Sky News, Canberra - interview with David Speers

  • Transcript, E&OE

DAVID SPEERS Julie Bishop, thanks for your time.

Australia and the United States have today signed an agreement to share visa and immigration information so foreign nationals can be better identified. What specific information will this involve?

JULIE BISHOP Well it's a positive in that we're trying to hasten the visa time and the processing through immigration in our respective countries. So it has business implications for better access through the United States and through Australia so that's a positive....

DAVID SPEERS So you won't have to wait as long to get in through customs in the United States or in Australia?

JULIE BISHOP …but also it's for the national security issue as well. So on the positive side it's about speeding up visa processing times and the time required to get through airports and then on the other side it will help in information-sharing which we are already doing - but enhancing the information sharing for the purposes of national security.

DAVID SPEERS Would that apply… coming from a third country into Australia, other than Australian and the United States? Is there information the US and Australia would share on their immigration or visa [inaudible].

JULIE BISHOP This treaty is between the United States and Australia so it covers Australian citizens, United States citizens, but of course we share information with the United States on a range of matters under the heading of national security in any event. This gives treaty status to an arrangement whereby we can share more information to better inform our respective governments and also enhance the travel experience, particularly of business people.

DAVID SPEERS Now, the Government has proposed a range of new anti-terror laws which include giving you greater power on suspending and cancelling passports. Labor, the Greens, the crossbenchers do have concerns, particularly the so-called reverse onus of proof measure that's been proposed. When is the actual detail going to be made public for them to look at?

JULIE BISHOP I'm surprised that the shadow Attorney-General has raised this because he's been briefed in detail, as I understand it by the Attorney-General's office, and he would understand that it is not a reversal of the onus of proof. In fact, what we're saying is that if a person doesn't have a legitimate reason for being in a terrorist-held or designated area then the onus of proof is on the authorities to prove that they've not a legitimate reason for being there. So it's not a reverse onus at all and the shadow Attorney-General well knows that.

DAVID SPEERS So the individual doesn't have to prove they were doing something legitimate?

JULIE BISHOP What they have to do is if they go to an area that will be designated under the proposed changes - for example Mosul in Northern Iraq - if somebody is going to Mosul they should say why, family reasons, humanitarian reasons. If our authorities believe that not to be the case, the onus is on our authorities to prove otherwise. That's where the onus of proof lies.

But in circumstances where the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have urged people not to travel to Iraq, and if they are travelling there, to rethink it and for people who are there to please leave - if somebody is actually going to an area designated as being held by ISIS – the barbaric, extremist, terrorist organisation that's proscribed as a terrorist organisation in Australia - then they have to state why they're going.

DAVID SPEERS So this is an important distinction or clarification here. So if someone goes there they can simply say I'm visiting family or doing humanitarian work? They don't actually have to have any documentary, or rather proof, that's up to the prosecuting authorities to prove?

JULIE BISHOP They would have to prove, that's right.

DAVID SPEERS Okay, now beyond that, the situation in Iraq, President Obama is going to personally chair a UN Security Council session in a few weeks' time in New York. It's going to focus on the very issue of foreigners going to join the fight with Islamic State. Will you or the Prime Minister be at that session?

JULIE BISHOP I would intend to be at what is called the UN General Assembly Leaders' Week in mid-September in any event. It's a full week of responsibilities, particularly for countries that are on the Security Council, as Australia is, and I attended last year. This year there are plans underway for President Obama to chair the Security Council and we understand that the focus will be on this issue of foreign fighters, ISIS/ ISIL, and this extremist ideology that seems to have gripped Syria and Iraq and elsewhere.

I would hope that Prime Minister Abbott would be able to be there but it is a parliamentary sitting week so we're looking at scheduling and planning at present. I've been talking to Secretary of State John Kerry about it. He also plans to have a Foreign Ministers' level debate and discussion about this issue because we're trying to share information across a wide range of countries. A dozen or more countries have said that they believe that the issue of foreign fighters, people leaving their countries and going to fight with the terrorist organisation ISIL or ISIS or IS in Syria and Iraq, is an issue of national security for those nations.

DAVID SPEERS Well indeed, Tony Abbott, the Prime Minister has been making a very strong statement along these lines. He's talked about there being no room for compromise with Islamic State. They're the most dangerous terrorist outfit we've faced. They pose a threat not only to those in Iraq, but countries like Australia as well. Can I ask you, is it enough to just contain Islamic State or do you believe they need to be defeated?

JULIE BISHOP It's very hard to defeat a terrorist organisation that can, if you like, metastasise. We've seen it with Al Qaeda. We have disrupted and destroyed the Al Qaeda structure in Afghanistan but then they pop up elsewhere, variants of it in Yemen and other parts of North Africa, the Middle East. So we have to be ambitious in our attempts to disrupt and destroy but also realistic about what we can do.

Our priority is to keep Australians safe. That's why we're focussing on changing the laws to cover any gaps in the law. That's why we're urging Australians not to support a terrorist organisation. That's why I'm seeking changes to the Passports Act so I can suspend as well as cancel passports.

DAVID SPEERS I'm interested in the language you used there. We need to be ambitious but realistic about what can be done. Is it realistic that Islamic State will control a certain area of territory?

JULIE BISHOP Well this is clearly what we are seeking to defeat and that's why we want to work closely with the Iraqi Government, this is the sovereign government of Iraq, to ensure that it can maintain its sovereignty over the borders of Iraq. That means, defeating those who would seek to destroy the State of Iraq and that includes ISIS.

DAVID SPEERS And can they be defeated from controlling a new territory with just US air strikes alone?

JULIE BISHOP That is making a difference as we understand it. But we are also calling on Arab nations, the Arab States to be involved in the coalition to support the Iraqi Government, support the US in its attempts to support the Iraqi Government to maintain control over its own territory. We are discussing this on a constant basis in our National Security Committee. I'm talking with me counterparts overseas, including Secretary Kerry, and I know Prime Minister Abbott is deeply involved in this issue.

ISIS or ISIL is a particularly brutal, barbaric form of terrorist organisation. It's possibly one of the worst that we have seen. So we have to ensure that it doesn't spread beyond Iraq, Syria, where it can be contained and then the aim is to destroy it.

DAVID SPEERS And is Australia, to be clear on this, is Australia willing to do more militarily either through air strikes, special forces on the ground, training?

JULIE BISHOP What Australia does will depend very much on what the Iraqi Government asks us to do, or consents to us doing, and likewise with the United States.

DAVID SPEERS Has there been any request?

JULIE BISHOP We don't take the lead, we've had a number of requests including from (Iraqui) Kurdistan, but of course Kurdistan doesn't have diplomatic status in Australia, it's not a sovereign Government, so we are currently working through the request from Kurdistan as to how they can work with the Iraqi Government.

DAVID SPEERS They want weapons and other equipment from Australia, so that is being considered?

JULIE BISHOP We've been asked to look at humanitarian support and that's what we're providing. Anything further would be the subject of considerable discussion within the National Security Committee.

DAVID SPEERS Has there been any request from the US or Iraq?

JULIE BISHOP What we're focussing on is the humanitarian support at this stage. The United States is considering its options, considering its position and if they want anything further they'll come back to us. But we've focussed on the humanitarian side of things. We've had one air drop, we believe that it's been successful and we stand ready to supply more humanitarian aid as required.

DAVID SPEERS The new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has another couple of weeks to form Government there. My understanding is the Americans are watching this very closely to see just how inclusive he is. How critical is this period and his effort to include, not just the Shia, but Sunni in sharing power?

JULIE BISHOP Absolutely critical and when I spoke to Secretary Kerry yesterday we talked about efforts we will make, that Australia can make - representations at the highest levels within the Iraqi Government to encourage them to be inclusive, to point out the ramifications of not being inclusive, to work with them, to support them. The Iraqi Government needs support, not just from the United States and Australia, but across many nations to provide them with that kind of moral and humanitarian support as well as provide whatever assistance we can.

Mind you, the Iraqi Government is not poor, it's a wealthy country. It has significant oil exports that are continuing. The oil exploration and exports from the south are continuing, that's worth billions of dollars to the Iraqi Government. Likewise, there's been significant and substantial aid provided. I think the Saudis gave something like half a billion dollars in support - so it's not the money that's the issue, it's defeating ISIS which has been such a terrible reign of terror, that has been meted out in Northern Iraq.

DAVID SPEERS Can I turn to Indonesia, you fly there tonight? You are going to be meeting President Yudhoyono as well as your counterpart Marty Natalegawa. You're going to be signing what's been called the Joint Understanding of a Code of Conduct.

JULIE BISHOP I called it a Joint Understanding and Marty called it a Code of Conduct so we put it together.

DAVID SPEERS So you put it together. Is that the essence of what's been going on for some months now?

JULIE BISHOP More than the heading of the document, more than that!

DAVID SPEERS What will it involve?

JULIE BISHOP What it is essentially is an agreement under the Lombok Treaty which governs our respect for each other's sovereignty. So Australia and Indonesia have signed a treaty, the Lombok Treaty which is about respecting each other's sovereignty and other levels of cooperation. Pursuant to that treaty we're signing an agreement that essentially says that we won't use our intelligence resources to harm each other's interests and it's also a platform for greater intelligence cooperation.

This is a very important aspect of it because Indonesia, like Australia, is very concerned about the foreign fighter issue. A number of young Indonesians in particular who have been radicalised, who are seeking to travel to Syria and Iraq, or are already there, and learning terrorist craft and other skills and then coming back to Indonesia or the region. So we are already cooperating, already closely sharing information, working together. This agreement gives form to that cooperation.

DAVID SPEERS It was triggered of course by the reports from after Edward Snowden leaks that Australian phone tapping of the President and his wife's phone.

JULIE BISHOP Back in 2009.

DAVID SPEERS Back in 2009. President Yudhoyono has said this shouldn't happen. Does this document provide any guarantee that it won't happen?

JULIE BISHOP This document provides a guarantee that neither side, neither Australia nor Indonesia will use our assets including our intelligence assets to harm each other's interests.

DAVID SPEERS And is tapping a President's phone harming interests?

JULIE BISHOP The document says that we will not use intelligence assets and other assets to harm each other's interests. That's what the document says.

DAVID SPEERS Ok can Australia give any guarantee that this won't happen again?

JULIE BISHOP That's an allegation that was made when the former Government was in office in 2009. We don't discuss security matters in that kind of detail. What we have done is cleaned up the mess that we inherited and that is we have agreed to cooperate on intelligence. Indeed this agreement gives a basis for a much higher level of intelligence cooperation than we've had before. It envisages visits between our intelligence agencies and I think that's a very positive step.

DAVID SPEERS Not that it's guaranteed because there is a parallel – President Obama gave a similar guarantee to the Germans after similar revelations.

JULIE BISHOP Well I question that. It depends what people think President Obama said but my point is we don't discuss security issues. We inherited a problem, the Snowden allegations and we've resolved them, or we hope to have resolved them by the signing of this agreement tomorrow. Other than that I'm not going into security and intelligence details.

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