Sky News AM Agenda - Interview with Kieran Gilbert

  • Transcript, E&OE

KIERAN GILBERT The family of Reece Harding are in shock after being told he was killed at the weekend. For more on this we are live to Auckland, the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop joins me.

Foreign Minister have you got any information on this case?

JULIE BISHOP Good morning Kieran.

We do have reports about this matter but because we don't have a consular presence in Syria it is very difficult for us to confirm these reports. If true it does highlight the significant dangers that await any Australian citizen who wants to take part in the conflict in either Syria or Iraq or both and for or against Da'esh, this terrorist organisation. So we are working to verify these reports but it is very difficult as we don't have a consular presence in Syria, we don't have an Embassy in Damascus.

KIERAN GILBERT I know the Government urges people not to enter that region at all, but it is a very different thing, isn't it to be fighting and supporting the Kurds, allies in this fight, as opposed to the barbarians of the so-called Islamic State?

JULIE BISHOP That's right Kieran, however it is against Australian law for any Australians to fight in this conflict on either side and we have also identified zones in Syria and Iraq – Al-Raqqah province in Syria and Mosul district in Iraq that are 'no-go' zones for any Australians, they cannot be there without a legitimate purpose, for example, a humanitarian worker or for family reasons. And so it is against Australian law to be fighting in Syria and Iraq on either side and being in these proclaimed areas which are 'no-go' zones for Australians because they are of course the headquarters of Da'esh, this terrorist organisation in Syria and Iraq.

KIERAN GILBERT When it comes to these reports of this 23-year-old and, on the other side of the conflict Khaled Sharrouf, is this a situation where our agencies may never have confirmation of the reports that have emanated from the region?

JULIE BISHOP If this report of the 23-year-old from the Gold Coast is true, it is a very tragic circumstance. We urge young Australians in particular not to leave Australia and take up arms either for or against the organisation known as Da'esh because it is a violent, brutal terrorist organisation and people would be putting their lives in mortal danger.

We don't have the capacity to look out for them, we don't have a mission as I've said, in Syria, it is very difficult for us to get information, let alone providing consular services. And so you are correct, it may be the case that we are not able to verify these reports.

So we do ask families and friends that if they have any indication that someone is about to leave Australia to take up this conflict, either for or against Da'esh that they let the authorities know so that we can do something about it to prevent them putting themselves in danger and adding to the misery and the suffering of the people of Iraq and Syria.

KIERAN GILBERT Minister, Dennis Shanahan reports in The Australian today that Asian nations are putting more pressure on the United States to do more on the ground to combat IS and cut off the terror threat in the Asia-Pacific at its source in Iraq and Syria. Is that the sense you're picking up from the region?

JULIE BISHOP I'm certainly picking up a deep sense of concern about the number of foreign terrorist fighters that are leaving our region to take up with Da'esh in Syria and Iraq and each country has a responsibility to do what they can to prevent the flow of foreign terrorist fighters and finance. But we are also working together in close cooperation and collaboration to counter the terrorist threat, to counter violent extremism and the United States is an indispensable partner in that effort.

Indeed Australia is part of a coalition of countries led by the United States, working in Iraq with the Iraqi Government to build the capacity and capability of the Iraq Security Forces so that Iraq itself is able to take back the territory that has been claimed by Da'esh and able to protect its citizens from this violent terrorist organisation.

We have a number of counter terrorist arrangements, agreements with countries in our region. We work very closely with the United States. We are working very closely with regional partners to prevent the flow of fighters and funds and resources to terrorist organisations in the Middle East.

KIERAN GILBERT In your discussions in New Zealand have you had any discussions with your New Zealand counterparts on the prospect of our ANZAC contingent expanding from this 'advise and assist' role to an 'assist and accompany' role with the Iraqi Forces?

JULIE BISHOP Well as a matter of fact I will be meeting with Foreign Minister Murray McCully shortly. We have had meetings yesterday but that was focussed on our humanitarian and disaster relief effort here in the Pacific which is the reason why I'm in New Zealand.

I am meeting with Murray McCully later this morning and we will discuss New Zealand's position as a temporary member of the UN Security Council. We will discuss our efforts in Iraq where we are partnering in a Building Partner Capacity mission in Taji which is north west of Baghdad, but we've not been asked by the Iraqi Government to carry out an 'accompany' role, we've been asked to advise, assist and train and that's what we are doing.

I attended the Small Group Meeting in Paris in the presence of the Iraqi Prime Minister who made it quite clear that the Iraqi Government will determine the presence of foreign troops and the role that they will play. We have been invited to train troops, to advise and assist them, we have not been asked to accompany.

Alright lets finish now with the comments of Michael Thawley, the Secretary of the Prime Minister's Department, Foreign Minister. I want to get your reaction to these comments in particular at the Crawford Leadership Conference at the ANU yesterday. He was asked, is China willing or able to play a leadership role globally? He said the answer is "no, it's not willing or able to play a serious global leadership role". He said that when it came to the so called G2 of engagement with the United States, China wasn't ready to take on the responsibility either economically, politically or security-wise. What do you make of Michael Thawley's comments? Do they reflect the government's view?

JULIE BISHOP I note his comments may reflect the views of a number of people in Australia but I also think there is a counter argument that with the extraordinary rise of China as an economic power, with power shifting from the West to the East, China is a significant player. It is the number one trading partner for about 120 countries around the world and while its economic power does not eclipse that of the United States it is nevertheless a very significant economic regional and global player.

Australia should be, as other countries are, working with China so that it engages in the international rules based system, that China becomes part of the system that has served us so well since the Second World War. And Australia is engaging with China, for example, we've joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank that China has established and we are working with China to ensure that that the AIIB has the appropriate levels of governance and accountability and transparency that one would expect for a multilateral bank of this kind.

We've entered into a Free Trade Agreement with China, it is a comprehensive, high-quality Free Trade Agreement. So I believe that countries need to continue to work with China as its economic power rises, so does its responsibility as a responsible and committed international player based on the international system that has served us so well.

I believe that the relationship with China is strong. I believe that there are areas where we will disagree but the stronger our partnership, the more likely we are to be in a position to resolve those differences.

KIERAN GILBERT So you believe that it is possible China can be a constructive party of the world system? Mr Thawley said yesterday, a further quote here: "China won't help you produce a solution, China will get in the way or get out of the way when it comes to the global order, the global system". He's not as confident as you. Are you frustrated by the comments made by this very senior public servant?

JULIE BISHOP No not at all. Michael Thawley is a very experienced diplomat, he's had a very glittering career in the private sector. Indeed he was our Ambassador to the United States, he is a very highly placed and well-credentialed public servant.

The point I'm making is that we work with the situation in front of us and that is that China is a growing economic power, particularly in our region. Many countries see China as their number one trading partner. I believe what Australia and other countries should do is seek to engage China into the international rules-based system. And that's what we are doing through our engagement with the AIIB, our Free Trade Agreement with China, we are also part of what is called RCEP – a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership that centres on the ASEAN countries, the South East Asian countries and China. So Australia is able to facilitate engagement with China at many levels and I believe that that's the role we should continue to play in the hope that China does become a responsible global player.

Now I don't buy into the debate about whether Australia has to choose between China and the United States. I don't envisage a circumstance where we would be asked to choose. And so we maintain very positive and strong relations with both. Of course our Alliance with the United States is absolutely fundamental to Australia's strategic interests.

Our economic partnership with China is very important to us, it's our number one trading partner in merchandise trade. But we are also diversifying beyond China. We are working to complete free trade agreements with India, the Gulf Cooperation Council. We have free trade agreements with Japan, South Korea and a number of other countries. We are working with the United States on the Trans Pacific Partnership. So Australia is engaging with many countries around the world and working with those countries to engage China in the international rules based system.

KIERAN GILBERT It is interesting these comments came, my last question to you on this this morning, and it relates to China's post-2020 targets, formal target release overnight and basically that will see its emissions peak by 2030. This is a significant step forward in the lead-up to Paris and I guess will be welcomed by those that you are in attendance with at that UN Humanitarian Conference in the Pacific because as you know from that conference the big focus of those smaller nations in the Pacific is on climate change, they see it as their greatest humanitarian threat?

JULIE BISHOP I think that China's position has been known for some time, indeed China and the United States announced this aspiration some time ago. China says that its emissions will peak in 2030. Well that coincides with when its economy is likely to peak. It is the commitments of other countries that we are particularly interested in, we note that the Europeans have a particular target, Canada has announced a target, Japan.

We have a whole-of-government review underway to consider the most appropriate target for Australia. Unlike many countries, Australia actually set a target for 2020 and we will meet our target, I'm very confident of that. We will put forward a post-2020 target for reducing our contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions which will be economically responsible, which will be proportionate and I believe appropriate for Australia. And here in Auckland I have been working very closely with our Pacific Island partners on trying to build resilience into their economies. It is about jobs, it is about labour mobility and ensuring that they can manage the impact of climate change as well as some of the other externalities that impact on sustainable development here in the Pacific.

KIERAN GILBERT Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, live from Auckland, thanks for your time this morning.

JULIE BISHOP It's been my pleasure Kieran.

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