Interview with Razia Iqbal - BBC, The World Tonight

  • Transcript, E&OE

JULIE BISHOP: Australia has a longstanding position, and that is to support the British Monarch as the Head ofthe Commonwealth. I think it has to be above an election. We think that theconnection with the British Monarchy has been so strong and powerful, and whenit began, the modern Commonwealth, there were only eight members and todaythere are 53, and I think that speaks volumes about the relevance of theCommonwealth to many nations

RAZIA IQBAL: Former Prime Ministerof Australia Paul Keating wrote just earlier this month that it was time to getrid of the Monarchy and another former Prime Minister of Australia, JuliaGillard, said that she believes at some point that the country would become arepublic. You're a devout Republican yourself, do you think this is just amatter of time that that will happen.

JULIE BISHOP: I wouldn't assume that itwould happen in Australia. We did have a referendum on this topic in 1999 andthe requisite majority was not gained at all, that is a majority of voters in amajority of states. I don't see any push for the removal of the monarchy aspart of our system of government. The constitutional monarchy has workedexceedingly well for us, but there may come a time when Australia wants toreassess this issue. But that time is certainly not now.

RAZIA IQBAL: And you personallywouldn't have preferred a rotating head of the Commonwealth.

JULIE BISHOP: I think that theCommonwealth is unique in many ways and the role of the British Monarch hasserved it well.

RAZIA IQBAL: Let's talk aboutBrexit. There has been a lot of talk in the last few days that in fact it isthe Commonwealth, or the Commonwealth countries, that could fill the void leftby Britain's departure from the European Union. It is something that youbelieve and that you believe and Australia believes is the case, and if so howcould it fill that gap?

JULIE BISHOP: First we want to see the EUand the United Kingdom have a constructive relationship in the future andobviously we support positive negotiations between the UK and EU in terms ofBrexit. But once those negotiations have concluded and Britain is out of theEuropean Union we do see enormous opportunities for more trade and investment,and greater engagement with Britain and I know the Commonwealth countries feelsimilarly. This is a sentiment that has been expressed on a number of occasionsduring the past few days - that the Commonwealth of Nations is looking forwardto a deeper engagement with Great Britain. In our part of the world, in thePacific, we have seen the British Prime Minister announce the opening of newposts in the Pacific as well as elsewhere, and I think this expansion ofBritain's diplomatic footprint is going to be welcomed by countries around theworld-

RAZIA IQBAL: So what you aretalking about is the potential for free trade agreement?


RAZIA IQBAL: Last night here in theHouse of Lords passed an amendment to keep open the options of a customs unionwithin the EU. Obviously this is going to go back to the Houses of Parliamentand they may too vote in favour of a customs union. Would the UK remaining insuch a union be a negative thing for Australia's relationship with the UK andindeed could it be a disaster?

JULIE BISHOP: My understanding is that ifBritain remains in a customs union then the opportunity for us to enter into afree trade agreement with Britain, standing alone, would not achievable. Wealready have a very strong trading relationship with the United Kingdom, but wewould like it to be even stronger and deeper and I know other Commonwealthcountries feel the same. So the terms upon which the United Kingdom exit fromthe European Union will obviously have an impact on our ability to enter intofree trade agreements with the UK.

RAZIA IQBAL: How could Australiabenefit then from Britain leaving the European Union? What other areas are youlooking at?

JULIE BISHOP: We are very interested inthe fact that the UK is opening new posts in the Pacific. We hope to partnerwith the UK on development assistance to Pacific nations, 11 of the 15 PacificIsland nations are members of the Commonwealth. Australia is the major donorfor overseas development assistance in the Pacific but we're always looking forother nations to partner with us. The needs of the Pacific are enormous. It isan area prone to natural disasters, there have been some horrific consequencesof cyclones and earthquakes in recent times and we certainly want to work withlike-minded partners in supporting our friends in the Pacific in times of need.

RAZIA IQBAL: What can you tell usabout news reports that Australia is planning to demand that the UK accepthormone- treated beef for the price for a symbolic early Brexit trade deal?

JULIE BISHOP: Oh, that's not the way Iwould put it .It is not a question of demand, it is a question of negotiation.

RAZIA IQBAL: Well what more can youtell us about the negotiations then?

JULIE BISHOP: Well they are tradenegotiations, so I won't go in to any further detail about it because thesenegotiations are of course confidential. We seek to enhance our market accesswherever we can.

RAZIA IQBAL: So when we read newsreports that the International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has identified thisdeal with Australia as an early win for the UK, but in return Britain is beingtold to scrap an EU ban on the sale of meat from cattle treated with grownhormones is not true?

JULIE BISHOP: No I didn't say that. I justsaid that they are negotiations between our officials.

RAZIA IQBAL: Right, so it could betrue?

JULIE BISHOP: Well I haven't said thateither. I am not making a comment.

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