The Project, Canberra - interview with Waleed Aly, Carrie Bickmore, Peter Helliar and Steve Price
JOURNALIST Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has been negotiating with her Lebanese counterparts over the last 11 days and she joins us now. Minister, we'll get to your reflections on how those negotiations are going in a moment, but I'm just interested, when you do these negotiations behind the scenes, what does that involve? What do you actually do? What kinds of conversations do you have?
JULIE BISHOP I am in constant communication with my counterpart Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, the Foreign Minister of Lebanon, to receive updates and make suggestions, but there are legal proceedings under way in Lebanon, you will appreciate, so I have to be careful about any public statements I make, but this is what I do in cases such as this. I try to make representations in the interests of Australian citizens with authorities in the country where they're being detained. It's not the first time I've done this and I'm sure it won't be the last, but at this stage, it is about 11:30 in the morning in Beirut, I understand there will be a court appearance today and we'll be in a better position to understand the fate of those facing potential charges. As was indicated in your earlier piece, the law in Lebanon is quite different to Australian law. It's based on a French system so there have been arrests, then an investigation, and then an investigating judge determines whether or not charges will be laid and I understand we're at that stage in the proceedings.
JOURNALIST Minister, are you feeling confident of a positive outcome or are you very aware that the Lebanese Government does want to make an example here of these guys?
JULIE BISHOP I'm not aware of that but I'm certainly aware that the Australians detained have legal representation. The 60 Minutes crew and Ms Faulkner both have Lebanese lawyers acting for them and I'm sure that they are advising them of their rights and advising them throughout this whole process. The Australian Government through our Embassy in Beirut is providing consular support; we are visiting constantly and making various representations on various aspects of this case to both the political and the legal authorities in Lebanon.
JOURNALIST Minister, how are you feeling? Are you frustrated, are you angry that you've been put in this situation?
JULIE BISHOP This is the role of the Foreign Minister, to make representations on behalf of Australian citizens. I don't make judgments. What I seek to do is assist people who need help, and clearly that's the situation here. And the Australian Government has a charter that sets out the guidelines of what the Government can do in circumstances where Australians are in trouble overseas, particularly, are involved in the legal or judicial proceedings of another country.
JOURNALIST One of the issues this has unearthed is the whole idea of a child recovery operation. Do you, as Foreign Minister, have any advice for Australians just generally who might be contemplating this kind of thing.
JULIE BISHOP There is a convention, global convention – the Hague Convention on Child Abduction – and Australia is a party to that. Lebanon is not and so this compounds the situation; that in the normal course of things if two countries are party to the Hague Convention, then there are certain processes that we can follow. In the case of Lebanon, they are not a party. We do have a bilateral agreement with Lebanon, though, because for example, in this case, Lebanese law gives custody to the father, Australian law has given custody to the mother, and under this agreement we can set up a joint commission that would seek to mediate that difference between Lebanese law and Australian law, in the interests of the children. But the parents have to consent to that. We stand ready to set up such a joint commission as do the Lebanese legal authorities and political authorities, but we need the parents' consent in order to do that.
JOURNALIST Minister, good luck with those negotiations. Back home in the last few moments you now got your trigger for a double dissolution election. It was voted down again for the second time in the Senate. What does that now mean? Do we definitely have an election on the second of July?
JULIE BISHOP There already was a trigger, if you like, for a double dissolution. This is a very important piece of industrial relations legislation. There are currently 100 union officials facing about a thousand charges in courts across Australia, and it is evident through the findings of two royal commissions that the CFMEU and other unions are running riot on construction sites. That's affecting our productivity, it's affecting jobs growth and it's affecting our reputation. So it is important…
JOURNALIST I gather that means you will happily fight an election on union corruption and it'll be on the second of July, yes or no?
JULIE BISHOP That's an option available to us but we have a Budget to deliver first, so that's our priority, a Budget on the 3rd of May. We have until the 10th or 11th of May to decide whether or not we should proceed with a double dissolution election on the second of July, but our priority now is to get the third of May Budget delivered. In the meantime, I am deeply disappointed that Labor and a number of crossbench senators have voted to allow the lawlessness, corruption, intimidation and bullying to continue on construction sites across Australia.
JOURNALIST I'm not sure that's quite how they would spin it but I do appreciate your position on this. We are out of time, thank you very much for joining us.
JULIE BISHOP My pleasure.