Sky News AM Agenda - interview with Kieran Gilbert

  • Transcript, E&OE

KIERAN GILBERT Foreign Minister thanks very much for your time - a lot to talk about.

Secretary Ash Carter said that in Ramadi that the problem was that the Iraqis, not so much in terms of resources or their numbers - in fact they outnumbered the IS troops or terrorists is probably a better description - but it was a lack of will to defend themselves. Do you agree with that assessment?

JULIE BISHOP I'm not aware of the specific details of the operations but this is obviously an observation that the US has made. That is why Australia accepted the invitation of the Iraqi Prime Minister to be in Iraq with our Defence Forces supporting the training of the Iraqi Security Forces. Obviously their troops were very depleted, their forces were very depleted over the years and there is now a coalition of countries seeking to build capacity of the Iraqi Security Forces. It is early days, we have only just begun, there are about 300 of our trainers and about 100 New Zealanders and we are part of a coalition of countries seeking to build the capability, the capacity and presumably the will to fight of the Iraqi Security Forces. They have to take back the territory, they have to defend the Iraqi people.

KIERAN GILBERT You are talking about the capacity and the training, what Ash Carter, the US Defence Secretary, has said is that they did not have the will to defend themselves. That's not something that can be trained.

JULIE BISHOP Well it will have to be because the rest of the world can't save Iraq, Iraq has to be at the forefront of saving its own people and taking back its territory but we have learned our lessons in the past. This is supporting a request by the Iraqi Government and specifically the Prime Minister and that is what we are seeking to do and I believe that there will be gains. Of course there will be set backs from time to time as there is in any conflict, but you should remember that Da'esh, as it's called, is exceedingly well resourced with fighters and illicit funds coming in from all over the world.

There are thousands of young people particularly from over 90 countries that are now going to Syria and Iraq to take up arms with this terrorist organisation so this is a significant battle taking place. There will be setbacks but we must continue to stay the course and support the Iraqi Government. This terrorist organisation is more complex, more sophisticated, more dangerous, more global than we have ever seen before and we must play our part in ensuring that it is defeated.

KIERAN GILBERT Is the Government reconsidering though the commitment here, given they've claimed Ramadi that's only 110km from Baghdad? They are making ground all the time. Is there consideration here within the Government as to whether or not this is the right thing to be pursuing, that we should get out?

JULIE BISHOP They have also lost ground, Takrit was taken, so there will be ebbs and flows in a conflict, like there is in any war, and this is a war. There will be ebbs and flows but what we must make sure is that our role is to build the capacity of the Iraqi Security Forces and we have just commenced doing that and I believe with the support of other countries we will be able to achieve a great deal. But there are also other forces there, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard out of Iran is there, there are Shia militia, there are a whole range of other forces that are fighting. It is an exceedingly complex and complicated situation there but Australia will play a proportionate part.

KIERAN GILBERT What do you say to the assessment from some respected analysts now that IS is a permanent state, we just have to accept the fact that this is a permanent fixture in the region.

JULIE BISHOP I do not accept for a moment that a country that disregards borders, sovereignty, human life, an organisation that is made up of terrorists that execute people, carry out crucifixions, mass murder, raping women, treating women as sex slaves, I do not accept for a moment that they have any legitimacy at all. And we must continue to fight them and ensure that the Iraqi Security Forces can defeat them on the ground and we will continue to fight violent extremism. We must ensure that those who have been radicalised by this terrorist organisation can be de-radicalised. Australia must do its part in preventing the flow of fighters from Australia and flow of funds from Australia.

KIERAN GILBERT As I understand it you have been invited to attend a crisis summit next week by the Secretary of State John Kerry. Can you talk us through exactly what that is about?

JULIE BISHOP I understand that 16 countries have been invited at Foreign Minister level to a meeting in Paris. It will be co-hosted by Laurent Fabius, the Foreign Minister of France, and John Kerry, the Secretary of State of the United States, and it is to focus on the strategy, the process, the progress and give us a briefing on what we are doing in Iraq and also in Syria because it is essentially one theatre of war and so this is a meeting of those countries that are taking a significant role in the coalition to defeat Da'esh.

KIERAN GILBERT Let's move on to related matters, the counterterrorism coordinator to be announced today Greg Moriarty, a well-respected diplomat, the former Ambassador to Indonesia, but I guess given how effective our agencies have been already in stopping a number of attacks, they are effective really by any measure in terms of their coordination. Why do we need this? Is this just more window dressing?

JULIE BISHOP The Prime Minister will be making a detailed announcement later this morning. Greg Moriarty, as you say, is a very respected diplomat. He was the head of our mission in Indonesia, he worked very closely with the Indonesians, he was responsible for a range of agencies in what is our biggest post overseas, he has also been posted in Iran, he has a great deal of relevant experience. What we want to ensure is that all of our agencies, all of our departments across government are completely coordinated when it comes to fighting terrorism and countering violent extremism in this country.

KIERAN GILBERT They are already, aren't they?

JULIE BISHOP We want to make sure that there are no gaps, that there is no room for error. We have to ensure that we can prevent each and every attempt to harm Australians at home and abroad and I think that having somebody who is responsible for that complete, whole-of-government coordination is absolutely essential.

KIERAN GILBERT And the Assistant Minister though as well? We are hearing that Michael Keenan will be the Counterterrorism Minister, but again I ask you is it window dressing given that he is already the Justice Minister? It is just a name, isn't it?

JULIE BISHOP No not at all. Michael Keenan will be the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Counterterrorism Issues. He is already responsible for justice, law and order and assisting the Attorney-General on Federal Police matters. But we need this coordinating role to ensure that every aspect of our security, law enforcement, intelligence is on the same page and I don't think anybody would thank us if there were to be a terrorist attack in Australia and it was found later that there was a lack of communication or coordination in any aspect. We are not taking any chances with the lives of Australians.

KIERAN GILBERT On stripping dual nationals of their citizenship, there is talk that the Government is considering looking at stripping the citizenship of those who have it open to them to apply for citizenship from another country if their parents are born overseas. Is this simply exporting our own problem given these individuals were born here?

JULIE BISHOP This is an issue that a number of countries are grappling with. I have the authority and the responsibility for cancelling passports, or suspending passports, and we've done that in many cases, over 100 passports of those who are seeking to travel overseas or are already overseas fighting with a terrorist organisation. It is against the law in this country to take up arms, to fight, support, advocate terrorism – fight for, or advocate terrorism. So we are also looking at the question of citizenship, particularly dual citizens, but also those who are essentially at war with our country. If you take up arms with Da'esh this is an organisation that threatens the security of Australians. This is an organisation that is encouraging people to carry out terrorist attacks in Australia and elsewhere so we have to ensure that people understand you are at war with Australia if you do that and that means that you should not have the rights of Australians.

KIERAN GILBERT But don't we then export the problem if we make these individuals stateless when they were born here?

JULIE BISHOP This is a challenge that a number of countries are facing. The United Kingdom has already implemented this citizenship law and on about, I think over 20 occasions they have stripped citizens of their citizenship. It is an issue that we are dealing with globally and the kind of matter that we will be discussing at a countering violent extremism summit that Senator George Brandis will be hosting in Sydney shortly. You will recall that President Obama hosted such a summit in the White House in February. We are now hosting a regional summit with regional leaders here in Sydney to discuss countering violent extremism, how we can coordinate across the globe to ensure that we defeat these terrorist organisations.

KIERAN GILBERT Finally, Muslim Rohingya refugees, the Bangladeshi refugees as well, there is a regional summit to be convened in Thailand..

JULIE BISHOP They are not Bangladeshi refugees. Those leaving Bangladesh are seeking work, that has been acknowledged across the region.

KIERAN GILBERT But the Rohingya..

JULIE BISHOP ..are seeking to flee from the ill-treatment they receive in Myanmar, that is why we are focussing our efforts on providing humanitarian support for the Rakhine State which is where the Rohingya's have been living, and putting pressure on the Myanmar Government to change its policies, change its attitude and change the treatment that it metes out to the Rohingyas so that they don't leave, and we've got to deal with it at the source.

KIERAN GILBERT Well migrants is probably a better word, but there is going to be a summit on Friday in Thailand. What are we doing to be engaged in that as a nation and your response to Peter O'Neill, the PNG leader, similar sentiments to what we've heard in Jakarta. They are urging Australia not to wash its hands of this problem.

JULIE BISHOP Australia hasn't washed its hands of this problem. We co-chair the Bali Process with Indonesia, we are the largest sponsor of the International Organisation of Migration, we are one of the largest per capita recipients of refugees through the Refugee and Humanitarian program that we already have in place. We support the UNHCR. Australia does more than its fair share in seeking to deal with this problem and most of the funding for refugees in Indonesia for example, comes from Australia. So we are playing our part. We will also take part in this conference that is being held in Thailand. We will be sending our Ambassador for People Smuggling because we have to defeat the people smuggling trades, they are criminal networks that are preying on vulnerable people and Australia will be part of a regional effort to smash the people smuggling trade.

KIERAN GILBERT Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, thanks so much for your time. We appreciate it.

JULIE BISHOP My pleasure.

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