Sky News AM Agenda, Sydney, Interview with Kieran Gilbert

  • Transcript, E&OE

KIERAN GILBERT: With me this morning is the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

Julie Bishop thanks so much for your time. The Government to continues to make representations, but as we all know there have been dozens and dozens already made, pleas for clemency at the highest level. Nothing's happened. This looks it is only going end in one way, doesn't it?

JULIE BISHOP: Good morning Kieran. The Australian Government will continue to make representations at the highest level. As you pointed out, this has happened on numerous occasions in the past. In fact, over the last decade, Australian Governments – successive governments – have made numerous representations, but on each occasion, the Indonesian Government of the day has rejected our representations.

Indeed I wrote again to Foreign Minister Marsudi in December, and I received a response just recently rejecting our representations on the basis that Indonesia claims it is facing a crisis in terms of drug trafficking and it believes that the death penalty should apply, it's Indonesian law that the death penalty applies to drug trafficking cases and as we've heard over the weekend, they have carried through with the execution of a number of foreign nationals. However, we will continue to point out that both Mr Sukumaran and Mr Chan have made significant efforts to rehabilitate themselves. It is a longstanding position of Australian Governments that we oppose the death penalty and we oppose the execution of Australian nationals by another country.

KIERAN GILBERT: The newly elected President Joko Widodo issued a statement at the weekend strongly condemning the drug trade once again and saying that a healthy Indonesia is a drug-free Indonesia. Do you believe there is any hope in that context and in the context of the executions over the weekend that these two Australian will be granted clemency?

JULIE BISHOP: I met with the families of both Mr Sukumaran and Mr Chan over the weekend and they are hoping and praying that there will be clemency in the case of Mr Sukumaran and Mr Chan for a number of reasons that we have detailed in our representations.

I don't believe that executing people is the answer to solving the drug problem and certainly the trafficking of drugs in and out of Indonesia. However, this is Indonesian law and it is a sober reminder that drug related offences carry very very heavy penalties in other countries, particularly in Indonesia. However, we will continue to make representations at the highest level. The Prime Minister has written again to President Widodo. I will continue to maintain contact with my counterpart Foreign Minister.

KIERAN GILBERT: Was the Government aware that that these executions were imminent over the weekend?

JULIE BISHOP: We were aware, as the media was able to report, that this was going to occur. Of course we have been in discussions with the governments of the nationals involved.

KIERAN GILBERT: The Dutch and Brazilian Governments, of those nationals involved, two executed over the weekend. They've recalled their ambassadors. Would Australia consider doing something similar?

JULIE BISHOP: Kieran at this point it's necessary for us to have our consular people in Indonesia making representations. This is not just a matter that Prime Minister Abbott and I've been involved with. Across our diplomatic core, they have been making representations at every level in the Indonesian Government and that will continue. I won't go int o speculate as to what would happen should the Indonesian Government carry through its threat to execute Australians.

What we will continue to do at this point is make representations where we can, how we can. I know this is a bipartisan position. It's been a longstanding position of successive Australian Governments to oppose the death penalty. So the Indonesian Government is in no doubt where the Australian Government stands on this issue.

KIERAN GILBERT: I want to look at a couple of other issues around today, the Fairfax papers are reporting on more Snowden leaks. These were published in the German publication Der Speigel suggesting that the Chinese had obtained quite substantial information on the next generation Joint Strike Fighter. How much of a concern is that to the Government, given this is really the backbone of our air capability over the next few decades?

JULIE BISHOP: Kieran, I won't comment specifically on intelligence matters and you'd understand why. But of course these Snowden revelations are quite old now, they reflect a situation some time ago and I have every confidence that the United States is doing all it can to protect its intellectual property. It does highlight the challenges of cyber-attacks of course but I am confident that the United States has taken measures to ensure that its intellectual property is protected.

KIERAN GILBERT: Now another issue that's been simmering away over the last couple of weeks has been the unrest on Manus Island, apparently now some 700 men refusing food, which is quite a concern. How is the government going to respond to this escalating situation?

JULIE BISHOP: As I understand it, these are people who are claiming to be fleeing from persecution. Under the agreement that was struck between the former Rudd Government and the Papua New Guinean Government there is an arrangement for these people who are fleeing persecution to get safe haven in Papua New Guinea and PNG has agreed to provide a place for these people to live, safe from the persecution that they were fleeing.

We must remember that PNG is offering a safe haven and so this agreement is in place between the Australian Government and the PNG Government and the PNG Government is offering an opportunity for these people to restart their lives in Papua New Guinea.

KIERAN GILBERT: It's a volatile situation though isn't it, you can see that.

JULIE BISHOP: It is a volatile situation because these people clearly don't want to accept the safe haven that's being offered to them, however this kind of behaviour will not be rewarded with a visa to Australia.

KIERAN GILBERT: There are reports that Boko Haram militants have kidnapped at least 60 people, mostly children in central Africa and of course it comes just weeks after they slaughtered hundreds of women and children and elderly in Nigeria. This is a shocking situation, I know we've had a lot of focus on the extremist element in Europe in recent days but this Boko Haram threat continues and it's a tragic situation in Nigeria right now.

JULIE BISHOP: Boko Haram seems to be in competition with ISIL or Da'esh in Syria and Iraq as to how many innocent civilians they can kill or brutalise. It is a shocking situation. The reports are appalling. The reports of what's happening to young schoolchildren, particularly schoolgirls are absolutely sickening.

I have been in contact with my counterpart the Nigerian Foreign Minister, I've offered what support Australia can provide, in terms of intelligence capability, sharing of information, counterterrorism activities and also we have offered and provided humanitarian support.

Australia chaired the United Nations Security Council Committee that added Boko Haram to the Al Qaeda sanctions list and of course Boko Haram is a listed terrorist organisation in Australia.

KIERAN GILBERT: Now on that issue of the extremist element in Europe, we've had local experts respond to that suggesting that we can tragically expect more lone wolf attacks here as well, what's your sense of where the European response is right now, given the events of Paris of course and then in Belgium over the last couple of days?

JULIE BISHOP: Well we know that European countries that are being targeted by terrorist organisations or terrorists have been raising their threat level, in the case of France in two regions it was lifted to the highest level, in other words that a terrorist attack was imminent. So I believe that these countries are taking these challenges, these risks very, very seriously.

There's a high level of cooperation between security and intelligence agencies, particularly between European countries, the United States, Great Britain, Australia. We are sharing information, sharing experiences and doing whatever we can to keep our people safe.

That's why the Abbott Government increased the funding, new funding, of $630 million to our security, law enforcement and intelligence agencies so that they can be better prepared for any security challenges that we face. We will do what we can to keep Australians safe, here in this country and when they are travelling overseas.

KIERAN GILBERT: Foreign Minister, appreciate your time this morning, thank you for that.

JULIE BISHOP: Thanks Kieran.

- Ends -

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