Sky News PM Agenda, interview with David Speers

  • Transcript, E&OE

JOURNALIST: The Foreign minister Julie Bishop joins me now. Minister, thank you for your time. Firstly, what can you tell me about any Australians that might have been there?

JULIE BISHOP: At this stage we have no information to suggest that any Australians were involved but it's still early days. The police are carrying out their investigations, our High Commission in London is in direct contact with the Metro Police unit but also with Manchester authorities. I spoke to our High Commissioner Alexander Downer at about 1:30am London time, and at that point he could confirm that all 300 of our staff at the High Commission were safe – we have about half of them are Australian-based staff or from Australia, the others are locally-based – they were all safe, but we were still making enquiries. It's a terrible incident. It has all the hallmarks of a terrorist incident and I note that the British authorities are treating it as such. Our hearts go out to the British people at such a terribly difficult time.

JOURNALIST: We've seen too many terrorist attacks, this one does seem to have added poignancy for the fact it's kids who appear to have been the target here, if indeed this is terrorism. Targeting kids in this way, what does it tell us about the current threat?

JULIE BISHOP: A cowardly, brutal attack on innocent children and young people. This concert, an Ariana Grande concert, would necessarily attract young people – she's a young singer, very popular. The stadium itself is one of the largest if not the largest in Europe, it holds about 21,000 people, and it would have been a very popular concert. So to target a concert that young people, children, teenagers would be attending is particularly brutal.

To put it in perspective in terms of Australia, we have about 1,000,000 visitors from Australia to the United Kingdom every year, about 130,000 Australians are living in England. Manchester is only an hour flight away from London. So there may well have been Australians in the area. It's too early for us to say and I must urge anyone who can't get in touch with their loved ones or their friends who may have been in Manchester or that area to contact our hotline on 1300 555 135 and if they are overseas +61 2 6261 3305.

JOURNALIST: We'll get those numbers up because they're important if anyone is worried here. With terrorism too we see so many copycat style attacks whether it's trucks or cars ploughing into pedestrians, knife attacks and so on. I guess the natural instinct for many here will now be should we be worried concerts of this kind or for events of this kind?

JULIE BISHOP: The Australian Government has already considered this issue. We had a review of crowded places, the sorts of places that would attract tourists and that would include places that would attract young people – football stadiums, concert halls, the open public spaces, and we are working in cooperation…

JOURNALIST: So where's that up to now, this review?

JULIE BISHOP: That review has been underway for some time; we are sharing information already with State and Federal Police and other authorities. Our law enforcement, our security, out intelligence agencies are working very closely together. We will have a strategy that focuses on crowded places, the places that the public would attend and to ensure that we can keep Australians and visitors to Australia as safe as possible. But we can't give guarantees and today's tragic events remind us yet again that these terrorist attacks, if it is proven to be a terrorist attack, can take place anywhere at any time.

JOURNALIST: Well it's a good point because I mean with something like this, if this is terrorism and we have to keep stressing, you've got all the concert goers going into the venue but it's when they are coming out and presumably trying to find transport, I mean you can't screen everyone when they're coming out of a building.

JULIE BISHOP: Particularly brutal. Parents would be arriving to pick up their children, children would have been accompanied by parents, and the whole spectacle of people trying to get out of a venue and then a bomb going off – there's suggestion it was some kind of suicide bomb but it's too early to say – just underscores how violent it was. I've been in touch with the High Commission as I said, I've sent a message of condolence to Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. I've been in touch with the High Commission here, and as you would be aware the UK Deputy High Commissioner was in Parliament today to hear Prime Minister Turnbull and the Leader of the Opposition pass on Australia's deepest condolences and thoughts and prayers to the British people and of course the victims and the families and the loved ones. It's a brutal, horrible incident that reminds us once again of the threat, the global threat of terrorism and we will of course offer any support and any assistance that we can provide to the British authorities as they go about this grisly task of identifying the bodies of those killed, but also trying to find the perpetrator.

JOURNALIST: The threat as you say is still there, this global threat of terrorism. It's an evolving threat as well as we see time and time again. Are we winning this war against terrorism?

JULIE BISHOP: We have to. We have to ensure…

JOURNALIST: But are we when we see incidents like this?

JULIE BISHOP: Tragically these incidents will continue to occur but we are doing all we can to keep Australians safe, both at home and abroad, but also to focus on the root causes of this kind of terrorism. That's why we have people in the Middle East, that's why we have the Australian Defence Force trying to work with governments to tackle ISIS, that has been the source of so much terrorism. But you're quite right, the terrorist attacks are evolving, they are different now. When you think of the Twin Towers in 2001 and now think of the use of cars, running people down on beaches, the incident on Westminster Bridge the other day – they are different in their scale and sophistication but nevertheless they are still as brutal and vicious and we just have to ensure that at every front, every opportunity we can fight terrorism, take away the causes of it, attack it at its root in the countries where we've seen terrorism evolving, and ensure that we stop people being involved in terrorist activities. Our security and law enforcement and intelligence agencies are resourced to cope with the threat as best we can.

JOURNALIST: Well I know that you recently just in the Budget a couple of weeks ago announced additional funding for our security agencies, there is this ongoing debate that we need a better structure whether we need a Homeland Security Department or something like that to better coordinate between federal and state agencies. What's your thoughts on that?

JULIE BISHOP: We are currently undertaking a review of our whole intelligence community, and I expect they will report sometime this year to assess whether our agencies are appropriately resourced…

JOURNALIST: Is this the Michael L'Estrange review?

JULIE BISHOP: That's right, and Sir Iain Lobban who was head of the British intelligence community is also one of the people on that review so we have overseas expertise as well as Australian expertise looking at our intelligence community to…

JOURNALIST: Are you open to that sort of structural change?

JULIE BISHOP: I need to see the outcome of the intelligence review of the community and to see whether we are well placed, I believe that many changes have taken place in recent time but is this the best practice that we can undertake to ensure that our intelligence community is operating in a way that keeps Australians as safe as possible.

JOURNALIST: Alright final question Minister. When we look at these sorts of incidents as I say an understandable fear on the part of many parents, many kids as well. What's your message? How comfortable should they be sending their kid to a concert?

JULIE BISHOP: We have to get on with our lives; we cannot allow terrorists to win. This is an attack against our way of life and we must ensure that all that can be done is done, but I want to assure parents that the Australian Government resources our Federal Police. State Governments are resourcing State Police. We are working in close cooperation. We are focusing on public spaces, we are doing all we can to maintain the highest possible security so that people can go about their lives and that innocent children can continue to enjoy the joys of going to a concert, it's a fundamental right.

JOURNALIST: It is, a freedom, a right, absolutely. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop I appreciate your time this afternoon. Thank you very much for joining us.

- Ends -

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