Interview with Tom Elliot - 3AW

  • Transcript, E&OE
17 May 2018

TOM ELLIOT: Joining me on the line to comment on all these issues is the Federal Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop. Ms Bishop, good afternoon.

JULIE BISHOP: Good afternoon Tom. Good to be with you.

TOM ELLIOT: Thank you for joining us. Now, the vast majority of Australians want to end live sheep exports, you and your government have chosen to continue them – why?

JULIE BISHOP: The Government supports a sustainable live sheep trade to the Middle East that maintains the highest animal welfare standards by the global benchmarks. We have just held a review, the McCarthy Review, into the live sheep trade and it calls for a major overhaul of the live sheep trade during the Middle Eastern summer and we will ensure that it happens. We have accepted all 23 recommendations made by Dr McCarthy. So the live sheep export trade is in for significant change. Now we have carefully considered this response to ensure that it doesn't damage our important trading relationships, our reputation as a reliable trading partner or hurt our farmers who have done nothing wrong. We are still repairing the damage caused by the Gillard government's response when it suspended live cattle exports into Indonesia in 2011.

TOM ELLIOT: Okay. So can we guarantee then that the types of distressing scenes that 60 minutes broke several weeks ago – that they will not be repeated? Not that they won't just been seen but they won't actually occur anymore – sheep being cruelly treated?

JULIE BISHOP: That is precisely what the McCarthy Review has recommended and we've accepted. The live sheep trade will now move to a system that gives the sheep more space. So it is taking into account the new measure of animal weight and size so the sheep will get up to 39 per cent more space. They are reducing stock densities by up to 28 per cent and this change will affect shipments during the Middle Eastern summer this year. In the past, if I could just explain this, in the past the independent regulator has used sheep deaths as the indicator of animal welfare. Now they are going to move to a model that focuses on animal welfare rather than mortality – just because a sheep didn't die doesn't mean it was treated well. Importantly, the livelihoods of farmers across Western Australia and into South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria, as well as almost 2000 jobs depend on the live sheep trade and we need to give certainty to these Australian workers.

There will also be really tough penalties. A director of an export company could face 10 years in prison or over $2 million in fines and an individual convicted under these offences could face 10 years or a $420,000 fine.

JOURNALIST: Okay but from what I hear there is still a bit of division within your ranks. For example, the former Health Minister, Susan Ley, said she is going to introduce a private members bill next week calling to ban the live export industry. How are you going to deal with that?

JULIE BISHOP: I believe that the industry is such a fundamental part of Australia's strong standing as a secure source of food and a place to invest in agriculture for a number of Middle East countries. As Foreign Minister I get this feedback all the time - that Australia is seen as such a reliable partner for food security and for investment in agriculture. So I am aware of the importance of not disrupting food security in partner nations and I want to make sure that any adjustments to the live sheep trade is managed with these important relationships in mind.

JOURNALIST: So what would you say to Sussan Ley?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, I've had this discussion with Sussan but she wants to press ahead with a private member's bill – as is her right as a backbencher – and we can have a debate about it. But the Government has accepted the McCarthy Review recommendations, all 23 recommendations, and they will be implemented, they will be delivered.

JOURNALIST: So is this essentially being done to appease the National Party? After all, they represent rural Australia – or they claim to.

JULIE BISHOP: Well we have a number of Liberal Members who represent rural and regional seats in Western Australia and they have the vast majority of live export trade in their electorates, so it is a matter that is very dear to the heart of rural and regional Liberals as well as National Party members. But it is dear to the heart to the thousands of Australian farm workers who rely on this export trade for their jobs. The farmers of Australia who have done nothing wrong, there have been some bad practices by exporters, they've been exposed. We have had a very thorough review. We've looked at it very closely and instead of a knee-jerk reaction, the damage to our international trading reputation and damaged the livelihoods of people, not only in Australia but in Indonesia – we have carefully considered response and we believe that these changes will bring the practices in Australia to world's best.

TOM ELLIOTT: Could I ask you quickly about China? The former-Australian ambassador to China Geoff Raby in a piece of the Fairfax media earlier this week has criticised your relationship with China. He said you haven't visited there in two years and he has called for you to be sacked. Do you have a strained relationship with the Chinese Government?

JULIE BISHOP: Not at all. The point about the visits shows that he didn't get in touch with my office, otherwise he would have understood. We have annual meetings with our counterparts. So my counterpart is Foreign Minister Wang Yi. I have a very close and good relationship with him. Each year we meet in our respective capitals. In 2016, I was in Beijing and met with him. In 2017, Foreign Minister Wang Yi was in Canberra. It is my turn in 2018. It will be his turn in 2019. That is how we do it. In the meantime, as Foreign Ministers, we meet regularly as I do with other Foreign Ministers at multilateral meetings, at the East-Asia Summit for example, at APEC, at UN General Assembly Leaders Week. We also correspond. I have had some correspondence with Foreign Minister Wang Yi this year, all very positive. We have a very deep diplomatic, political business engagement with China and it is continuing at the highest level. We have what is called a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with China and the fundamental interests underpinning that agreement have not changed in any way.

TOM ELLIOTT: So why is this newspaper, the Global Times, saying that: "Australia's policy is like a koala's sharp claws – from time to time it wants to hurt Chinese people"? Is that a bit of a dig at you?

JULIE BISHOP: I wouldn't have thought so, unless they are suggesting that I am very cuddly like a koala. Our koalas are renowned for being fuzzy and gorgeous.

TOM ELLIOTT: They are referring to their sharp claws.

JULIE BISHOP: Look, I will always stand up for Australia's interests. That means I will always put Australia's interests first. I won't always see eye-to-eye with every other policy of every other country, but we have our own values, our own policies, our own interests, and we can disagree with friends, we can disagree with partners. I don't agree with every policy of the United States. I don't agree with every policy of China. I don't agree with every policy of Indonesia. If we did agree with absolutely every policy of every other country, we wouldn't be an independent sovereign nation, but it is how you manage the relationships. I will be meeting with Foreign Minister Wang Yi shortly. We will have a very positive discussion as we always do about matters of interest.

TOM ELLIOTT: Yesterday I spoke with your colleague Kelly O'Dwyer about the dumping of a Liberal National Party MP in Queensland, Jane Prentice. Kelly said that she's putting in $50,000 of her own campaign funds to try and help women get preselected in the Liberal Party. Do the Libs have a problem retaining women? I note that Jane Prentice is going to be replaced by a male candidate.

JULIE BISHOP: It depends very much on the preselection. When George Brandis stood down he was replaced by a female, Amanda Stoker. So there are obviously occasions when men have replaced women and we would rather have a woman candidate, but you know, I am excited that Georgina Downer is preselected for the seat of Mayo, that is now up for a by-election because the independent Rebekha Sharkie hadn't renounced her citizenship. There are a number of by-elections that have now been forced on us as a result of Labor.

TOM ELLIOTT: Do we need a special fighting fund for women?

JULIE BISHOP: We have fighting funds for marginal seats. Kelly has set up a fighting fund for supporting female candidates and I think as the Minister for Women that is a good idea. What I would like to see is more women in decision making roles in Cabinet, for example. I was informed the other day that since Federation there have been 385 Cabinet members – only 24 have been women in over 100 years - 13 from the Coalition, 11 from the ALP – out of 385. So I would be very keen to see more women in Cabinet and this fighting fund that Kelly has set up, the Enid Lyons Fighting Fund, named coincidentally after the first female member of the House of Representatives, Enid Lyons from the Coalition side of politics back in 1943 or something, we want to ensure that we can provide funding to help women who might not otherwise get access to the donations or the campaign funds that would help them in their seat or win the preselection.

TOM ELLIOTT: Finally, will you be representing Australia at this weekend's Royal Wedding?

JULIE BISHOP: I wish I were! No, I understand that politicians weren't invited, but I'll be on my way to the G20 Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Argentina. I hope that the wedding is as beautiful as we anticipate. I was honoured to meet Meghan Markle and Prince Harry a couple of times during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Leaders Meeting week in London and she's absolutely delightful. She's a charming young woman and I am sure that she and Prince Harry will be very happy.

TOM ELLIOTT: Julie Bishop, thank you so much for your time.

JULIE BISHOP: Thank you.

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