Doorstop interview – United Nations, New York

  • Transcript, E&OE
29 September 2015

JULIE BISHOP Good evening, Later on this evening I will be making Australia's National Statement to the UN General Assembly, and during the course of that statement I will confirm that Australia intends to campaign for a seat on the UN Security Council for the period 2029-2030. That may seem a long time away, but it is appropriate for us to give notice of our intention to campaign for a seat. This is a highly competitive campaign and we don't want to spend unnecessary time and resources trying to campaign at an earlier slot. This is the advice our experts at the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade have given us and we've accepted that advice, and it is about the time frame that we think gives us the opportunity to campaign effectively in a measured way without having to divert unnecessary funds and resources. I will also announce this evening that we intend to seek a seat on the UN Human Rights Council for the period of 2018-2020. Australia's not been on the Human Rights Council before and I think it's appropriate for a nation such as ours that is committed to freedoms, the rule of law, human rights and democratic institutions that we stand up and defend our values on the Human Rights Council.

Today it has been very busy here at the UN. I represented Australia at the Leaders' Summit chaired by President Obama on countering ISIL or Daesh and countering violent extremism. I met with the four leaders of the countries involved in the Joint Investigation Team for MH17 - President Poroshenko, the Prime Ministers of Belgium, the Netherlands and of Malaysia - and we discussed the options available to us to continue to pursue those who are responsible for the downing of MH17.

I attended a climate change conference, convened by US Secretary John Kerry, and talked about what action countries can take in the lead-up to Paris, and I just completed a meeting with representatives of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and we discussed the opportunities for Australia to conclude a free trade agreement with the six countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council which I believe will lead to significant opportunities for Australia, in more jobs and economic growth. Already the two-way trade between Australia and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries is about $15 billion, but I believe that that could be increased significantly if we are able to conclude the high quality agreement.

JOURNALIST Minister can I get your comments on Afghanistan, the developments up there in the north – is Australia playing a role there to take back that city, or is there any other, do you have any concerns about the Taliban's rise?

JULIE BISHOP Well I have spoken with representatives from Afghanistan during this meeting. Obviously there are concerns about instability and insecurity in Afghanistan. We have a number of defence personnel still there, we are supporting Afghanistan because it is now responsible for its own security. We've helped train their troops and Afghanistan's security forces are now responsible for securing the country and maintaining safety and stability there. So we'll continue to support them in that way and I'll to continue to be briefed on developments.

JOURNALIST Should we do more there?

JULIE BISHOP Well we've not been asked to do more. We work closely with the other coalition partners there but importantly, the Afghan government is responsible for the national security of the country and we will respond if we're asked, but at this stage we've not been asked to.

JOURNALIST Regarding the UN Security Council seat, have you got any idea at this stage of cost, or what you may be agreeing to provide other nations for backing our bid?

JULIE BISHOP Our concern on the previous occasion when we campaigned for a seat for 2013-2014 was that it was against the advice of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, who said that more time was needed, and if you go too early, you have to divert resources, you have to divert the work of your diplomats around the world, to pursue a seat, because you're contesting it against others who had already nominated for that spot. In the case of 2029-2030, there's only one other contender and that's Finland, so the spot is free and that gives us the early-mover advantage. In terms of the cost, we don't intend to spend a great deal of money on it, because we've given ourselves enough time to do the diplomatic work that is necessary to secure that spot, but I don't believe I'll still be Foreign Minister at that time. I'll leave that to Prime Minister Wyatt Roy in 2029.

JOURNALIST John Key has expressed concerns about deportations of New Zealanders, and something like 200 New Zealanders in detention, what's your response to his concern?

JULIE BISHOP There was a specific instance where a New Zealander who had been living in Australia for some time died in detention and that specific case has been raised with me, and I discussed more generally with Prime Minister Key and with Foreign Minister McCully, whether there are other arrangements that Australia and New Zealand could reach in relation to the deportation of New Zealanders. I think it would be timely for Prime Minister Turnbull to discuss this with Prime Minister Key, and I know there is an investigation at the New South Wales level into this incident. But more generally we are very close, and there is no closer relationship than Australia and New Zealand, and so I think it's appropriate that we consider this matter as Prime Minister Key has asked us to do.

JOURNALIST The UN Special Envoy on Human Rights has expressed some concerns about Australia's detention of asylum seekers. Has that complicated Australia's bid for the Human Rights Council?

JULIE BISHOP No not at all. I've had the discussion with him about it and explained why Australia took the stand that we did on the changes to border protection and controls that had been in place under the previous Labor government that led to 50,000 people making their way to Australia via the people-smuggling trade. It reinvigorated the people-smuggling trade. 1200 people died at sea. When you put it in that context, there is a much greater level of understanding, and also when the government has control of our borders, and control of our immigration processes, then we're in a position to offer for example 12,000 additional permanent places to the people who are displaced from the Syrian conflict. And so those kind of issues are put in context, and I took the opportunity to do just that.

JOURNALIST The Chinese Ambassador has expressed some concerns about the pace of the China FTA being passed, do you agree with his sentiments?

JULIE BISHOP Absolutely, I am deeply concerned that Labor is beholden to the CFMEU and other unions who oppose a job-creating strategy in a free trade agreement, and I certainly call upon Bill Shorten to put the national interest first and support the free trade agreement because it will grow our economy, diversify our economy and provide more jobs for more Australians.

JOURNALIST What impact, if any, did the change in government have on the Security Council decision?

JULIE BISHOP The change of government?

JOURNALIST The change of leader, I'm sorry.

JULIE BISHOP (laughs) Oh, I thought something happened while I was here.

JOURNALIST You never know.

JULIE BISHOP It was a decision of Prime Minister Turnbull. I took it to him last week and he agreed that Australia should put its name forward at an appropriate time, and the advice we received from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was that 2029-2030 was appropriate. Every 15 years if Australia seeks a place on the Security Council, we will be fulfilling our international obligations and during 2013-2014 Australia made a significant contribution through its temporary position on the Security Council, most notably through our advocacy over the downing MH17. Had we not been on the Security Council I doubt very much that we would have been able to achieve that unanimous resolution which lead to the presence of Australian authorities and Australian Federal Police in Ukraine to recover the bodies and remains of the Australians killed on that flight. And that's been acknowledged by my counterpart in the Netherlands and other countries -that Australia's advocacy as a Member of the SC at that time, led to a unanimous resolution 2166 in relation to Malaysian airlines MH17.

JOURNALIST What more are you going to do to get Russia on board (with a) resolution to deal with MH17? Did anything come out of the meeting today?

JULIE BISHOP We discussed the options that are available to us apart from a UNSC backed international tribunal. There are other options available to us, a treaty based international court, such as the Lockerbie example, or national prosecutions. I don't rule out returning to the Security Council, indeed, as I said the other day, Ban Ki-moon certainly encourages us to continue to pursue ways to hold the perpetrators of this atrocity to account and we continue to do that.

JOURNALIST The story in the Telegraph today that Barry O'Farrell's appointment to the Australia India Council was a Captain's pick by you, do you think politicians make good, sort of quasi-diplomatic roles?

JULIE BISHOP Well, I don't know what a Captain's pick means, but I am responsible for selecting all of the appointees to those boards. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade puts up a few names but I'm not bound to accept all of them or any of them. They put forward suggestions, I get suggestions from a whole range of people as to appropriate names for appointments to some of these boards. Barry O'Farrell is a former Premier of New South Wales, he has a deep interest in the Australia/Indian relationship. He took a number of delegations to India and I decided that he would be an appropriate person for that council and he's proven to be.

JOURNALIST What do you say to the allegations by Labor that it was inappropriate to have your partner in the Security Council (sic)?

JULIE BISHOP I ensured that the UN protocol people were asked about this and I was informed that it was entirely appropriate and that there was no breach of protocol.

JOURNALIST Just on Syria, there's been furious agreement in the last few days about the need for a political solution but obviously some disagreement on the shape that solution will take. What's the next step? Where does the world go from here in terms of forging some form of resolution?

JULIE BISHOP There is still a process on foot in Geneva 1. That process is still on foot, but much has happened since 2011 and we now see a number of countries more actively involved in pursuing some kind of political solution, as I have said in a number of meetings through the course of this last week. We don't believe that any transition option should be taken off the table; all transition options should be considered. I think that's a view being shared by a number of countries more closely involved in this than Australia and we have seen over the last few days increased diplomacy between the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq and so I'm more hopeful that a political solution will be found, but I don't know what it will look like, I just know that. There's a fairly open mind on the part of the number of significant countries as to what could be achieved. In the meantime, the military operations continue so that we can disrupt and degrade and ultimately destroy this brutal terrorist organisation.

JOURNALIST One of the things that we've seen over the last few weeks is the Americans and the British and of course ourselves moderate our position on Assad and his place in any transitional government. Can we expect, or should we expect the Russians also to perhaps moderate their position and allow for Assad's ultimate removal?

JULIE BISHOP Well I wouldn't say we're 'moderating' our position. We are recognising the reality that Geneva 1, that process of finding a political solution, was on the assumption that the Assad regime would fall or Assad would be removed, but he's still there and so the political reality is in dealing with the situation as it stands today and I believe that the countries including the United States and Britain and others are considering what options are available given that he's still there. So the situation has changed and of course that they're canvassing a whole range of options and Russia's taking a more active role as well. As I've said, Russia and the United States have achieved a diplomatic breakthrough on the P5+1 negotiations over Iran's nuclear program that may well be an example of how United States and Russia can reach an agreement on another global challenge and that is Syria.

JOURNALIST What I meant was that a number of parties, including ourselves have modified our position in order to achieve a political solution…

JULIE BISHOP We're recognising the reality that Assad's still there.

JOURNALIST You can phrase it however you like, my point is should Russia also be prepared to modify its position and be more accommodating?

JULIE BISHOP Well I believe that Russia is entering into negotiations with the United States, they are starting to talk and most certainly at the Foreign Ministers/Secretary of State level - Foreign Minster Lavrov and Secretary of State Kerry have had a number of discussions.

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