Sky News, Australian Agenda - interview with Peter Van Onselen and Paul Kelly

  • Transcript, E&OE

PETER VAN ONSELEN: As I mentioned off the top of the program, there has been significant policy development news in the international sphere. The Foreign Minister has been in Lima during the course of the week and she joins us now live in the studio. Thanks for your company.

JULIE BISHOP: Good morning Peter. Good morning Paul.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: In hindsight, having had the conference, was it important, do you think, that a Minister or a couple of Ministers were there?

JULIE BISHOP: Yes, I believe it was important. There weren't many Foreign Ministers there, they were mainly Environment Ministers, but I have responsibility for international treaty negotiations, including on climate change, so it was appropriate that I be there, and the negotiations are continuing. They were meant to conclude on Friday but this is not unusual in climate change conferences. So the negotiations are continuing. I heard from our Ambassador for the Environment, Peter Woolcott, just a short while ago. He tells me that things are looking optimistic for a draft negotiating text. That's what this conference was all about, to get a draft negotiating text for the Paris agreement at the end of 2015. So it has had some success but they still haven't finalised the detail.

PAUL KELLY: Given you were there for several days, what's your take-out about the extent of divisions between countries about the next regime here when it comes to climate change? Are you confident or are you struck by the extent of divisions?

JULIE BISHOP: Paul, there is still a fundamental division over the issue of developing and developed countries and that is at the heart of the negotiating text difficulties now and I don't think they will be able to resolve that issue. I think it will be rolled over into the next round of negotiations, which will be in February of 2015. You see, countries like China are in the developing country side of things but that was a differentiation made back in 1992. Since then China has become the largest economy in the world and the largest emitter. So to put China, for example, in the developing category doesn't reflect economic reality. And so Australia's position and that of many other countries is that we need to relook at this divide between developing and developed and actually get rid of it and look at countries' particular economic circumstances now. What is the reality of their domestic circumstances, their emissions, the state of their economy? What are their national plans for economic growth and jobs growth and take that into account as we seek targets and commitments post 2020.

PAUL KELLY: But is it going to be possible to get that elimination of that binary arrangement abolished at Paris? Because presumably all the developing nations want to maintain that differentiation.

JULIE BISHOP: Well this is the point of discussion at present - getting rid of that binary divide, as you say, between developing and developed. It doesn't reflect reality. I think everybody acknowledges that, and a differentiation that was made back in 1992 just doesn't reflect 21st Century reality. So we will continue to negotiate on that point, as will many other countries. I think China is the most glaring example. And all credit to China. Its economy has grown exponentially and it is now the largest economy in the world, or the second largest depending upon the indices you use. So we think that we should take into account each country's individual circumstances and not have this misleading and I would suggest inappropriate divide between developing and developed.

PAUL KELLY: Do we think that China and India are doing enough?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, India is very much taking the view that it has to catch up. It has to be able to generate whatever energy it needs, however it can do it, in order to become a developed country. And all credit to India for wanting to do that but what it means is it will have significant emissions for a very long time, dwarfing any reductions that any other country makes. And so global emissions don't get confined by boundaries, they are global emissions wherever they come from. So I think we need to have a bit of a reality check over what each country should be contributing. Now, we didn't go into actual targets or commitments. That's not what the Lima conference was about. The Lima conference was about getting a negotiating text ready for 2015.

PAUL KELLY: Okay. Well can I just ask you, seeing you are, as Foreign Minister, the chief negotiator, what is your view in general terms about the approach the Abbott government should take post 2020, that is in terms of the ambition. What sort of approach do you have as Foreign Minister? Would you like to see ambitious targets being entered into by Australia beyond 2020?

JULIE BISHOP: Paul, first it is worth remembering that Australia not only makes commitments, we keep them, we actually keep them. We say "This is our target" and we meet it. Not all countries do that. And we will meet our 2020 target, which was a 5 per cent reduction on 2000 levels, which is comparable to other developed countries. So we will meet that through our Direct Action plan, the $2.55 billion emissions reduction fund and the like. Post 2020, what we are doing is setting up a task force within Prime Minister and Cabinet. The Prime Minister has announced this. And we will be reviewing the targets and commitments made by the major economies, the major emitters but particularly our trading partners, our trading competitors and we will make an assessment on what is an appropriate target and commitment for Australia, post 2020. Now, we will announce that in the first half of 2015 in plenty of time for Paris at the end of 2015 but it will be an informed judgment based on our understanding of what other countries are doing.

PAUL KELLY: So in other words, our response will be proportionate?


PAUL KELLY: To other countries, rather than looking at the science and what is required by the science?

JULIE BISHOP: Well no, what we will do is see what other countries are doing and do something that is appropriate for Australia. We don't want to - and we don't want other countries to do this either - we don't want other countries to destroy their economies, destroy job opportunities. We want to ensure that there is global growth. After all, that's what the G20 conference was all about, 2 per cent economic growth, job opportunities across the globe so that all countries can rise in terms of standards of living, economic growth, job opportunities. So you take that into account and see how we can meet an appropriate, relevant commitment that we will keep. There is no point in having a target that we don't meet. We will have a commitment and we will meet it.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: If the new target goes beyond the existing one, even if it is very proportionate in doing so, are there internal divisions in the government about this? I mean, there are a variety of views when it comes to not only the existence of climate change but how to deal with it?

JULIE BISHOP: Well Peter, we have got our Direct Action plan, which will allow us to meet the 2020 commitment of the 5 per cent reduction. Beyond 2020 it will come down to energy policy to a great extent. We have an Energy White Paper out at present which is discussing coal, LNG, renewables, nuclear gets a look in there. So over the next period of time our Energy White Paper will look at that whole energy mix that we will need to reduce emissions post 2020.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: I want to ask you about the UN Green Climate Fund just to give you a chance to give us an explanation over what some people think is a backflip. You said in opposition that Australia wouldn't use foreign aid money into something like that but it is now happening but there are differences. I know you have said that up until now. What are those difference? Because it is something that does on face value look like a difference of opinion between government and what you said in opposition.

JULIE BISHOP: Well actually I said it in government. When I announced our new aid paradigm at the Press Club in June I pointed out that what Labor had done is they had taken $300 million of what was actually climate change initiatives and they added it on to the aid budget to give the impression that they were increasing the aid budget to meet this 0.5 per cent of GNI target. Given Labor's record on climate change initiatives, do I have to go through them? The Cash for Clunkers, the Green Car Scheme, the Pink Batts scheme, the Solar Home Scheme that had a blow-out of $500 million. Eight of Labor's climate change initiatives were announced and not even established. Fourteen of the initiatives were scrapped as being a disaster and 15 of them didn't even meet the announced objectives. So there was no way I was going to have our aid budget used for that kind of disastrous climate change initiative under Labor.

What I have done and what the government has done is announce that we will contribute $200 million over four years from the aid budget to the Green Climate Fund. We have a seat on the board of the Green Climate Fund and we will be directing our funding to our region, the Indian Ocean Asia-Pacific, and we will be doing infrastructure, protecting forests and energy efficiencies.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Notwithstanding those particulars, having a seat on the board and being within our region, what is the difference from when Tony Abbott has talked about this has been sort of Bob Brownesque idea?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, what was happening is governments were being asked to dump money into these multilateral funds and that was the end of it. You didn't see where it went, where it was being spend, how it was being spent. What we have done is said we will give $200 million over four within our aid budget but it will do things that an aid budget should do - productivity-enhancing infrastructure, protecting rain forests which protects jobs, energy efficiency and helping countries do that. So we will target it, say where it goes and it is what an aid budget should do and it is within the principles that I laid out at the Press Club in June of this year.

PAUL KELLY: Why didn't the Prime Minister's office want you to go to Lima?

JULIE BISHOP: Well last year we didn't send someone to Lima and the important conference is Paris 2015. So originally I think the view was that our Ambassador for the Environment should go, as he did in Warsaw in 2013. I was of the view that we needed to be there at a ministerial level because we were getting to the crunch point. The negotiating text that was decided upon at Lima would set the parameters for Paris so I wanted to be part of that negotiation.

PAUL KELLY: Now how upset did you get? It was reported that you went bananas. So I would be interested to know what you look like when you go bananas. But are you clearly very upset about this?

JULIE BISHOP: Paul, I have never seen myself go bananas. You know me. I don't get upset like that, and if I did it would be something…

PAUL KELLY: Well, you weren't happy.

JULIE BISHOP: No, I just thought it was the wrong call, that's all, and so I raised it in Cabinet, said "What does everybody think? Should I go?".

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Did you have to raise it in Cabinet? I mean, shouldn't you be able to just tell the Prime Minister's office - you are the Deputy Leader - that you want to go and that's that? Do you need Cabinet?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, this is the funny thing. People criticise us for not raising things in Cabinet. I raised it in Cabinet and we had a good discussion about it and the PM said "Yeah, I understand where you are coming from". So it was a perfectly cordial discussion. I don't go bananas and I didn't go bananas on that - Very colourful language that shouldn't apply in this instance.

PAUL KELLY: Do you think it is going to be possible for Tony Abbott as Prime Minister to be credible on the climate change action?

JULIE BISHOP: Absolutely. In fact, what we did on the Green Climate Fund, we were being criticised for not announcing or for not saying we were going to contribute to the Green Climate Fund. The timing was impeccable. I went to Lima, I attended the climate finance ministerial meeting, I announced it there, I got spontaneous applause from the gathered audience and Peru was delighted because they had said one of the outcomes of Lima was that they wanted their Green Climate Fund to top $10 billion. Australia's contribution made that day topped the $10 billion mark. So they thought our timing was impeccable. In fact, the President called it a show-stopper.

PAUL KELLY: Okay. Well, the fact that you went to Lima, of course, only highlights…

JULIE BISHOP: That should be a song, 'She Went to Lima'.

PAUL KELLY: …that the original decision from the Prime Minister's office was the wrong one.

JULIE BISHOP: Paul, that's overstating it. They said "Why don't you send the Ambassador for the Environment", as we did the year before, "Send him," and I came back and said to Cabinet "I really think I should go."

PAUL KELLY: Now, as Foreign Minister you are about to go to Papua New Guinea.


PAUL KELLY: How concerned are you about the situation in Papua New Guinea and how concerned should Australia as a country be about it?

JULIE BISHOP: Papua New Guinea should be and is one of our most important foreign policy priorities. They are our closest neighbour. They are the only country that was a colony of Australia at one point. Since Independence, their independence, Australia has had a very close relationship with PNG but mainly as an aid donor and each year we provide about $0.5 billion or more in aid to PNG.

PNG is now going through an incredible energy renaissance. They have a huge LNG project that is about to come online. Their economy is the fastest growing in Asia. It is going to be growing at 15-20 per cent. Huge revenues will be coming into PNG.

We want to work with them as partners, as economic partners to make sure that PNG has in place sovereign wealth funds so that the money they are receiving from these massive energy projects can be spread through PNG.

PAUL KELLY: But they don't have that in place at the moment, do they?

JULIE BISHOP: That's right, they don't. They have the legislation for it.

PAUL KELLY: So we are going to argue to them that they need a sovereign wealth fund.

JULIE BISHOP: That's one of the issues that we will be raising. A number of ministers will be accompanying me - Scott Morrison, David Johnston, Michael Keenan, and that reflects some of the priorities. Obviously Scott Morrison will be there in relation to Manus, David Johnston because of our defence relationship with PNG and the support that we give to PNG, and Michael Keenan on law and order issues, because as you would be aware, we have a number of Australian Federal Police in PNG now trying to work with the Royal PNG force to restore some stability and improve the law and order situation, which is quite dire in some parts of PNG. So it is an important relationship for us, one of our most important, and throughout 2015 I will be giving it a great deal of my time and energy because I think 2015 is going to be a challenging year for PNG. Bougainville is of the view that it should have a referendum on independence in 2015.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: What's your view on that?

JULIE BISHOP: I don't believe that Bougainville or PNG will be ready for a referendum for some time. I will actually be travelling to Bougainville because I understand that there are some concerns being raised in Bougainville. I want to meet with the Autonomous Bougainvillean Government and talk to them about their expectations.

PAUL KELLY: Are you concerned that there could be a resurgence of violence on Bougainville?

JULIE BISHOP: That has always been a possibility. Unless the PNG government and the Autonomous Bougainvillean Government can sort out their differences and work closely together I think it is going to be a challenge for Australia and New Zealand and other countries who are responsible, if you like, for this part of the world.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Do we need a stronger structure in the Pacific region? We are obviously the dominant and most significant power, if you like, nation in the area. We have a lot of influence but there are not enough formal structures in place for us to be able to wheel that in an appropriate way.

JULIE BISHOP: It is interesting you raise that because since we normalised relations with Fiji - and you will recall that that was an election promise that the Abbott government took to the last election, that we wouldn't continue with the Rudd government's approach of freezing Fiji out and continuing with sanctions, we normalised the relationship with Fiji, I have been there twice now. I have had very productive and positive meetings with Prime Minister Bainimarama. They have held their election. It was a free and fair election. We sent election observers. In fact, Australia co-led the election observer team.

Now that Fiji is back in the fold, if you like, I think it is time for us to revisit the regional architecture. There are a number of different groups. There is the Pacific Island Forum, there is a group that Fiji set up, there is the Melanesian Spearhead Group, there are about four or five different organisations with differing mandates and membership.

I'm proposing, and Prime Minister Abbott has agreed, that we should host a Pacific Leaders Summit in Sydney in the first quarter of next year - Prime Minister Bainimarama has agreed to that, Papua New Guinea has agreed to that, the Solomons, Samoa and New Zealand - and get all of the Pacific leaders together and decide what architecture would best serve the political, social, economic needs of the Pacific in the 21st century and I think that that should be a milestone for Australia to aim for and we are getting support for it and I'm hoping that I will be able to announce some details shortly.

PAUL KELLY: Do you think there will be some sort of new regional body?

JULIE BISHOP: It may well. I think that because we have so many different bodies that have been set up for different reasons, in many ways duplicating what's already been done, in other ways competing, some of these bodies have dialogue partners like China, Japan, the United States, others do not, they are just for the Pacific, I really think it is time the Pacific leaders determined what they wanted for the 21st Century and I'm hoping that Australia will be able to host that in Sydney early next year.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Do you have concerns that some of these Pacific nations are susceptible potentially to strong influence from large powers outside of our region?

JULIE BISHOP: That has always been the case, that some of the geopolitics have been played out in the Pacific, winning their support for a vote in the UN. We have seen it over the years between China and Taiwan. I mean there was quite a competition going between mainland China and Taiwan to win the support of different Pacific islands through their aid budgets. We need more investment in the Pacific, no question. We need more investment from many countries in the Pacific but we must make sure that it is in the interests of the particular Pacific islands as opposed to some other geopolitical or strategic agenda of another country.

PAUL KELLY: In relation to Iraq, do you think that we will simply maintain the forces we have there in terms of numbers and so on or is there a possibility that we may be requested to increase those numbers and act on that?

JULIE BISHOP: Paul, we have about 200 special forces there now. They are working with the Iraqi Government to support the Iraqi Security Forces. So they are in a training, advising, assisting role. I don't see us having any other role than building capacity. We have not been asked to do anything other than build capacity and that's what we are doing.

The Iraqi government does have challenges within its own ranks about having foreign forces - the US, Canada, the Brits, Australia - in Iraq. So we have to work very closely with them. The government has made a good start. They have brought together a much more inclusive Cabinet. I have met a number of the Cabinet Ministers and Speaker who are from different factions and different ethnic groups, which is a great start. So you have got Sunnis, and Shias and Kurds, they are all in the government and we will work closely with them.

So our 200 are there. They are working closely with them. We are still taking part in the air raids, which are having an impact to help Iraq take back territory that has been claimed by this terrorist organisation.

PAUL KELLY: I wanted to ask you about this reported phenomenon of young Australian women going across to Iraq and Syria as a matter of social expression, if you like. I mean are you aware of this? What is your take on this?

JULIE BISHOP: Paul, it is deeply, deeply disturbing to learn that not only are young Australian men being radicalised and heading overseas to fight with listed terrorist organisations, putting their own lives at risk, a number of them have been killed, but also adding to the suffering of the people of Iraq and Syria by taking up with these terrorists organisation who are unspeakably brutal. We have seen the beheadings of aid workers, mass executions. It is truly appalling. So you have got young Australian men doing that. We then saw the phenomena of the partners or girlfriends, if you like, of these young fighters joining them and now we learn that young women, of their own volition, are going to Iraq and Syria to join in the fighting of these terrorist organisations as suicide bombers.

Now, we need to work very closely with communities. Communities and families will be the first line of defence. They will be the ones that can detect changes in behaviour or determine what their children are up to. Our security agencies don't even have these people on the radar screen of our intelligence because they are seemingly young Australians who think they are going off on an adventure. Well they are not. They are joining terrorist organisations that are carrying out shockingly brutal attacks on people in Iraq and Syria but also with a view to attacking western countries, including Australia.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: I saw this lady in China that was accused of being involved in ice trafficking has been returned to Australia. It was referred to that you had a hand in that. What about Peter Greste? What's the situation there?

JULIE BISHOP: Yes, I spoke to the Egyptian Foreign Minister from Lima. It is hard to always get Foreign Ministers in the same place at the same time to line up phone calls. So I had another phone call with the Foreign Minister last Wednesday and I raised with him the fact that the President of Egypt had been reported as saying he would consider a pardon or clemency. He didn't say in relation to Peter Greste but he said he would consider presidential pardons. So we are trying to get a meeting with the Minister for Justice in Egypt. Our Ambassador hadn't been able to get such a meeting so I rang the Foreign Minister to ask if he could facilitate a meeting between our Ambassador, Ralph King, in Cairo and the Minister for Justice so that we could find out the details of what the President was referring to. Because if there is an opportunity for there to be a pardon or some kind of clemency, then we would, Peter Greste's lawyers, would apply for it. We want to bring him home as soon as possible. Currently his appeal is listed for 1 January and I'm concerned about that because as you know, one of the outcomes of an appeal could be a retrial. So we are hoping that our Ambassador can meet with the Minister for Justice. The Foreign Minister assured me he would seek to facilitate it but we are doing all we can making representations at every level to try and bring Peter Greste home as soon as possible.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Julie Bishop, you have been generous with your time. Thanks very much for your company.

JULIE BISHOP: It's been my pleasure and Merry Christmas.

PAUL KELLY: Same to you.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: And to you too.

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