Doorstop - Parliament House, Canberra

  • Transcript, E&OE
03 June 2014

JOURNALIST Minister, is it possible we will be sending special forces to Nigeria?

JULIE BISHOPWhat we have done is offered, through our Ambassador for Counter Terrorism Miles Armitage, the Nigerian Government every support that they may need in trying to rescue these girls.

The Nigerian Government thanked us for the offer but they have not taken it up. I've also been in discussions with the United States and the United Kingdom about how we could support their efforts to assist the Nigerian Government rescue these girls but at this stage the Nigerian Government has not accepted our offers.

JOURNALISTWhat sort of support could we offer? SAS? What capacity?

JULIE BISHOPThat's a matter for the Nigerian Government to advise. We stand ready to assist. We are deeply concerned by the activities of Boko Haram. We have taken steps to list it as a terrorist organisation. We've supported efforts in the United Nations for it to be listed as a terrorist organisation.

In relation to the 200 young schoolgirls, we've offered our support, we've offered to work on counterterrorism activities and we've offered to work with the United States and the United Kingdom on their efforts but to date we've not had a response from the Nigerian Government.

JOURNALISTHave you had any discussions with China regarding the release of Guo Jian?

JULIE BISHOPI am meeting with some Chinese officials this afternoon but we have heard of the reports of the detention of Guo Jian, and our Embassy in Beijing has raised the matter with the Chinese authorities. We are concerned about these reports and of course we would offer consular support should that be required but first we have to establish the facts.

JOURNALISTMinister, on Clive Palmer's comments in the House of Reps last night and his comments this morning at doors as well - do you think he needs to apologise to Peta Credlin?

JULIE BISHOPI'm deeply concerned by his comments, isolating the Prime Minister's female chief of staff for criticism. It is a public fact that the Prime Minister's chief of staff is undergoing IVF so I think it was particularly hurtful of him to make that claim about her and I would hope that he would reflect seriously on what he has done and then do the right thing.

JOURNALISTDo you think, I mean, he has pulled a number of stunts in the last.. he's not shy of pulling a stunt. Do you think this is just another stunt, of him just I guess posturing, and trying to flex his muscle with the Government?

JULIE BISHOPI am perfectly happy to debate policy with any members of the House of Representatives and that's what I think we should be doing, focussing on the policy. If Mr Palmer doesn't agree with our policy, fine, let's debate it. But to bring staff into it, particularly in this very hurtful way, is quite unnecessary and I hope that he sticks to debating the policy - that's what we were elected to do, not elected to take slings at staffers of the elected representatives.

JOURNALISTCan you tell us about the ramifications of the arms treaty that you've announced today?

JULIE BISHOP Australia today will ratify the Arms Trade Treaty in the United Nations. This is 12 months on since we signed it and we were one of the original co-authors of a United Nations resolution back in 2006 to promote a UN General Assembly resolution on the Arms Trade Treaty.

This is the first time there's been an international legal instrument that sets common standards for the international transfer of conventional weapons. The illicit transfer of conventional weapons claims many victims - it's estimated about half a million victims each year. So this is an important milestone in trying to put in place common standards for the international transfer of weapons.

We know from our own region - Bougainville in the 1980s, Solomon Islands in the 1990s - what an impact even a small amount of arms trading, illegal arms trading can have on a community. So I'm very proud of the fact Australia will be one of the first countries to ratify the Arms Trade Treaty and after 50 countries have ratified it, it will come into effect.

JOURNALIST In relation to Nigeria, would we have a number of soldiers we would be prepared to send and also how well prepared would our Special Forces or SAS be to go over there and get involved?

JULIE BISHOP Well Matt, you would know better than most journalists, and perhaps most people here in Canberra that our SAS is on permanent standby for any contingencies, but in this case we have made an offer to the Nigerian Government to support counter terrorism activities. We've made an offer to the United States and the United Kingdom that we would offer whatever support they felt they needed should they be requested by the Nigerian Government to assist.

JOURNALIST Do we have a timeframe on when, how long that offers for? Did they give you an indication of when they would accept, or not accept?

JULIE BISHOPNo we've not had any indication but the offer stands and we are ready to do what we could, in our capability, in our capacity to support a rescue of these young girls but there are obviously a number of issues that need to be taken into account and we are reliant on the Nigerian Government, as a sovereign nation, in agreeing to our assistance.

JOURNALIST On Indonesia, are you hopeful that a code of conduct or negotiations can resume with Indonesia with Tony Abbott flying there tomorrow morning?

JULIE BISHOP We have a very healthy relationship with Indonesia. The Ambassador is back in Canberra, I met with him last week and we had a very constructive conversation. I'm in constant communication with my counterpart Dr Natalegawa and we are arranging to have our annual 2 + 2 meeting – that's the Foreign Minister and Defence Minister of Australia meeting with the Foreign Affairs and Defence Minister of Indonesia. We expect that to be scheduled very shortly and that's where we'll be discussing the joint understanding.

But the Prime Minister's visit to Indonesia is most welcome. I'm delighted that President Yudhoyono asked him to visit and the Prime Minister has been able to do so in early June on his way to Europe for the D-Day commemorations.

JOURNALIST Just back to Peta Credlin just quickly - she, I guess, does have this public persona of being quite tough and quite hardy I suppose. How do you think she's feeling given these comments that Clive's made this morning?

JULIE BISHOP That's a matter you'll have to raise with the Prime Minister's chief of staff. My point is this - that it is publicly known that she has been going through IVF. For Mr Palmer to then pick her out and say that the Prime Minister's policy was directed to benefit her is not only wrong, it's very hurtful.

As everybody knows, the Prime Minister came up with the idea of a Paid Parental Leave scheme in his book Battlelines. That was long before Peta Credlin was his chief of staff, so not only is the assertion wrong, it's also hurtful and I do ask Mr Palmer just to reflect on what he's done.

JOURNALISTJust quickly on Sudan, have you got any update on Meriam Ibrahim's case and have you been in touch with Sudan about it?

JULIE BISHOP The Australian Government has requested that our Ambassador to Sudan, Dr Ralph King, he's based in Cairo, make representations to the Sudanese Government. We are deeply concerned about the human rights situation in Sudan. We are making representations to the Sudanese Government about the plight of Meriam Ibrahim, the 27-year-old woman, who has been convicted of apostasy - that is the crime under Sharia Law of converting from Islam. I understand she was raised as a Christian by her mother, she married a Christian, but her father was Muslim.

We condemn the death penalty that's been meted out to her. We understand the case is under appeal and we urge the Government to consider its own Constitution which guarantees freedom of religion. Freedom of religion and religious belief is a basic human right and we urge the Sudanese Government to extend to her that basic human right.

JOURNALIST With Peter Greste, have we got any more update on there - are you making further representations for him?

JULIE BISHOPWe are continuing making representations at every level in the Egyptian Government. As you know, there's been an election and so there's a changing from the interim government to a new government but we're continuing to make representations.

I have been in personal contact with their Foreign Minister, as recently as a couple of weeks ago. It would be the third time that I've rung him to make specific representations. Our Attorney-General has been in touch with their Minister for Justice. The Prime Minister has been in touch with the interim President.

We also make representations to other governments, governments that we know have close relationships with Egypt, or closer relationships than we do. We've taken advice from other governments as to how we should handle the matter and we're doing all we can to bring Peter Greste home.

JOURNALISTWith our involvement on the Security Council, how would you, how do you describe the actions of kidnapping those 200 girls?

JULIE BISHOPIt's a brutal action by a terrorist organisation. It's a diabolical attack on young women and girls and we condemn it at the highest level in the strongest possible terms. That's why we supported Boko Haram being listed as a terrorist organisation in the United Nations and why we've taken steps in Australia to list it as a terrorist organisation. That has significant consequences.

But as I've said earlier we stand ready to support whatever actions the government may take in order to free these girls and we stand ready to support not only the Nigerian Government but the United Kingdom and the United States should their offer be taken up by the Nigerian Government.

- Ends -

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