Sky News AM Agenda, Canberra - interview with Kieran Gilbert
KIERAN GILBERT: First this half hour I'm joined by the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.
Minister thanks for your time. I want to show our viewers first of all a shot of the Government Caucus Room where MPs have barricaded themselves and it's understood the Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in this room as well. Now you had some contact, I understand, with the Foreign Minister as these events were taking place?
JULIE BISHOP:Good morning Kieran.
At about 4am this morning I sent a text message to Foreign Minister John Baird. I knew that Parliament House in Ottawa was in lockdown and I made contact with John Baird. He sent me a text back saying he was in Parliament House at that moment. It was in lockdown. He was about 50 feet away from the gunman when he was shot and that the body was lying just outside the door where he was and they were safe, but clearly very shaken by what is a shocking incident. This is grim news indeed.
KIERAN GILBERT: We spoke to one of the reporters in Ottawa who said to us that if the gunmen had turned left instead of running down that Hall of Honour to the library building then he would have ended up in the Government Caucus Room with the senior Canadian Government figures all in the room. It could have been, it seems, a lot worse.
JULIE BISHOP:The Parliament was sitting. Both the major parties were holding their party room meetings, as we do on Tuesdays here. So both parties were holding their party room meetings. The Prime Minister Stephen Harper was there, he was in the party room, as were the Cabinet Ministers and when this occurred Prime Minister Harper was taken into safe custody but the Members of Parliament who were barricaded in those rooms must have been very frightened. It must have been a terrifying experience for them.
KIERAN GILBERT: You've spoken to our High Commissioner.
JULIE BISHOP:Louise Hand.
KIERAN GILBERT: She's only two blocks away from Parliament House.
JULIE BISHOP:That's right, the Australian High Commission is within walking distance. It's in the precinct and this was cordoned-off by the authorities straight after the attack on the soldier at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Parliament House incident. And so our High Commission has been in lockdown as well. All staff are safe. They've only just been able to leave, according to the authorities. They can leave on foot because busses and public transport have been diverted away from that area. So it's been a pretty shocking time for Canadians generally, but particularly for those who are in Ottawa.
KIERAN GILBERT: Minister, another soldier was killed yesterday. The Canadian authorities aren't saying this was a terrorist attack yet but it coincides with the week that the Canadian Parliament authorised the deployment of fighter jets and other military personnel to Iraq. It does appear at this stage that it is linked.
JULIE BISHOP:The Canadian authorities haven't made that link. They haven't described it as a terrorist attack, however, it does have the hallmarks of a terrorist attack. The incident in Quebec, which was an attack on Canadian armed forces. The incident today, the attack on the War Memorial and a soldier guarding the War Memorial, and then on the Parliament but for some time terrorist organisations like ISIL or Da'esh, as they are called in the Middle East, have been threatening countries like Australia and Canada and the United States - anyone who opposes their murderous and brutal ideology. And they have been specifically threatening institutions like parliaments. So this is something that these murderous, barbaric, crazy people have been threatening for some time. Now the authorities haven't made the connection, but it does have the hallmarks.
KIERAN GILBERT: Very similar contributions to the fight against ISIL from Canada to ours, half a dozen fighter jets, two patrol planes, a refuelling jet, I think it was 600 personnel. So very much comparable to our deployment. I guess our security situation around our Parliament is very different though. Has Canada lost its innocence I guess in this incident?
JULIE BISHOP:We work very closely with Canada on defence and security and intelligence issues. We are longstanding friends and partners and we have similar outlooks on foreign policy, defence issues and Canada has been a very dear friend of Australia. We fought together in wars. We've been together in many difficult and challenging situations.
Our High Commissioner did say that this had really shocked the Canadian people because it is a peace-loving nation. They're wonderful people, great friends of ours. Indeed Prime Minister Abbott was there in June. He met Prime Minister Harper in the Hall of Honour where this violent incident took place today so it really does bring it home to us. And of course Prime Minister Harper addressed our Parliament not so long ago and they are great friends of ours. So our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Canada and of course the family and friends of the soldier that was killed at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
KIERAN GILBERT: I want to ask you about the reaction from Australian security agencies, because as I entered Parliament this morning there did seem to be a few extra precautions taken at the advice of agencies. Your National Security Committee, the Prime Minister's National Security Committee of which you're a member will be meeting today as I understand it?
JULIE BISHOP:That's right. Yes we will meet to discuss this incident, of course it's a matter of concern to us. We did increase our general security level recently from medium to high as a result of advice we've received from intelligence agencies. Not about any specific threat, but just generally. We have increased security around specific areas including Parliament House. But we are generally focussing on protecting the safety of Australian citizens and so security is a high priority for us.
We want to ensure that the Australian people are safe and secure and we're doing all that is humanly possible to ensure that that's the case. And this includes taking on the issue of foreign fighters – young people who have been radicalised, who have been turned into extremists in their thinking, their ideology and in some instances even leaving Australia and going overseas to take up with terrorist organisations in Iraq and Syria. It's dangerous, they risk their lives, they are likely to be killed and we are urging communities, religious leaders, parents, teachers, people of influence to embrace young people and try to prevent them from taking up with these radical terrorist organisations.
KIERAN GILBERT: Well on that issue, the foreign fighters, which of course was the main focus of the UN Security Council meeting which the Prime Minister attended, and of course which you were heavily involved in as well with Secretary of State Kerry. The number of Canadian foreign fighters, as I understand it is about 130, with ISIL and likeminded groups. That's again very comparable to our numbers isn't it?
JULIE BISHOP:Yes it's chillingly comparable. About 130 – 140, similar numbers in Australia – we believe about 160, similar numbers from Indonesia, from countries in our region. We believe that there are thousands of foreign fighters from countries going to Iraq and Syria to take up with ISIL and that's why we're so determined to support the Iraqi Government so that its defence forces can take back the territory claimed by ISIL and can combat the organisation, disrupt it, degrade it, destroy it. Our air strikes are having an impact.
I was in Baghdad as you know over the weekend, and I was informed by the US Commander there that the air strikes are having a significant impact. Australia is involved with them and now we've cleared the way for our Special Forces to be deployed to assist them and help them and train them so they can work against this organisation that has threatened their entire population.
KIERAN GILBERT: On that meeting that you had and the framework that's been signed, can you explain to us what is that legal apparatus. Is it a Status of Forces Agreement, or what does it constitute?
JULIE BISHOP:Well our soldiers aren't going in as combat troops, it's not a Status of Forces Agreement in that sense. It is an agreement that enables us to deploy our Special Forces to Iraq for the purposes of advising and assisting Iraqi Defence Forces, so that's the status of the agreement and now Defence is going through the administrative and logistical matters that must be attended to so they can be there. But I won't go into any further details. We don't disclose operational matters when our soldiers are going into such a complex and challenging conflict situation.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay, that's understandable. Finally, while you were there, there were reports emanating from Iraq from militia leaders, who were essentially saying – these are militias fighting ISIL, Shia militia - saying that Australia should not send troops, that they shouldn't come.
JULIE BISHOP:Well we are dealing with the elected Iraqi Government. They have sought our support, they have asked for our Special Forces to be deployed for the purposes of assisting and training and advising. The Defence Force needs that kind of support, we're prepared to give it, and the Iraqi Government, through the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, the President, the Speaker of their Parliament, expressed extreme gratitude to Australia and the Australian people for assisting them at this time.
KIERAN GILBERT: Minister, I know it's a busy time for you, I appreciate your time.
JULIE BISHOP:Thank you.