Doorstop interview - PNGAA Symposium Dinner, NSW Parliament

  • Transcript, E&OE
17 September 2014

JOURNALIST: Do you need unanimous UN support to formalise the mission in Iraq or can we press ahead with that anyway?

JULIE BISHOP: The mission in Iraq would be at the invitation and with the consent of the Iraqi Government so it doesn't require a unanimous resolution but we will be debating Iraq at the Security Council on Friday at a specially convened meeting by Secretary John Kerry.

JOURNALIST: Do you expect Russia and China to back any UN calls for strikes against the Islamic State?

JULIE BISHOP: It will clearly depend on the wording of a resolution if that were to be put to the UN Security Council but at this stage we are discussing matters with all of our counterpart countries and the coalition that Secretary Kerry is seeking to build and that would include Russia and China. And I hope that they do back the efforts to contain this murderous regime to ensure that innocent civilians are not executed by ISIL as has been happening - through these mass executions and beheadings and crucifixions and other disgustingly shocking activities. So it is in the interests of the entire globe to seek to disrupt and degrade ISIL and its ilk.

JOURNALIST: Do you expect though any hesitation from these nations?

JULIE BISHOP: I've had a very productive conversation about this with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Sydney recently and he also recognised that this is a global threat that ISIL represents not just a domestic security threat in Iraq and Syria but way beyond. And China is also worried about foreign fighters as is Australia so this is a matter that concerns many countries around the globe.

JOURNALIST: Is there any suggestion of ground troops in Iraq?

JULIE BISHOP: We haven't been invited to, nor have we agreed to, do anything like that. We have outlined what we are prepared to offer in response to the United States' request and the request of the Iraqi Government.

JOURNALIST: What about troops or planes to Syria?

JULIE BISHOP: That's not part of the strategy that we've been invited to join and the Prime Minister has laid out in considerable detail the request and our response and that is to pre-deploy to the United Arab Emirates and then wait for a further request for operations to be undertaken. At that point the Australian Government will consider the matter again. We will weigh the risks, we will take into account a prudent and proportionate role for Australia and we'll ensure that we have the resources and timeframe in which to operate.

JOURNALIST: Are there any ramifications for Australiannational security after what the Iraqi Ambassador said today aboutAustralia being part of the coalition in Iraq?

JULIE BISHOP: The Australian Government is determined to ensure that the domestic security threat - that is real and has heightened in recent times - posed by ISIL and the foreign fighters, we are determined to take every step to stop people leaving Australia to fight with ISIL and we are determined to ensure that domestic threat is met. In terms of our involvement in a coalition I expect it will be an international coalition of likeminded nations who see ISIL as a threat to global security.

JOURNALIST: So we're seeing a different kind of domestic security threat today with a Sydney money transfer business suspended by Austrack over accusations it was funding terrorism efforts in Lebanon, Turkey and the Middle East. I guess that's another concern for Australian security?

JULIE BISHOP: Yes this isa multi-pronged approach to combat ISIL and its ilk and it will involve starving ISIL of funds so it can't fund its terrorist activities and this will be an international effort and the government has supported more funding to AUSTRAC to carry out their interception activities. So we are seeking to starve ISIL of funds and fighters and to destroy it and ensure its activities don't continue to attack innocent civilians in Iraq and beyond.

JOURNALIST: Was that business directly linked to ISIL?

JULIE BISHOP: I won't go into the details of it. It's obviously an intelligence matter but we make no bones about the fact that we're seeking to prevent funds being sent to ISIL to fund its murderous activities.

JOURNALIST: And just with West Africa are we going to be following the US example and sending troops there [inaudible] Ebola?

JULIE BISHOP: Australia at this stage has judged that the best contribution we can make is to provide financial resources to frontline services who are already operating there. And today I announced an additional $7 million that will be provided to organisations that are operating in West Africa. Australia does not have the capacity to evacuate personnel. We would not be able to evacuate medical personnel and we have advised any Australians who are working in West Africa to ensure that their employer has evacuation and contingency plans in place.

JOURNALIST: What is the latest travel advice for West Africa.

JULIE BISHOP: The latest travel advice is to not go. Clearly the Smartraveller website has also spelled out that Australia is not able logistically to evacuate anyone from West Africa so if they are working with a company then they must have in place contingency plans to leave should they be affected by the virus.

JOURNALIST: Just with Fiji are there any concerns with the elections in Fiji?

JULIE BISHOP: In fact I have just spoken to Peter Reith who has headed the Australian Electoral Observer Group as part of an international observer group. There are over 90 international observers in Fiji and Peter Reith has informed me that the process has gone very smoothly, it has been peaceful. There have been no reported incidents to date of violence or intimidation. Indeed he was impressed with the way people came out to vote. We think that there's been a significant turnout of voters and the way it has proceeded. Counting has begun and we expect that over the next couple of days a result will become clear. But from the reports that I've had and the reports from Peter Reith who is leading this Australian Observer Group it seems to have gone exceedingly well.

JOURNALIST: Do you have any concerns about whether the poll was free and fair? Particularly in the lead up as well there have been complaints from the opposition about things like high profile candidates being ineligible to stand and the Fiji First website staying live during the campaign blackout.

JULIE BISHOP: Well that's exactly the kind of issue that our observer group will be reporting on. They will be providing a statement tomorrow and then a final and more fulsome report later. But Australia has been on the ground for quite some time. We've had Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials in Fiji for some time, we've supported the Electoral Commission. I have met with the Foreign Minister on a number of occasions. I've spoken to Prime Minister Bainimarama and confirmed that Australia's expectation is that it will be a free and fair election, indeed the expectation of the international community, and so far the reports I've had of the processes on election day have been very positive. As to events leading up to the election well that will be the subject of a report from our observer group.

JOURNALIST: Military Chief Brigadier General Mosese Tikoitoga has said there has been some intimidation of voters. He won't give the details but he has put the military on standby. Does that concern you?

JULIE BISHOP: I'm not aware of those reports, neither was Peter Reith when I spoke to him just a short while ago. If there are such reports then I expect the International Observer Group will be reporting on it. This group was co-led by Australia, Indonesia and India and as I said over 90 international observers throughout Fiji. The majority of them are in Suva of course because that's where 70 per cent of the voter registration was but we've had international observers across Fiji so if there are any reports I expect it to be in the report of the observer mission.

JOURNALIST: In February you began the process of normalising relations with Fiji. What are the next steps now the election is complete?

JULIE BISHOP: Well the next step is to receive a full report from the observer group as to whether the election met our expectations of a free and fair process and then whoever is the new Prime Minister and the new Government, Australia will work closely with them to continue to normalise relations.

We have been involved recently with Fiji in their efforts to secure the release of the 45 Fijian peacekeepers who were detained in Syria and that kind of close cooperation does rebuild the trust and the collaboration that once existed between Australia and Fiji. So we have a number of items that we have to achieve, we discussed this with Fiji at length, what we are going to do next and so there's quite a menu of matters for us to look at in terms of trade, investment, defence ties, twinning arrangements between our respective public servants and educational opportunities. So there's a great deal for us to achieve but the first step is to ensure that the election meets international expectations.

JOURNALIST: You've said yourself that democracy is more than just polling day - that institutions, accountability institutions like the media, the courts and community organisations have to be able to play their role. What will it take or how far is Fiji from achieving that?

JULIE BISHOP: Well I certainly stand by my previous words. Achieving democracy is more than just holding an election. Indeed there are a number of countries that have held elections but one would hardly call them democracies so the democratic institutions must also be able to flourish. We will continue to work with Fiji to ensure that the press can be free, that the judiciary is independent and we'll continue to work with them to achieve what I think will be an acceptable level of democracy and an appreciation of democratic values in Fiji. And I must say I found a great willingness on the part of the Fijian people to embrace democracy in all its aspects and I hope this election is a positive step in that direction.

JOURNALIST: What will you take into account in deciding how and when to move to further normalise relations with Fiji?

JULIE BISHOP:This is a process that will take place over time. I'm working closely with the current Foreign Minister. We will wait to see who the new administration is, the new government, and we will work closely with them but already the Secretary of my Department Peter Varghese has been to Fiji to meet with his opposite number. There have been connections made between our officials and most certainly connections between parliamentarians and as I said I've been to Fiji and I've met with the Fijian officials as well as the Government, in Frank Bainimarama and Inoke Kubuabola, so I expect that we'll just continue down that path of rebuilding trust, supporting each other, embracing Fiji back into the Pacific family as well as the international community.

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