Interview with Michael Brissenden, ABC AM

  • Transcript, E&OE

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: As we've heard this morning, Australia has contributed $5 million as part of an initial assistance package for Vanuatu. Military planes are also being sent with emergency supplies to help with the relief effort. Julie Bishop is the Foreign Minister and I spoke to her a short time ago.

Julie Bishop, thanks for joining us.

JULIE BISHOP: Good morning.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Cyclone Pam – $5 million worth of aid we've sent so far, but certainly more could be needed, couldn't it?

JULIE BISHOP: The $5 million is funding for the NGOs, Red Cross and United Nations partners. In addition to that, we've sent three military aircraft – a Hercules and two C17s filled with medical supplies, lifesaving supplies like water, sanitation, shelter – we've also sent personnel. Two more planes will leave today. So we have made a substantial start but of course it's early days so we're having to assess the damage. We are working very closely with the Government of Vanuatu in responding to their needs and their requirements. So this will be an ongoing effort over a number of days, weeks, months ahead.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Can we turn to the Bali Nine? There's still no phone call from the Indonesian leader to Tony Abbott. Yesterday, Tanya Plibersek, the Shadow Foreign Minister, said the fact that Tony Abbott couldn't get a call back showed the relationship wasn't good generally. Do you accept that?

JULIE BISHOP: Not at all. That is a very crude and ill-informed assessment of our relationship with Indonesia and shows an appalling lack of understanding. We have a very strong relationship with Indonesia. I have been speaking with my counterpart, Foreign Minister Marsudi on numerous occasions. We have been corresponding. We have a good, cooperative working relationship.

This is an issue where Australia and Indonesia don't share the same point of view. We oppose the death penalty at home and abroad and we oppose Indonesia carrying out the death penalty on Australian citizens. That's why we have very respectfully requested President Widodo reconsider the clemency pleas of Mr Sukumaran and Mr Chan and why we have respectfully appealed to his sense of mercy and forgiveness and humanity. After all, Indonesia does oppose the death penalty when it applies to Indonesian citizens on death row in other countries. So we're not asking Indonesia to do any more than Indonesia asks other countries to do in relation to its citizens.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The relationship's not always good though, is it? I mean, it is rocky. It goes up and down, it goes through troughs…

JULIE BISHOP: There have been times of challenges and disagreements, but…

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: And Tanya Plibersek yesterday mentioned turn backs, for instance.

JULIE BISHOP: Well she tied the issue of border protection in with the…

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: That has been a sore point.

JULIE BISHOP: … with the execution of two Australian citizens and that was a very crude and ill-informed statement to make. But, of course, it is how you deal with these issues. I mean we inherited from Labor the live cattle ban, the Snowden allegations and the fact that through the change of Labor policies on border protection, Indonesia once more found itself a destination point for a number of people seeking to come to Australia through the people smuggling trade. We've had to deal with all of those issues, one by one, and we do it quietly and methodically and respectfully.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: On a couple of other issues, the China Infrastructure Bank, now you argued last year that we should support the US concerns that this could shift the balance of financial power in Asia. What's changed?

JULIE BISHOP: We have always been considering joining the AIIB and we have a number of concerns, particularly in the area of governance and the shareholding. Currently under the arrangements, China would have a shareholding of around 49 or 50 per cent. Any other equivalent multilateral organisation would have a shareholding of up to say 20 per cent for the major shareholder. So, this would be a very different kind of arrangement and I think that we need to review it and discuss it with China very carefully and also with the other members that are signing up for it. So it's been under constant review.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: So reports that the Prime Minister has changed his mind are not necessarily correct? I mean, he may change his mind if you can get some sort of different deal, is that right?

JULIE BISHOP: Well it's not a question of changing our mind. We set out a number of requirements that we would want to see and a number of changes we would want to see before Australia would consider it to be in our national interest to join it and those matters are under continual discussion with China and we are constantly reviewing it, talking to other people who are joining it. They are engaged in negotiations and Australia is very interested in it.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: But you're still concerned about the level of influence this might give China in the region?

JULIE BISHOP: We're concerned about the governance and we will continue to discuss this with China as we have been over the last few months.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: So a different arrangement might be more suitable for your Government?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, we set out what we would require. We said to China these are the principles that we would expect for Australia to invest in something of this nature.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: It's pretty clear, isn't it, from the very beginning that the US has been opposed to this? Is the fact that we are now actively considering joining this a sign that the relationship with the Obama administration isn't quite as good as it should be?

JULIE BISHOP: Not at all, we've always been considering this. We've always been considering entering into the AIIB…


JULIE BISHOP: I argued very strongly that we had to put in place certain requirements before we would consider entering into it and we are continuing to discuss those issues with China in a very constructive way, a very cooperative way, and we continue to inform the United States of what we're doing and I'd like to see the United States involved in discussions as well.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: How would the US view our involvement?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, that would be a matter for the United States. I would keep the United States informed as I would Japan, South Korea. There are a number of countries that have not joined – a number of G7 countries that have not joined. So different countries are assessing the involvement of their respective countries according to their national interests and that's what Australia should and will be doing.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Ok. Julie Bishop, thanks very much for joining us.

JULIE BISHOP: Thanks Mike.

- Ends -

Media enquiries