Insiders, Melbourne, interview with Barrie Cassidy

  • Transcript, E&OE

JOURNALIST: Julie Bishop, welcome.

JULIE BISHOP: Good morning.

JOURNALIST: Do you think this is a big deal, it might change a lot of votes?

JULIE BISHOP: Any political candidate would see this as a hurdle coming out so late in the campaign, only 10 days to go. The question is, how many Americans have already made up their mind and how many of them are actually going to come out and vote? If you go on the 2012 election, about 129 million Americans voted in that presidential election. In this one, so far almost 20 million have voted early and the indications are that the Democrats have come out in greater numbers. This close to an election, it is hard to see what impact it could have. We won't know until 9 November, the day after the presidential election.

JOURNALIST: You think they might have already made up their minds, largely?

JULIE BISHOP: That can be the case given such a high turn-out of early voters that would give an indication that people have made up their minds. It is a little more complex than that. They know it is a registered Democrat or a registered Republican that has voted early. What we don't know at this stage is whether the Democrats are voting for Clinton and the Republicans are voting for Trump or whether they have switched votes. I think it will be an extraordinary election if the last few years are anything to go by.

JOURNALIST: If it proved to be the game changer, should Australians feel uncomfortable about the fact that Donald Trump is President of the United States?

JULIE BISHOP: This is a matter for the American people to decide. They are -

JOURNALIST: It is their decision but I am talking about the impact on Australia, how should Australians feel about it?

JULIE BISHOP: Australia must work with whomever the American people choose as their President and we will do that. Already -

JOURNALIST: Would it raise a degree of difficulty?

JULIE BISHOP: We are looking at scenarios already of what a Clinton administration would mean for Australia and what a Trump administration would mean for Australia and our region. Hillary Clinton is a known quantity. She is a long standing Government figure. She has been First Lady, Senator, Secretary of State. We know her. We can see where her policies will lead. Donald Trump is a much lesser known quantity, as far as Australia is concerned. He doesn't have a record in Government, in public office. We are looking closely at the policy pronouncements he has made. It will be incumbent upon us as the Government of Australia to work with the incoming US administration to ensure that our national interests are looked after and that will include engaging with the US President to focus on our region.

JOURNALIST: Kym Beazley, who was ambassador before Joe Hockey to the US says Trump's Presidency could cause mayhem for our security, it could wreck the defence alliance and trigger an unnecessary confrontation with China. That is scary stuff.

JULIE BISHOP: I will be working with the US administration. Kym Beazley will not be. I want to have a very positive and constructive relationship with the new US administration and it is incumbent upon us to ensure that the new US President does focus on the relationship with Australia. We have an alliance. The US is our most important strategic partner. A significant economic partner. A major foreign investor in our country and as an alliance partner, we will work closely with whomever is the President.

JOURNALIST: If Hillary Clinton was to win, it is often said of Barack Obama, at least critics say this, that he was weak, he took his hands off approach and was too cautious. It is said she will be more proactive, more determined to lead. Is that a fair characterisation?

JULIE BISHOP: I believe there will be continuity in foreign policy from the Obama Administration should it be a Clinton administration. She sees the US as having a global leadership role. Candidate Donald Trump does not. He sees the US as having got a raw deal from globalisation and he would focus more on domestic matters. We have seen Hillary Clinton, particularly as Secretary of State, have a view that the US should take a leadership role in the Middle East, in hot spots around the world. She was the principal architect of the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific in 2011. The US became a member of the East Asia Summit with Australia, China and others. US engagement in our region is important for us. I believe that will continue under Hillary Clinton. It will be up to our region, including Australia, to persuade a Trump administration to focus on the Asia-Pacific.

JOURNALIST: Earlier this year, in April, the New York times editorialised that Hillary Clinton, they said she is the only true hawk left in the race and they included the Republicans in that. Is that the Hillary Clinton you know and how well do you know her?

JULIE BISHOP: I have met Hillary Clinton on a number of occasions. She has visited Australia three times. She came as First Lady in 1996 and she has been back as Secretary of State and taken part in the United States/Australia ministerial dialogue we have every year with the United States' foreign and defence ministers. She appears to be pragmatic. She is very smart, intelligent, charming to deal with one on one. She has an understanding of Australia and our place in the world and also has a deep understanding of the alliance. As far as her being a hawk, she is part of an administration that took out Osama Bin Laden, who has taken part in the fight against ISIL within Syria and Iraq and that will have to continue. The fight against the terrorist organisations and by the United States and Coalition partners must continue, whether it is a Trump or a Clinton administration.

JOURNALIST: I want to ask you about comments during the week from the President of the Philippines who announced the Philippines' separation from the United States. Is that something that should concern Australia. Should we take him seriously?

JULIE BISHOP: When he made those statements in China, it certainly raised eyebrows around the region but then he sought to clarify them when he came back to the Philippines and said he wasn't talking about breaking diplomatic ties with the US, he was talking about pursuing an independent foreign policy from the United States and in itself, that is not a remarkable statement. There will be concerns if he does seek to distance the Philippines from the United States because the United States has been the principal security guarantor for our region and many nations, including the Philippines and Australia have benefited enormously from the US presence. I hope President Duterte is appreciative of the fact that we have all benefited from the US presence in the region. He has gone on to say that in Japan he would like to see US troops leave but that he is not going to break any agreements at this point. We will monitor his statements carefully.

JOURNALIST: The arrests in China, the Crown employees, what are their prospects and what is the Government doing for them?

JULIE BISHOP: We are providing consular support, all of them are represented by lawyers. There are now four Australians involved, three are Crown employees and a fourth person we have learned is not a Crown employee but is detained along with them. We are also providing consular assistance to them. This has taken some time because some of them are dual citizens, Australian/Chinese and it has to be determined whether they entered China on their Australian or Chinese passport and whether they will be treated by the Chinese authorities as Chinese or Australian. We have determined all four will be treated as Australian citizens. We are providing whatever support we can. That includes consular visits and we will continue to do that. We have a consular agreement with China, so we will be working pursuant to that agreement. They have lawyers representing them.

At this stage, my understanding of the Chinese legal system is they can have 30 days to investigate people without charging them. Then that can be extended for a further seven days, at which time they either charge or don't charge. There is a dispute about whether that is the applicable Chinese law but that is the advice we have received from our missions in China.

JOURNALIST: Why are they doing this? To stop money leaving the country, or is it their response to their concerns about corruption and gambling?

JULIE BISHOP: It is hard to know. We don't have the details of why they are being held and what potential charges they face. It is clearly to do with gambling, which is illegal in China but there are exceptions when it comes to Macau. It may well be part of President Xi Jinping's anticorruption campaign involving government officials.

JOURNALIST: If it is, the message to casinos here is stop recruiting high rollers from China and if that happens, it could make some of the casinos unviable. You look at Barangaroo, will it have an implication for Crown?

JULIE BISHOP: I am sure every casino operator around the world is watching this case closely. There was a case 12 months ago with South Korean gambling representatives who were also detained and no doubt the casino owners around the world followed that case closely as well. This will have implications but until such time as we know precisely what they're facing, it would be counterproductive of me to speculate.

JOURNALIST: A report this morning on asylum seekers that the Government will shortly legislate to prevent asylum seekers who have arrived by boat from ever arriving on the Australian main land, in other words, they are banned for life from coming to Australia. Is that going to happen and when?

JULIE BISHOP: The Prime Minister will be making a statement later this morning along with Peter Dutton, the Immigration Minister, about putting into law a policy that is long standing, in fact it was first announced by Kevin Rudd back in 2013 and it is to send a very strong message to the criminal people smuggling syndicates that we will not allow them to find an illegal pathway for people to Australia. Those who have paid people smugglers will not be resettled in Australia. What we have done is ensure that all children that were in detention -

JOURNALIST: This is not about resettlement, it is about never being able to visit?

JULIE BISHOP: That is right, we are sending a strong message to those currently in Manus and Nauru, if they are found to be owed protection, they will not be resettled in Australia. If they're not found to be owed protection, they should return home.

JOURNALIST: These are genuine refugees, they cannot come to Australia even on a tourist visa, it doesn't matter where they are settled, even if they return voluntarily go home, they can never visit Australia even on a tourist visa?

JULIE BISHOP: This is a tough message we are sending to the people smuggling syndicates and those who pay people smugglers to try and enter Australia.

JOURNALIST: What does it say about freedom of movement around the globe which is a basic human rights?

JULIE BISHOP: They won't be settled in Australia and they won't be visiting Australia. It is a tough message. We have to stop the people smuggling syndicates. I will never forget 1200 people that we know of drowned at sea coming to Australia under these people smuggling networks. We cannot have situations where people are drowning at sea and that is why we are working through the case load, the cohort of people who are on Manus and Nauru, to find third country resettlements for them and if they want to stay in PNG and in Nauru, they can be resettled there.

JOURNALIST: Finally, Joe Hockey, the ambassador to the US and his babysitting costs that were covered, is that standard practice for ambassadors and should it be?

JULIE BISHOP: All ambassadors and High Commissioners who represent Australia overseas have access to what is called a representational fund. From that they can pay for work related expenses that come about as a result of the job that they are doing, representing Australia overseas. Ambassador Hockey pays for his own babysitter, carer, for his children but on occasions when he and his spouse, who is not paid to do this, she is not paid to undertake this role, have to attend official functions, say representing Australia and they have additional babysitting cost, that can come from the fund and that is departmental policy for all ambassadors and High Commissioners.

JOURNALIST: When so much is said about the age of entitlement, can you understand how some Australians would struggle to understand that?

JULIE BISHOP: An ambassador and his spouse, who is not paid to do it, have to attend official functions at night and while ambassador Hockey pays for a carer for his children out of his own pocket, on these occasions, where it is over and above that requirement, then this representational fund is available for the work related expenses. It is part of the package for those who represent Australia as ambassadors and High Commissioners.

JOURNALIST: Thanks for joining us this morning.

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