Press conference - NATO headquarters

  • Transcript, E&OE
24 April 2015

JULIE BISHOP I'm pleased to be here at NATO and I have had a very positive meeting with Secretary-General Stoltenberg. I have addressed the North Atlantic Council and had a very interesting discussion with the Ambassadors present there.

Australia is a natural partner for NATO. We share common values, we have a history of responding positively to NATO requests and we have recently become recognised as an Enhanced Partnership - that was at the Wales Summit last year.

We have a long history of working together in Afghanistan and we remain committed to the mission Resolute Support in Afghanistan and we continue to have personnel in Afghanistan with NATO.

We are meeting at a time where the respective values of Australia and NATO and the member states are under challenge through examples such as Russia's aggression in Ukraine which is clearly a breach of the United Nations charter, and is an example of one nation trampling on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of another.

Member states are already facing challenges by the phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters who are adding to the suffering and misery in Iraq and Syria. Australia and other member states are working in coalition to defeat the terrorist organisation known as Da'esh before its territorial ambitions and barbaric acts spread further.

We will continue to work together in Afghanistan.

Today I also met with Special Representative Schuurman on women, peace and security issues - a matter which is of deep concern to Australia and where we remain deeply committed to resolving issues including preventing sexual violence in conflict.

So overall, it's been a very positive meeting here, underscoring Australia's partnership with NATO. I received very positive feedback from the representatives of the member states that they want to see more engagement with Australia.

I also raised the issue of reciprocity which of course is underpinning any partnership. That reciprocity would occur in locations and examples where NATO interests and Australian interests on security issues align.

JOURNALIST Can you share your thoughts about the two Australians who had their appeal rejected in Indonesia?

JULIE BISHOP Australian officials have been summoned to attend a meeting on Saturday in relation to Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran. I understand that representatives of other nations who also have citizens on death row have also been asked to attend this meeting.

Therefore I fear the worst.

I fear that Indonesia will seek to proceed with the execution of the two Australian citizens. I am deeply and profoundly concerned by this. I have sought to make contact with Foreign Minister Marsudi to register our concern and to speak with her to see if there is any opportunity for Australia to persuade Indonesia to change its mind.

I again appeal to President Widodo to show mercy, to have a change of heart and to grant clemency to these two Australian citizens, both of whom have been rehabilitated, both of whom have spent ten years in an Indonesian jail, and yet during that time have made a positive contribution to the life and rehabilitation of other prisoners in that jail.

I am asking of President Widodo what he asks of other countries in relation to Indonesian citizens who face death row overseas.

Australia opposes the death penalty, whether at home or abroad and we again appeal to President Widodo to show mercy. He is the leader of a great nation, a dear and close friend of Australia. We ask that he take into account our considerations.

I have met with the French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, and he likewise expressed his deep dismay at the prospect of a French citizen being put to death in Indonesia at this time.

So we will continue to make representations. It is not too late for President Widodo to have a change of heart and spare the lives of these two Australian citizens.

JOURNALIST Foreign Minister, can I ask you a question about migration as a big issue in Europe as you know, about mass migration across the Mediterranean. Given Australia's experience of dealing with this issue, would you have any advice for the Europeans on it.

JULIE BISHOP This is a matter that has been raised with me by Foreign Ministers, indeed it was a topic of discussion during the North Atlantic Council meeting today.

Australia can explain the experience that we have had. We are a nation built on migration, we are one of the best examples of a multicultural society and we welcome people to our shores from every corner of the globe.

However, people coming to Australia must do so legally in accordance with the laws our country. Those who pay people smugglers will not have their claims for asylum considered in Australia. Should they be successful in those claims they will not be resettled in Australia.

There are legal ways to make an application to come to Australia on the basis of seeking asylum or any other basis. We will consider those claims. We will not consider claims for those who pay the people smuggling trade.

We have sought to dismantle the people smuggling trade since coming to office in September 2013. Under a military commander we adopted policies and initiatives across government to send the very strong message that we would not accept people who pay people smugglers.

As a result of the initiatives that we put in place, the statistics speak for themselves. In 2013, 300 boats sought to make their way to Australia carrying 20,000 people. We are aware that there have been 1200 deaths at sea with people seeking to come to Australia via the people smuggling trade.

Since 2014, no boats have reached Australia and there have been no deaths at sea. We now continue to work with transit countries and source countries to resolve this problem.

JOURNALIST Some of those policies could hold out a lesson Europe then would you think?

JULIE BISHOP These are matters for individual member states and for the European Union to take as a region.

We offer our experience but it is for individual governments and regions to determine what they believe will work, but it will require significant political will. These are difficult issues. But I make the point, there is nothing humanitarian, there is nothing merciful about criminal networks luring people to their deaths by putting them on unseaworthy boats and forcing them to undertake dangerous journeys at sea.

JOURNALIST Have you heard anything about the MH17 since you've been here?

JULIE BISHOP I attended a meeting in the Netherlands at The Hague recently and there were representatives from all of the nations who had citizens onboard MH17. We are part of the Joint Investigation Team with the Netherlands, Belgium and Malaysia and that investigation is continuing.

I understand that the Dutch Safety Board will hand down their technical report in October, but in the meantime the Joint Investigation Team is carrying out its work. The next step will of course be, should the evidence be obtained, to undertake a consideration of the prosecutions to bring the perpetrators to justice.

I've had some very positive discussions with the Foreign Ministers of other countries affected as to what kind of framework we could put in place.

JOURNALIST Australia is part of the anti-Islamic State coalition. Is there any possibility that the Coalition's operations could be extended to target the Islamic State in Libya do you think?

JULIE BISHOP Australia has responded to an invitation of the Iraqi Government to support its efforts to build capacity and capability within the Iraqi security forces.

We do not contemplate extending our commitment beyond Iraq, as we are there at the invitation and the consent of the Iraqi Government.

We are also providing support to air strikes in Iraq. Some of those members of the coalition are also undertaking air strikes in Syria.

Our role is confined to military training. We have recently agreed to be part of an initiative called Building Partner Capacity and we will be responsible for the training element in Taji which is an area north of Baghdad, but that is the extent of our role

JOURNALIST Are you concerned about the destabilisation of Afghanistan given that the Taliban announced a new offensive and there's signs the Islamic State may be gaining a presence there.

JULIE BISHOP I visited Kabul earlier this year and I was informed of the potential for Da'esh, as we call it, to extend its influence into Afghanistan through extremist elements in the Taliban.

I fear that these predictions may be coming to reality and that's why it's so important for NATO and Australia to maintain the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan. Our work there is not yet done.

This new threat of a connection between Da'esh and extremist elements in the Taliban is deeply concerning. It was a matter we have discussed with other participants in the Coalition in Iraq during my visit here.

Media enquiries