Sky News - interview with David Speers

  • Transcript, E&OE
18 April 2017

JOURNALIST: Withme now is the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop for more on this. Thank you foryour time this afternoon.

JULIEBISHOP: Good Afternoon.

JOURNALIST: Now, as you've noted today the US isn't taking the military option offthe table. If it does come to that, would Australia be prepared to join anymilitary action?

JULIEBISHOP: What I understand the United States is saying to NorthKorea is cease ramping up your provocative behaviour, cease your nuclear andballistic missile testing, because the aim for our region is to have adenuclearised Korean Peninsula. North Korea is increasing the threat byincreasing the scale and tempo of its ballistic missile tests, and this is allin utter defiance of UN Security Council resolutions, and so the United Statesis saying all options are on the table. We hope it will not come to that, butif the United States were to act, I don't envisage a situation where Australiawould be asked to be involved in that. When I say act, clearly what the UnitedStates would be looking at is taking out the nuclear facilities that are givingrise to our concerns.

JOURNALIST: So you don't envisage that Australia would militarily become involved?

JULIEBISHOP: No I don't, but my other point is this has been anoption of previous US administrations. The difference occurred under the Obamaadministration where he exercised – that is President Obama – exercised what hecalled "strategic patience." The Clinton administration began serious talkswith North Korea back in the 1990s and progress was made up until about 2005.But there have been so many false promises, so many false starts on behalf ofthe North Korean regime – throwing out inspectors, refusing to have theirnuclear programs verified, refusing to have their actions verified – and thenunder the Obama administration the "strategic patience" in effect was astalemate. And it was during that period that North Korea was able to increaseits capability.

JOURNALIST: So do you welcome this change of approach now that the Trumpadministration; Mike Pence making clear, the Vice President, that "strategicpatience" is over?

JULIEBISHOP: The stalemate was not in our interests, it was not inthe interests of the United States and it certainly wasn't in China's interests.The only country to gain from it is North Korea because they have increasedtheir capability both in terms of their ambitions to develop anintercontinental ballistic missile deploying a nuclear warhead which would becapable of reaching the United States, that's their ambition, now if they wereto achieve that, of course it would be capable of reaching Australia.

JOURNALIST: Of course the big question is whether this is justtalk from the Trump administration or whether they really mean they would beprepared to strike to take out this nuclear arsenal.

JULIEBISHOP: I note that Vice President Pence referred to the Trumpadministration's preparedness to use weapons in Syria and again in Afghanistan.

JOURNALIST: So you believe they mean it?

JULIEBISHOP: I believe they mean it but I also believe that theywill try every other creative option including putting more pressure on Chinato take a role.

JOURNALIST: Well to that end – what – I mean China has apparentlyalready stopped some coal shipments from North Korea into China. That hasn'treally had an effect and we're seeing North Korea continue with all therhetoric and so on. What more does it need to do? Should it cut off its oilsupplies to North Korea?

JULIEBISHOP: China is the largest financier of North Korea. Aboutthree quarters of all North Korea's exports to go China. About 95% of all itsforeign investment comes from China. So there is a long way to go before Chinaexercises the financial muscle that it really has. The coal exports were inaccordance with a UN Security Council resolution. I believe there is much morethat China can and should do to use its financial clout. Australia is supportingthe sanctions regime – we've listed a few more entities and individuals on ourfinancial sanctions regime – but China is in a unique position to use financialpressure to bring the North Korean regime to heel. And it is a threat not onlyto regional security it's a threat to global security.

JOURNALIST: One of the concerns China has is the US deployment ofwhat's called the THAAD missile defence system in South Korea. China fears thisis going to have surveillance capabilities and obviously the capability to takeout their own missiles. Should China be worried about that?

JULIEBISHOP: No, China should welcome the fact that the UnitedStates and South Korea have an alliance such that they would be able to deploythis system which would bring down a missile should North Korea fire one in thedirection of South Korea. So far they've been testing into the Sea of Japan.But if they were to direct their missiles elsewhere, then we should bereassured that the United States and South Korea are prepared to deploy amissile defence system which has the capability of bringing down a missilemid-flight.

JOURNALIST: You've expressed the hope that obviously that it doesn'tcome to military conflict, but you know as experts point out North Korea wouldbe able to lob maybe half a million rounds of conventional artillery into SouthKorea fairly rapidly if it did come to it. Are there any precautions beingtaken for Australian personnel both at the embassy and Australian citizens inSeoul?

JULIEBISHOP: The stakes are very high but I don't believe theUnited States would act without trying other creative means of putting pressureon North Korea. But what they have said is military options are on the table, inother words, all options are on the table. But my view is that much morepressure will need to be brought to bear on North Korea by China before anyaction is taken. Of course we always review the safety and security of ourpeople overseas. I was South Korea recently. I went up to the demilitarisedzone. I saw with my own eyes how close the North Korean soldiers are to SouthKorea. It's a mere distance of 70 kilometres.

JOURNALIST: (interrupts) they were – I remember the pictures –they were eyeballing you, taking photos of you as they do.

JULIEBISHOP: That's right, that's right, as they do. So it's a very, very fragile situation but weof course always ensure that our people are as safe and secure as possible.

JOURNALIST: Now the pressure on China here toact – can I ask you more broadly, China wants to be a leader in theAsia-Pacific region – how much of a test is this for China and its leadershipin this region?

JULIEBISHOP: This is a significant issue for China. It can nolonger shirk responsibility. In the past China has said this is a matter forthe United States, North Korea will only deal with the United States. Well atone point North Korea was prepared to engage in six-party talks, but they thencollapsed. I think that the idea that this a bilateral issue between the US andNorth Korea is long gone and now is the time for China to prove that it can bea regional leader and it can also use its undoubted power and leverage overNorth Korea in way that will benefit its neighbours and will benefit ourregion.

JOURNALIST: China obviously fears what might happen if the regimecollapses in North Korea. Can I just ask you finally on this issue, what wouldyou like to see happen in North Korea? Is it the collapse of Kim Jong Un'sregime? Would you like to see reunification on the Korean Peninsula? What's theend game?

JULIEBISHOP: Our primary purpose is to ensure that it's adenuclearised peninsula, in other words, that North Korea gives up its nuclearand ballistic missile program, in accordance with the numerous UN SecurityCouncil resolutions. How that is achieved is a matter of discussion and Ibelieve that China has a significant role to play –as a nuclear power, as amember of the Security Council, to encourage North Korea to give up its nuclearprogram and to …

JOURNALIST: (interrupts) But, so as long as the nuclear threat'sgone …

JULIEBISHOP: … and to focus on the elites. The regime is made up ofelites who are living very comfortably in North Korea and there are manymillions of impoverished people in North Korea. We need to convince the regimethat they would be better focused on the lives and wellbeing of their ownpeople, as opposed to the elites continuing to live very comfortable lives inPyongyang.

JOURNALIST: But as long as the nuclear threat's gone, Kim Jong-uncan stay?

JULIEBISHOP: Well, this is a very difficult question. I can't seeKim Jong-un, from what I have heard and seen and read of him, I can't see himwillingly giving up his nuclear program because he sees that at as deterrenceagainst the United States. He needs to be convinced that it's in his interests,the interests of his country, to give up his nuclear and ballistic missiletests, and I believe China is the key.

JOURNALIST: Can I just ask you finally, away from all of that, thebig domestic announcement today from the Prime Minister was to axe the 457visas. I want to take you back to the Abbott Government. You were DeputyLiberal Leader, the Abbott Government actually relaxed some of the rules around457s. The English language tests were relaxed, businesses weren't penalised ifthey brought in more than they applied for. Now the Turnbull Government'sscrapping them, why the change of heart?

JULIEBISHOP: We've had a considerable review, analysis into it, andthat review took some time. We have gone through it, looked at our unemploymentfigures, last figures were 5.9 per cent unemployed. We can do a lot better thanthat in getting Australians into work, and one place to focus is where the 457svisas have been used when Australians could take those jobs. So our priority isto ensure that as many Australians as possible can have the opportunity for ajob and that the 457 visa doesn't become a de facto way to get permanentresidency. Now we will be replacing it with a temporary skills shortage visa. Thatmeans Australians will have the opportunity to get good jobs, but business willalso have the opportunity to bring in foreign workers in areas of skillsshortage where it's needed, and it will be much more focused and much moretargeted.

JOURNALIST: And could I ask you about Tony Abbott? You know himwell, you've worked with him over many years, is he at the moment helping orhurting the Government?

JULIEBISHOP: He is, as a backbencher and as a former Prime Minister,expressing views. Some of them are contrary to the views he expressedpreviously, but people are entitled to change their mind. But what Tony knows,and we all know, is that ideas, if they are to be translated into policy, haveto be tested for their impact and have to be costed because they invariably comedown to budget measures. So that's what Cabinet Ministers have been doing inrecent weeks in the lead up to the budget, we've been taking ideas, turningthem into policies, testing them for their impact, and seeing if they can becost…

JOURNALIST: (Interrupts) So, pushing his five-point plan, as he'sdoing regularly now, is that a help to the Government, steer you towards goodideas? Or is it really a pain?

JULIEBISHOP: Well, issues like a referendum on Senate powers, Imean those sorts of ideas have been around for a long time, that's not new. So…

JOURNALIST: … Immigration and some of the other ideas there….

JULIEBISHOP: Those are matters that are always under review byresponsible governments.

JOURNALIST: And the RET, freezing the RET?

JULIEBISHOP: Well, it's interesting, that's not something that herecommended when he was Prime Minister.

JOURNALIST: Why do you think he's saying it now?

JULIEBISHOP: You'll have to ask Tony Abbott that.

JOURNALIST: Alright, Foreign Minister and DeputyLiberal Leader Julie Bishop, thank you for your time this afternoon.

JULIE BISHOP: Thank you.

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