Sky News First Edition, interview with Kieran Gilbert

  • Transcript, E&OE
24 May 2017

JOURNALIST: Joining us on the program now, the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Minister, thanks so much for your time. You see the face of that eight year old killed, it's just heartbreaking. 22 dead in this attack on a concert where most of them would have been young girls.

JULIE BISHOP: It's such a callous, cowardly attack – to target young concert goers, children as young as eight years old were there. This is the kind of behaviour that we must so roundly condemn. An attack on a concert where people were just going about their everyday lives, enjoying the evening, parents there with their children. I'm able to say that no Australians have been identified as being involved but our hearts go out to the people of Manchester, the people of Britain, all those who have been affected by this horrible tragedy.

JOURNALIST: The UK has been affected by terrorism for many decades, is there a different approach from the terrorists these days though? Because previously it was about disrupting government and operations of day-to-day lives; this is all about just killing as many people as possible.

JULIE BISHOP: Well that's right. The British have suffered at the hands of terrorists from the days of the IRA, and there's a stoicism, a resilience about the British people. But now when you see terrorists targeting children at a public event like a concert, it's a whole new level of ugly brutality, and that's what we as governments must deal with, the possibility that people will be targeted in this way. It's happened now in Britain on a number of occasions. The people of Manchester are stoic; we see that they came out for a church service, a memorial service today. Mancunians, the people of Manchester, are renowned for their resilience but this is so heartbreaking. The British authorities are currently carrying out an investigation to see if it is part of a wider organisation, have they come across a terrorist cell, that's the current level of investigation. That's deeply troubling, the fact that the perpetrator is said to have been British-born, raised in Manchester, they say he was a supporter of Manchester United Football Club. It must horrify the local people, his neighbours and those who knew him. But another man has been arrested as well and the British authorities are determining whether this is part of a wider net. I note that Islamic State has claimed responsibility on social media but it's still to be determined whether it was actually directed or just inspired by Islamist terrorists.

JOURNALIST: That's right; it doesn't look like a lone wolf attack at this stage with the British Prime Minister announcing that the COBRA Committee is also increased the threat level from 'severe' to 'critical', which means that another attack is not only highly likely, it's imminent.

JULIE BISHOP: That's precisely what raising the terrorist threat means, I understand. I have spoken to our British High Commissioner Alexander Downer who's based in London – he's not the British, he's the Australian High Commissioner based in London – and Alexander has been speaking to the authorities, to MI5, to Metropolitan Police, to the Manchester Police and they are carrying out a very broad investigation. You will see that there have been warrants for the arrest, for entry to premises, using explosive devices to get into premises, so this is a very broad ranging investigation into the perpetrators behind this attack and it would seem that there was more than one.

JOURNALIST: And when you've got 550 or thereabouts live terrorist cases that they're monitoring at any one time, that's the number I've seen from British authorities, that's an enormous amount. It's inevitable, and sadly we saw the events of the last 24 hours, that one or two cases can get through.

JULIE BISHOP: It's a huge task and no country can defeat terrorism alone. That's why we're part of the 68 member Coalition of countries that are determined to defeat terrorism at its source, that's why we have defence personnel in Iraq, why we're taking part in airstrikes in Syria – to destroy the terrorist headquarters. It's the 'inspiring element' of it that is so difficult to counter, when people far removed from the Middle East where the headquarters of these terrorist organisations are located, are carrying out this kind of brutal, vile terrorism…

JOURNALIST: But also when you defeat them, when we as a Coalition defeat them in that theatre, we've now driven them out of Raqqa, for example, the city in Syria, is the terror threat then increased further by the foreign fighters that leave the so called caliphate and return to their countries of origin?

JULIE BISHOP: Well this is one of our deep concerns. There are about 100 Australian citizens who are fighting with terrorist organisations, mainly Islamic State, in Iraq and Syria. Should they survive and seek to return home, of course our concern is that they are hardened terrorists, that they have been fighting with a terrorist organisation. So that's why we're working with other countries, there's a high level of cooperation with other countries to ensure that we can track the movements of these foreign terrorist fighters.

JOURNALIST: Well Donald Trump is now, and the White House, calling this his approach to these foreign fighters as an 'annihilation campaign', not only do they want to push IS out of their strongholds but they want to kill them or capture them. Do you welcome that stronger focus from the White House?

JULIE BISHOP: We are certainly working very closely with the United States Administration and other countries to track the movements of all foreign terrorist fighters, not only as they leave the Middle East but if they make their way home to Australia, to Indonesia, to Malaysia, the Philippines – these are the countries of concern and we are working at the highest level, the deepest cooperation that we can…

JOURNALIST: But you wouldn't have any concern if the US airstrikes and others kill these individuals?

JULIE BISHOP: People are killed in US airstrikes, there have been a number of terrorists who have already died in Syria and Iraq, I'm aware of Australians who have not survived. That's been our message, that not only are foreign terrorist fights adding to the misery and the suffering of people in the Middle East, but putting their own lives at risk.

JOURNALIST: In terms of our threat level, is there any proposed increase in that? It's currently at 'probable'.

JULIE BISHOP: That's right. We had a meeting of the National Security Committee of Cabinet last evening, chaired by the Prime Minister. All the heads of our relevant agencies were there, the Chief of the Defence Force, the head of ASIS, ASIO, head of the AFP, and we discussed the Manchester bombing as well as the situation in Australia. It's always under review, the threat level, and we are taking the advice of our intelligence agencies. If there is any information that would lead us to believe that we should change the assessment, of course we would.

JOURNALIST: Minister, appreciate your time. Thanks.

- Ends -

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