Sky News - Interview with Kieran Gilbert

  • Transcript, E&OE

JOURNALIST: Joining us now is the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Minister thanks so much for your time, I want to start with Aleppo, what's your latest advice in relation to what looks like a cessation of hostilities there?

JULIE BISHOP: We understand that there has been some deal struck that would allow the cessation of hostilities and hopefully humanitarian support to reach those civilians in Aleppo. The Syrian Opposition has been forced into this enclave and Aleppo has been pounded by the Assad-aligned forces and we understand there have been mass casualties and that humanitarian need is desperately required. There has been discussion in the Security Council and we hope that the ceasefire holds. Australia has continually called for there to be humanitarian corridors to allow people to leave and to allow humanitarian support to be brought into these areas and we continue to make that call.

JOURNALIST: And Foreign Minister, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power this morning described Aleppo as a meltdown in humanity in directing comments directly at the Syrian and Russian ambassadors, she said this will shame you and pointed those comments directly at the Russians, a forceful contribution this morning from her, do you agree with that assessment?

JULIE BISHOP: Most certainly the reports that we have had is that mass atrocities have occurred. This is an appalling humanitarian disaster. We have continually said that there is no military solution, while ever the forces aligned with Assad believe they can beat the Opposition forces, while ever the Opposition forces believe that they can beat the Assad regime then this conflict will continue. There must be a political solution and those backing Syria and those backing the Opposition must sit down to discuss a peace deal.

JOURNALIST: A UN Human Rights spokesman says that they have received reports that forces aligned to Assad were slaughtering civilians, upwards of 80, on the spot as they took over parts of Aleppo.

JULIE BISHOP: Yes we've heard these reports and as I said there are reports of mass atrocities and that's why the UN Security Council has seized at the matter. Of course you have the United States, UK, and France on one side, Russia on the other in the Security Council. It makes it very difficult to get any agreement because they are opposing forces. The United States and Russia must - and their supporters - must do a peace deal to try and find a political solution. This is one of the worst humanitarian disasters that we have witnessed in many, many years.

JOURNALIST: And given Russia's role in all of this, do you have any concerns about the person that has been chosen as the next US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, the CEO of ExxonMobil who has close ties to Vladimir Putin.

JULIE BISHOP: Rex Tillerson has been named by President-elect Trump as his nominee for the position of Secretary of State. Of course it must go through a senate confirmation process and Rex Tillerson is well known to Australia as the Chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil. He was in fact awarded with an American Australian Association Award for his contribution to US-Australian relations in 2012. Many Australians who have worked for ExxonMobil speak very highly of him. He will, it would seem, have an extraordinary network of contacts, and as the head of a multinational company, one of the largest in the world, he certainly will have a very deep understanding of foreign affairs but we need to await the outcome of the confirmation hearings in the Senate which can take place any time from 3 January when the 115th Congress is sworn in.

JOURNALIST: The former ambassador to the United States, Mr Beazley, has said yesterday that it's important for your government, for you and your diplomats to be trying to get in, as soon as possible, to the ear of Rex Tillerson to make the case not just for Australia but our views in the region. Is that your intention?

JULIE BISHOP: We are already doing that, we have been doing that from the outset. Whenever President-elect Trump indicates his nominees for positions, then we seek to make contact and Australia is very well-positioned to enhance the relationship with the new Trump administration. A number of the nominees are former military people and our military, our defence personnel have very close ties with them. So we are making connections already and will continue to do so but I do stress that while President-elect Trump has about 4000 positions he is required to fill, about 1200 of them require senate confirmation and those hearings can take some time, although some nominees could be confirmed as early as 20 January after President-elect Trump has been inaugurated.

JOURNALIST: Given the uncertainty about what a Trump presidency means for our region and beyond, is it then timely that this foreign policy white paper is going to start its consultations right now, given just how uncertain the world is?

JULIE BISHOP: I believe it is timely and that is why we made a promise in the last election that we would after 13 years publish a white paper on foreign policy. Much has changed since 2003 and even in the last 12 months, we have seen Brexit, a change in the makeup of the European Union, the Trump administration potentially having a different foreign policy from that which we have observed in the past, the outbreak of such terrible hostilities in Syria and Iraq, the ongoing work in Afghanistan and of course on the economic front, we had the economic shocks of 2008, 2009. So it is timely that the Australian Government publish a white paper. We're seeking very broad public consultation. As I said yesterday this is not a white paper for the Australian Government, it is a white paper on foreign policy for all Australians and it will set a framework which will outline our values, out interests, our priorities, so that we are able to be strategically positioned for whatever happens in the future and not just reacting to events as they occur.

JOURNALIST: A Statement of Values and then therefore a blueprint is it for what could end up being a more independent foreign policy that Australia undertakes if Trump does veer off what our shared values have been over decades?

JULIE BISHOP: Well as I've said many times as Foreign Minister we are an open Liberal democracy committed to freedoms, the rule of law, the international rules-based order. We're also an open, export oriented market economy and these are the values that underpin our national interest and so we would urge all countries to adhere to the international rules based order for example, and that's what the white paper will articulate, a framework of our values, our interests, our priorities.

JOURNALIST: One of the things that underpins security in the region has been a general acceptance of one-China. That is that Taiwan is part of China. We've seen a waning in that view in the United States with President-elect Trump, how important is it that they maintain that view and are you worried about what might be China's reaction to Mr Trump's position here?

JULIE BISHOP: Kieran, I don't intend to provide a running commentary on every comment that President-elect Trump has made. I think it would be much more productive if we waited until he is inaugurated, he is the president and then if there are any changes in US foreign policy, well then of course Australia would respond. But in the meantime I can state categorically that Australia's position is as it has been since 1972 and that is we recognise the one-China policy, and it has been important for peace, stability in our region for countries to continue to be consistent in that regard. So Australia upholds the principle of a one-China policy.

JOURNALIST: And you would urge Beijing to show restraint in this regard as well, to also await the inauguration and what the outcome is in the White House?

JULIE BISHOP: Well I think it's logical that we should wait to see any foreign policy changes rather than comment on statements or tweets or other comments that may hint at a foreign policy change, but that may not occur. Australia's role as a very close friend and ally of the United States will be to speak about our role in the region, how we view the situation in our part of the world, in the Asia Pacific, and share with the new Trump administration our experiences, our observations and what has gone on in the past. The United States matters to us. The United States is very important in our region. It is the security guarantor for the Asia Pacific. It's our largest Defence partner, it's our largest source of foreign direct investment and the United States is our second largest trading partner. We are close friends and allies and the United States is our indispensable partner.

JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister, I want to ask you finally about the trial of the Governor of Jakarta, a Christian, this is being seen by many as a turning point for Indonesia. It's been for so long a country of moderate Islam. Do you see this as a turning point for that country in terms of whether or not it will remain a country of that tradition?

JULIE BISHOP: Kieran, given that the trial is underway, I shouldn't provide any commentary on Indonesian legal systems. My hope is that he will receive a fair trial and if he receives a fair trial then I am sure that the outcome will be appropriate. But it wouldn't be useful or productive of me to comment on a particular trial given that legal proceedings are underway.

JOURNALIST: Okay. And well I should ask you before you go, your colleague Marise Payne, is she back at work? There's been speculation she's ill and that might lead to a reshuffle?

JULIE BISHOP: Well she is back at work in that she attended by video conference our meetings yesterday. She's not able to travel to Japan at present, but that's just on medical advice. We've rescheduled a meeting we were to have with the Japanese foreign and defence ministers, but they're looking forward to the rescheduled meeting in the New Year. And Marise, I'm in contact with her on a constant basic. She's certainly working but she's recovering from surgery.

JOURNALIST: Alright, thank you for your time this morning Minister, I appreciate it on a range of topics. We'll talk to you soon.

JULIE BISHOP: Thanks Kieran.

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