RN Breakfast - Interview with Fran Kelly

  • Transcript, E&OE
27 July 2017

FRAN KELLY: Terrorism and trade will feature prominently in top level security talks between Australia and the United Kingdom in Sydney today. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Defence Minister Marise Payne are hosting their British counterparts, Boris Johnson and Sir Michael Fallon. This annual meeting coincides with the new assessment by the Pentagon that North Korea will have nuclear-armed long-range missiles capable of hitting Australia and the US as early as next year.

Julie Bishop, welcome back to RN Breakfast.

JULIE BISHOP: Good morning, Fran. Great to be with you.

FRAN KELLY: Julie Bishop, the Pentagon's defence intelligence agency has concluded that Pyongyang will have possession of a reliable nuclear capable intercontinental ballistic missile by next year. That's a couple of years earlier than we anticipated isn't it? Why is North Korea so much more advanced than we thought?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, this report that North Korea is more advanced in developing the capability to launch a nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile that could achieve capacity by 2018 is obviously deeply concerning and I can't confirm whether that assessment is accurate at this stage, but I can say this - North Korea has the clear intention to develop a nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States and therefore capable of reaching Australia. It's constantly advancing its nuclear missile programs and even a failed missile test provides it with useful data to enhance its capability. Our position is this - North Korea has shown that it has no regard for the welfare of its own population, no regard for the security and good relations with its neighbours in its region, no regard for international law. It's flouting UN Security Council resolutions. Such a country cannot be allowed to acquire a long range nuclear capability and capacity.

FRAN KELLY: And yet it is - and yet it is - and before I get to what can be done about that, I'm just wondering if you believe that Northern Australia is vulnerable to a potential strike and is our government drawing up contingency plans for that?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, I can't confirm whether that assessment - that it will achieve capacity by 2018 if left unchecked - is accurate. But of course we've been concerned for some time about nuclear capability in North Korea and that's why we've been standing with the region and calling for North Korea to cease its provocative action, to ban its nuclear missile programs and instead use its national resources to advance the welfare of its impoverished people. And that's why we're supporting the United States in calling for China to deploy its undoubted economic leverage over North Korea. There's much more that China can do. So Australia is co-sponsoring UN Security Council resolutions, we are placing further sanctions on North Korea, we're continually refining our autonomous sanctions because we're trying to prevent North Korea from advancing any further.

FRAN KELLY: In terms of China's influence, I mean Malcolm Turnbull himself after he met with President Xi Jinping at the G20 basically said that Xi Jinping told him that China's influence over North Korea is not as great as others assert. If China doesn't hold the answer who does, what then?

JULIE BISHOP: Well in fact China is North Korea's major financial backer. It has much more leverage over North Korea than it claims. The export relationship with North Korea, the provision of remittances to workers, the foreign investment flows, the technology flows - these are all in China's hands. There's much more that China can do and that's why we've been supporting other states in calling on China to review its sanctions because we're continually refining our autonomous sanctions to better target all businesses and individuals associated with North Korea's ballistic missile and nuclear programs. China can do the same and would have much more impact given the depth of its financial engagement with North Korea.

FRAN KELLY: Before I leave this and come to your talks today, signals have been picked up apparently that North Korea is planning another test, perhaps as early as today which is a national holiday in North Korea, it's called Victory Day, transporter erector launches, carrying ICBM launch tubes have been seen arriving in Kusong where missiles have been launched from before. Are you getting this information, this intelligence?

JULIE BISHOP: We are receiving these reports and the Australian Government's position is to ensure that no hostile power has the capacity to pose an existential threat to Australia and that's why we're taking these threats very seriously and working with other like-minded nations to ensure that there is peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula. And a North Korea with a medium and long rage nuclear capacity would be highly destabilising for the entire region and would represent not only a threat to our region but a threat to the globe.

FRAN KELLY: Speaking of other like-minded nations, today you sit down with Boris Johnson and Michael Fallon and Marise Payne, Australia's Defence Minister of course. The UK right in the middle of a difficult exit process from the EU, will Australia be seeking assurance that this exit- this process of Brexit won't represent an international retreat by the UK and particularly in the context of global security?

JULIE BISHOP: Well you're right, Fran. I'm meeting with Boris Johnson again today. I had a long meeting with him yesterday and Marise Payne met with her counterpart Defence Minister yesterday as well, Sir Michael Fallon. So we've already discussed our bilateral relationship in some depth. Today we'll be talking about how Australia and the UK can work together as like-minded nations in a time of global uncertainty and instability.

In relation to Brexit, the United Kingdom has made it clear that it will embrace a Global Britain strategy. In other words, post-Brexit, the United Kingdom intends to engage deeply around the world, where it has interests, where it has priorities. We are particularly keen to engage the United Kingdom more deeply in our region. In the Pacific, where we can work together on development assistance and economic growth and security. In Southeast Asia, where Britain has considerable interests. So we're talking about a more engaged Britain, post its exit from the European Union.

FRAN KELLY: You're listening to RN Breakfast, it's eighteen minutes to eight, our guest is Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Minister, yesterday we spoke with Gillian Triggs on her final day as President of the Human Rights Commission. She was very critical of the Coalition Government's record when it comes to human rights. Let's have a listen. [Excerpt]

GILLION TRIGGS: I think it's partly because we have a Government that's ideologically opposed to human rights and I think it's exacerbated by the distance of most Australians from where these problems are actually most visible. [End of excerpt].

FRAN KELLY: So the Government ideologically opposed to human rights. She went on to say that human rights of women, asylum seekers, the homeless and Indigenous Australians have all regressed over the last five years.

Australia is now a shoe in to win a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. How can we serve with any distinction when the outgoing Human Rights Commissioner says the Government's fundamentally opposed to human rights?

JULIE BISHOP: Well it's a totally misguided statement. I've been talking to foreign ministers and prime ministers and leaders around the world, about Australia's credentials to take a place on the United Nations Human Rights Council. This was a decision of the Turnbull Government, to seek to put our credentials on the line, and to serve on the UN Human Rights Council. And I have been overwhelmed by the support - over 140 written pledges, and let me put that in context. We got about 120 written pledges when we won the campaign - when the Labor Government won the campaign - to get on the UN Security Council - we won that overwhelmingly.

So to get over 140 written pledges at this point, is an acknowledgement by the international community that Australia, as an open, liberal democracy, that supports freedom of the individual, gender equality, individual liberty, and is home to some 865,000 refugees since the Second World War - one of the most successful multicultural nations on earth - that this is a country that the overwhelming number of nations wanted to see on the UN Human Rights Council.

FRAN KELLY: And yet just earlier this week we've seen the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, basically questioning the trustworthy of our Government. He's made extraordinary criticism - this is Filippo Grandi - he said he had a clear understanding that vulnerable refugees who are on Nauru and Manus with relatives here in Australia would be allowed to settle. And it's now saying - UNHCR now says - immigration officials helped interview refugees on Nauru and Manus for possible family reunions here in Australia and more than 30 had been identified as candidates for resettlement. Now the Government says they made no such agreement, but why would he say this if it wasn't true?

JULIE BISHOP: Well Fran, my understanding is that our policy, our public and private pronouncements have been clear and consistent. Those who arrive via the people smuggling trade and are transferred to regional processing centres, will not be settled in Australia. Now this is the position that's been integral to the success of what we called Operation Sovereign Borders, which brought to an end the disastrous and dangerous policies of the Labor Party that resulted in 50,000 people seeking to come to Australian via criminal networks, and tragically 1200 deaths that we know of at sea, and our strategy addressed all parts of that problem.

Now, we've increased our refugee and humanitarian intake since the success of Operation Sovereign Borders. There hasn't been a successful people smuggling venture in three years …

FRAN KELLY: [Interrupts] Sure, but the UNHCR says we basically lied.

JULIE BISHOP: … and we've resettled an additional 12,000 persecuted minorities from Syria and Iraq, and much of this resettlement was done in cooperation with UNHCR. So look, we acknowledge the UNHCR's commitment to refer transferees to the United States. It's an expression of their will to continue to work with Australia, and we are one of the top three resettlement partners of the UNHCR. So we've long embraced those fleeing conflict and persecution and those in need of humanitarian support and we have one of the most generous and compassionate resettlement programs in the world.

FRAN KELLY: Okay. Minister, can I just ask you finally and briefly? Matt Canavan, on the issue of duel citizen, his explanation, he didn't know his mother signed him up. There's a report today, an applicant doesn't have to sign the form, but there are also experts in Italian immigration law who say it's impossible for an adult to be signed up without their knowledge. Labor is calling for the Italian Consulate to release the relevant documents. Would that help clear things up? Would that be a good idea?

JULIE BISHOP: Well I understand that the Government has taken advice form the Solicitor General, that the Attorney General is in the process of taking some advice from experts in Italian citizenship law, and my understanding is that it's the Government's preliminary view that because the registration was obtained without Senator Canavan's knowledge or consent, that he's not in breach of Section 44 of the Constitution, but I know Senator Canavan is seeking advice so I can't add any more to it at this stage.

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

JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure, Fran.

FRAN KELLY: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

Media enquiries