Doorstop interview - United Nations, New York

  • Transcript, E&OE

JULIE BISHOP Yesterday I attended a high-level leaders' meeting convened by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the issue of climate change and the steps that will be taken to ensure that there is a global agreement at the Paris conference at the end of the year. I reiterated Australia's position, our targets that we will take to the Paris conference of 26-28% reduction on 2005 levels. I also spoke about the fact that while Australia is responsible for 1% of global emissions, our per capita emissions are much higher and therefore this target was important because it will reduce Australia's per capita emissions by 50%. That will halve our per capita emissions.

I also spoke about our contribution to the Green Climate Fund to ensure that our aid dollars were spent assisting our neighbours in the Pacific, the small island developing nations and confirmed that we had paid our first tranche of $70 million and encouraged others to do the same.

Today I attended the General Assembly and listened to a very powerful speech by President Obama and he touched on many issues that are of significance to Australia's national interest including the conflict in Syria and Iraq, and he also spoke of Russia's assertive and aggressive behaviour in relation to Ukraine, which affects Australia's interests in terms of the MH17 situation which we are still seeking to resolve.

This afternoon, President Obama has called together fifty world leaders - I will be representing Australia at this meeting - to bolster the United Nations' peacekeeping resources. He has asked the fifty nations to make a pledge. In accordance with Australia's long tradition of supporting UN peacekeeping efforts, we will be making a further pledge. We will be confirming that Australia will offer our C17 and C130 planes for strategic airlift capacity in crisis situations when and wherever we are able to do so. We will also provide training for UN peacekeepers, given our experience in supporting peacekeeping operations around the world, and we will be working with INTERPOL to defeat the scourge of improvised explosive devices, these IEDs that present an asymmetrical threat to peacekeepers. Australia is proud to support the United Nations in South Sudan in recent years, providing airlift capability to surge troops and necessary equipment and so this is building on the tradition that Australia has demonstrated over many years of supporting UN peacekeeping operations.

JOURNALIST Minister where does Australia fit in in terms of Syria? There seems to be a divide between the Russian strategy and the US strategy, but where do we come down?

JULIE BISHOP Both the Russian strategy, as you call it, and the Coalition strategy are designed to defeat this terrorist organisation. I hope that there can be a level of cooperation to ensure that there's no conflict in both strategies. Indeed President Obama and President Putin are meeting today. I think President Putin is addressing the General Assembly shortly, and there is a common interest in defeating this terrorist organisation, and we need to work together to ensure that our resources and our efforts coincide so that we are able to defeat this terrorist organisation as soon as possible, and put an end to the brutality and the abuse and violence that is being meted out against civilians in particular.

JOURNALIST But there is a conflict between those interests on the Assad issue isn't there?

JULIE BISHOP Well I heard President Obama say today while maintaining a very hard line against President Assad and the brutal acts of unleashing chemical weapons against his own people, that nevertheless President Obama spoke of a managed compromise, he spoke of a transition through a political solution and so I believe that progress is being made in that regard. This is consistent with the position I put on Australia's behalf over the weekend.

JOURNALIST On the issue of your national address, your national speech to the UN, what's the, what will be the focus of that?

JULIE BISHOP The focus will be the efforts that Australia will make to secure our national interest by taking part in global efforts to maintain peace and security.

JOURNALIST Now will you be talking about refugees as well?

JULIE BISHOP I'll be touching on a range of issues: things that Australia has achieved in recent years, our role in Syria and Iraq, the response that Australia has made to the humanitarian crisis, but I'll also be talking about other matters where Australia's national interest is served by us taking part in global efforts to maintain peace and security, particularly in our region.

JOURNALIST Ban Ki-moon called for all nations to do more on refugees. Do you think that's a step that Australia might take?

JULIE BISHOP Australia is already making a considerable effort to assist the humanitarian crisis caused by the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. We have offered to resettle permanently 12,000 people displaced by the Syrian and Iraq conflicts. That is an exceedingly generous offer compared with others, because it's permanent resettlement. We are 12,000 kilometres or more away from the conflict in the Middle East, yet we are assisting by offering to take twelve thousand permanently, focusing on those most at risk, focusing on those that are unlikely to have a home to return to should peace and stability be restored. We're also increasing the funding to the UN agencies that we believe will assist, about 240,000 displaced people survive the winter through the provision of food and shelter and clothing, and that's been deeply appreciated .I've met with the heads of a number of the relevant UN agencies during my time here, and they have welcomed our assistance. This brings to about $230 million Australia's contribution to humanitarian efforts in Syria and Iraq since 2011.

JOURNALIST Is Moscow's military build-up in Syria a positive development, when it comes to the fight against the Islamic state

JULIE BISHOP We are keen to see Moscow use its military resources to defeat Daesh and President Putin has said that the increase in military resources is in Syria for that purpose, for the purpose of assisting in the deterring and defeating of this brutal terrorist organisation. We have to welcome that, but of course, the coalition airstrikes are designed do precisely that - to disrupt, to defeat Daesh - Russia is working to that same end and I hope that President Putin and President Obama's discussion today will be able to achieve a high-level of cooperation in that regard.

JOURNALIST Is Canberra's view that Assad is a lesser evil than ISIL?

JULIE BISHOP There are varying degrees of evil clearly, but what we are concerned about is our national interest and we are trying to focus on the Australian citizens that have been drawn to this conflict because they have been recruited by Daesh. The fear is that they will take part in terrorist activities in the Middle East and they'll seek to make their way back to Australia and carry out terrorist activity in Australia. We have a direct interest in ensuring that Daesh is defeated and not only because of the humanitarian suffering that's been caused and other countries having to support the displaced people as a result of the conflict, but we actually have Australian citizens fighting in Syria and Iraq. A number of them won't return but those who may seek to return pose a significant security threat to Australia and we'll do whatever we can to keep people in Australia safe from those who have been radicalised by this terrorist organisation.

JOURNALIST Just on the peacekeeping announcement you made, will there be extra peacekeepers on top of the 48 or so already deployed at the moment and will there be an extra cost to the budget?

JULIE BISHOP Our pledge is to provide a strategic airlift capacity where and when we're able to do so, and that pledge has been very much welcomed by the United States and others. Australia has already undertaken strategic airlift capabilities in the South Sudan crisis and we'll continue to offer our support wherever we can. In terms of the IED training that will be with INTERPOL, it will be an AFP and Interpol effort and also training the UN peacekeepers will be part of ongoing efforts and their involvement in UN peacekeeping anyway.

JOURNALIST Looking down the road a bit, if Russia and the US-led Coalition can work together to try and resolve the situation with ISIS, they have the same goal there, do you see the different positions on the Syrian regime becoming a problem, would you think it's something that can be worked through?

JULIE BISHOP Yesterday, Secretary Kerry spoke about the diplomatic negotiations with Iran, the P5+1 negotiations as an example of how countries that had otherwise not been cooperating on international matters in the past, had been able to cooperate. So perhaps the P5+1 negotiations is a blueprint for other situations where Russia, the United States, countries that haven't always been on the same side of a conflict, or a particular situation, can work together. Clearly the political solution in Syria is crying out for answers at present, and that's why I've said Australia would not rule out any permutation or particular form of a political solution, without taking away from the fact that President Assad has presided over some of the worst human rights abuses against his own people, the use of barrel bombs and chemical weapons. It's an atrocity but what we seek to do now is to put an end to the conflict in Syria so that the 12 million with humanitarian needs, about 7 million displaced persons, four million refugees, are able to return to some form of normality.

JOURNALIST Has anyone expressed any interest in Australia's citizenship laws while you're here?

JULIE BISHOP I've raised them as an issue that we were considering, but no, nobody's specifically asked me about it.

JOURNALIST Did you raise MH17 with the Russian FM yesterday and what's next on that front over the next day or so?

JULIE BISHOP We spoke about Syria yesterday and climate change. We have a meeting of the Joint Investigation Team leaders and I will take part in that with the leaders of Belgium, Netherlands, Ukraine, Malaysia and we will look at the options available to us to hold the perpetrators of this atrocity to account. We had an attempted effort to secure a Security Council resolution in July that was vetoed by Russia, so we're looking at other options and we've narrowed them down to a couple of possibilities. I don't rule out returning to the UN Security Council on the question of MH17 once the reports have been finalised.

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