Insiders, Melbourne - interview with Barrie Cassidy

  • Transcript, E&OE

BARRIE CASSIDYOur studio guest is the Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop, and while she joins us, here's the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten on the request from the Pentagon for Australia to join the bombing of targets in the Syria.

BILL SHORTEN [clip]During my leadership of the Labor Party, there's been a high degree of bipartisanship when it comes to national security, as there should be. When it comes to fighting terror, we're all in this together; Labor, Liberal - we're all Australians first. But what we also want to make sure is that we get the right information and I've certainly asked Mr Abbott to explain to us the legal basis of what's proposed and the case behind it because these are not matters which should be just rushed into.

BARRIE CASSIDYMinister, good morning. Welcome.

JULIE BISHOPGood morning.

BARRIE CASSIDYIs that the next step now, that you need to examine the legal basis behind air strikes in Syria?

JULIE BISHOPWell that's right. We've had a formal request from the United States to join in the air strikes over Syria. As you would be aware, we are already involved in the air strikes over Iraq. Indeed, Australian jet fighters took out a number of Da'esh fighters the other day, including some of the senior commanders.

The legal basis for the air strikes in Syria has been laid out by the United States, some time ago, in a letter to the United Nations. The Coalition have been invited into Iraq at the invitation and with the consent of the Iraqi Government, and under the principle of collective self-defence of Iraq and its people, the Coalition have extended that self-defence into Syria, because the border between Syria and Iraq is no longer governed. Neither the Assad regime in Syria, nor the Abadi regime in Iraq, has control over that border.

BARRIE CASSIDYBut does that eliminate the need though for Syria to invite the Coalition forces in as Iraq did?

JULIE BISHOPWell it's a very complex legal situation because of course the Assad regime is not recognised as legitimate by the United States or the Coalition, but the US, Canada, Jordan, the UAE are taking part in these air strikes. We'll consider any legal advice that the United States or Canada has and we'll certainly take our own legal advice. The Prime Minister spoke to Bill Shorten on Friday and offered a briefing this week, so as we focus on the legal advice that we are receiving, we'll be providing it to the Opposition.

BARRIE CASSIDYNow you talk about a letter from the United States to the UN, but wouldn't it be better to have a resolution from the United Nations on this?

JULIE BISHOPIt would be preferable always to have a UN Security Council resolution in these circumstances. In the case of Iraq, the Abadi Government invited the Coalition forces in, including Australia, so we are there with the consent of the Abadi Government. Indeed, I negotiated a memorandum of understanding if you like, an agreement with the Iraqi Government as to the terms of our engagement in Iraq.

In the case of Syria, the border has been obliterated by Da'esh, the terrorist organisation. They've claimed it as part of their caliphate. So it is ungoverned space at present and the United States believe that under the legal principle of collective self-defence of Iraq and its people, it is legally able to take part in air strikes.

BARRIE CASSIDYNevertheless, more broadly, Syria is in effect in civil war right at the moment. Now would you be comfortable about Australia getting involved in a civil war?

JULIE BISHOPIt is an exceedingly complex situation in Syria. The Assad regime is fighting the Free Syria forces. Al-Nusra is there, Da'esh is there, the Kurds are there. Turkey has now become involved. It is an exceedingly complex and complicated situation. Our concern is to support the Iraqi people. That's what we have been asked to do and that's what we are doing with our Special Forces advising the 1st Special Operations Forces of Iraq. We have regular army supporting the Iraqi Security Forces to build their capacity so that they can take back the territory that's been claimed by Da'esh and they can assist in the protection of the Iraqi people.

BARRIE CASSIDYWhen do you think a decision will be taken? I notice that the Prime Minister will be going to Washington or to New York, immediately after the Canning by-election in fact, and he will obviously meet with President Barack Obama at some point. Do you think those talks would need to take place before a final decision is taken?

JULIE BISHOPI would imagine that the Prime Minister will have a discussion with President Obama about this. I'm not sure whether that will take place during the UN General Assembly Leaders' week in September or prior to that. But first we need to ensure that we have a credible legal basis for taking part. The United States have asked us to be engaged in supporting manned strikes, but also intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, air refuelling and the like - the sort of work that we are doing in Iraq - to extend into the border area of Syria. So we'll look at this very seriously. I had a very long conversation with my Canadian counterpart in July about Canada's involvement, the legal basis of Canada supporting air strikes and what Canada has done, and so we'll take on board that. I'll also speak to my Jordanian counterpart, and of course Turkey's now involved, so we need to speak to our Turkish counterparts as well.

BARRIE CASSIDYAnd if the Canadians are satisfied with the legal basis and so are the Americans, it's likely that Australia will be as well.

JULIE BISHOPWe'll take our own advice and we'll assess that against the legal advice that the US and Canada and Jordan and the UAE are relying upon and indeed Turkey. But it does come down to this issue that Da'esh has ignored the border between Syria and Iraq. They've claimed it as part of their caliphate. It's currently ungoverned by either the Assad regime or the Abadi regime and the United States and others see that as part of the collective self-defence of Iraq and the Iraqi people.

BARRIE CASSIDYNow, clearly there's a humanitarian element to all of this as well, but when Tanya Plibersek said she would prefer Australia dropped food to bombs, you accused her of advocating a terrorist picnic.

JULIE BISHOPI pointed out that dropping food into Syria is likely to play into the hands of the terrorists. It's quite obvious that there are numerous terrorist organisations and cells throughout Syria and the likelihood of being able to target food parcels into Syria was pretty naive. So ...

BARRIE CASSIDYBut if you can't accurately target food parcels, how can you accurately target bombs?

JULIE BISHOPWell, I don't believe that the fighter jets should be used to drop food parcels. So, my belief is that the fighter jets should be used to take out Da'esh, that is causing so much misery and violence and brutality and taking territory off sovereign nations. What Tanya Plibersek does is she says that she supports the Labor position, the Coalition position, but then she always moves a little bit to the left and has a slap at Bill Shorten on the way through. So it's something she's been doing for quite some time and ...

BARRIE CASSIDYSo you don't think you're getting the full support you really need from the Opposition?

JULIE BISHOPWe're certainly getting it from Bill Shorten.

BARRIE CASSIDYBut not from Tanya Plibersek?

JULIE BISHOPShe always takes another position.

BARRIE CASSIDYOn the Free Trade Agreement with China, is it not possible to question an aspect of that agreement without the Prime Minister accusing his opponents of racism?

JULIE BISHOPThe Prime Minister was referring to an utterly disgraceful media campaign by the unions against the China Free Trade Agreement - not any other agreement that's been entered into - just the China Free Trade Agreement, suggesting that Chinese workers are going to take jobs off Australian workers. That is absolutely false. There will be more Australian jobs under the China Free Trade Agreement, not less. So the Prime Minister was pointing directly at that union campaign and calling on Bill Shorten to show some leadership and distance himself from the campaign.

And we have learned via Mark Latham, the man that Labor wanted the Australian people to elect as Prime Minister in 2004, that Bill Shorten has form on these free trade agreements. He'll say one thing to the union members and he'll say another thing publicly and then he'll have another view privately. So I think we're seeing that being played out in relation to the China Free Trade Agreement, as we did with the US free trade agreement.

BARRIE CASSIDYIsn't the problem though that it's largely discretionary as to whether or not the market is tested and workers will have to rely on the Government's guarantees on this?

JULIE BISHOPBarrie, the wording of the Free Trade Agreement with China does not have to be altered to protect the jobs of Australians. Even former Premier Bob Carr, the former Foreign Minister of the Labor Party, Bob Carr, confirmed that the text of the Free Trade Agreement does not have to be changed. This is a scare campaign and I guess we're going to see it played out in the Canning by-election. But the fact is the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement will provide enormous opportunities for more Australian jobs and more opportunities for businesses, small, medium and large, in this country to export their goods and services into one of the largest consumer markets in the world.

BARRIE CASSIDYNow, I'm sure you heard what Gerard had to say about the Andrew Hastie story yesterday, but notwithstanding what he has said about that since, what Andrew Hastie himself said about it, is it not legitimate though for the media to examine this and to point out that he was in fact the captain in command at the time?

JULIE BISHOPBarrie, this incident is years old. It's not a new incident, and I question the motivation of Fairfax for putting it on the front page, when Andrew Hastie was not present, he was not there. He was in fact the officer who called for an investigation into the matter. He's not involved, and yet for some reason, it now becomes front-page story. As he pointed out in his speech to the West Australian Liberal conference yesterday, there is a current serving SAS soldier under investigation and has been for some time. This man is obviously undergoing a lot of stress because he's under investigation. Andrew Hastie is not, and so I do question why it became a front-page story, given the fact that it's two years old and a soldier is under investigation, and it's not Andrew Hastie.

BARRIE CASSIDYA couple of State Labor MPs in WA, it has now turned out, have retweeted some rather poor taste jokes around this situation. What do you make about that?

JULIE BISHOPAs Andrew Hastie pointed out, this is a very serious incident. He called for an investigation into it. A number of soldiers were cleared of any wrongdoing. There is one currently-serving SAS soldier under investigation. And for Labor MPs to now ridicule that soldier over the incident, because Andrew Hastie's not involved, is simply appalling. Labor wonders why our troops question their commitment when they ridicule a serving SAS soldier and when Labor cut $16 billion from the Defence budget. That's what Andrew Hastie was having a go at yesterday. He's no longer in the SAS, he'sfree to say what he thinks. And when he said he felt Labor didn't have his back, what are the troops on the ground meant to think when the Federal Labor Government cuts $16 billion from the Defence budget while they were serving? What are the troops meant to think when Labor MPs make jokes about a serving soldier who's under investigation? Now, again, Bill Shorten ought to pull these people into line, show some leadership and tell them that this is just not on.

BARRIE CASSIDYNow, are you comfortable about the Canning by-election being portrayed as a make-or-break moment for Tony Abbott?

JULIE BISHOPThe Canning by-election is all about the people of Canning. It's all about finding a replacement for a very popular member in the late Don Randall. And we have pre-selected whom I believe to be one of the most outstanding candidates that I've seen on either side of politics for a very long time.

BARRIE CASSIDYYeah, but given that now though, if there was to be a double-digit swing and you have got, as you say, a very strong candidate, wouldn't that be an even bigger reflection on the Prime Minister's leadership?

JULIE BISHOPWell let's see how the Canning by-election turns out. It is all about the people of Canning and their concerns.And Andrew Hastie is moving into the electorate. The Labor - the hipster Labor lawyer - does not live in the electorate. He lives in Mount Lawley by the way. His family lived in the electorate, but that's just a small point.

As Andrew Hastie pointed out, he's been living in Defence housing for a long time, so he wants to make Canning his home and I'm looking forward to campaigning with him next week. It's about the issues that concern the people of Canning and who they trust to represent them in Canberra.

BARRIE CASSIDYBut when you say let's see how it turns out, are you conceding that people will be watching it very closely within your own party?

JULIE BISHOPOf course, by-elections are always the subject of a national focus - when it's a federal by-election - and there will be a lot of focus. We've already seen our candidate make national news. But he's an outstanding Australian who has committed so much of his life to serving his country. He's done three tours of Afghanistan. He's advised us on border protection matters. He's spent time in Jordan advising and assisting in relation to the fight against terrorism. And so he's now prepared to devote his life to representing the people of Canning.

BARRIE CASSIDYWell then let me put it quite bluntly and finally: if the Coalition, if the Liberal Party was to lose the by-election, is that the end for Tony Abbott's leadership?

JULIE BISHOPI don't believe we'll lose the by-election. I believe that with Andrew Hastie and with the kind of policies that we have on promoting jobs and growing the economy, that the people of Canning will make a decision that's in their interests and I believe that will be to elect Andrew Hastie as their representative.

BARRIE CASSIDYThanks for coming in this morning. Appreciate it.

JULIE BISHOPIt's been my pleasure.

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