Sky News Sunday Agenda - interview with Paul Kelly and Peter Van Onselen

  • Transcript, E&OE
04 June 2017

PETER VAN ONSELEN: As I mentioned, we will be talking very shortly to the Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, getting any update that we can on what has occurred in London in this breaking news. You can continue, though, watching the Sky UK coverage from our colleagues on the Business channel; we will be going back to it here on the main channel here at Sky News.

But for now we welcome Paul Kelly, editor-at-large at The Australian, and we are joined by the Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop. Thanks very much for your company.

JULIE BISHOP: Morning, Peter, Paul.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Obviously, this has just happened, is there anything more that you can tell us beyond the reports that we've had?

JULIE BISHOP: We are following the media reporting on this, and it is still evolving. It's too early to say, but I have spoken to our High Commissioner in London, Alexander Downer - it's quite late there, it's about 11:30 pm - and he has activated our consular support; he has made contact with all our employees and their families at the High Commission, and so far we've had no reports of any Australians involved. But it's too early to say whether this is a terrorist incident or what is occurring, although I have to say that we have seen this pattern before, including the Westminster Bridge attack earlier this year. I was in New York a couple of weeks ago when a similar incident occurred where a car ploughed into pedestrians in Times Square, but it ended up being a case of drugs and alcohol, it wasn't a terrorist attack. So this is too early for us to say, but nevertheless we are certainly all on edge given what has happened in the UK, in Manchester in recent weeks.

PAUL KELLY: I can appreciate that we don't really know what's behind this, so that's an important qualification, but given the attack in Manchester, given this incident and given the warning by Malcolm Turnbull in his major speech in Singapore in recent hours of the growing risk of Islamist terrorism in Southeast Asia; do you think we're in a situation where the danger of terrorist attacks is actually intensifying?

JULIE BISHOP: There is no question that we are seeing an increased tempo in terrorist attacks. If you take into account what has occurred in Europe in recent months - in fact going back years, but also the Manchester attack; what happened on Westminster Bridge; the increased attacks in Baghdad and Kabul - some appalling attacks in recent times in the Middle East; the attack on Coptic Christians in Egypt; and what's happened in the southern Philippines. We are seeing a significant number of terrorist hotspots around the world. This Islamist terrorism is one of the major challenges that we face, and Australia is not immune from this.

PAUL KELLY: And one of the consequences of this, surely, is that governments have not just got to be constantly active. To what extent do you think we need to rethink the issue, to reassess and work out the extent to which new measures are needed?

JULIE BISHOP: We are constantly reviewing our law enforcement, our security, our intelligence arrangements. We have under way a review into the security around mass gatherings- public places. We are constantly reassessing our laws to ensure that our law enforcement agencies have the legislative backup they need to take action, to be agile in responding to what is an evolving terrorist threat. It's hard to see what's going to happen next when a motor vehicle is being used as terror weapons, we've seen aeroplanes. Some of the patterns and methods are quite different, and it's hard to understand the agenda, the motive in each case - as we're seeing in London as this unfolds now. But we have our counter-terrorism situation, our law enforcement situation, constantly under review, and if there's anything further we can or should do, then the Australian Government will certainly do it. We've provided our agencies with the resources, the funding, the laws that they need to be able to keep Australians as safe as possible both at home and abroad.


PAUL KELLY: [Interrupts] But Minister …

PETER VAN ONSELEN: [Interrupts] I was just going to say, how important is our geographical isolation, Minister Bishop, do you think to the situation, because you know- I know that a lot of people will be looking at what is happening in London, and there's been multiple attacks now over a matter of weeks, and wondering about just how much more likely terrorism is to infiltrate Western nations? You know, it has long been a problem in the Middle East, it has long been a problem in non-Western countries, but it does feel, I think a lot of people would say, like it is really starting to penetrate the West.

JULIE BISHOP: Well Australia, yes, is an island continent, and we have strong border protection; we have strong migration policies; we have a universal visa policy, so we should know who is in this country at any one time. But what we are seeing in London over recent times is what they call home-grown terrorism. These are people who are born in the United Kingdom, they could be second generation from another country; they are not refugees who have come and then been radicalised in some instances.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: [Talks over] That's sort of my point in a way, what's the difference then? Because, you know, we- Australia has a similar challenge when it comes to the threat of home-grown terrorism, but we haven't seen it spill over the way that we're seeing it spill over in the UK.

JULIE BISHOP: Australia is one of the most successful, if not the most successful, multicultural nation on Earth. We have a history of integrating people from all over the world into our community, our society, and we boast that we are a far richer society and community as a result of bringing people in from all over the world. So our open, tolerant, fair attitude, I think, has a lot to do with it- that we are able to integrate people, we're able to assure them that Australia is the best country in the world in which to live. But it doesn't mean that we're immune from the radicalisation that is going on - particularly online - with people who might be first, second, third generation Australians still being influenced by this poisonous, barbaric narrative that is Islamist terrorism.

PAUL KELLY: Another related problem, of course, is the return of foreign fighters from the Middle East region. This is a pertinent issue for Australia given that a number of Australians went to fight in that part of the world. What's the situation at the moment with the return of foreign fighters to Australia?

JULIE BISHOP: We have about 100 Australian citizens, we estimate, fighting with the terrorist organisation ISIS in Syria and Iraq. A number of them have been killed, a number of them will be killed as the Coalition supports- the Iraqi Security Forces, for example, take back Mosul, which was part of the caliphate claimed by ISIS, as they take back al-Raqqa, which was also part of the caliphate. So the conflict and the fighting will continue.

If there are Australian citizens who have been fighting with ISIS, they are in breach of Australian laws. If they make their way back to Australia they will be detained and will face the legal system here in Australia. We are working very closely with other countries to track their movements, to monitor their movements; we're exchanging intelligence and information. We're also concerned about returning foreign terrorist fighters to Indonesia and the Philippines, in particular, and we know Indonesia estimates that there are about 500 Indonesian citizens fighting in the Middle East.

So this is a regional problem, and that's why our Attorney-General will be co-hosting a counter-terrorism forum with Indonesia later this year, so that we can ensure that we are sharing necessary information, taking whatever steps we can, to apprehend these people who have broken the law, but are also a threat and a risk to Australians and our security.

PAUL KELLY: The last time we had you on our program you warned about the situation in the Philippines, and of course what we've seen in recent days are shocking events in the Philippines. How concerned is the Australian Government about the situation there, and what role, in a cooperative sense, can we play assisting the Philippines?

JULIE BISHOP: We are deeply concerned about what's happening in the southern Philippines. You will recall some time ago that ISIS declared the southern Philippines to be another area of potential headquarters for them, a caliphate over the southern Philippines, and that existing terrorist groups, and existing criminal networks in the southern Philippines were being targeted by ISIS as an outpost or a franchise, and this is coming to pass. I spoke with President Duterte when I visited the Philippines, I actually went to his hometown of Mindanao where this is occurring, and he was greatly concerned about the connection between existing criminal networks and the terrorists from the Middle East - connecting up and causing the kind of mayhem that we have seen.

Australia is providing support in counter-terrorism best practice; we are sharing information and intelligence; we're working very closely with the Philippines authorities, as we are with the Indonesian and the Malaysian authorities. This is a real challenge for our region, for South East Asia, and we'll provide whatever support we can to the Philippines so that they can defeat the terrorists who are causing such mayhem in the southern Philippines.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Is there a risk, or is there a greater risk, that in the wake of what we're likely to continue seeing in the weeks and months ahead - which is the collapse of the Caliphate in and around Raqqa in the Middle east, with Mosul as well obviously - that as fighters disperse from there that they don't only disperse into place like Europe, for example, but also into South East Asia where places like the southern Philippines are being mentioned as a second Caliphate?

JULIE BISHOP: That has been a deep concern of ours for some time that the more success the Coalition and the Iraqi Government have, in Mosul for example - the taking back of Mosul - may well mean that the foreign terrorist fighters then leave - if they survive - then leave. They could go to Europe, which is of course of great concern, but they could come back through to Australia, and that's why we have increased dramatically our resourcing, our intelligence sharing, our support for other countries to track and monitor these foreign terrorist fighters.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: We're talking to the Deputy Liberal Leader as well as Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop; her scheduled interview for Sunday Agenda this morning.

There is, of course, this terrible breaking news out of London. We've had two confirmed incidents; one on London bridge, a second stabbing and there are reports now of a third incident - we don't have further details on that for you yet at this point in time but you can continue watching the full coverage from our Sky UK partners on the Sky News Business channel. We will be going back to that throughout the course of the morning here on the main channel; but for now we are continuing the discussion with the Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, about broader issues, I suppose, around terrorism.

We'll get to some other issues; there's some big names out of America in Australia- or arriving in Australia and there's a fair bit of debate around Trump policy. But just staying on the issue of more localised terrorism; we've talked about some of the nature of home-grown terrorism. I mean, this issue is splitting the Liberal Party internally a little bit as well though, isn't it? Because there are disagreements about the extent to which you can or can't talk about the role of refugees in the context of terrorism locally in and around the issue of home-grown terrorism to go with it. Is there a risk that the more that this keeps happening, the more that there is a split debate on this? Fuelled as well, I have to say, by some commentators as well as by some of the minor parties.

JULIE BISHOP: This is a national debate. This is an issue for the Australian public to debate. This is not an issue confined to the Liberal Party by any means. We have to come to terms with the fact that Australia, like other countries, faces a terrorist threat. Since 2014 when we increased our national terrorist threat assessment, we have thwarted about 12 attempted terrorist attacks in this country. There have been four attacks and our police and security and law enforcement agencies are working around the clock to try and keep Australia safe. And we have to determine the causes, the likely attempts that may occur, we have to focus on the issue of radicalisation. We have to ensure that the moderate Muslim voices drown out the voices of radicalisation. So there's a whole of government approach being taken to what is an evolving threat.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Well just before you answer the next question, I should note that we've just seen some live pictures of an arrest in London - again, noting that if you want to watch continuing coverage from Sky UK you can do so on the Business channel.

Julie Bishop, it's also been confirmed that a vehicle was involved - we knew that anecdotally - but it's been confirmed that a vehicle was involved in the initial attack. A van of some description. Now, you were talking a little bit about this before, but can I ask again: how much of a concern is that at a local level that that's one of the ways that terrorism is evolving? Literally, to these rammings of innocent people which is just so hard, I would have thought, for counter-terrorism officers to combat.

JULIE BISHOP: You will recall, some time ago, that ISIS put up a video on Facebook calling on people to pick up a rock, a stone, a vehicle, a knife, just use everyday items to carry out terrorist attacks and we have seen this played out in Europe, we've seen it on Westminster Bridge, and now, it would appear, that this attack has similar hallmarks. I've just received a text from our High Commissioner in London who tells me that the British Police are treating it as a terrorist attack. So until we know otherwise, we can assume that this does have a similar or follows a similar pattern from those that we've seen elsewhere, and of course, it's deeply troubling. Our law enforcement and security and intelligence agencies have to get it right every single time. The terrorists only have to be lucky once.

PAUL KELLY: You've talked about the home-grown terrorist problem in the UK, but clearly we also have that problem in Australia. We need to bring the Islamic community with us in this country, but we also need their support. You talked about the moderate voice; we need that support. Is that sufficiently strong? Is the Government sufficiently satisfied with the response of the Muslim leaders in this country and the commitment and the support for that moderate brand of Islam?

JULIE BISHOP: I believe that everybody has to do more. The entire community has to condemn terrorism. The entire community has to what it can to identify any potential threats to ensure that young people in particular, are not radicalised online and this means working with schools, with families, with communities, with the different organisations that work with young people. We have to ensure that this is a whole of government, whole of community effort, and we can't blame just one section of society and say; well, they've got to change, they've got to be responsible for it.

We've had young Australians with no connection in their past life to a Muslim background becoming radicalised online. And the terrorist threat is also so indiscriminate. We've seen terrorists kill Muslims in massive numbers; it's utterly brutal, indiscriminate, knows no boundaries, no sovereignty, doesn't respect any government, doesn't respect any religion or faith or ethnic background. So this is an issue for the whole community.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: We're talking to the Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop; a scheduled interview prior to these events that have unfolded tragically and are continuing to unfold in the United Kingdom, in London in particular.

We've got the live pictures on the screen in between the discussion that we're having; you can watch our Sky UK partners on the Sky News Business channel if you want to see that rolling coverage. We will be going back to that throughout the course of the morning. We've also got Senator Sam Dastyari who we'll talk on the phone in a little while from now - he's actually in London at the moment. So all of that coming up here on Sky News.

But at the moment, Julie Bishop, if we can, we might turn to some of the other issues in your portfolio and come back to the issues in London when I'm told- or if I hear about anything that we need to discuss. The visit to Australia by senior members of the Cabinet of Donald Trump; tell us about what's on the agenda.

JULIE BISHOP: Tomorrow we will be hosting the annual Australia-US Ministerial Consultation - it is called AUSMIN - and this will be the 27th AUSMIN that we have held over the past 30 years, but I think this will be one of the most important in many years. The Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, and Secretary of Defense, General Jim Mattis, will be in Sydney and our Defence Minister, Marise Payne, and I will host them; we will have a whole day of discussion and will be focusing on some of the most important aspects of the bilateral relationship in the security and defence sense, but also addressing so many of the regional threats that we see.

The strategic environment is changing rapidly and it's so very important for us to have an insight into the thinking of the new US Administration and because the Administration is in the process of reviewing many of its foreign policy positions, it's also an opportunity for Australia to put forward our perspectives, our ideas, and help shape and hopefully influence some of the US thinking.

PAUL KELLY: I know a lot of that discussion will focus on our immediate region and the challenges in this region, but I must ask you about the decision by President Trump to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement and what that means. The atmospherics here are very much of America walking away from its global responsibilities in terms of international leadership. What's the reaction of the Australian Government to this decision by President Trump and what's your assessment about what this means for the climate change issue and for the Paris Agreement?

JULIE BISHOP: First we have to understand what the President's announcement means. As I understand it, it will take four years for the United States to withdraw formally from an international agreement that it has ratified; it's not just signed it, as 196 other countries have done, but it has also ratified the agreement, as 146 other countries have done. That will apparently take about four years to achieve and also President Trump has said that this agreement wasn't in the US interest, but he's prepared to negotiate an agreement that is in the US interest. So I'm not sure how…

PAUL KELLY: But surely that can't work? This is a multilateral agreement. Surely it's nonsense for President Trump to say he wants to renegotiate it?

JULIE BISHOP: Well the agreement has been ratified, the agreement is in force, but my point is the President hasn't walked away, he's said he wants to renegotiate. Now, renegotiation in the technical sense is not possible because the Paris Agreement has been ratified, it is in force, it's being implemented, but it may indicate that the United States is still prepared to be at the table, at the negotiating table as the Paris Agreement is implemented. I don't know, we'll have to wait and see what that means.

But from Australia's point of view, we signed the agreement, we ratified it and we will abide by our international obligations. This was an agreement that we entered into on the back of a Cabinet and party room decision of August 2015. It was a decision of the Abbott Government, it was supported by the Turnbull Government and we signed up to the Paris Agreement in 2015 and reaffirmed our commitment to it in Marrakech in 2016. We believe there needs to be global certainty for businesses, for investment, for countries who are putting in place energy policies to ensure that they have affordable, reliable energy and that's what Australia is doing.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: I have to say though, this - optically to me - I remember being there and reporting on what was going on and doing a backbench survey on how Liberals felt when the Copenhagen wasn't confirmed and whether or not Australia should pull out at the time. Now, admittedly the Liberal Party was in opposition, not in government, but it was Malcolm Turnbull as leader, two-thirds of the backbench didn't agree with going forward and ultimately this was a key role in his removal. Now, things are different in government - I accept that - but it does have a flavour of dissent that reminds me of that, in the early stages with some of the voices that are starting to come out and say we should now pull out - including the chair of the Environment and Energy Committee, Craig Kelly.

JULIE BISHOP: Well it's no secret that there are always going to be different views on climate change, on our response to it. Our fundamental obligation to the Australian people is to ensure that we have affordable, reliable, low-emissions energy and that's what we are able to do under the mandate that we had to sign up to the Paris Agreement. But my point is that this was a Cabinet and party room decision of the Abbott Government, it was implemented by the Turnbull Government and it remains government policy.

PAUL KELLY: So what's your message to these conservative populists, if you like, who are agitating, who want us to be lapdogs of Donald Trump and follow the United States out of this agreement? What's your message to your colleagues in the Party who've got that view?

JULIE BISHOP: Well clearly Australia acts in its own interests and the decision we took in August 2015 was to enter into the Paris Agreement and to set our own targets that would be economically and environmentally responsible for Australia. We did that after much discussion in the party room and through the Cabinet process, and that's how we get to government policies …

PETER VAN ONSELEN: [Interrupts] Well can I just ask you …

JULIE BISHOP: So if anybody wants to change government policy, there is a process that we go through and that is to debate it in the party room, to debate it in the Cabinet, not to debate it through the media.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: That could become a very divisive process.

JULIE BISHOP: Well it's government policy to have in place an energy policy that is environmentally and economically sound and I believe that under the Paris Agreement we will meet our international obligations. In fact, we're on track to beat the international target that we set. This is the interesting aspect of the United States' decision; many analysts say that the United States would have met its Paris Agreement targets because of its embrace of shale oil and gas and that there was no need for it to pull out of the Paris Agreement because it would have met its obligations anyway.

PAUL KELLY: Well I assume, from what you've just said, that you're very confident that Malcolm Turnbull can hold the line on this issue given the stance that he's taken?

JULIE BISHOP: Well my understanding is that the vast majority of our party room support the government policy, indeed the entire Cabinet supports government policy. And there may well be some voices who question whether Australia should follow the United States, but I believe we should always act in our national interest.

PAUL KELLY: Now, what are the consequences internationally of what Donald Trump has done? To what extent is this a free gift to China- to the Communist Party of China, which is clearly going to step into this power vacuum now and work with the Europeans in terms of climate change commitments? To what extent is this really handing a great opportunity to China?

JULIE BISHOP: Well we expressed our disappointment that the United States had decided to announce its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement because we wanted to see the United States at the negotiating table as the Paris Agreement is implemented. In other words, for the United States to be able to influence the rules and the norms that apply to the Paris Agreement and we wish that that was still to be the case because we believe that the United States is an indispensable power in settling, guiding, international rules and norms.

In this instance, if the United States is not there, then others will fill the vacuum. China is an obvious example because the United States and China made a very significant statement at the time that they would be working together to embrace low emissions energy. The EU and others will now take a lead, and we'll have to ascertain whether Australia should do more to ensure that the international rules that apply are also in our interests.

PAUL KELLY: Now, a lot of the talks you focus on tomorrow will be about North Korea given the enormous danger that North Korea poses to the region; what's your understanding of the American position here? Clearly the Americans are building up the pressure on North Korea, they're holding China accountable, expecting China to put a lot of pressure on North Korea. But is it your understanding that the United States has left open the option of military action, or do you believe the United States is simply working now to achieve an economic or diplomatic outcome?

JULIE BISHOP: I believe that the United States has, as it says, all its options on the table, and there is no doubt that President Trump has changed the dynamics when it comes to North Korea. He has increased the pressure enormously on China to play a greater role in trying to prevent North Korea from further developing its nuclear and missile capability. Clearly no one wants to see North Korea develop a nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching continental United States, or anywhere else in our region. That's not in China's interest, that's not in anyone's interest …

PETER VAN ONSELEN: [Interrupts] But what can be done?

JULIE BISHOP: What the United States is doing is increasing the pressure on North Korea by saying that all options, including military options, are on the table; that will make North Korea carry out a risk analysis, such that it is able to do so. It also means that China will be called upon to exercise its undoubted leverage. China is the source of North Korean finance, technology; it is the supporter of North Korea's current regime in the sense that it could not exist without Chinese support. So you'll see that there have been more sanctions put on North Korea as a result of a UN Security Council resolution on Friday, Australia is imposing more sanctions. So there will be more pressure on North Korea with a view to bringing it back to anegotiating table. Now I don't envisage it will be the Six Party Talks thatfailed some time ago; I envisage it will be China, the United States and NorthKorea.

PAUL KELLY: But isn't there a paradox here, because fromwhat you've just said, and what Donald Trump has said, it seems as though theUnited States is really hostage to China on this issue, that China will reallydetermine whether the United States can achieve its objective in relation toNorth Korea.

JULIE BISHOP: Well that's one way of putting it; I wouldturn it the other way. It is not in China's interests to have anuclear-weaponised North Korea, it creates huge instability for the region;that's not in China's interest, that's not in anybody else's interest. So Ibelieve that what the United States has done has pragmatically indicated thatthis is just not an issue for the United States to resolve, this is an issuewhere China has a unique capability, through its financial and technologicalsupport of North Korea, to play a key role, and indicate that it is aresponsible regional player, and it can act in the interests of others byworking closely to dissuade North Korea from its current path.

PAUL KELLY: Can I just ask you about China's Belt and RoadInitiative? I mean, the Chinese President has said that this is the project ofthe century, and China is really looking at a massive infrastructure investmentin a range of different countries. Now, the Australian Government decided notto support a Belt and Road Initiative in relation to Northern Territoryinvestment, but what is our general attitude towards this Chinese Belt and RoadInitiative.

JULIE BISHOP: Generally we recognise that there is a greatneed for infrastructure investment globally, regionally and most certainly inAustralia. That's why we have our Northern Australian White Paper to attractmore investment into developing infrastructure in the north of Australia. So werecognise the need for greater infrastructure investment. Steve Ciobo, ourTrade Minister, attended the One Belt, One Road showcase recently, and cameaway with the view that we need a lot more information, a lot more detail, asto how this will work, how the investments will take place, what the prioritiesare, what's the governance, what's the level of transparency and the like. So,as a principle we agree there needs to be more infrastructure spending, but weneed to see far more detail before we would be, for example, prepared to signup to some kind of MOU between the Northern Australia White Paper and One Belt,One Road.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, you'vebeen generous with your time, we know that you'll be anxious to try to get somemore information from officials out of the UK. Thanks very much for joining usthis morning.

JULIE BISHOP: Thank you.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: We've been talking to the AustralianForeign Minister there, Julie Bishop.

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