinary generosity and their entrepreneurial spirit that has enabled this remarkable vision to be realised.

I look forward to seeing the outcome of the research. It certainly places Perth on the map in terms of first class, excellent research.

JOURNALIST: The potential is endless, isn't it? You mentioned how our biggest natural resource is our people and our minds and the potential discoveries they could make through this centre are endless.

JULIE BISHOP: The point I was making during my speech was that we are in a time of great uncertainty, great change, with technological advances disrupting the way we live, the way we work, the way we connect. Yet, at a time like this, with artificial intelligence, robotics and technologies disrupting all that we do, we need to invest more in our people, in their ideas and their innovative and creative spirit and in their ingenuity.

This research hub will certainly see such a massive investment.

JOURNALIST: First class researchers need first class facilities and accommodation?

JULIE BISHOP: That's right. This is a remarkable facility. I have visited some of the great universities around the world. In fact, I lived in student accommodation at Harvard Business School and this is most certainly amongst the finest facilities and accommodation that I've seen, for students, at any of the great universities in the world. It certainly puts Perth on the map.

JOURNALIST: Minister, the foreign aid budget, are you contemplating a 10 per cent cut?

JULIE BISHOP: The Australian Government's foreign aid budget increased in 2016-2017 by 2.2 per cent to $3.9 billion. In 2018-2019 the foreign aid budget will increase to $4 billion. We have ensured that every dollar of the aid budget has an impact. We get value for money, it's effective, it's efficient, it's targeted and we are making a difference, particularly in our region and we focus our aid budget on alleviating poverty and driving economic growth in the Indo-Pacific, specifically in the Pacific.

JOURNALIST: Are you troubled by the news of civilian casualties to an Australian attack in Mosul?

JULIE BISHOP: Australia takes very seriously any reports of civilian casualties from military operations.

The Australian Defence Force does its upmost to ensure that there are no casualties. They minimise the risk of casualties during operations and that targeted airstrikes are free from locations that might have civilians.

However, as Defence Minister Marise Payne has indicated, an assessment of the Mosul campaign has indicated that the Australian Defence Force airstrikes may have caused civilian casualties.

At the time, the ADF was operating within the Australian rules of engagement and in accordance with the appropriate rules of war.

JOURNALIST: Why did you choose to so publically humiliate the Russian Ambassador yesterday and what did that meeting achieve?

JULIE BISHOP: The Russian Ambassador agreed to have media present at the commencement of our meeting. This is a usual practice when leaders, ambassadors, foreign ministers meet, the media come in for the top of the meeting. There is nothing unusual about that.

JOURNALIST: Was it publically making a very stern point?

JULIE BISHOP: Others can be the judge of that.

JOURNALIST: What did the meeting achieve?

JULIE BISHOP: I made quite clear the Australian Government's concern and outrage at the deployment of a Russian military grade nerve agent that was used in an attempted assassination in the United Kingdom, and that Australia, as the permanent Chair of the Australia Group, a 43 member grouping dedicated to the non-proliferation of chemical weapons, and as a member of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, we could not tolerate the deployment of chemical weapons any time.

Given that the Russian Ambassador had delivered a very lengthy attempt at an explanation early in the day, I believed it was necessary for me to reinforce the deep outrage that we feel about this deployment of chemical weapons, the first time a chemical weapon has been deployed on European soil since the Second World War.

JOURNALIST: You say an "attempted explanation", it was a clumsy one, wasn't it, by Russia? They really haven't been able to explain themselves.

JULIE BISHOP: There has been no explanation as to how it is that a Russian designed military grade nerve agent could be deployed in an attempted assassination in the United Kingdom.

Either the Russian state was involved or the Russian state has lost control of its stockpile of banned chemical weapons. Either way, Russia has a responsibility to answer and provide an explanation.

JOURNALIST: Minister, yesterday the Russian Ambassador hinted that the Australian intelligence agency had been hassling Australian diplomats. Did he raise those concerns with you? And what were the precise allegations?

JULIE BISHOP: No he did not raise anything with me.

JOURNALIST: Alright. And just back to the aid, you've argued against cuts to the aid in the past, will you be doing it again this time around?

JULIE BISHOP: As I said in the 2016-2017 aid budget it increased by 2.2 per cent. The 2018-2019 budget will also increase.

JOURNALIST: Kim Jong-un has travelled to Beijing, what is your response?

JULIE BISHOP: I hope that this is a positive sign that Kim Jong-un has taken another path. Given the maximum pressure campaign that was instigated by the United States, it is certainly supported by Australia and more broadly, of placing sanctions on North Korea with the aim of bringing them back to the negotiating table. I think that this is a step forward.

We hope that there will be a breakthrough of some kind. This is a positive sign.

JOURNALIST: Beijing's statement was almost glowing, is it dangerous that Beijing considers North Korea such a good friend?

JULIE BISHOP: The fact is China and North Korea have been very close for a very long time. China is the greatest source of foreign direct investment for North Korea. China is the number one destination for North Korean goods. That's why it was so important to get China, as a permanent member of the Security Council, aligned with the international community in imposing very tough sanctions on North Korea – the toughest sanctions ever imposed on a nation.

JOURNALIST: The cricket team caption and vice caption have been sent home. What is your view of this?

JULIE BISHOP: I commented on this yesterday, I don't intend to add anything further.

JOURNALIST: Anything new on the plane shot down over Ukraine Minister?

JULIE BISHOP: We have met with the Dutch Prosecutor who was in Australia recently and we are making progress in terms of the jurisdiction that will host the prosecution. The Dutch courts will be the location of the prosecution. We are still waiting the final report from the Joint Investigation team, comprising officials from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, Ukraine and the Netherlands. We want to ensure that the report is as thorough and comprehensive as possible so that we can pursue justice for the families of those who were killed in MH17.

JOURNALIST: Just on the cricket, I know you don't want to comment, but is that because maybe it's time to move on and perhaps, you know, you and others have much more important work to do then talking about ball tampering?

JULIE BISHOP: I've commented on this matter yesterday. I have other issues that have taken my focus.

JOURNALIST: What if the Russians are as cooperative with the plane as they are with the poison?

JULIE BISHOP: This is a point I made to the Russian Ambassador yesterday, that there is a pattern of behaviour on the part of Russia to seek to undermine the international rules based order.

Russia does not play by the rules. We've seen it with the illegal annexation of Crimea, the invasion of Ukraine sovereignty, cyberattacks, with political interference, and with its attitude towards the investigation towards MH17. Instead of seeking to support such an investigation, Russia has been disruptive at every step of the way.

- Ends -

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