Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

  • Transcript, E&OE

KIERAN GILBERT: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop joins us from Los Angeles and before we get onto US related issues I want to ask you about the Sky News/Reachtel poll that we've been reporting this morning that shows a majority of Australians surveyed support the New Zealand government offer to take refugees from Manus and Nauru, is it time for the government to take this offer up?

JULIE BISHOP: Over successive elections it's become quite apparent that Australians also want the government to be in control of border protection and the Australian Government will not take any action that would encourage people smugglers to get back into business and that includes not encouraging the people smugglers to send their trade to other locations that would affect Australia.

KIERAN GILBERT: What's the difference though with that which is already underway, that agreement which is already unfolding with the United States?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, clearly the immigration relationship between Australia and New Zealand is far closer than that between Australia and the United States and we don't want to encourage people smugglers to put people on unseaworthy boats as we've seen in the past causing deaths at sea and untold misery as they seek to get to New Zealand and/or Australia. We will not be party to encouraging people smugglers to ply their illegal trade.

KIERAN GILBERT: Now Foreign Minister you're at the G'day USA event in LA, is one of your tasks while you're in the states laying the groundwork for the Prime Minister's expected visit to the White House next month?

JULIE BISHOP: G'Day USA is now in its 15th year and this is an unprecedented opportunity to showcase the very best of Australian talent and products and ideas into the biggest consumer market in the world–the United States. Over 15 years we've seen enormous increases in trade and investment through this and other initiatives, including the Australia-US free trade agreement. Prime Minister Turnbull will be capitalising on these and other opportunities when he visits the United States shortly and we will be seeking to increase trade and investment between Australia and the United States. The US is already our most important economic partner in terms of being our second largest trading partner, but by a very large margin our largest source of foreign direct investment. So this is a very important defence, strategic and economic relationship and the Prime Minister will continue to deepen and strengthen this vital friendship, relationship.

KIERAN GILBERT: We've got different focuses between the two governments, administrations at the moment particularly on trade, are you able to smooth those differences over between the Trump administration and the Turnbull government?

JULIE BISHOP: The United States' approach is the US first, America first, but as President Trump pointed out that doesn't mean the US alone, or only the United States, and the United States remains the world's largest open market economy. We will be continuing to urge the United States to promote trade liberalisation, open and free markets around the world, because that has undoubtedly been of great benefit to countries over the past many decades, in fact the last seven decades and more, so the United States continues down the path of open trade. The Administration appears to prefer bilateral deals – Australia has entered into many bilateral free trade agreements – but we've also entered into a very important regional trade deal and that is the Comprehensive Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

KIERAN GILBERT: The TPP trade deal could have some minor changes according to the Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce in order to accommodate the US getting back on board. What sort of changes could that see?

JULIE BISHOP: Well Kieran, the 11 member countries are yet to formally sign the agreement, we hope to do that in March, and it is an agreement structured in a way that would enable other countries to join, and a number of other countries have already indicated their willingness to consider it, whether it be South Korea or Thailand, the United Kingdom. The United States through President Trump has said they would reconsider the TPP and it would be up to the eleven member nations to negotiate with any incoming party. Obviously, we've set the ground rules, we've set the guidelines, the standard, the benchmark for the trade deal and it would be on a case by case basis to negotiate with any potential incoming member.

KIERAN GILBERT: The wheat growers in the US aren't happy with the outcome of the TPP result, now pushing back against the Trump protectionism, will that encourage a change of heart from the President possibly?

JULIE BISHOP: Well clearly there are many benefits from a free trade agreement of the high quality of the TPP and that's been recognised by the 11 members of the countries that have signed onto it. And sectors of the US economy will benefit enormously from such a trade deal and so that's why we are continuing to urge the United States and other countries to consider it. It has important economic and strategic outcomes.

KIERAN GILBERT: On another matter both Barnaby Joyce and the Defence Minister Marise Payne have backed a new defence strategy from Jim Mattis, the Defence Secretary in the US that China and Russia pose a greater threat to the US than Islamic terrorism, are you comfortable with that sort of transparency in terms of our priorities on that strategic outlook?

JULIE BISHOP: Neither Russia nor China pose a military threat to Australia and Australia continues in its efforts to counter terrorism wherever we find it and we will continue our fight against global terrorism and regional terrorism. So we welcome Defense Secretary Mattis's focus on the Indo-Pacific and also the continuing focus on the alliance with Australia.

KIERAN GILBERT: Do you agree though in terms of his shift in strategic concerns?

JULIE BISHOP: Well we have a difference perspective on Russia and China clearly. We do not see Russia or China as posing a military threat to Australia. We continue to work closely with China, in fact we undertake military exercises with China, as well as with other countries in the region, and we'll continue to do so.

KIERAN GILBERT: In relation to the defence export plan being announced today by the Prime Minister, is that part of the strategic outlook as well? To encourage interoperability between allies and like-minded nations in the region?

JULIE BISHOP: Oh very much. We have had a very high level of interoperability with our closest defence ally the United States for some time, and this defence export strategy will be building on our commitment to a much stronger defence capability in Australia. We have our submarine program, our shipbuilding program and the defence export strategy will certainly be underpinned by those strategic concerns. This is all about ensuring that Australia is a strong and capable defence partner in our region and with our allies.

KIERAN GILBERT: So while we are looking to boost exports, we're not looking to send any military hardware for example China's way?

JULIE BISHOP: Well these things would be negotiated on a case by case basis. Australia has very strong defence export controls, we're a party to numerous international conventions on arms control, so these things would be considered on a case by case basis depending upon the equipment, depending upon what was required. But clearly our closest defence ally and with whom we have a very high degree of interoperability in a defence capability sense is the United States.

KIERAN GILBERT: Finally Foreign Minister to that atrocity in Kabul, Afghanistan over the weekend, it's hard to believe so many years on, so much sent, so many lives lost, this atrocity can still happen there.

JULIE BISHOP: It was an appalling incident. We send our very deepest condolences to all those affected. We note that at this stage there has been no report of any Australians being involved. It really does underscore the need for us to support nation building in Afghanistan and that includes ensuring that its security forces are capable of handling national security. This is a long road and we are in the fight against terrorism for the long haul so that we can keep Australians safe both at home and abroad.

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