Interview with Laura Jayes - Sky News

  • Transcript, E&OE

LAURA JAYES: Joining me now is our Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop. Thanks so much foryour time, Minister. What do you expect we will hear from the United States?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, first, Australia condemns the use of chemical weapons anywhere,anytime by anybody, and what we believe has happened in Syria is utterly deplorable.The United Nations Security Council has met, but it has not been able to agreea text or any further action at this point, but it is meeting again tomorrow Iunderstand. It seems that Russia is threatening to use its veto and that wouldbe an unconscionable state if Russia did do that, because we're talking aboutup to 80 people, maybe - reports of somewhere between 40 and 80 people - couldwell have been killed by the use of chemical weapons. The United States hassaid that all options are on the table and you will recall that the Syrianregime has a history of using chemical weapons against its own people. Indeed,about 12 months ago it was found that the Syrian regime had deployed chemicalweapons and the United States did respond. We supported the air strikes thatthe United States undertook at that time. They were targeted, calibrated andproportionate to the chemical weapons attack that had been undertaken by theSyrian regime.

LAURA JAYES: I understand- well, I would expect that Australia, given thecircumstances last time about a year ago or almost exactly the same, thatAustralia might support a further action along similar lines. Is that correct,and what would Australia's specific role be?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, this will depend very much on what the United States proposes todo. I know that the United States has been engaged in discussions with otherallies, particularly the United Kingdom and France and of course, they are allpermanent members of the Security Council. Australia supported the responselast time the Syrian regime used chemical weapons against its citizens. Thereare investigations on the ground being undertaken at present, but when thisoccurred 12 months ago, both the Organisation for the Prohibition of ChemicalWeapons and the United Nations mechanism set up to investigate this, found thatthe Syrian regime was responsible for those chemical attacks which had led tothe deaths of about 90 people, 12 months ago.

LAURA JAYES: How soon could this retaliatory action come?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, that would be a matter for the United States. I know that the UNSecurity Council is meeting again to seek to set up some kind of investigativemechanism, as occurred, last time this occurred, and that they are looking tohave an agreed text. But I'm advised that Russia is threatening to use itsveto, and as I said, it would be unconscionable for Russia to use its positionas a permanent member of the Security Council to try to shield the Syrianregime from accusations that it has deployed chemical weapons against its ownpeople.

LAURA JAYES: President Trump has often been a little more sympathetic towardsVladimir Putin than previous presidents, but he has tweeted and referred to-well, he has referred to President Putin specifically when it came toinvolvement with this attack but also, he's referred to President Assad as 'AnimalAssad'. What do you take or glean from those comments and have you also spokento Jim Mattis of late?

JULIE BISHOP: I haven't personally spoken to Defense Secretary Mattis over thismatter, but I know that our officials are in constant communication, and ofcourse the Defence Minister Marise Payne is in communication with SecretaryMattis, but the United States has been consistent on this and Australiasupports this view. The use of chemical weapons in Syria, or indeed, anywhereelse is utterly unacceptable. It cannot be tolerated. There cannot be asituation where we tolerate the deployment of chemical weapons against civilianpopulations and this has occurred. It is part of the history of the Syrianregime and action must be taken to stop it. When it occurred 12 months ago, itwas proven that the Syrian regime was behind the deployment of chemicalweapons. The United States struck back - the Syrian airfields - it wastargeted, it was calibrated, it was proportionate.

LAURA JAYES: There's been some confusion over retaliatory action that's been taken inthe last 24 hours. The United States and the Pentagon was quick to deny that itwas involved in a counterstrike on a Syrian military base, then some MiddleEastern countries were pointing the finger at Israel. Do you have anyclarification on that?

JULIE BISHOP: I don't. I know that Syria and Russia are blaming Israel. That's not tobe unexpected. Israel has been targeting Iranian weapons transfers toHezbollah, the terrorist organisation Hezbollah, and so there may well beelements of Israel's strikes in self-defence, but Syria and Russia blamedIsrael but I don't believe there's any evidence to back that up.

LAURA JAYES: Okay - can I ask you about China and Vanuatu now? How concerning is thismove by China?

JULIE BISHOP: There is a report in the news today that there is a military proposalthat has been put to the Vanuatu Government by China. But I note that the VanuatuGovernment says that it has not received such a proposal. China is investing ininfrastructure around the world. China is supporting many countries globallywith development proposals, not just in the Pacific, but around the world. Inthe Pacific, we have seen Chinese funding support a significant amount ofinfrastructure from sports stadiums to convention centres-

LAURA JAYES: But, what's their motivation to do this?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, China is seeking to be a regional power. It is economically risingvery rapidly and commensurate with its economic strength, it wants to haveinfluence, and just as Australia supports countries in our region withdevelopment assistance, so China is supporting countries, particularly withinfrastructure funding. We have to be realistic - there's a massive need forinfrastructure investment in the Pacific and beyond. Our concern is to ensurethat already vulnerable economies are not subjected to, for example, loans orfinancial arrangements that could weaken already vulnerable economies.

LAURA JAYES: So how does Australia ensure that doesn't happen? Do we increase ourforeign aid or do we maintain it at the levels that we've got?

JULIE BISHOP: In the case of Vanuatu, Australia already has a very close and strongrelationship - I was there last weekend accompanying His Royal Highness PrinceCharles on a visit to Vanuatu - and it was quite apparent then that Vanuatu isvery appreciative of Australia's involvement. We were a significant responderto the natural disaster Cyclone Pam that hit Vanuatu about three years ago, andI was able to inspect much of the work that Australia has funded to rebuild,restore and support Vanuatu after this terrible tragedy. We also provide patrolboats to Pacific Island nations, we support them in their attempts to stopillegal fishing, transnational crime, people smuggling - and so, I'm confidentthat Australia remains a partner of choice for Vanuatu and other PacificIslands when it comes to security.

LAURA JAYES: If I could ask you about domestic issues, just a story today that PeterDutton did argue for a cut in the immigration intake last year by 20,000 - from190,000 to 170,000. Do you recall that?

JULIE BISHOP: No I certainly don't. I'm not aware of any such proposal. I am a Cabinet,and I am a member of the National Security Committee, and I don't recall thatproposal at all, so I can only assume that the story is not true. We have-

LAURA JAYES: So this is not a Cabinet leak, then, in your mind?

JULIE BISHOP: Absolutely not. This didn't occur. So, we have a ceiling for ourimmigration at 190,000. That's not a target - that's the ceiling. And overrecent years, our skilled immigration, our family reunion and other forms ofvisas have amounted to something like a net migration of 180,000 people, orsomething like that.

LAURA JAYES: Do you accept that there is perhaps a fear in the community that thatlevel is too high, and perhaps Cabinet or the government should considerlooking at lowering it, just a little bit? Even if it is a political message.

JULIE BISHOP: I think the most important aspect is to consider the makeup of themigrant community into Australia. What are the visa categories that arebringing people to Australia? We have foreign students - that is very good newsfor Australia because it's one of our largest exports, educating foreignstudents - we have a significant number of tourists, and of course we want toincrease tourism because that drives productivity and jobs growth. Skilledlabour, and that of course is demand driven. If we need more skilled labourersto come in, skilled workers to come in, to drive productivity in this country,then that's a good thing. Family reunion; you only have to ask people who livehere how important it is.

LAURA JAYES: So basically, what you're saying, it's difficult to see where you wouldcut these numbers from? What category?

JULIE BISHOP: Indeed, and we also have a humanitarian and refugee visa program, andthat's not a significant part of it, but that's necessary for us to uphold ourinternational responsibilities, and we do. So it's not a target, 190,000. It'sin fact a ceiling, and so we can take as many migrants as we believe isappropriate in Australia's national interest to drive economic growth andsocial cohesion in this country.

LAURA JAYES: Now, Josh Frydenberg, Scott Morrison and others have put their name, andPeter Dutton - I shouldn't forget him - have all put their name on the list ofpotential future prime ministers. Are you willing to add yours?

JULIE BISHOP: Absolutely not. [Laughs]. I am focused on the job I am doing now, onthe responsibilities that I have now. I was elected to be the deputy leader ofour party back in 2007 and I've been elected it every leadership electionthat's involved the deputy ever since then. So…

LAURA JAYES: Aren't you letting the sisterhood down, though? You're the next in lineof potential - if you don't put your hand up for PM, it might be another 10years away.

JULIE BISHOP: It's not about gender. This is about the person that retains the confidenceof the majority of the members of the Liberal Party room, and that's MalcolmTurnbull. I think you have to put the comments of all of the others intocontext. They all agree that Malcolm Turnbull will lead us to the nextelection. I assume they were just talking about their future ambitions down thetrack. It's just hypothetical.

LAURA JAYES: Could you even be dragged, kicking and screaming, Julie Bishop?

JULIE BISHOP: [Laughs]. Look, I don't have to say every single day what my ambitionsare. I think I've made it quite clear that I've been elected as the deputyleader of the party, that I'm fulfilling my role and responsibilities as theForeign Minister of this country, and it's a very significant role that I takevery seriously. So my focus and my priority is absolutely on the roles thatI've been given, the roles that I've been elected to perform, and theresponsibilities that I have under those jobs.

LAURA JAYES: Julie Bishop, thanks for your time today.

JULIEBISHOP: Thank you, Laura.

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