Sky News, News Day - interview with Peter Van Onselen

  • Transcript, E&OE

PETER VAN ONSELEN Can I just ask you off the top about what is our top story today, these seven people that are alleged to have been trying to make their way to Syria and Iraq that have been stopped at, I believe, Sydney and Melbourne airport. Is there any more information you can enlighten us on about this? It is the largest group to be stopped under such circumstances.

JULIE BISHOP Peter I can confirm there was an incident at Sydney airport on the 12th of August but I can't go into the details of it because of course these investigations are ongoing and those involved will be subject to further surveillance so I'd rather not go into the details. But this is all part of the work that our security and intelligence and law enforcement agencies are doing to prevent Australian citizens from travelling to Syria, Iraq, to take part in the conflict on the side of this brutal terrorist organisation known as Islamic State or Da'esh. So to date we've cancelled about 125 passports, we have suspended about 20 pending further investigations, and we have refused to issue about 16, all based on national security grounds. This really is a concerning development but at least we were able to prevent some people leaving who would otherwise have taken up with a terrorist organisation, become experienced terrorists in our view, and then being a threat to Australia should they try to come back to our country.

PETER VAN ONSELEN Let me segue, if I can into, over to your home state of Western Australia, the by-election in the seat of Canning. The Liberal Party could hardly have preselected a better candidate, not just in general terms, but Andrew Hastie – an SAS officer. He well knows the war on terror firsthand being at the pointy end of the sphere having fought in places like Afghanistan on a number of tours with our special services. Given you've got such a good candidate you know well the fundraising prowess of yourself and others in the West Australian division. It's not a Labor state to say the least. They weren't even able to do better than one Senator at the rerun Senate election. How good is good enough beyond just winning the seat in terms of stopping the drift of the vote? You've got nearly a 12 per cent margin that you're working with.

JULIE BISHOP Well Peter you know that by-elections are often seen as a reflection of the national position, but I believe in the case of Canning we have pre-selected one of the most outstanding candidates that I have seen and put their name forward for a very long time. He is a captain in the SAS, or of course was. He has been to Afghanistan on a number of tours. You know that the kind of person accepted into the SAS has to show exceptional leadership and other capabilities. Andrew Hastie is, I believe, one of the most outstanding candidates we've had in some time. Of course I believe he would make an outstanding Member for Canning. Having fought for his country he is now prepared to fight for the people of Canning and I believe that he will attract a lot of support. He is a leader. He is married with a young child, his wife is very supportive of what he is seeking to do and I believe that he will be able to present our policies on border protection, on the fight against terrorism, as well as focus on the issues for the people of Canning, in the most extraordinary way. I couldn't be more delighted than to have Andrew Hastie as our candidate in what will be an important by-election following the tragic death of Don Randall.

PETER VAN ONSELEN Those sort of circumstances of a by-election, after a tragic passing like that of Don Randall, we know from the Aston by-election it was only a 3.5 per cent swing against the Government then which you were part of. You would expect, therefore, that it wouldn't be some sort of large-scale revolt in terms of the percentage wouldn't you, because of those circumstances?

JULIE BISHOP I'm sure that many commentators will draw parallels with the Aston by-election, where the Howard Government was in the polls at that time, the circumstances it gave rise to at the Aston by-election. I'm sure there are parallels that will be drawn and can be drawn but each by-election, like each election, will have to be judged on the particular circumstances. Western Australia is a very different state than Victoria and the circumstances of the Abbott Government are very different to the Howard Government. The issues that we will be fighting on will be different, so I won't go into any more detailed analysis of it, except to assure the people of Canning that we will do all we can to present the very best candidate for them and a person who they will be proud to have as their representative for the people of Canning in Canberra.

PETER VAN ONSELEN I can reveal Labor sources have told me that they think he is about as good a candidate on paper as they've seen for a seat like Canning but I doubt they'll make that endorsement publicly Julie Bishop.

JULIE BISHOP Well Peter he's even better when you meet him. He looks good on paper but he's an even better person when you meet him.

PETER VAN ONSELEN We'll see how it goes. Let me ask you about the Free Trade Agreement with China just quickly if I can before we move on to other issues. The Labor Party seem like, in conjunction with the union movement, to have problems with significant parts of this. How does this work from the standpoint of – you do a deal, if you like, at the international level, diplomatically with another nation, another trading partner like China, but then equally, in fairness, parts of it do need Parliamentary approval, parts of it that is. How do you sort of bridge the gap between duty of care to the process domestically with honouring the word of what's been signed and agreed to at an international level?

JULIE BISHOP Well of course all treaties are subject to the Parliamentary process of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties and you'll recall that the Howard Government introduced that process in 1996 I believe. So there will be a Parliamentary Committee to scrutinise the Free Trade Agreement and so the agreement is struck on the basis that it is subject to the domestic process, as it would be in the other negotiating country. So it will be subject to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties processes.

But I thought it was interesting that today former Foreign Minister Bob Carr came out and said that the terms of the treaty will not have to be rewritten, that the concerns that the union movement have raised are not in fact concerns that should give rise to a change in the treaty. So I was heartened by the fact that Bob Carr, like other Labor Premiers around the country, see the incredible value in this agreement for promoting economic growth and creating more jobs for Australians who want to export our goods and services into one of the largest consumer markets in the world. So this Free Trade Agreement is undoubtedly good for Australian jobs and good for economic growth in this country. And the union movement is waging an extraordinarily negative, deceitful, dishonest campaign trying to suggest that Australian jobs are at risk when in actual fact Australian jobs will be enhanced by the Free Trade Agreement.

PETER VAN ONSELEN I'm going to talk a little bit more about that actually with your Parliamentary Secretary Steven Ciobo in about 10 minutes from now but before I let you go, Julie Bishop, I have to give this a go. I would like to see if I can prise out of you your position on same-sex marriage. I know that in the Party Room you refrained from offering a personal view on this. I believe that the Huffington Post asked you the same question. You are the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party. It's a reasonable question isn't it, to know somebody of your seniority, touted as a future leader of the Liberal Party no less, what your actual position is on same sex marriage personally?

JULIE BISHOP Well I've made it very clear from the outset that this would require a change to the Marriage Act, so therefore I would like to see the legislation that would give rise to such a change before I made a decision. Now I'm a former lawyer and I'm also a legislator now so I focus very much on the consequences and the implicationsof the legislation that comes before us. I don't have any answers yet from those who are promoting same sex marriage for some of the concerns that I have as to how this will impact on religious institutions or those who refuse to conduct same sex marriages, what sort of sanctions will be in place, what sort of exemptions there would be. So there are a whole raft of questions that I would like to see answered before I'm prepared to commit to a change to the Marriage Act.

Likewise, I am an elected representative. I'm very conscious of the views of my electorate on such a personal and sensitive issue. It is running at about 50/50 at present so I was one who said let's make this an issue for the Australian people. Of course I have my views, but I think the responsible thing is for the Australian public to have a say and that's why we are looking at the form of giving the Australian people their say and when that will take place and I see this as the best outcome on this issue. Now the Irish model, the Irish referendum they called it – although it was actually a plebiscite – was hailed as a breakthrough for this issue around the world. So that's what I would like to see. The Australian people having their say on this issue.

PETER VAN ONSELEN Okay, but let me just follow that up with one question on it because I can understand that you'd prefer the people to make a decision. I can understand that if, for example, it went to the Parliament you might choose to vote almost as a delegate rather than a trustee of your electorate in a representational sense if you think that is where the views are, whatever your personal views might be, but putting that to one side, is it a fair characterisation of what you just said that you are philosophically not opposed to same sex marriage but the logistics and the legalities of how it is framed may make you support or not support such legislative change? Would that be a fair characterisation?

JULIE BISHOP Well go back one step first. I'm the Deputy Leader of the Party and a Member of Cabinet so of course I support the Government's position, as articulated by the Prime Minister on behalf of the Cabinet and the Party, and that is there be no change to the Marriage Act in this term of Parliament. I support that policy. But the Prime Minister said that after the election then it is time for the people to have their say. So I think you've articulated my position rather well. And while maintaining Cabinet and Party solidarity on our current position, that's why I think that there are many people in a position such as I am philosophically, who want to have their say in the sanctity of the ballot box and I think this is precisely the kind of issue where a plebiscite is called for. Otherwise, I think representative government works exceedingly well, but this kind of plebiscite, or referendum that is provided for in our system of Government is used sparingly. I think the last time there were plebiscites of this nature were back in World War 1 when we were looking at the issue of conscription. There have been referenda, as you know as well as anyone, on a number of issues and they rarely get up, but a plebiscite we have used in the past on a matter that went to a fundamental issue for Australian society.

PETER VAN ONSELEN Alright Julie Bishop, the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, we appreciate you joining us on News Day. Thanks for your company as always.

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