Insiders, Melbourne - Interview with Barrie Cassidy

  • Transcript, E&OE
04 October 2015

BARRIE CASSIDY To introduce our studio guest, here's the AFL's Craig Willis.

CRAIG WILLIS, ANNOUNCER Described as being tougher than a woodpecker's lips, our next guest has survived three leadership spills and still remains standing. Welcome, Julie Bishop.

MALCOLM TURNBULL, PRIME MINISTER Facing off today is not just Luke Hodge and Shannon Hurn. It's two of Australia's great political leaders: Julie Bishop for the Eagles and Jeff Kennett for the Hawks. Julie's death stare versus Jeff's deafening bellow. She's been practising it in New York. Have you ever seen a more attentive audience in the UN? It was the only strategy Putin and Obama agreed on: just sit up straight and pay attention to the lady from Perth.

BILL SHORTEN, OPPOSITION LEADER When politicians talk about football, it's a bit like a mix of that Hawthorn silver Power Ranger jumper, Meatloaf at half-time and the sub rule. It looks wrong, it sounds wrong and people want to stop it as soon as possible. Now my main job today is to give you my selection. I'm tempted to tip West Coast for three reasons. First, the Hawks have been in charge for more than two years and I firmly believe Australia needs a change. Second, I see that the AFL store is already selling Nic Naitanui Norm Smith merchandise online. And third, Julie Bishop is tipping the Eagles. And let's face it, she always ends up on the winning side.

BARRIE CASSIDY Julie Bishop, good morning.

JULIE BISHOP Good morning Barrie.

BARRIE CASSIDY I guess personally, you were due for a loss.

JULIE BISHOP That was a rather sad outcome yesterday for Eagles fans, but we'll be back next year bigger and better.

BARRIE CASSIDY Very long day no doubt for you?

JULIE BISHOP It was a very long day. It was excruciating at times.

BARRIE CASSIDY Okay, let's talk about Syria and the Russian air strikes of course have complicated the situation there. What are they up to? What is Russia's aim?

JULIE BISHOP Russia's intervention has complicated the matter and changed the dynamics quite significantly. Russia claims that it is targetting ISIL-Da'esh assets, but it remains to be seen what else Russia will be doing. Its motivations are not always transparent, for example in Ukraine, so it will be a question of focusing on what they're actually doing. Their actions will speak louder than their rhetoric.

BARRIE CASSIDY The British Defence Secretary said overnight that only one in 20 of their air strikes are aimed at IS. Would it be that high? Are they so demonstrably targeting the rebels opposed to Assad?

JULIE BISHOP There's no doubt that they claim to be targeting ISIL-Da'esh. There have been a number of statements by both President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov, but we understand that they are also broadening their attacks into part of Syria where ISIL, or Da'esh, are not apparent. And so it would appear that Russia's motivations go beyond just targeting Da'esh. They are in there at the invitation of President Assad, so they are part of an effort to bolster Assad's position. What this means is that the path to peace is going to be complicated, but it's even more necessary than ever before to stop the conflict, to stop the bloodshed, to prevent the displacement of millions of people and of course the deaths of hundreds of thousands since this conflict began in 2011. So the focus must be on a political solution now because a military solution is now so complex and is not going to be the answer to stopping this bloody conflict.

BARRIE CASSIDY And whatever their targets of course, these are uncoordinated air strikes now. You've got the Russians on one side and the US-led air strikes on the other. Is that potentially dangerous?

JULIE BISHOP There is the potential for miscalculation, misjudgement. That's why it's so necessary for the Pentagon to be coordinating efforts with the Russian military and I know that there are discussions going on at the highest level to ensure that there is no miscalculation or misjudgement. But the situation is very complicated now, very complex.

BARRIE CASSIDY And you talked about the need for a political solution, but how do you bring about a political solution - how is the dialogue going to get started when you've got countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran, Russia and the United States?

JULIE BISHOP There was a political process back in 2011-2012 called the Geneva I Process and I'm hoping that that could be reinvigorated or some kind of UN Security Council-backed format where the stakeholders come together to discuss a political solution. Now since 2011, since the first Geneva process started, we've seen the emergence of ISIL, or Da'esh, and there are now more players involved. But some countries, including Egypt and Jordan, are now starting to say: well there needs to be a transition phase from Assad, whereas previously the view was that any precondition to peace discussions had to be the removal of Assad. I think there's a realisation now that he's not leaving, he's not standing down. He's now got Russian backing quite overtly and so the dynamics around that table will be very different, but nevertheless, it must be done, there must be a political solution, otherwise we're going to continue to see the humanitarian disaster that is unfolding.

BARRIE CASSIDY So do we accept that reality now, that Assad will be around for the longer term?

JULIE BISHOP I don't believe for the longer term, but if we're going to get a short to medium-term outcome, that is, some peace and stability and an end to the bloodshed, then the Assad regime will have to be accommodated in some way, as President Obama put it, "a managed compromise". There has to be a transition, but it's a transition from one of the most heinous regimes - President Assad unleashed chemical weapons on his own people - this is how the whole conflict began. So his long-term presence is obviously unpalatable and will not be accepted by those who believe in human rights and believe that Presidents shouldn't unleash violence against their own people. So it is only going to be a temporary situation, but at least there is a realisation that the Assad regime will have to be part of the transition.

BARRIE CASSIDY So that's what President Obama meant when he used the word transition, that that's a kind of an acceptance that at least in the medium term, Assad needs to stay around?

JULIE BISHOP Well the last thing that anyone would want is for there to be a vacuum in Damascus and for ISIL, or Da'esh, to take control of Damascus, which is part of the ancient caliphate. That would be a disaster beyond imagination.

BARRIE CASSIDY It's also - it's very pragmatic, though, isn't it, a position to take, given his record in killing his own people?

JULIE BISHOP It is entirely unpalatable, but the reality is Assad is there. He hasn't stepped down, there has been no regime change and in the short term, we have to keep Syria intact. Someone has to be in control of the military, someone has to be in control of Damascus, the capital. And so the transition would obviously go from Assad to another leader, but there's no obvious takers for that role. So my view is we've got to be realistic about what's happening on the ground. We have to be realistic about the fact that Iran is an influence, that Russia is now in Syria at the invitation of President Assad and that the Coalition is determined to bring to an end the influence of Daesh. We've got to defeat this brutal terrorist organisation.

BARRIE CASSIDY And what about Australia's involvement now? Is there any talk at all of increasing that?

JULIE BISHOP No, our mission is very defined as it has been from the outset. We are in Iraq supporting the Abadi Government because they have requested our assistance in building capacity of the Iraqi Security Forces. So we're helping train and rebuild their battalions and brigades. We're taking part in air strikes in Iraq to target Da'esh bases and forces and now it's been extended over the border into Syria, but that's very limited. It is only if there are operations of this terrorist organisation that are going from Iraq into Syria because they've ignored the border, they've taken over territory without any regard to Syria or Iraq's sovereignty and bases of this terrorist organisation from Syria, from which they're launching attacks against Iraq. So under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, the collective self-defence principle, our mission is very limited.

BARRIE CASSIDY Now you've launched this bid for Australia being on the UN Security Council 14 years from now. It's a long way out. Bob Carr made the point that the last time round they put together the bid in four years.

JULIE BISHOP Well, typical Labor, they always take the most expensive option. And if you want to get on the Security Council in a short period of time and go up against other countries that have already nominated, you've got to spend a lot of money. You have to divert enormous resources from other foreign policy priorities. And it can be done, but at what cost? So what we've done is announced a bid for 2029-2030. There is a space, so we won't have to compete against another country and divert aid dollars and divert diplomatic resources to winning it and it's a much more measured way of doing it. And I believe as a G20 country, if Australia were to stand for the Security Council on average every 15 years, then that would be appropriate for a country of our size and our significance.

BARRIE CASSIDY And the Human Rights Council as well, that's much more immediate, that's only three years away. Do you think that Australia's record though with offshore detention centres might play a role there?

JULIE BISHOP Well first, I believe that Australia would bring the same principled and pragmatic approach to the Human Rights Council as we did to our term on the Security Council from 2013-2014. Australia is a principled nation. We hold values that I think are important to be heard in the UN, including our commitment to freedoms and the rule of law and human rights and democratic institutions. Our focus would be on empowering women and girls, on better governance, better democratic institutions, on freedom of expression and the abolition of the death penalty.

I reject absolutely criticisms that Australia is abusing its human rights record. We are left with the legacy of possibly the greatest public policy failing in decades, which was Labor's weakening of the border protection laws that saw 50,000 people claim to be asylum seekers coming to Australia, 3,000 children in detention, 1,200 people drowning at sea, an $11 billion blowout border protection budget, and so we are having to deal with that legacy. But Australia is a principled nation. We have a lot to offer and I believe that we would make a very significant contribution to the Human Rights Council, and particularly when there are other countries that get elected to the Human Rights Council whose record is dubious, to say the least.

BARRIE CASSIDY I want to ask you about the murder at the police station in Parramatta and the reports that the sister of the 15-year-old responsible has travelled to Turkey. Are you able to give us any information on that?

JULIE BISHOP This matter is under active investigation by all our security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies, so it wouldn't be appropriate for me to comment on what is an active investigation. But clearly this is a tragic incident. It's tragic for the family of the police worker, for the community and for Australia as a whole when a 15-year-old boy can be so radicalised that he can carry out a politically-motivated killing or an act of terrorism, then it's a time for the whole nation to take stock. So I can't go into the details of the ongoing investigation, but it really does highlight the challenge that we have before us.

BARRIE CASSIDY And are we getting a change in tone of terms of reaching out to the Muslim community?

JULIE BISHOP Well yesterday Prime Minister Turnbull and Premier Mike Baird had a long conversation with not only the Federal Police and the New South Wales Police and relevant agencies, but also leaders in the Muslim community. Clearly, this kind of issue must be the subject of a holistic approach, not only from governments at all levels, but also the community. So we're certainly reaching out to the leaders of the Muslim community, but working with the families at a grassroots local level. It's the families that will be our frontline of defence against radicalised young people. So we will be working very closely with them. Connie Fierravanti-Wells and the relevant ministers are going to be part of this ongoing embrace of solutions because no one level of government or no one section of community can do it all alone.

BARRIE CASSIDY Is there a role for Indonesia in all of this given that we have a very large moderate Muslim nation on our doorstop?

JULIE BISHOP It is interesting you raise that. During the United Nations General Assembly Leaders' Week, Indonesia made a number of very interesting interventions in the debates on countering violent extremism, particularly putting itself forward as a moderate Muslim nation that would have more to offer the global narrative. Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi in particular spoke of cooperating with other nations including Australia to work together to promote the moderate view of Islam and work with other countries against the radicalisation of young people and countering this violent extremism we're seeing not only emerging in Australia, but in many countries around the world. So Indonesia itself sees the country playing a more positive and active role in countering the ideology of the extremists and I think that's a very welcome sign.

BARRIE CASSIDY Now just on the - the issue was raised in the paper section that New Zealand seems to be concerned about, criminals being deported. Have you got sympathy for the New Zealand position?

JULIE BISHOP Prime Minister John Key certainly raised the issue with me. It came about because there's a particular incident where a New Zealander died in detention and that was obviously a tragedy and that sparked the conversation. But he pointed out that there are instances where New Zealanders who have lived in Australia for many years are then deported as a result of criminal activity and he wanted us to look at it again. And it's not my area of portfolio of responsibility, so I assured him that I would raise it with the relevant ministers and indeed I thought it was a matter that Prime Minister Turnbull and Prime Minister Key could discuss at their first meeting, which I hope will occur soon.

BARRIE CASSIDY And just finally, Tony Abbott says that at some stage he'll need to have a conversation with you and Scott Morrison in particular. Will that be a tough conversation to have?

JULIE BISHOP I'd be very happy to have a conversation with Tony Abbott at any time. He's a longstanding colleague. I've known him and worked with him for many years. I don't think it'll be a tough conversation. Tony has been around politics most of his adult life and Tony knows how leadership changes occur in the Liberal Party. Indeed, he's been involved in a number of them.

BARRIE CASSIDY He doesn't seem to understand that, based on what he said so far.

JULIE BISHOP Well, I think we all take heed of what John Howard used to remind us of constantly that as Prime Minister he was there as long as the party room had confidence in him and he would stay as leader as long as the party room wanted him and if the party room changed its view and no longer had confidence in him, he would no longer be the leader. And I think we've all taken heed of that over the years.

BARRIE CASSIDY And he says that he'll make a decision on his future by Christmas. Should he stay or should he go?

JULIE BISHOP That's a matter for Tony. I'm sure he would have a successful career whatever he chose to do.

BARRIE CASSIDY Thanks for your time this morning.


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