Radio National AM - Interview with Kim Landers

  • Transcript, E&OE
14 December 2016

JOURNALIST: The Foreign Minister is Julie Bishop and she joins me on the line now. Minister, good morning.

JULIE BISHOP: Good morning.

JOURNALIST: On Aleppo, the UN says pro-Syrian Government forces have been killing people, women and children, in their homes and on the streets. What's your response?

JULIE BISHOP: The conflict between the Assad forces and the opposition forces and combined with the terrorist attacks being undertaken by a group such as ISIL has resulted in a massive humanitarian disaster in Syria. And it is still unfolding with reports, as you've indicated, of mass atrocities and mass killings. We've been calling on both sides to stop the brutal fighting, to impose a ceasefire. We've been calling for humanitarian corridors to enable civilians to leave and for humanitarian relief to be provided.

This conflict's been beset with claims and counter-claims - I have witnessed this in the meetings of the International Syria Support Group when Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov continually disputed claims of US Secretary John Kerry. And so Russia and the United States must find a way forward to stop the killing and to allow humanitarian relief to be provided to the suffering people of Aleppo.

JOURNALIST: Do you think war crimes have been committed?

JULIE BISHOP: There are reports of mass atrocities and particularly this report of people being summarily executed; they must be investigated. But this is an appalling humanitarian disaster and the conflict has to end, there must be a ceasefire. But my fear is that while ever the Assad forces believe that they can have a military win over the opposition forces, and while ever the opposition forces believe that they can have a military win over the Assad forces, this conflict will continue.

JOURNALIST: Re-capturing Aleppo would be a big battlefield victory for Syria's President Bashar al-Assad. Do you now accept that he is going to remain in power in Syria?

JULIE BISHOP: Australia has always been of the view that there was no point in trying to seek a political solution with the pre-condition that Assad must go. Australia has made that position plain, that Assad will have to remain to be a part of the political solution and the post-Assad transition, but to say that Assad must go, I'm afraid, that moment passed along time ago.

JOURNALIST: Is there any additional assistance that Australia can offer in humanitarian terms?

JULIE BISHOP: Australia has provided about $500 million in humanitarian support mainly to Syria, but also to Iraq, since 2011. We recently in Budget allocated a further $200 million. We are providing significant support. The challenge is to get that humanitarian support into Syria, into the places where it's needed such as Aleppo, and that's why we're calling on all sides to stop the fighting, to impose a ceasefire and allow these humanitarian corridors to be established so that civilians can leave and also humanitarian relief can be provided to those who need it.

JOURNALIST: The US President-elect Donald Trump has announced that he has chosen Rex Tillerson, chairman of Exxon Mobil, to be the Secretary of State. Now some Republicans have expressed concerns about his close ties to Russia. Given Russia's support of the Assad regime in Syria, is that a worry for you?

JULIE BISHOP: Well President-elect Trump has named Rex Tillerson as his nominee for Secretary of State. There's still a process that has to be gone through before Rex Tillerson can be confirmed as Secretary of State and that's the Senate confirmation hearings. But Rex Tillerson is well known to us as the head of ExxonMobil. There are many Australians who work with him. He would have probably one of the best contact lists in the world and he as a head of a multinational corporation would have a considerably deeper understanding of multinational affairs…

JOURNALIST: [Interrupts] But with all those business links- with all those business links though what do you think his approach would be when it comes to issues like a war in Syria?

JULIE BISHOP: Well first he has to be confirmed by the Senate and so I think it would be wise to wait until Rex Tillerson has been through the confirmation process and then should he be confirmed as a Secretary of State, we'll be engaging closely with him on his policy positions on a whole range of issues including Syria.

JOURNALIST: He's openly talked about his support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. So could he perhaps help persuade Donald Trump not to abandon it?

JULIE BISHOP: Well I can assure you that we have been assiduously going through his speeches and statements that he's made over many years in public life. And as I said earlier there are many Australians who have worked with him in ExxonMobil. Of course ExxonMobil have investments in Australia, in the Bass Strait, in the Gorgon field in northwest Australia. They are the major investor in PNG, in the LNG/PNG project. So he knows Australia and PNG and our region well and we will seek to engage with him should he be the nominee and confirmed by the Senate for Secretary of State, we will certainly engage with him on a whole range of issues including our bilateral relationship, our regional policies and global affairs.

JOURNALIST: There's speculation in The Australian newspaper today of a possible ministerial reshuffle. The Defence Minister Marise Payne has been ill. Could Christopher Pyne take over that portfolio?

JULIE BISHOP: Marise Payne is returning to work. She was present at meetings yesterday via video. She's had surgery. She's recovering from surgery, but I am confident that she'll be fully back at work as soon as possible. And I've been contacting her on a regular basis and she's been doing a fine job and she'll continue to do so as far as I'm concerned.

JOURNALIST: Any hints that any of your other colleagues for example the Attorney-General George Brandis, Nigel Scullion the Aboriginal Affairs Minister might be moving on?

JULIE BISHOP: Look any reshuffle is a matter for the Prime Minister. But I believe that we have a very good cabinet. Everybody's doing a great job and working extraordinarily hard in the national interest and our focus is on ensuring that we deliver on our election commitments which we are doing and that we continue to promote policies that drive economic growth and prosperity and job opportunities.

JOURNALIST: Are you seeking a domestic portfolio?

JULIE BISHOP: I saw that article in The Australian this morning. Let me deal with this very quickly. As the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party it is convention that I am free to choose my own portfolio. I chose Foreign Affairs and I intend to remain in Foreign Affairs.

KIM LANDERS: Minister, thank you very much for speaking with AM.

JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.

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