Insiders, Sydney - Interview with Barrie Cassidy

  • Transcript

JOURNALIST And now to our studio guest. We're joined by the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, welcome.

JULIE BISHOP Good morning Barrie.

JOURNALIST Can we just clear that up, what did happen at Melbourne Airport? Did anybody actually complain about the way you were treated?

JULIE BISHOP Barrie, I pass through security screening in Australian airports hundreds of times a year, in fact probably I've been through the international screening security system about 50 times since I've been Foreign Minister and there's never been an incident, not once, except on this one occasion. I didn't complain but airport authorities found that I had been inappropriately targeted and treated inappropriately. I'm happy to be treated like everybody else but on this occasion I was not, and not in a nice way.

JOURNALIST Did somebody complain on your behalf?

JULIE BISHOP It would seem so. It wasn't me, I didn't make any complaint but there was an investigation into it and it was found that there were breaches of security protocols and that I was given, let me put it this way, an inappropriate amount of attention as I went through airport security, but I go through security all the time like everybody else does.

JOURNALIST Did you feel humiliated by the experience?

JULIE BISHOP Look I don't want to say anything more about it. There have been consequences and I didn't raise this, I haven't been talking about it, I'll just let it pass.

JOURNALIST Alright, let's talk about the Fiji cyclone now and it's still too early to know, of course, just the level of destruction but what is the Government planning to do?

JULIE BISHOP I have been in touch with my counterpart Foreign Minister Inoke Kubuabola and I have offered Australia's support and we have in place pre-positioned supplies in Suva that are available. I've also offered the ADF to send a P-3 Orion so that we can aerial surveillance, particularly in the outer lying islands and do a needs assessment, and our High Commissioner, Margaret Twomey, is on standby to provide any assistance that might be required. At this stage I believe the Fijian Government is coming to terms withit, and we know there has been a fatality and our thoughts are with all the Fijian people at this time.

There are about 1300 Australians who are registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade but we expect that number to be much higher. It's estimated that about 340,000 or 350,000 Australians visit Fiji every year so we expect that there are more Australians. If anyone is concerned about the whereabouts of friends or family, they should try to contact them and if they're having difficulty, we have a 24 hour consular hotline, 1300 555 135.

JOURNALIST And the Orion, I suppose, would help in terms of trying to find out what's happened in those outlying islands?

JULIE BISHOP That's precisely the case. Our experience in previous natural disasters in the Pacific is that communications can be difficult in the outer lying islands and there needs to be an immediate needs assessment and we've offered to send a P-3 Orion should the Fijian Government require it.

JOURNALIST This week you visited China and Japan. The anti-aircraft missiles China deployed and a disputed island, what do you think China is up to?

JULIE BISHOP Any new deployment of missiles, for example, on these disputed islands is deeply worrying. It would be a contradiction because President Xi gave a commitment to President Obama last September in Washington that China did not intend to militarise these islands.

Australia has consistently called for all parties, and there are a number of claimants to these islands, for all parties to show restraint, to negotiate their differences peacefully, and to de-escalate tensions. The Spratly and Paracel Islands are claimed not only by China, but variously by the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam, and there are other claimants over other parts of the South China Sea. So it's a very disputed area, and we urge parties to resolve their disputes peacefully, to negotiate them, to take them to arbitration if necessary, but to ensure that there is a de-escalation of tensions, otherwise there could be a miscalculation. We are talking about an area where civilian aircraft pass through, where there's a lot of navigation, because it's a significant trade route, not only for Australia, but for other countries.

JOURNALIST Are you saying straight out that it is militarisation, because the Chinese, of course, say it's limited and necessary self defence?

JULIE BISHOP I raised this directly with Chinese officials, including my counterpart, Foreign Minister Wang Yi. They did not admit recent deployment of missiles, but they said in any event they are entitled to establish self defence facilities. My point is that if there are surface-to-air missiles in an area where commercial aircraft fly, then there is a risk of miscalculation. There will be a debate about what militarisation means, but I do point out that President Xi undertook to President Obama that China would not militarise these islands.

JOURNALIST How should the commercial airline industry respond to that, then, if there's a danger while these missiles exist?

JULIE BISHOP Australia will continue to transit through the South China Sea. We have a long-standing operational presence there, and our commercial ships and planes should continue as normal. That's what we should continue to do, because China has undertaken not to militarise. We have called on all claimants to cease reclamation work, construction work, and certainly no militarisation. And a number of claimants have reclaimed land and constructed things, but the scope and scale and speed of China's activities have dwarfed those of all others.

JOURNALIST You visited both China and Japan and I wonder whether you felt you were engaged in a delicate balancing act not favouring one over the other. China apparently saw it that way, when the Minister asked you whether building military cooperation with Japan, he said you should take into account Japan's war-time history?

JULIE BISHOP We have long-standing relationships with both Japan and China. Indeed, our relationship with Japan is described as a special strategic partnership, our relationship with China is described as comprehensive strategic partnership. We have never been closer to Japan and China than at this time. There was a consensus that our relationship with China is as strong and as close as it's ever been and of course we have a very long standing close relationship with Japan. There are long-standing disputes between China and Japan. They have centuries of history between them, and Australia can offer our experience in seeking to come to terms with former enmities and building a constructive future and that's what we urge both Japan and China to do.

JOURNALIST Now the New Zealand Prime Minister was here this week, and he again made the offer that he would take 150 refugees from Nauru or Manus Island, that is still a live option. Why would the Government not take him up on that?

JULIE BISHOP The Australian Government is quite appropriately seeking resettlement, permanent resettlement, for a number of asylum seekers who came to or tried to come to Australia under the previous Labor Government. We are dealing with a significant case load of people who tried to come to Australia when Labor weakened our border protection laws. We have been successful in stopping the boats, we have managed to close 13 of the 17 onshore detention centres that were set up and we are seeking permanent resettlement places for the case load that is currently on Manus and Nauru. So we are working with a number of countries under the Bali Process, and we will consider each of the countries' offers on a case-by-case basis.

JOURNALIST You have a firm offer here from New Zealand. Why would you not take that up?

JULIE BISHOP That's a matter for the Department of Immigration, and they are working through these negotiations on a case-by-case basis. But Barrie, we have an enormous case load. There were 2,000 children in detention, we have now got that down to under 100 and we are working towards zero, as we achieved last time we inherited a disaster in border protection matters from Labor.

JOURNALIST There are reports this weekend that the Government is well advanced in terms of trying to negotiate arrangements with specifically Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia. What do you know about that?

JULIE BISHOP Barrie, we are working with a number of countries. Labor entered into an agreement with PNG and Nauru, we entered into an agreement with Cambodia. I will be travelling to Indonesia shortly to co-chair the Bali Process proceedings. There are a number of countries, transit countries, destination countries, source countries involved in the Bali Process and we'll seek to find permanent resettlement for those who sought to come to Australia. But what we won't do is reinvigorate the people smuggling trade that has caused so much misery to so many people. Indeed, there were 1200 deaths at sea when the people smuggling trade was at its height.

JOURNALIST So it goes beyond the three countries mentioned there?

JULIE BISHOP We are working with all of the countries in the Bali Process, and there are about 40 countries, but we are focusing on countries in our region, the ASEAN countries. I don't want to go into details because they are just negotiations at this stage.

JOURNALIST Can I just ask you about events in the United States. If it does come down to a showdown between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, who would make the better President?

JULIE BISHOP I would not enter into a domestic debate in the United States about who they choose as their President. The long-standing tradition of Governments of all persuasions in Australia is to work constructively with whomever the US people in their wisdom choose as their President.

JOURNALIST The new Trade Minister, Steve Ciobo said of Hillary Clinton that she's running a union backed campaign of information against the TPP, the trade deal. Is that right and was he right to say so?

JULIE BISHOP I am not going to enter into the different campaigns of the various contenders for the US Presidency. In fact, it's very early days. The nominees for the Republican Party and the Democrats have not been confirmed yet, so I'm not going to enter into a discussion about their various election platforms. But the Trans-Pacific Partnership is an historic trade agreement. It involves 12 member countries and more open trade, greater trade liberalisation is good for our region. These are matters I discussed both in Japan and China; Japan is a founding member of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and I was encouraging China to consider joining or indeed building momentum for the ASEAN free-trade agreement called RCEP, that China is also involved with. We are encouraging countries to meet the standard that the Trans-Pacific Partnership has set in terms of open trade, economic growth, job opportunities for the countries involved.

JOURNALIST Just finally, the Treasurer Scott Morrison has come in for a lot of criticism this week, but he says in his defence that he had little to work with effectively, that up until the leadership change there was no work being done on taxation reform. Do you sympathise with him on that?

JULIE BISHOP I don't believe that's what he said. Let me make this point, Barrie: every responsible Government in living memory has laid out their economic and tax agenda and strategy at the budget in May. Now, there's been one recent example where a Government actually made policy on the run and made announcements prior to the budget, and ended in a disaster. That was in 2010, when Kevin Rudd commissioned the Henry Review, there were over 100 recommendations, they discarded most of them expect the super profits tax on mining, announced that prior to the budget and it was an absolute disaster. So we are being methodical, logical, responsible, and in accordance with precedent, we will lay out our economic and tax strategy in the budget in May.

JOURNALIST Thank you for your time this morning.

JULIE BISHOP My pleasure.

Media enquiries