Sky News AM Agenda - interview with Kieran Gilbert

  • Transcript, E&OE

JOURNALIST The Foreign MinisterJulie Bishop is working with authorities in Burkina Faso to secure the releaseof an Australian doctor held hostage by an Al Qaeda-backed militant group sincelast month. And joining me now is the Foreign Minister, thanks for your time.Dr Ken Elliott remains in captivity with this group, what's the latest?

JULIEBISHOP Well that's right, I spoke to Mrs Elliott yesterday morning Australian time andshe had been released, we believe, by this militant group Al Qaeda and her husbandis still missing. We have not been able to secure his release but we areworking very closely with the governments of the region. The government ofNiger facilitated Mrs Elliott's release and the government of Burkina Faso isactually leading the effort.

JOURNALIST Do we know whatprompted this group to release Jocelyn Elliott?

JULIEBISHOP It seems that it was public pressure, which is an interesting concept – that AlQaeda would bow to public pressure, but we're just grateful that she's beenreleased and I know her family is so relieved, as is she.

JOURNALIST Because they're verywell thought of, they've been there since the 70s running this medical centre.

JULIEBISHOP Indeed, they have been there for 40 years. They set up a hospital, they arevery well known in the region in the northern part of Burkina Faso. It was agreat surprise to a number of people that they had been taken in this way, butwe are very relieved that Mrs Elliott has been released and she seems fine. Shewas very tired when I spoke to her, but she seems to be in relative goodspirits. Of course her concerns are for her husband. We have authorities overthere who'll be talking with her to gain as much information as we can.

JOURNALIST I guess if they'vereleased her then there is hope, there's some hope, that they might release theDoctor.

JULIEBISHOP Of course, we are hopeful that given they were both held in such high regardand there's been a good outcome for Mrs Elliott that we'll continue to workwith the authorities. Of course we are gravely concerned for his safety and hiswell-being and they are in their 80s…

JOURNALIST Of course. No, that'sright. Let's look at some other issues now and North Korea, again, sounpredictable. Pyongyang launching this, what they say is a satellite buteveryone knows that it's not. What can the international community do giventhey are heavily armed and so close to Seoul, in moments they could start launchingattacks on the capital of South Korea.

JULIEBISHOP Australia unreservedly condemns this latest provocative act by North Korea.It's dangerous, it's destabilising, it's adding to the tensions on the KoreanPeninsula in any event, and it's not only a threat to regional peace, it's athreat to the globe, and this idea that they are launching a satellite is,quite frankly, ridiculous. It's not borne out by the facts. These peacefulmeans are achievable by existing methods without the cost to the long-sufferingNorth Korean people. So we have no reason to doubt that it was a long-rangeballistic missile test. It comes on a nuclear test that North Korea claimed inrecent weeks, their fourth nuclear test, and this testing of ballistic missilesand nuclear weapons is a gross violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

JOURNALIST Do you think they'retrying to show strength in a bid to get around the table with the US, like theIranians did?

JULIEBISHOP Well this is what Kim Jong Un's father would do, Kim Jong Il. He would announcethat he was about to launch a nuclear test or a ballistic missile test and doso and then seek to sit down with the United States to negotiate. This leaderis a little different. He's much more unpredictable in his predictability.

JOURNALIST And so, in terms ofthe international response, what more can be done? As I was saying, they arevery heavily armed, while they're the hermit state as they're known, butthey've got enormous weaponry right alongside Seoul, the capital of SouthKorea. So the international community is restricted in what it can do here.

JULIEBISHOP The recent actions by North Korea just confirm its status as a rogue state, andI've called on the North Korean regime to focus on the long-suffering people ofNorth Korea and not to engage in nuclear and ballistic missile testing as somany people in North Korea are suffering, they are hungry. It's the subject ofan extensive World Food Program effort because people are starving. The UnitedNations Security Council has put out a very strongly worded statement overnightwhich is a sign that the international community is united in its condemnationand has threatened significant measures. North Korea is already subject to asanctions regime but there is more that can be done.

JOURNALIST Let's look at a fewother domestic issues now and the GST. Is the prospect of an increase in theGST dead now?

JULIEBISHOP The Prime Minister said yesterday that we have been considering options in whatI thought was a very mature and sophisticated debate with the Australian peopleabout our tax mix. We know we have to be internationally competitive when itcomes to corporate tax and personal tax. We know that the GST is one element ofthat tax system, so of course we have been considering what we can do to ensureour tax system is lower, simpler, fairer.

JOURNALIST It sounds like he'sbacking away from the GST though, that's the general since, that he's basicallyshelved it now with his language yesterday.

JULIEBISHOP As the Prime Minister said, he has to be assured that it would actually achievea better outcome for the Australian people and if we can't be assured of that,well you wouldn't do it. In the meantime, Bill Shorten's been running aroundwith his lettuce wars, claiming that there's going to be 15 per cent GST andwe've never said that. We have been looking at different models, differentoptions and when the Cabinet has determined which is the best tax mix for us toput to the Australian people, what is the best tax reform for the Australianpeople, then we'll announce it.

JOURNALIST But what do you sayto Jennifer Westacott and the Business Council of Australia, worried thismorning across a number of the papers that the Prime Minister's baulking hereand that it is necessary to deal with the indirect taxation?

JULIEBISHOP Well the Prime Minister and the Cabinet will deal with the evidence. We willsee what will make Australia competitive, what tax system will ensure thatpeople are incentivised (I'm not sure that I like that word). Anyway, thatthey've got incentives to work, to save and to try new ideas…

JOURNALIST But you're notbaulking on reform?

JULIEBISHOPWe are having a discussion about it and will continue to do so in the Cabinet,amongst colleagues and certainly with the Australian public.

JOURNALIST Finally, StuartRobert went on a secret deal to China, had a meeting with Chinese CommunistParty officials for a signing of a mining deal. Is that appropriate for aMinister to do?

JULIE BISHOP I don't know how youhave a secret visit to China, whenever I go to China it's certainly not secret…

JOURNALIST You're the ForeignMinister.

JULIEBISHOP Well, even if I went in a personal capacity it's not secret, but I understandthat Stuart Robert was there in a personal capacity and he's entitled to do sobut matters to do with Ministerial Conduct are matters for the Prime Ministerand the Prime Minister's Department.

JOURNALIST But are youcomfortable with him attending a function with Communist Party officials as aMinister for a friend?

JULIE BISHOP I don't know thedetails of it but if he's there on his own personal time, a meeting withmembers of the Communist Party is commonplace in China.

JOURNALIST Sure is. Minister,thanks for your time.

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