Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

  • Transcript, E&OE

KIERANGILBERT: Joiningus live from London is the Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop. We've got a lot totalk about in foreign policy and why you are in the UK. First though, yourreaction to this news from the Newspoll that most people think Mr Joyce shouldgo?

JULIEBISHOP: Thepoliticians in the National Party elect their leader and so it is and will be amatter for the politicians in the National Party. I understand that the DeputyPrime Minister is on personal leave at present and so we'll see how things turnout in the following days and weeks.

KIERANGILBERT: Thisis an emphatic result though - you would concede that? Two thirds and 58 percent of Coalition voters are of that view.

JULIE BISHOP: Well this is a matter for the National Partypoliticians. They elect their leader and I am sure they will take a whole rangeof matters into account as they consider this issue.

KIERANGILBERT: Whenyou look at the events of the last week though as a senior figure in the Governmentyourself, are you confident that you can move on from this with Joyce as DeputyPrime Minister given the remarks of Prime Minister Turnbull late last week? Apparentlythey mended things at the weekend but really is that sustainable?

JULIE BISHOP: It has been a very distracting ten days for us andwe must focus on the issues that are of concern to the Australian people.During those ten days we had also signed a free trade agreement with Peru whichmeans more jobs and economic growth in Australia. We had more good news aboutjob growth – 16,000 more jobs in January and 16 consecutive months of jobsgrowth. So these are the issues that we must focus on. The Prime Minister andthe Deputy Prime Minister have had what they described as a frank discussionabout Barnaby Joyce's circumstances. Ultimately the leadership of the NationalParty is a matter for the politicians within the National Party. But I won't bedistracted from my role and that is promoting and advancing Australia'sinterests overseas. That is why I am here in the United Kingdom meeting withsignificant figures here in the UK Government to promote Australia's interestshere in the UK.

KIERANGILBERT: Okay.We'll get to that in a moment. I also want to talk about your speech at theKing's College which is coming up early this week as well. Some interestingpoints to discuss on that front. Just on other issues first – a suggestion thatyou were going to return to Australia and be the Acting Prime Minister ifcircumstances changed. In fact you said: "If circumstances change then ofcourse I will change my plans". You didn't do that and in fact Mathias Cormannis going to be Acting Prime Minister. What was your judgment on that? Why didyou make that call?

JULIE BISHOP: I looked very closely at the meetings that had beenlined up for me and on balance the Prime Minister and I thought that it wouldbe better for me to continue in my role as Foreign Minister, to continue withthe meetings. I am meeting with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, with theHungarian Prime Minister, and the Slovenian President. There are some very highlevel meetings that have been put in place and while I was prepared to changeplans, on balance we thought it far preferable that I continue in my job asForeign Minister and maintain good diplomatic relations. It would cause issuesif I had cancelled but, of course, in these circumstances we have a level ofseniority as to who acts in the absence of the Prime Minister and the DeputyPrime Minister and after me it goes to the Leader of the Senate and in thiscase that is Senator Cormann.

KIERANGILBERT: On theban on sex between Ministers and their staff, you said last week: "TheGovernment has no business interfering into people's personal lives and wewouldn't want to cross the lines so moral police were able to dictate whathappens between consenting adults", but that is exactly what the Prime Ministerdid.

JULIE BISHOP: Well in fact the Minister Code of Conduct alreadysets very high standards for Ministers and the Prime Minister has now been moreexplicit in relation to those standards. It does bring the Code of Conduct intoline with many workplaces across Australia.

KIERANGILBERT: Butyou had expressed concern that you didn't want the moral police to dictateterms between consenting adults. Do you think that this was the wrong call?

JULIE BISHOP: There are still areas of a politician's life thatare and should be private. What the Prime Minister is seeking to do is ensurethat there are not relationships within Minister's offices that can lead to animproper influence over a Minister's decisions, to conflicts of interest, tomisuse of taxpayers funds. So he has made very explicit what was in theMinisterial Code of Conduct and it does bring it in line with, as I said, manywork places across Australia.

KIERANGILBERT: So yousupport the call now?

JULIE BISHOP: I will abide by the Ministerial Code of Conduct.

KIERANGILBERT: Alright.Well, it seems 64 per cent of people according to Newspoll today support theidea as well so Mr Turnbull look likes he is in tune with the electorate onthis one.

JULIE BISHOP: Well as I said what it does is bring theMinisterial Code of Conduct very much in line with many workplaces acrossAustralia and if that is meeting community expectations then that is a positivething, absolutely.

KIERANGILBERT: Let'slook at some foreign policy matters now. The Prime Minister heads to Washingtonon Wednesday for meetings with President Trump and other senior figures in theAdministration. It comes as the confirmation of the next Ambassador toAustralia is a China hawk, Admiral Harry Harris. Will Mr Turnbull be seeking tolock in behind the US view when it comes to China or will he be also trying togive a bit of distance between your Government and the US approach to Chinathrough the Defence strategy and other messages that they have been sending toBeijing recently?

JULIE BISHOP: I wouldn't put it that way. We all have our owninterests and perspectives and priorities as sovereign nation states. Australiaand the United States are the closest of strategic allies and the United Statesis one of our most important trading partners. Indeed, our most importanteconomic partner if you put trade and investment together, the United States isour second largest trading partner and our largest source of foreign directinvestment. But we have a different perspective from time to time on China andthat is natural. China is our largest two-way trading partner. The UnitedStates is China's largest two-way trading partner. So there is a high level ofeconomic interdependence between nations around the world, and China and theUnited States. The geostrategic reality is that all countries are seeking towork closely together to ensure peace and prosperity, particularly in ourregion. Now the United States has expressed concerns in their National SecurityStrategy about the geostrategic competition between China, Russia, the UnitedStates and we understand where the United States is coming from, but we seeChina's rise as positive and we want to work closely with China to ensure thatChina is a responsible regional and global player, now and in the future.

KIERANGILBERT: Whatwould Australia say if Admiral Harris and the US asked Australia for a freedomof navigation exercise, not for us to conduct it, but say a US ship left anAustralian port to then conduct a freedom of navigation exercise? What wouldAustralia's response be to that?

JULIE BISHOP: The United States has a global freedom ofnavigation program. They undertake freedom of navigation exercises around theworld. Australia does not have a global freedom of navigation program and sothe circumstances are different. The United States is a very close ally ofAustralia's. We support the United States undertaking freedom of navigationexercises. This is all part of our collective support for the internationalrules based system. It is set out in our Foreign Policy White Paper, which Ireleased last November, that we want to see the institutions, the treaties, thealliances, the international law that has grown up over many decades beingsupported and upheld and defended by nations, particularly those who havebenefited from it. We support, for example, UNCLOS, the treaty that dictateshow nations should behave in terms of maritime boundaries and maritimeexercises. So we would support US freedom of navigation exercises as theyconduct them now around the world.

KIERANGILBERT: So youwouldn't have a problem if a US ship left an Australian port then went toclaimed Chinese territory and conducted one of those?

JULIE BISHOP: There are disputed claims in the South China Sea. Anumber of nations dispute claims of other nations. The United States conducts afreedom of navigation program globally including through the South China Sea.Australia has a significant presence in the South China Sea. Other nations do.I understand that the United Kingdom is planning to conduct freedom ofnavigation exercises through and around the South China Sea. This is importantto Australia – to keep the seas and skies in our region open. Most of our tradeis through the South China Sea so we want to see freedom of navigation and freeand open seas and skies in accordance with international law.

KIERANGILBERT: TheFinancial Review reports today that Australia, US, Japan and India looking at arival infrastructure program to the One Belt One Road Initiative out of China.Can you give us any more detail on this?

JULIE BISHOP: I certainly wouldn't want to pre-empt any future discussionsbetween Australia, Japan, India and the United States. Our senior officialshave met to discuss a range of opportunities and challenges but anyinfrastructure initiative need not be at the expense of any other initiative.There is an enormous need for infrastructure, particularly in our region.Indeed, the Asian Development Bank has estimated that developing countries inour region will require about $30 trillion worth of infrastructure to maintaineconomic growth through to 2030. So there is an enormous need for moreinfrastructure. There are a number of initiatives underway - the World Bank,the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank and the One Belt One Road initiative -but we welcome all initiatives, as long as they are transparent in theiroperations and commercially sustainable.

KIERANGILBERT: Do youagree with the German Foreign Minister who said at the weekend that the Chineseinitiative is not just about business and industry, China is developing acomprehensive system that is not like ours, not based on freedom, democracy andhuman rights? It is not a sentimental reminiscence of Marco Polo is the waythat he put it.

JULIE BISHOP: Well they are his words. I would put itdifferently. China is a growing power both regionally and globally and with itsextraordinary economic rise comes a desire to be more strategically powerful.That is natural. We have seen that over history. We want to work with China sothat it is a positive economic rise, a positive strategic rise and we do needmore infrastructure, particularly in our region. So we want to work with Chinato ensure that their infrastructure investment is commercially sustainable, istransparent and adds to the economic growth that is so needed in our part ofthe world.

KIERANGILBERT: Lastquestion goes to your commitments in London. As I mentioned you are addressingthe King's College earlier this week and you alluded to this earlier about theBritish possibly undertaking freedom of navigation exercises in our region. Youwant them to embrace a greater role in the Indo-Pacific in a post-Brexit world.Is that something you think that they've got a political or national taste forright now given that they're withdrawing from a regional engagement with Brexititself?

JULIE BISHOP: In fact, the United Kingdom Government has embracedthe concept of Global Britain and this will be part of the discussions I intendto have with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson as well as a theme in my speech atKing's College and other discussions I am having with Ministers and at policyroundtables and think tanks while I am here in the United Kingdom. Britain is,for example, a member of the Permanent Five of the Security Council. Britain isa leading economy, a leading nation when it comes to technological change andinnovation and I believe it has a significant role to play in our part of theworld. It is also the founding nation of the Commonwealth of Nations and about19 nations in the Indo-Pacific are also members of the Commonwealth. So I hopethat we can engage more closely with the United Kingdom, pre and post-Brexit,to see greater economic growth, greater development in our part of the world inpartnership with the United Kingdom. We are very close defence and security andintelligence partners but I also think that there is more that we can do in theeconomic field and that is why we are pursuing a free trade agreement with theUnited Kingdom when the circumstances are right. We are also pursuing a freetrade agreement with the European Union because this is about providing opportunitiesfor Australian exporters to grow into existing markets or into new markets andthat provides more jobs for Australians.

KIERANGILBERT: ForeignMinister, Julie Bishop joining us from London. Thanks for that. I appreciateyour time.

JULIE BISHOP: Thank you Kieran.

-Ends -

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