Interview with Leigh Sales - ABC 730

  • Transcript, E&OE

LEIGH SALES: Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has been watching events in the Middle East closely. She spoke to me earlier from Perth. Thank you for joining us.

JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure Leigh.

LEIGH SALES: Who is responsible for this latest round of violence in the Middle East? Hamas for organising the protest, Israel for the deadly response, or the US for provocatively relocating its embassy?

JULIE BISHOP: Clearly there have been tensions building for some time and Israel believes that Hamas is the instigator behind the protests. The protestors are resorting to violence, they are trying to force entry into the Israeli territories, and we have urged them not to do that. Israel is of course entitled to defend itself, a legitimate right to self-defence, but it must be proportionate and we urge Israel not to use excessive force. The issue of the US Embassy has just escalated the tensions. We are urging all sides to reduce the violence, cut out the violence and return to negotiations. I think the violence underscores the desperate need for both sides to return to peaceful negotiations for a two-state solution.

LEIGH SALES: Does the presence of the US embassy in Jerusalem mean the US has given up any semblance of impartiality in striving for that two-state solution?

JULIE BISHOP: I would certainly hope not. The United States has promised for many years, in fact successive US Presidents have promised to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. President Trump is the first to do that, but it has been the promise of successive US governments.

LEIGH SALES: On another foreign policy matter, Australia's former Ambassador to China Geoff Raby has accused you of derailing Australia's relationship with China because of comments you have made about territories among other things. Is he an impartial observer in your view?

JULIE BISHOP: No, clearly not. It is one of the most ill-informed articles I've read about the Australia-China relationship. Our relationship is deep and it is strong, but we do disagree from time-to-time. But what I say privately to China, I say publicly, and vice-versa. He has not spoken to me for many, many years. He did not seek any clarification from my office, so he is profoundly ignorant, may I say, about the level of engagement between Australia and China at present, and the state of the relationship. Indeed, he has also misread, completely, our engagement on the issue of North Korea – because had he contacted my office I could have informed him that in the last two weeks alone I have had personal phone calls from the Japanese Foreign Minister, Taro Kono, from the South Korean Foreign Minister Kang, with the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, with the US National Security Advisor, and my Chinese counterpart and I are planning a meeting very shortly. So clearly the engagement at the highest levels is continuing.

LEIGH SALES: You say you are planning a meeting shortly. Mr Raby says you've not visited China in more than two years, is that correct and if so, why?

JULIE BISHOP: No, that is not correct. I was there in 2016 because it was my turn to visit China. Then last year my counterpart Wang Yi came to Australia, so did Premier Li Keqiang, and we also hosted the High-Level Dialogue between Australia and China in Melbourne last year. This year it is my turn to go to China and we are planning that. In the meantime, we have met on many occasions on the side of meetings at the UN General Assembly Leaders Week, at the East Asia Summit, at the ASEAN Regional Forum. I have ongoing dialogue, and very positive dialogue, with my counterpart Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

LEIGH SALES: On this program last night, the former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Australia needs to be concerned about Chinese efforts to promote its own interests here. How concerned are you about the presence of any sort of China lobby in Australia or any sort of inappropriate influence?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, clearly all countries seek to influence the governments and the publics of other countries. That's why we have embassies overseas – Australia has 117 missions and embassies in countries and in regions around the world. So of course, we seek to influence the views of other countries, but improper interference of course, would not be allowed in any country. That is why Australia has now introduced some foreign interference laws to ensure that our sovereignty is maintained. This is something that all countries need to do to ensure that there is not illegal or improper interference in their affairs.

LEIGH SALES: On another matter, the representation of women in the Liberal Party has been in the spotlight this week. This Liberal Party currently has half the representation of female MPs as the Labor Party in the Federal Parliament. What's going wrong?

JULIE BISHOP: Leigh, it's actually an issue across the Parliament, and while I'd like to see many more women preselected and elected to seats in the Parliament, we also want to see women in decision-making positions, and I've been told that since Federation – since 1901 – there have been 385 cabinet ministers, 24 have been women – 13 from the Coalition side, 11 from the Labor side. So, I think this is an issue across parties and…

LEIGH SALES: Sorry to interrupt you there but If I can point out, so at the moment, about 22 per cent of Liberal federal MPs are women while Labor has about 44 per cent, so clearly there would seem to be a particular problem in the Liberal Party.

JULIE BISHOP: That's why we are trying to attract more women into Parliament. Kelly O'Dwyer, the Minister for Women, has announced a fighting fund, the Enid Lyons fund to support women becoming candidates for the Liberal Party. I point out that Enid Lyons was the first female member of the federal Parliament. In 1901 Australia was the first country to simultaneously grant women the right to vote and the right to stand for Parliament, but it took us 43 years for the first woman from the Coalition to be actually elected to the House of Representatives. This fighting fund will be for people to donate their money if they want to see more Liberal candidates – and I hope they do!

LEIGH SALES: Kelly O'Dwyer is donating $50,000 to that. Will you be making a donation yourself?

JULIE BISHOP: Yes, I certainly will. I've been speaking to Kelly for some time about it. Not only will I make a donation, but I will certainly urge others who want to see more Liberal women preselected and also win elections in the Federal Government.

LEIGH SALES: I know it's a personal question to ask how much money you're personally donating but given you are attempting to set an example for others, are you prepared to reveal what you'll be donating to that fund?

JULIE BISHOP: No, not yet, I haven't had a look at my campaign funds. I will see what I can provide. I can assure you I seek to provide support to colleagues across Australia and I will be certainly be providing funding for this particular campaign to see more women elected to Parliament. So, I don't think anybody would question my commitment to fundraising for the Liberal Party.

LEIGH SALES: You said that the Party does need to do more to get women into the Parliament. I mean, what practically can they do? You've said previously you oppose quotas, so what can be done?

JULIE BISHOP: We can certainly set targets, and I think institutional targets are a good thing. I think quotas miss the point about merit-based pre-selections and elections, but we also should recognise that when some male members retire or resign, they can be replaced by females. We had an instance recently when George Brandis – the Attorney General from Queensland, stepped down as a Senator to take a position in London and he was replaced by Amanda Stoker, a female Senator from Queensland. So we just need to see more opportunities for talented women on a merits-based system being pre-selected. I certainly will be a voice championing and advocating for that.

LEIGH SALES: The Coalition has a target of 50-50 male-female representation by 2025. Will you reach it?

JULIE BISHOP: Well I am delighted that Georgina Downer has been preselected to represent us at the by-election that was caused by the citizenship saga – the Labor Party, in this case, independent citizenship saga. So, we are preselecting women, and they are women of quality and great calibre and talent.

LEIGH SALES: Will you meet that target though?

JULIE BISHOP: Well I am certainly hoping so. That is what we are aiming to do. We set a target for this in Government. Malcolm Turnbull set a target of 50 per cent of women on boards and we are very close to achieving that. I know my own department has managed to achieve it, 50 per cent. So, it is doable, it is possible, and it is certainly a goal that I will be aiming for.

LEIGH SALES: Julie Bishop thanks for your time.

JULIE BISHOP: Thank you Leigh.

Media enquiries