Sky News First Edition - Interview with Kieran Gilbert

  • Transcript, E&OE

JOURNALIST: First this half hour, I'm joined by the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop here in the Canberra studio. Thanks very much for your time.

JULIE BISHOP: Good to be with you.

JOURNALIST: A bit of discussion around the sitting of Parliament and the schedule and the argument being made by Labor and others that the Government looks like it's running scared. Is that the case?

JULIE BISHOP: Not at all. We were always going to sit for two weeks in the lead up to Christmas and we're still sitting for two weeks, it's just it's a week later so that this eligibility of citizenship can be clarified. There are a number of Labor Members who have admitted that they weren't eligible to sit in the Parliament, so we want to clear that up and we also want to ensure that we can deal with the same sex marriage legislation, that's not going to be finished in the Senate until the week before so it can then seamlessly go into the House.

JOURNALIST: It's feared the Prime Minister doesn't want to test the Government's numbers on the floor of the House of Representatives while he's got two MPs out fighting by-elections. Is that the case?

JULIE BISHOP: That doesn't make sense. Of course we've still got two weeks of sitting, it just starts a week later. So…

JOURNALIST: But Barnaby Joyce will be back by then, won't he?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, his by-election's on the second and Parliament's going to resume on the fourth, so I wouldn't think that the writs would be declared by then. No, this is about ensuring that the citizenship matter can be dealt with and then we can deal with the same sex marriage legislation before Christmas as the Prime Minister said we would.

JOURNALIST: But then there are other arguments being made that the Government's trying to avoid pressure on the banking royal commission or commission of inquiry with your own Senators talking about moving their own private members bill in that regard, and by delaying a week then you put the pressure on Labor not to push ahead with that.

JULIE BISHOP: Kieran, there were always going to be two weeks of sitting, they're just a week later so we can deal with the citizenship issue and same-sex marriage legislation. So we still have two weeks of sitting available to us – the week of the fourth and if necessary the week of the eleventh.

JOURNALIST: So it's not about avoiding scrutiny here?

JULIE BISHOP: Absolutely not, absolutely not. We've still got two weeks of sitting.

JOURNALIST: Yeah, indeed. But the point is that it's delayed by a week after the Senate and then Labor would be in a very difficult spot to change the topic off same sex marriage when they've campaigned so strongly, onto a banking commission.

JULIE BISHOP: I don't know that Labor campaigned so strongly on it. Labor were the ones that voted against the plebiscite. Had they supported the plebiscite this would have been done and dusted last February. Let's remember Labor and the Greens opposed a plebiscite. So we're now dealing with same sex marriage at this time. The Senate will complete their debate, we understand, by 30 November and then it can come straight into the House. In the meantime, we can sort out these citizenship issues and each Member will be required to file a declaration as to their eligibility to sit in that House of Representatives. It's an important issue.

JOURNALIST: Was this discussed broadly across the leadership group in the Coalition, this decision, or was this effectively a captain's call?

JULIE BISHOP: No, this was discussed within leadership.

JOURNALIST: And was everyone consulted across the board within the Coalition?

JULIE BISHOP: I'm not going to go into the details. The Leader of the House announced that we're now sitting for two weeks prior to Christmas as we always…

JOURNALIST: But there was broad consultation on that?

JULIE BISHOP: Well it was discussed.

JOURNALIST: OK. Let's talk about the tax cuts idea, because this is being suggested by the Labor Party already as you giving with one hand but taking with the other in terms of the increase in the Medicare levy for low income earners.

JULIE BISHOP: Well what we're seeking to do is ensure that the Australian people have more of their hard earned dollars in their pocket. We're the party of lower taxes. We don't want Australians to pay more tax than is absolutely necessary and we think the tax rates are too high. So we want to have a very broad and deep discussion about this, as they did in New Zealand when they went into tax reform, they had public discussions for about 12 months. So the Prime Minister was addressing a Business Council meeting last night and he quite rightly made the point that we need to stimulate the Australian economy. We want people to have more money in their pockets, their hard earned dollars. In the meantime, we're getting on with economic reforms, including seeking to return the budget to surplus, our affordable and reliable energy policy, all the economic issues that really matter to the Australian people.

JOURNALIST: It's a big ask though, isn't it? Because you're removing some tax on the one hand as you're increasing the Medicare levy on the other. It's going to be expensive.

JULIE BISHOP: Well, what we're seeking to do is relieve the tax burden on low to middle income earners, and we're also seeking to reduce company tax because we want companies to have more money to invest in their businesses, to employ more people. This is all about giving people more opportunities to have jobs.

JOURNALIST: And can you do all this and still get the budget back into the black?

JULIE BISHOP: That's our plan, that's what we want to do. That's why we're having a discussion with the Australian people about our ambition to lower taxes, to ensure that we can get the budget back into surplus and start paying off Labor's debt. I mean they put a mountain of debt on the national credit card and it takes a while to pay off.

JOURNALIST: Some big international issues I want to talk about in a second, but just quickly, a Coalition MP has told Andrew Bolt that he's going to step down from the Coalition, from the Turnbull Government when Parliament returns. Are you worried about that?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, I'm not aware of a Coalition MP having these feelings, and if they are thinking that way I'd hope they'd come and talk to me or talk to the Prime Minister about their concerns rather than talking to the media. If somebody really is concerned, well then, please come and talk to us. My door's always open.

JOURNALIST: It would be a huge threat to the Government is someone were to behave in that regard. Not just cross the floor, but leave the Government altogether.

JULIE BISHOP: Well I'd be very concerned if somebody felt that way and I would hope that they would come and talk to me, talk to the Prime Minister, talk to trusted colleagues.

JOURNALIST: This person apparently saying that Turnbull should be replaced as Leader, not by you, but by someone else - apparently, according to this Andrew Bolt report.

JULIE BISHOP: I don't know who this person is so I can't…

JOURNALIST: Have you heard that though within the Coalition?

JULIE BISHOP: No, I can't begin to speculate what this is about.

JOURNALIST: OK. No suggestions that you've heard of that Mr Turnbull should be replaced?

JULIE BISHOP: No. Nobody's raised that with me.

JOURNALIST: Alright. Let's look at the big foreign policy issue overnight. Rex Tillerson's been discussing this this morning as did the President a few hours ago and declaring North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism. Surprising it hasn't happened sooner.

JULIE BISHOP: Well, North Korea was listed as a state sponsor of terrorism, but during the Bush Administration. They returned to the Six-Party Talks and they gave every indication that they would abide by the international requirements for verification of their nuclear programs and then it seems that they were not meeting any of the benchmarks. So in the last few years we've seen state-sponsored assassinations, we have certainly seen cyber-attacks against the United States and then continuing violation of numerous UN Security Council resolutions prohibiting their ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs. So North Korea is in every sense a rogue state. It poses a threat to our region. North Korea keeps threatening our neighbours, tt threatens the United States, Japan, South Korea, it's a threat globally. So, the United States is keeping maximum pressure, both diplomatic and economic, to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table.

JOURNALIST: What does this move do though, in terms of added pressure?

JULIE BISHOP: Well it means that there are greater restrictions on it in terms of foreign assistance, in terms of arms sales, a whole range of restrictions are placed on a nation that's on a terror list.

JOURNALIST: And finally, a good news story out of France in that the energy company Engie has written to the Government saying they won't be pursuing a wind farm on the battlefield of Bullecourt. That must be great relief, certainly a very positive development overnight?

JULIE BISHOP: It is indeed. The Australian Government made representations at the highest level. Dan Tehan was in touch with the Minister of State, our Ambassador made representations. We were making representations at a local and national level that this is sacred, hallowed ground and that the views of the Australian people had to be taken into account. So the French Government was in no doubt about the Australian Government's views on this matter.

JOURNALIST: And they've been very constructive by the looks of it and reassuring that the company wrote to the Minister saying that they've listened carefully and respectfully and decided that the ground should remain undisturbed as a place of reflection and commemoration. That's great news.

JULIE BISHOP: It's a very good outcome and our Ambassador in Paris went to Bullecourt, met with local people, met with the company and we did a lot of work behind the scenes and the French were very accommodating. They understand that this is a centenary year coming up in 2018, the end of World War One. It's a very special time in the minds of many Australians.

JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister, appreciate your time as always. Thanks.

JULIE BISHOP: Thank you.

Media enquiries