Insiders, interview with Barrie Cassidy

  • Transcript, E&OE

BARRIE CASSIDY Well that's the Sunday papers and now to our studio guest, the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. While she joins us, let's have a look at the game on the sidelines of yesterday's AFL Grand Final. Julie Bishop versus Bill Shorten at the North Melbourne breakfast.

JULIE BISHOP The Cabinet has been spending time working out who would represent us here today. The Prime Minister refers to it as the ARL, Malcolm keeps talking about the URL, so we decided to choose between the women.Oh.

Actually, it's great to see Bill here today. I don't know what he's about to say but I will support whatever it is he says.

BILL SHORTEN It's lovely to see Julie Bishop here. I think we could all agree that she's been best on ground for the Government this year. It does make you wonder, of course, how much improved the Abbott Cabinet would be if they had two women in the team.

BARRIE CASSIDY Minister, good morning, welcome.

JULIE BISHOP Good morning, Barrie.

BARRIE CASSIDY He's got a point, hasn't he? There's some speculation, though, that there may be a reshuffle, perhaps that issue might be addressed?

JULIE BISHOP I don't believe that the Prime Minister has a reshuffle in place. He's very happy with the performance of the team. We were just having a bit of fun, Bill and I were having a dig at each other yesterday at the breakfast but I believe that the Abbott Government team is performing well and I don't believe that there's a reshuffle anywhere near the future.

BARRIE CASSIDY Alright, let's go onto the immediate and very important issues of the Government potentially, or Australia, joining air strikes over Iraq. When do you think a decision will be taken on that?

JULIE BISHOP The Prime Minister has just returned from the United States. I've been in contact with him this morning. I expect that there will be a National Security Committee meeting this week and at that committee, of course, we hear from our experts, the Chief of the Defence Force, our intelligence agencies, the Federal Police, there will be a general discussion about what we've both learned, the Prime Minister and I, from our time in New York during the UN General Assembly Leaders' Week, and depending upon the decision of the National Security Committee then it would go to Cabinet for a discussion, presumably during the course of this week.

BARRIE CASSIDY Given that these planes have been in position in the Middle East for a while now, what has the hold-up been about?

JULIE BISHOP Well, there's been a mission in Syria, the United States has been focussing on-air strikes in Syria and they've been joined by a number of Arab States and I think that's a very positive sign that the Saudi Arabians, the Emirates, Jordan, Qataris and Bahrain have all been part of the air strikes, the operations in Syria.

In relation to Iraq we need to have in place a legal framework. Senator Johnston, our Defence Minister David Johnston, has been in Baghdad over the weekend and he has met with the new Iraqi Government. They have some challenges, they are yet to appoint a Defence Minister, they are yet to appoint an Interiors Minister. So we want to ensure that we can get the legal framework in place as well. So it's a matter of going through that process.

BARRIE CASSIDY That could take some time, couldn't it?

JULIE BISHOP I think it would be a question of days. That's why David Johnston was in Baghdad to meet with the new Iraqi Government, to assure them that we were expecting them to be an inclusive Government, that they had a role to play in ensuring that they were representative of the various factions and tribes and groups within Iraq because, of course, that was one of the problems with the previous government. And also to talk about the details of what would be required to support the Iraqi Defence Force because we would be going in at the invitation of, and with the consent of, the Iraqi Government to support their defence forces to be able to defend their citizens and fight back against ISIL.

BARRIE CASSIDY And that is a very important distinction and does that then rule out Australia getting involved in any air strikes over Syria where that is not the situation?

JULIE BISHOP It is a different situation in Syria. The United States is going in under Article 51 in relation to a collective self-defence of Iraq. It's a different legal framework. Australia has been asked to support the Iraqi Government. That's what we've been requested to do and so that's our mission.

BARRIE CASSIDY If Australia, though, is requested to support the air strikes over Syria, Tony Abbott has left open the possibility of that happening?

JULIE BISHOP Well our request so far has been focused on Iraq. That's what we've been asked to do. Should there be a request in relation to Syria, well we would consider it, we would also consider the legal framework that the United States is relying upon in order to go into Syria but we would make our own judgment about that.

BARRIE CASSIDY But the way that the US rationalises it, they say parts of Syria are ungoverned, is that the view that you take?

JULIE BISHOP Yes, I do, it is ungoverned space in eastern Syria.

BARRIE CASSIDY You wouldn't necessarily look for any approval from the Syrian Government?

JULIE BISHOP We wouldn't be working with the Syrian Government anyway, we don't recognise that as a legitimate regime but we also know that there are different questions that arise. The United States has taken its legal advice, which says that under Article 51, and the collective self-defence right, that they can move into Syria.

What we can also do is starve ISIL and its ilk of fighters and funds and weapons and resources from Iraq and externally, and this was the tenor of the debate in the UN over the last week. About 40 countries took part in a discussion that John Kerry had convened Friday week ago and different countries put forward ways that they would be able to support the effort to combat, destroy, degrade ISIL, and it's not all military action.

There's a lot of political work that needs to be done, diplomatic, humanitarian and also to stop the financing of these terrorist organisations, stop them getting foreign fighters and that's a role Australia has to play. Indeed 80 countries around the world now claim that they have foreign fighters leaving, citizens leaving their countries, to fight in the Middle East. So there's a lot countries can do beyond just military air strikes.

BARRIE CASSIDY If you were to get involved, though, in some way in Syria, you would lose the Labor Party support. They've made it perfectly clear that that's a step too far. How important would that be in terms of this remaining a bipartisan approach?

JULIE BISHOP It's very important that it be bipartisan and we are very appreciative of the Labor Party's support in not only getting through new terrorist laws but also the support for a mission in Iraq. But let's take it a step at a time. We've been requested by the United States and the Iraqi Government to support efforts in Iraq. That's what we've been considering, that's what we've pre-deployed aeroplanes and our Special Forces for - that mission. And we are comfortable that it requires a legal framework from the Iraqi Government, an invitation and consent from the Iraqi Government. Now Syria is another step, different considerations would apply. It would have to be a completely different discussion within the National Security Committee, within Cabinet, and presumably with the Opposition.

BARRIE CASSIDY President Barack Obama said during the week he seemed to elevate climate change ahead of terrorism as the issue that most threatened the planet and he said that more lives are at risk in terms of changes to climate change than terrorism. That's clearly not a position that Australia supports given that Tony Abbott chose not to go to the climate change talks?

JULIE BISHOP I'm the Minister responsible for international climate change negotiations and given that Parliament was sitting and the Prime Minister was making a very important speech on national security in the Parliament, we felt that the best allocation of ministerial time was for me to be at the Climate Change Summit where I have responsibility within the Government for international climate....

BARRIE CASSIDY But other leaders went as well. There were about 120 of them.

JULIE BISHOP Not every country was represented by their leader. Foreign Ministers were from New Zealand, from Canada, from a number of other countries and most leaders were arriving for the President Obama meeting on the Wednesday for foreign fighters, and given that the Prime Minister was making a national security statement in the Parliament we thought it was an appropriate allocation of ministerial responsibility.

BARRIE CASSIDY Would you dispute, though, the way President Obama framed it - that climate change is a bigger threat to the world than terrorism?

JULIE BISHOP I think it's all relative. Climate change is a challenge and all countries recognise that. There were many countries represented at the Climate Change Summit. But likewise an immediate threat of terrorism is affecting not only the Middle East but all of us, all countries around the world at risk of terrorist attacks, given that 80 countries say they have foreign fighters who are going to the Middle East presumably radicalised, will be experienced, hardened terrorists and then coming back home to their home countries. That presents a risk to the globe, regionally as well as our country.

BARRIE CASSIDY The Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has just signed an agreement with Cambodia to take refugees from Nauru. Australia as recently as January in a submission to the United Nations in Geneva told Cambodia that we don't like their approach to demonstrators, that people are locked up without trial, there are health issues there, it's a poor country as everybody knows. How is this an appropriate way to go?

JULIE BISHOP This is a regional solution under the Bali Process. Cambodia is a signatory to the Refugee Convention, Cambodia is a part of the Bali Process and the Bali Process recognises that countries in the region will be part of the resettlement issue and Cambodia has asked to be part of the refugee resettlement issue in our region. It's voluntary. If people want to go to Cambodia, Cambodia's saying that they will provide a home and what's most important, they will provide freedom from persecution.

Under the Refugee Convention refugees are guaranteed freedom from persecution. They're not guaranteed a place in a developed country or a first-world economy.

BARRIE CASSIDY No, they're not but there's a clear preference on the part of the UN that that's where they go - they go to developed or developing countries and not poor countries.

JULIE BISHOP Cambodia is a developing country and Cambodia has significant aspirations to be a developed country. I was there in February. I met with their Ministry, their officials and they're very keen to be part of the Bali Process, to play their role in it and they are aspirational and I don't think it's for you or me to tell Cambodia that they can't offer themselves as a location for refugees.

BARRIE CASSIDY Is it for the UN to make that judgment though and they've already said it's outside of international norms?

JULIE BISHOP It's a voluntary arrangement and if -

BARRIE CASSIDY But voluntary, what choice have they got? Nauru or Cambodia?

JULIE BISHOP That's the choice that they have.

BARRIE CASSIDY It's not much of a choice.

JULIE BISHOP The point the Australian Government has made is that we will not receive people who have come via the people smuggling trade and Australia is one of the most generous refugee resettlement locations on the planet. In fact, the United States, Canada and Australia make up 90 per cent of all refugee resettlements around the globe. And if other countries are able to bear some of that burden, if Cambodia or other countries are prepared to say we'll take refugees, well then it will make it easier for the United States, Canada and Australia to continue to take our share.

BARRIE CASSIDY Is it embarrassing though that in the end they're taking two or three initially, maybe four or five a bit longer term?

JULIE BISHOP It's a start.

BARRIE CASSIDY It's a very small start.

JULIE BISHOP Well, it's an opportunity for a country like Cambodia to be part of a regional solution. I don't know what you think a regional solution means, Barrie, but to me it means that countries in the region.....

BARRIE CASSIDY Maybe 40 or 50 people might be a reasonable regional solution.

JULIE BISHOP It's voluntary. I'm assuming people will want to test it out. Cambodia is keen to get people into their country that can help them grow their economy. They want to be a developed country. They are aspiring to be a developed country and I think Australia should do what we can to support them in that and we have a generous aid program with Cambodia that's focused on economic development. It's focused on sustainable economic growth and over time countries have changed their economic profile and they look at other South East Asian countries - Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and say well we want to be like that. And I think Australia should give Cambodia every opportunity to put aside its dark past and to embrace a much more prosperous stable and secure future.

BARRIE CASSIDY The Australia Network is about to close down, we have an audience in about 40 countries in the region. They will be seeing Insiders this morning for the last time. Have you got a message for them?

JULIE BISHOP The ABC could continue with the Australia Network. The point that the Government makes is that we didn't believe that the Australia Network was meeting the contractual obligations it had with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. And then of course, there was the issue of the corrupted tender process under the previous government which cast a pall over the commercial tender that was meant to be in place and I believe we can be much more creative within the Department of Foreign Affairs and trade about our public diplomacy and promoting Australia abroad.

BARRIE CASSIDY How could the ABC continue to provide the service? The contract was not only about the money, it was about access?

JULIE BISHOP The contract was in fact with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It was to promote Australia abroad as part of our public diplomacy effort and I believe that we will be able to do that in a much more creative way and that's where I'm focussing my efforts.

BARRIE CASSIDY My point was without that contract you say that the ABC could have kept the network running, how would it?

JULIE BISHOP It's up to the ABC to determine how it wants to prioritise the taxpayer money it gets now. I don't believe it was meeting its contractual obligations to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in promoting Australia abroad through the Australia Network. So I'm looking at other alternatives where I think we can do it in a much more creative and positive way.

BARRIE CASSIDY And just finally on the G20 and it does seem now that the member countries will be inviting Russia and Vladimir Putin to attend. Given everything that you've said, though, you say that maybe it's a good thing that he come here and he can face international condemnation?

JULIE BISHOP Well, it's not up to Australia to rescind an invitation to a member country. Russia is a member of the G20 and so the invitation is automatic. It's not up to Australia to rescind it. And I've taken soundings and a number of countries are concerned that if we start dis-inviting members because of their behaviour then it would threaten the primacy of the G20 as a premier economic forum.

BARRIE CASSIDY Now that he's coming though you can hardly encourage international condemnation. Surely Australia will have to be a courteous host?

JULIE BISHOP Australia of course is a courteous host but there are the opportunities for the world leaders, particularly at the Leaders' Retreat, to inform President Putin directly what they think of his illegal annexation of Crimea and his breach of Ukraine sovereignty and his hand-fisted attempts to derail the independent investigation into the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines MH17.

I'm sure that world leaders will relish the opportunity to inform President Putin what they think of Russia's behaviour in the last six months or more.

BARRIE CASSIDY And Australians who are naturally offended and upset by what occurred, what would you say to them? They should show restraint in terms of protest?

JULIE BISHOP We don't restrain protests in this country, as long as they're not violent, as long as it's a peaceful expression of a point of view, then Australians are free to do that.

BARRIE CASSIDY Thanks for your time this morning.

JULIE BISHOP My pleasure.

- Ends -

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