Sky News First Edition, Sydney - Interview with Kieran Gilbert

  • Transcript, E&OE

JOURNALIST: We're live to the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop who joins us at an event, G'Day USA, in fact the 15th anniversary of G'Day USA. Minister, I'll ask you about that a bit later – but first on Rex Tillerson. His future doesn't look great in the Trump Administration, does that worry you?

JULIE BISHOP: I have formed a very close personal and professional working relationship with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. I think he has represented the United States interests exceedingly well and particularly in our region and I would hope that he would stay on. He's built up a lot of trust and respect in Australia, and particularly in the Indo-Pacific region. I've worked with him at various forums and of course he came to Australia very early on as part of our Annual Ministerial Dialogue, so we had the Secretaries of Defense and State meet with Marise Payne and me in Sydney.

JOURNALIST: This does look like it's pretty well sourced – this story in the New York Times though – that Mike Pompeo the CIA Director might end up being the next Secretary of State. Do you feel that you would be in a position to establish a similar working relationship with that individual?

JULIE BISHOP: I'd be very sorry to see Rex Tillerson go, however, I have met Mike Pompeo. We've had very productive discussions, constructive discussions in his current role and I feel sure that I could work closely with whomever the United States Administration determines should be the Secretary of State.

JOURNALIST: Joe Hockey's going to be meeting with the likely next Ambassador to Australia today, Harry Harris, at the Pacific Command in Hawaii. Any update on that as far as the Government's concerned, is that the most likely scenario? And if it is Admiral Harris Ambassador to Australia, are you worried about the Chinese reaction given what a hawk he is when it comes to regional security?

JULIE BISHOP: There has been no formal announcement made as to the next US Ambassador to Australia. It's been some time coming but that's not unusual. There have been lengthy periods when new administrations come in before ambassadors are appointed. There has been speculation about a number of people. I do know Harry Harris, he's been a very close friend of Australia and a strong Commander for the US in the Pacific. I believe Ambassador Hockey is going to Hawaii in fact to farewell our Consul-General Geoff Robinson who has been in Hawaii for some time, but of course we will welcome whomever the US Administration chooses to be the Ambassador to Australia. Generally they are a person of high stature and who has a close personal relationship with the President of the day. I think other countries would welcome the fact that a senior influential US serving military person might well be considered as the Ambassador to Australia for the United States, but there's been no formal announcement made.

JOURNALIST: But even China, you say other countries would welcome it, would China?

JULIE BISHOP: I think Admiral Harris has a very high reputation. He's well regarded. I don't think it's up to other countries to dictate who should be the ambassadors sent out to represent them on their behalf and I know that the US-China relationship is very important and I'm sure that they'll work closely together with whomever the United States chooses to send to Australia as their Ambassador. I think China would be more interested in who the US Ambassador to Beijing is rather than who the US Ambassador to Canberra might be.

JOURNALIST: On to a couple of other matters. Of course the big story this week in our politics, other than the banking story yesterday, was Sam Dastyari, the Labor Senator. Is this done now? Do you accept that he's given his full explanation?

JULIE BISHOP: No, I don't. Sam Dastyari is utterly compromised. He can no longer continue as a Senator in the Australian Parliament. He has lost the trust and the faith of his own party, and he has compromised his own position in the most obvious and dramatic way. He has put the interests of others ahead of the Australian national interest, and that is unacceptable and his position is completely untenable.

JOURNALIST: But the Opposition Leader can't sack him from the Senate, can he?

JULIE BISHOP: Sam Dastyari should reconsider his own position. This is not a one-off event where he has now sought to tell a foreign national how to avoid what he thought was an Australia security investigation. It's a pattern of behaviour over a long period of time. He's utterly compromised. He should recognise that he has lost the trust of his own party. He should step aside from the Labor Party and then he should leave the Senate.

JOURNALIST: Are you worried this is the tip of the iceberg, and is this a message to others who might be subject to influence from the Chinese lobby in this country?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, Sam Dastyari is utterly compromised. He has accepted money from a foreign benefactor to pay his own personal expenses. He changed Labor Party policy at the behest of his benefactor, and he risks doing damage to Australia's reputation overseas. I believe his position as an Australian Senator is utterly compromised, he's hopelessly compromised, and he cannot remain in the Senate. He should do the decent thing by the Australian people and resign.

JOURNALIST: What about the influence of the Chinese lobby in this country more broadly?

JULIE BISHOP: That has been the subject of much discussion, there have been comments made by our security agencies, there's been concern about foreign interference elsewhere in democracies around the world. We are looking at various measures, and I know our Attorney-General is considering certain legislation.

JOURNALIST: Let's look at some other international issues before we wrap up. Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the UN, wants nations to sever all ties with Pyongyang. The Russians through Sergey Lavrov said that this is only going to make things worse and inflame the situation. What's your view on it?

JULIE BISHOP: I believe that we should be part of a collective effort to put maximum diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea to compel it back to the negotiating table and to deter it from taking any further risky action that threatens not only its neighbourhood but our whole region. North Korea is a global security risk. Australia is upholding the UN sanctions, the regime that was introduced on 5 August and 11 September, and we've also imposed our own sanctions on North Korean individuals and entities who are supporting North Korea's illegal weapons and nuclear weapons program. North Korea is in direct violation of numerous United Nations Security Council resolutions, and it is unacceptable for it to continue. It puts into question the authority and the standing of the UN Security Council, particularly the Permanent Five, and that includes China and Russia.

JOURNALIST: But is Russia right to the extent that Lavrov has suggested that the US could provoke North Korea by going further in this sense?

JULIE BISHOP: The cause of the tensions on the Korean Peninsula are solely those of North Korea – North Korea is in breach of numerous Security Council resolutions, North Korea is carrying out illegal ballistic missile and nuclear weapons tests. So we must join with others including the United States and China and Russia to impose maximum diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea to make it change its behaviour, and we are seeing countries embracing the sanctions regime that has been endorsed by the whole UN Security Council. It was a unanimous resolution on both 5 August and 11 September.

JOURNALIST: Now finally onto the G'Day USA. It's the 15th year of this event, and we've become used to Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban and others on the red carpet, but why is it important? Can you explain to our viewers why this initiative is an important one?

JULIE BISHOP: This is an opportunity for Australia to showcase our talents, our goods, our services – whether it's food, wine, defence industries, tourism – to the vast audiences in the United States. This is one of the most lucrative consumer markets in the world, the United States is one of our most important trade and investment partners, and G'Day USA is a platform for us to generate more trade, more investment, and greater job opportunities for Australians through engagement with the United States. It's our premier public and economic diplomacy platform to generate prosperity and security with our partner, the United States.

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

JULIE BISHOP: Thanks Kieran.

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