Press conference - 2nd Indian Ocean Rim Dialogue opening
JULIE BISHOP I am pleased to be here at the Perth Exhibition Centre opening the 2nd Indian Ocean Rim Dialogue. Australia has been chairing the Indian Ocean Rim Association for the past two years. This is a group of 20 member nations, whose boundaries lap the shores of the Indian Ocean. The matters of common interest include maritime security, trade, investment, renewable ocean energy, tourism and this Dialogue welcomes officials from the member nations so that we can discuss further matters of common interest and mutual benefit in the lead-up to a meeting in Padang in October where Australia will hand over the chairmanship of the Indian Ocean Rim Association to Indonesia.
I'm pleased that a couple of issues that Australia has focused on have really been the centerpiece of the agenda over the last couple of years, maritime security - not only battling piracy, drugs and people smuggling, but also security more generally and transnational crime - the advantages of a blue economy - that is, using the ocean as part of our economic growth and job opportunities in the region, and the economic empowerment of women and the empowerment of women more generally.
These three issues have been important matters on the IORA agenda and will be the subject of discussions today.
JOURNALIST What did you make of the report from over East that you advised the Prime Minister to sack Joe Hockey?
JULIE BISHOP I think that this is an old story that's been around for some time. Joe Hockey has got a very tough job as Treasurer. He inherited some of the worst set of financial accounts of any incoming Treasurer. Labor had, in just six short years, trashed the budget, spent the surplus and Joe Hockey is working very hard to restore the Budget, repair the finances of this nation and he's doing a good job.
JOURNALIST This morning Minister you were asked whether you had had a discussion about Joe Hockey's performance with the Prime Minister late last year and you didn't deny it.
JULIE BISHOP I don't believe I was asked that question.
JOURNALIST On Sunrise this morning?
JULIE BISHOP I don't believe I was asked that question. Are you asking me about the issue? Look I'm not going into private conversations I have with the Prime Minister in particular. If someone has leaked this story they didn't get it from me, they didn't get it from the Prime Minister and I'm not going add to the Canberra gossip. Joe Hockey is doing a good job in tough circumstances. He's trying to repair the disastrous legacy that we received from Labor - record debt, record deficits and it's a very difficult job but he's up to it.
JOURNALIST So you don't want to say whether you've had that discussion with the Prime Minister?
JULIE BISHOP Let's move on. I have private conversations with people. I'm not playing this game that obviously amuses people in Canberra. I'm not going into detailed conversations I have because then you'll come up with another one - deny this, deny that. I've got better things to do with my time. Joe Hockey is doing a good job.
JOURNALIST On a more important issue, should Australia accept more refugees from Syria given the desperate scenes we're seeing at EU borders?
JULIE BISHOP Australia has been one of the leading nations in responding to the humanitarian crisis in Syria, both in a humanitarian sense and militarily. We have already committed $155 million for humanitarian purposes to Syria, about $50 million in the last 12 months. We have also provided about $30 million in humanitarian funding to Iraq, which is essentially the one theatre of conflict.
We will continue to respond and provide whatever support we can and I'll be attending a meeting at the UN General Assembly Leaders Week where we will discuss further humanitarian responses. We've also been leading the debate, first in the UN Security Council, and now as part of the General Assembly for better access for aid workers to get into Syria and be able to deliver that humanitarian aid and Australia took a leading role. We've also been taking a leading role in resettling refugees from Syria, 4,400 in the last financial year. On a per capita basis that is one of the most substantial responses of any country.
We are looking at how we can continue to work with partners, friends and allies in the region. I've been in contact with a number of Foreign Ministers overnight, we'll continue to work with the UN and relevant authorities as Australia continues to be part of what must be a global response to this humanitarian crisis. So Australia has played a significant part. Indeed we have been one of the leading nations when it comes to humanitarian funding, resettlement and the military action we're taking to stop these terrorist organisations from proliferating in Syria and Iraq, which is driving so much of the displacement of the people. If we can make Syria and Iraq more peaceful and more stable, then the reason for people leaving will not be there and there won't be the level of displacement that we're seeing today.
JOURNALIST Minister the displacement is occurring though, at the moment on a pretty grand scale. Should Australia take some of those refugees from Syria?
JULIE BISHOP Well Australia is already -
JOURNALIST But should we increase our intake?
JULIE BISHOP Australia is already taking refugees from Syria. We have been able to do that because we stopped the people smuggling trade, so we now have more flexibility in our humanitarian and refugee intake. It is about 13,750 places at present. We have already announced an increase to 18,750 and will continue to work with our international partners and international organisations to see what more we can do.
But I am calling on other countries to help Australia, help Europe, to absorb the number of people who are leaving. It must be not only a military response, a humanitarian response but a political response. There are many countries around the world who would be able to assist, countries in the Middle East, the Persian Gulf region all have a capacity to do more, as Australia has done, and will continue to do.
JOURNALIST Labor says the Government should provide more money to the UNHCR. Is that something the Government is considering?
JULIE BISHOP The Australian Government already provides funding to the UNHCR. We've provided $155 million specifically for Syria, about $30 million specifically for Iraq, humanitarian purposes. We're also spending a considerable amount of money on the military side of things to prevent these terrorist organisations from carrying out brutal attacks on civilians which is causing them to flee.
We've provided support to Jordan in particular because Jordan has been bearing the brunt of those leaving Syria. We are also speaking to our colleagues in Lebanon and Turkey because those three countries have a number of camps on their borders.
I think there should be consideration of whether we can set up safe havens inside Syria, inside Iraq, so that people who don't want to leave can remain in their home country but safe from the terrorist attacks and the violence and the brutality that's being meted out. In particular we should be focusing on the families and the persecuted minorities in these countries who are suffering so much at the hand of the terrorists.
JOURNALIST Safe havens – if something like that did get up is that something Australia could lead the way with?
JULIE BISHOP These are issues we are discussing with the international community.
European foreign ministers are meeting as we speak. They have been meeting over this issue because of course they are directly affected but Australia has already been playing a leading role and will continue to support international efforts to deal with this humanitarian crisis.
JOURNALIST Will Australia joining in air-strikes in Syria against Islamic State terrorists make the situation worse?
JULIE BISHOP No it won't because the air strikes are targeted against military bases and against the supply lines of these terrorist organisations. If we can defeat the terrorist organisations they will no longer be able to carry our terrorist activities aiming at civilians, trying to protect civilians from the attacks of these terrorist organisations, so therefore we have to defeat the terrorist organisations. And there are a considerable number of countries involved in the Coalition that is carrying out air strikes in Iraq, that includes Australia, other countries are carrying out air strikes in Syria. We have been asked to consider extending our air strike capability and capacity from Iraq to Syria and that is under discussion by the government at present.
JOURNALIST On a slightly lighter note, as an Eagles fan you must be happy with where they finished and for WA footy, Eagles and Dockers one and two.
JULIE BISHOP Oh yes that was a great game last night against St Kilda, a fantastic game for the Eagles. I thought Nic Naitanui was in fine form. The win means that the Eagles are now number two on the ladder, so the Fremantle Dockers and the West Coast Eagles, number one and two, I think that's the first time in AFL history this has happened. It does mean there will be four Perth home finals for the AFL which I think is a great outcome for West Australian football. Next week we'll be meeting Hawthorn and if we are able to win against Hawthorn that will mean a week's break for the boys and then a preliminary final here in Perth, so I think it is a great outcome.
JOURNALIST If hypothetically the Eagles and the Dockers can make it to the Grand Final do you think it really makes any sense that it would have to be held in Victoria?
JULIE BISHOP I understand from Gill McLachlan that they are contracted to hold the Grand Final at the MCG so I'm afraid that we are going to have to wait until some time later before we can see an Eagles/Dockers Grand Final here in Perth. Hopefully when the new stadium is completed that will be a bargaining chip that we can take up with the AFL.
JOURNALIST Have you got a tip for who you think will win?
JULIE BISHOP The Grand Final?
JULIE BISHOP Well I'm hoping the Eagles will get there and it would be a little far out to be tipping the Grand Final at this stage but hypothetically if the Eagles were to make it I'd have to work out which team they were against and then I can give you a better tip, based on a little more analysis I think.