Radio National Breakfast, Canberra - interview with Fran Kelly

  • Transcript, E&OE

FRAN KELLY Julie Bishop, good morning. Welcome to Breakfast.

JULIE BISHOP Good morning Fran.

FRAN KELLY It was a year ago today that you were sitting in your Commonwealth Offices in Sydney watching footage of pro-Russian separatists picking through the crash site in Eastern Ukraine. Do you recall what was going through your mind on that day, at that moment?

JULIE BISHOP I remember an overwhelming sense of revulsion at the sight of the separatists picking through the luggage of the innocent passengers and crew on board MH17 and being absolutely determined to do all I could, as part of the Australian Government, to retrieve the bodies and remains and belongings of the Australians on board that flight and to ensure that there was an investigation into the cause of it and to hold those accountable to justice, and that feeling is as strong today as it was then.

Indeed the release of some video footage this morning, which I can't verify as to its authenticity, but nevertheless it appears to be consistent with what we saw 12 months ago, just adds to my determination to ensure that we can set up an Independent Criminal Tribunal to ensure that those responsible for this are held to account, but also to ensure that this doesn't happen again where a civilian airline, in civilian airspace can be shot down from the skies.

FRAN KELLY Now the Dutch Safety Board has circulated a draft investigative report to numerous aviation agencies around the world, including Australia's. It reportedly comes to the conclusion it was pro-Russian rebels responsible, pinpoints where the missile was fired from, who was in control of the territory at the time. But are we any closer to identifying who was responsible, the individuals responsible?

JULIE BISHOP Fran, I have not seen a draft of that report, neither has anyone from the Government other than the Australian Transport Safety Bureau who were accredited to the Dutch Safety Board-led investigation and they were required by international law not to release the content of it until it is publicly released and I understand that to be sometime in October. So I can't verify the suggested findings and I don't want to pre-empt it either. What...

FRAN KELLY [Interrupting] My point is if we don't know names of individuals, what can a tribunal possibly achieve?

JULIE BISHOP Well I don't know that. We don't know the names of the perpetrators because the report hasn't been made public. There are obviously many details that have been gathered over the last 12 months. And I understand it was a very thorough, careful, detailed investigation involving many countries, many witnesses, eyewitness accounts. They retrieved the wreckage of the plane, it has been reconstructed in the Netherlands so that they can determine how it occurred and I understand that there will be a very detailed report. So once we have that report I want it to be able to be sent immediately to an International Criminal Tribunal. That is why we are calling upon the United Nations Security Council to establish such an Independent Criminal Tribunal.

There have been examples in the past where these ad hoc tribunals have been set up, as in the case of Lebanon, former Yugoslavia, Rwanda. So we believe this is an issue that goes to international peace and security, the safety of civil aviation in this world today. And given that the UN Security Council became seized of the matter 12 months ago we passed unanimously resolution 2166, I believe that the Security Council must also support the establishment of an Independent Criminal Tribunal so that the report from the board can go directly to that prosecution framework and prosecutions can begin without delay.

FRAN KELLY All the early signs aren't good. The Russian leader Vladimir Putin has said again a tribunal would be premature, could be counterproductive. If they veto it what then? What avenue to try and find justice for the families of those who died?

JULIE BISHOP We will continue to work with each and every member of the Security Council, the permanent and the non-permanent members. Russia backed the Security Council resolution 2166 12 months ago on the 21st of July in 2014 and we will continue to appeal to Russia to establish the framework now.

We don't want to politicise it and wait until the report comes out and starts pointing the finger or blaming certain parties and then people react because of the findings of the report. We want to distance it from the actual release of the report and set up the process, the procedure, the framework now so it can't be said to have been politicised by the findings of the report.

FRAN KELLY As you say, the UN Security Council was seized of this matter a year ago. We heard yesterday from a spokesman from the OSCE in Europe Michael Bociurkiw that a ceasefire in Eastern Ukraine is not holding, civilians are still being killed, they are being forced out of their homes. He said the OSCE have monitored as many as 2000 explosions around Donetsk in a week, concentrations of weapons are being seen near train tracks. Have efforts by the international community to end this conflict failed?

JULIE BISHOP This is an ongoing tragedy and it is hard to believe that 12 months on after this atrocity of the downing of MH17 and our calls for a ceasefire at that time so our investigators could get onto the site, that 12 months on this conflict is still raging. It seems that the Minsk II agreement is not holding but we are supporting Ukraine in non-lethal provision of equipment.

The United States, European countries are supporting Ukraine and the international community continues to call on Russia to withdraw its support from the separatists, from the rebels who are fighting the Ukrainian army in Eastern Ukraine. We respect Ukraine's sovereignty. We do not recognise the annexation of Crimea. We certainly don't recognise any separatist movement in Eastern Ukraine as having any legitimacy at all.

FRAN KELLY Minister this week six world major powers signed the historic deal with Iran on this nuclear program. Some commenters say it will also have the potential to change the status quo, easing long term tensions between Tehran and the West. Do you expect diplomatic relations will be normalised in the near future between Iran and one of its harshest critics and fiercest enemies, the US?

JULIE BISHOP I believe that this is going to take a long time, that is the implantation of the P5 + 1 agreement with Iran, will take some considerable period of time in order for each step to be verified. So I don't expect there to be immediate reactions in terms of lifting of sanctions or resumption of diplomatic ties. What has to happen is for Iran to comply with its side of the agreement and there has to be verification of each and every step of its nuclear program.

FRAN KELLY That has proved testing in the past in North Korea and Iraq. What chance of success do you give the monitoring regime?

JULIE BISHOP We have to welcome the progress that has been made by the P5 + 1 agreement and we are cautious about welcoming the agreement of course because of past history, but we have to give it a chance. There is no credible alternative, there is no other option available to us to temper or limit or freeze Iran's nuclear program so we will back this, but it will be up to Iran to fully implement its side of the bargain and Australia has imposed autonomous sanctions on Iran in relation to its nuclear program. We will consider those sanctions in the light of Iran's compliance with each and every aspect of this agreement.

FRAN KELLY Will other factors play into our decision on that? You travelled to Iran earlier this year to negotiate a deal on the repatriation of Iranian asylum seekers whose claims have been rejected here in Australia. A deal is reportedly close between our two countries. Are you confident that Iran will agree that Australia can send home some of these failed asylum seekers?

JULIE BISHOP The signs have been promising, that is the reason I went to Tehran. We have over 8000 Iranians in detention in Australia, 300 on Manus Island and 300 in Nauru and a number of them have been found not to be genuine refugees. This is a consequence of Labor's weakening of our border protection laws. So I went to Tehran to try and clean up the mess and see if Tehran would accept back Iranians.

FRAN KELLY If they do will that play into our deliberations over lifting autonomous sanctions?

JULIE BISHOP They are separate issues but the Iranians sent some senior officials, a delegation of senior officials to continue talks. That was promising so we are continuing to work with Iran to see how we can send back those who have been found not to be genuine refugees and there is some promise there but I haven't connected the two, I have not connected the P5 + 1 agreement with the issue of the return of failed asylum seeker claims to Iran.

FRAN KELLY If Iran agrees that Australia can send back some of these rejected asylum seekers will there by monitoring, ongoing any steps taken by Australia to ensure these people are safe on their return?

JULIE BISHOP Yes we would continue to monitor their safety on return. We would seek assurances from Iran. This has happened in the past when Phillip Ruddock was Immigration Minister, I think it was about in 2003, we were able to return Iranian asylum seekers who had been found not to be genuine refugees. So there is precedent and we would continue to follow that.

FRAN KELLY Can I just ask you finally on another issue, the Federal Government has been founding programs on social cohesion in the wake of the growing concern over home grown terrorism and radicalisation. Yesterday, the Deputy Commissioner of New South Wales police Nick Kaldas told a conference on social cohesion that far right extremists and marches that encouraged divisive notions of us and them are some of the biggest challenges facing the police force in New South Wales. Now your Federal colleague George Christensen has announced he will attend a Reclaim Australia rally on Sunday. Reclaim Australia is one of those groups that police have some concerns with. Is that appropriate for a Federal politician to join in one of those rallies?

JULIE BISHOP Fran as you know we have freedom of speech, freedom of assembly in this country and each Member of Parliament will be held accountable for their actions. The issue…

FRAN KELLY [Interrupting] do you have a view on it? Is it a wise judgment?

JULIE BISHOP I don't know anything about the organisation, I certainly haven't been briefed on it. I've been briefed intensively and extensively on Islamic extremism and other threats to national security but I can certainly say that the security forces in Australia, our intelligence agencies are keeping a very close eye on any form of extremism. We have about 400 people currently under surveillance, posing high national security risks to our country.

FRAN KELLY Are some of those far right extremists?

JULIE BISHOP Not as far as I'm aware but we are determined to ensure Australians are safe from terrorism, that we are safe from any form of extremism that leads to violence or leads to terrorist attacks. And that's why the Australian Government has spent so much time and money and effort on reaching out to communities and seeking to understand the reasons why young Australians for example, would join a terrorist organisation like Da'esh and seek to fight in Iraq and Syria. This is a significant national security issue and we are taking it exceedingly seriously.

FRAN KELLY Julie Bishop, thank you very much for joining us.

JULIE BISHOP My pleasure.

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