Sky News, Suva, Fiji - Interview with Kieran Gilbert

  • Transcript, E&OE

JOURNALIST Now to Fiji and the Foreign Minster Julie Bishop joins me. Foreign Minister, thanks very much for your time, obviously you're there to inspect firsthand, see firsthand relief efforts and see what Australia's doing to help in the wake of Cyclone Winston, but I have to ask you about developments overnight, first of all in Ankara. Now James Larsen, the Australian Ambassador to Turkey, he is a career diplomat, former Ambassador to Israel as well, and Ambassador Larsen was only 20 metres from this attack which now has claimed, we believe, at least 33 lives.

JULIE BISHOP Well that's right, I spoke to Ambassador Larsen this morning and he told me that he was at the intersection in his vehicle at the time the bomb went off. It was a very busy intersection in the heart of Ankara in the diplomatic district. He is fine, obviously shaken by what he saw. We don't believe that there are any foreigners involved in the attack that have been killed or injured, but investigations are still underway. We utterly condemn such a brutal attack on a civilian population by this terrorist organisation, and it reminds us why we are in Syria and Iraq, working with the coalition to defeat terrorism in all its forms. This brutal attack is another reminder that terrorist attacks can take place at anytime, anywhere, as these violent terrorist organisations export their model of terrorism around the world.

JOURNALIST Yeah, for years, for decades, such a beacon of moderate Islam, Turkey, now so precarious in the face of not just the Islamic threat but also the Kurdish threat, in terms of the Kurdish Separatists that have carried out their own attacks in Turkey.

JULIE BISHOP There have been previous terrorist attacks in Turkey but Turkey is not immune. There are others in other places around the world – no country is immune from terrorist attacks – and we've seen brutal reminders in Paris and in London, and here in our own region. That's why we are involved in the coalition to defeat terrorism and working so closely with other countries to counter the terrorist ideology and present a much more moderate and acceptable face of Islam. So that's why we're working so closely with countries like Indonesia, moderate countries who condemn utterly along with Australia and other countries, this kind of terrorist attack on civilian populations.

JOURNALIST And from Ankara to West Africa, we've seen recently those devastating attacks in Mali, Burkina Faso, now the Ivory Coast, at least 14 dead at a beach resort there.

JULIE BISHOP It's terrifying to think that these attacks can take place on civilian populations, on tourists in tourist resorts. That's why we warn Australians to be very careful when travelling overseas, to log onto the website to ascertain the security threat in particular places and to be as careful as possible. But I'm afraid until we can stamp out terrorism in all its forms, these kinds of attacks will continue. That's why we are taking part in the coalition in Syria and Iraq, to try and defeat terrorism at its source.

JOURNALIST To some other issues now and the Iranian Foreign Minister arrives here for talks with you. You've been accused of turning a blind eye to the anti-American and anti-Israel rhetoric of the Iranians, this came from no less than your Shadow Minister Tanya Plibersek. The Labor Party will move for a Parliamentary Inquiry into Australia's suspension of sanctions against Iran, what do you say to Labor ahead of your Iranian counterpart's visit?

JULIE BISHOP Labor is undertaking an hysterical campaign of misinformation. Of course I raise issues of human rights and I always raise these issues with the Iranians and with other countries, and I certainly won't stand for any anti-Israel rhetoric. And coming from Tanya Plibersek? That's rather interesting – she was encouraging us to engage with Iran back in in the Ahmadinejad days, and she was very critical of Israel and called Israel a rogue state and one of their prime ministers a war criminal. So I don't think Labor is in any position to lecture me or the Coalition on how to conduct diplomatic relations that are in Australia's national interests. Foreign Minister Zarif is coming to Australia and this is a new opportunity for me to raise directly with him some of the concerns we have about Iran's conduct globally but it's an opportunity to discuss areas of common interest: we both have troops fighting in Syria and Iraq, Australia has a number of Iranians who are claiming to be refugees and if they have no legal basis for being in Australia they should return to Iran, and now that sanctions have been lifted from Iran by countries around the world, we want to ensure that Australian businesses have every opportunity to conduct trade and investment activities with Iran.

JOURNALIST Ok and now you're in Fiji to see the devastation wrought by Cyclone Winston, can you give us a sense of what you've seen and what is Australia doing, how big is our force there to help?

JULIE BISHOP This was a devastating natural disaster. It was the strongest cyclone ever to make landfall in Fiji with winds up to 325 km/h. It was a category 5 cyclone, and as you can imagine, devastated parts of Fiji. We visited Koro Island, which was hardest hit. We have a significant Defence Force group here, about 1000 ADF personnel, and the HMAS Canberra, the largest vessel in our Navy, a number of helicopters and planes and vehicles, and we've been providing life-saving treatment and food, water, shelter. We're now in the rebuilding phase and our soldiers have been helping rebuild schools and the roofs have gone back on a number of the schools and we think that after three weeks the children will be able to return to school today. So I saw firsthand the magnificent effort of the Australian Defence Force personnel, the NGOs, the volunteers from Australia who are here helping our dear friends in Fiji to recover from this extraordinary disaster.

JOURNALIST You'll be meeting the Fijian Prime Minister today. Things haven't always been very smooth in the bilateral relationship in recent years. Out of this devastation and this shocking natural disaster, is there a chance that this will help strengthen ties between the two countries?

JULIE BISHOP It was Coalition policy coming into Government in 2013 to normalise relations with Fiji after the coup of 2006 and the sanctions that had been imposed, and I believed that it was time for us to normalise relations, and from 2013 we've set about doing that and I think that things are going very well. Fiji has been very appreciative of our efforts. We're the largest single contributor to the relief effort here, and the people have certainly been very responsive. On the local radio station here they were encouraging children to hug an Australian soldier if you saw one in the street, and our soldiers have told me that they feel very welcome. I'm looking forward to meeting Prime Minister Bainimarama. I've met him on a number of occasions and we will be discussing what further reconstruction work needs to be done, what are the priorities of the Fijian Government, but also how our relationship can strengthen. It will never be the same but I believe it will be even better in the future.

JOURNALIST I know you've got to go, one final question relating to domestic politics. The Fairfax poll has the Coalition well in front, a comfortable lead, are you reassured by that number today?

JULIE BISHOP Well I believe that the Australian people are excited by Malcolm Turnbull's vision for the future. He has been talking about our economy transitioning from a mining and resources boom to a much more diverse, broader-based level of economic growth. Young people in particular are excited by Malcolm's optimistic view of the future, the new jobs that will unleash the creative and innovative talents of Australian people. At the Budget Malcolm will be laying out the economic blueprint for the future and I think that people are very excited by Malcolm's view of where Australia can go and how strong we can continue to be as an economy and as a society.

JOURNALIST Minister live from Suva, thank you for your time.

JULIE BISHOP My pleasure.

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