Sky News AM Agenda, Canberra - interview with Kieran Gilbert

  • Transcript, E&OE

KIERANGILBERTMinister you'vespoken with your colleague Peter Dutton. What's the update this morning?

JULIEBISHOPPeter Dutton has had a meeting with UNHigh Commissioner for Refugees Guterres overnight in Paris. His is meeting withmore officials today and also the International Organisation of Migration todiscuss the numbers, the groups of people that we would be able to take and theprocess of resettling them.

Australiawill play its part but it has got to be part of an international response. Noone country can do this alone. No one region can do this alone. That's why I'malso in contact with counterpart Foreign Ministers to ascertain what they aredoing, that includes countries in the Gulf, in the Middle East, not just thewestern European countries.

KIERANGILBERTAre you inclined toan increase in the overall intake? Even if it is just a temporary increase tohelp relieve the burden because I know, as you say, not one country can do itbut obviously Australian has to play a part where possible.

JULIEBISHOPThere are also different groups ofpeople fleeing from Syria. There are some who are seeking temporary safe havenand want to return home when it is safe to do so. There are others who believethat they would be persecuted whatever the outcome of the conflict in Syria andthey are looking for permanent resettlement. We are looking at what we can do.

Australiadoes resettlement very well, that is we take people permanently but weimmediately provide them with support, with services, health, education andthis is all done through our Social Services Department. So we do this exceedinglywell but we are also looking at a question of whether or not temporary safehaven, like we did in the case of Kosovo, would be an option but we areconsidering these matters and it will be the subject of Cabinet discussion.

KIERANGILBERTAnd also thepossibility of an increase overall? Even if it is a one off?

JULIEBISHOPThese are matters that we will discussin Cabinet. I don't want to pre-empt any discussion that the Prime Minister haswith Peter Dutton but most certainly we are considering a number of options andlikewise I'm considering an increase in the humanitarian aid that we haveprovided to Syria. Already about $156 million, $40 million of it to got to theUN High Commissioner for Refugees to enable these processes of looking at thedifferent groups who are seeking resettlement or seeking safe haven and doingour part.

KIERANGILBERTWhen you talk aboutthe minorities and the people who might be persecuted if they return, when youlook at the Syrian situation I guess that is quite a long list when you thinkabout the Assad regime persecuting other fellow Muslims, they're the Alowite ofcourse, they've persecuted everyone.

JULIEBISHOPThe Assad regime is an Alawite, Shiaoffshoot, but it is a Sunni majority but they are also Kurds, Christians,Assyrians, Jews, and then in Iraq, because this is essentially one theatre ofwar, it is a Shia majority so the Sunnis are a minority and claim persecutionfrom time to time but there are also Christians, Maronites, Yazidis, Mandeansand so there a number of different groups that believe that they have beenpersecuted over many years and a number of them have been in camps for manyyears.

I was inLebanon and Jordan last year, I met with the UNHCR and the InternationalOrganisation of Migration, went to a registration centre, talked with peopleand the stories vary, different people are looking for different solutions towhat is a humanitarian crisis.

KIERANGILBERTSo when you say thepersecuted, for example, it is not just the Christians, it could be any one ofthose religions or sects that are being persecuted?

JULIEBISHOPThere are ethnic and religious minoritiesin both Syria and Iraq who claim to be persecuted and we are certainlyfocussing on women and children, families who have been in these camps on theborder of Lebanon and Jordan, now Turkey, are really bearing the brunt of thisand so we will be focussing on taking people from those camps.

KIERANGILBERTI want to ask youabout some comments made by the Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi. He says that theimage of the drowned toddler has been used to evoke emotion. He says the boy'sdeath was not related to the crisis in Syria because the family had been livingin Turkey for years. He also says that there is, at this stage, I don't believeany need for the hundreds of thousands of people to be ditching their ID andtrying to get into Europe for reasons of safety because many have been verysafely ensconced working and housed in places like Turkey. What do you make ofhis intervention where he says it's an opportunistic cycle that we are seeingin part at the moment?

JULIEBISHOPWell clearly we will be gettinginformation from the UN High Commissioner on Refugees and the InternationalOrganisation of Migration. They make the assessments. We work in partnershipwith them and they provide us with names and access to people who they believerequire resettlement in Australia. We work very closely with them and those whomight be opportunistic would obviously not meet the criteria of the UNHCR.

KIERANGILBERTBut the vast bulk,surely, can't be described in that context? It is offensive, isn't it, for amember of our upper house, in the safe confines of this building saying thatpeople are being opportunistic when they are fleeing the circumstances of whichyou are talking about?

JULIEBISHOPI don't believe he could be referringto people leaving Syria. The conflict in Syria is appalling. The Assad regimeis accused of using chemical weapons against civilian populations, theterrorist organisations are accused of the most barbaric and brutal actsagainst civilian populations and they have taken over swathes of the Syrianborder region, the al-Raqqa province. There is another terrorist organisation -al Nusra Front - that is carrying out attacks on civilian populations, theKhorasan Group is another group operating within Syria and then we have theconflict in Iraq, it is one theatre of war, so people fleeing from Syria arefleeing from the most diabolical circumstances.

KIERANGILBERTYou've been to someof these camps. Can you blame individuals who have been, as Cory Bernardidescribes it, safely ensconced?They might be safe but these camps arehorrific in some parts like Lebanon where there is more than 1.2 millionrefugees just from Syria alone, they're in Jordan as well. Can you blame themfor wanting to get a better life for their children if they are in these camps?

JULIEBISHOPIn Lebanon people have been fleeingfrom Syria for some time. A number of them are living with family and friends,in communities, but others are in camps. Of course, life in a camp is no picnicat all and so these are very challenging circumstances for us to deal with. AsI say, no one country can do it. It requires a collective global effort andAustralia will be part of that.

KIERANGILBERTBut does it frustrateyou that one of your own colleagues, a member of the Liberal Party [inaudible]an opportunistic cycle, when surely the vast bulk here are genuine refugeesfleeing violence and persecution?

JULIEBISHOPKieran, I focus on the task at hand,and that is to calibrate Australia's response, speak to my Cabinet colleaguesabout this. Obviously the Prime Minister has the lead on this and he is workingdirectly with Peter Dutton to ascertain what we can do. We have a very generousresettlement program already and people confuse resettlement with safe haven.There are many people who may want to go back to Syria and Iraq when theconflict is over or when they believe it is safe to do so. It is their home, itis where they want to be. There are others who believe they must leavepermanently and want to seek permanent residence in other countries andAustralia will do its fair share.

KIERANGILBERTCan we turn to theair strikes, obviously the Prime Minister spoke about refugees but also usingforce to try and beat the so-called Islamic State.

JULIEBISHOPWe want to be part of the solution. Wecan look to the cause of the conflict and that is the Assad regime, and thereis a process in place, the Geneva Communique, which is looking at a politicalsettlement. Australia supports that. That was a settlement proposed in 2012 andwe've been a very vocal supporter of that to put in place a transnational andtransitional government in Syria. But there is also the terrorist organisationthat has to be defeated because it is carrying out these evil terrorist attackson civilian populations. We are part of the Coalition in Iraq and we've beenasked to take part in Syria and that's the subject of consideration by ourNational Security Committee this week.

KIERANGILBERTAnd that's likelytoday as I understand it?

JULIEBISHOPIt will be sometime this week.

KIERANGILBERTIn terms of justfinally on that, the British have, the British Prime Minister has confirmedthat they've taken part in air strikes that have killed two of their citizens.You could well be in a situation where the same thing happens.

JULIEBISHOPThere are Australians who are fightingwith this terrorist organisation overseas, that is a breach of Australian law,but it also means they are putting their own lives in mortal danger. Fightingwith a terrorist organisation in the middle of conflict is a recipe for themost disastrous outcome.

KIERANGILBERTMinister thanks foryour time.


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