Sky News Viewpoint, interview with Chris Kenny

  • Transcript, E&OE

JOURNALIST: Ok let's take up some issues of the day and foreign policy issues with theForeign Minister Julie Bishop, who joins us now live from Canberra. Thanks forjoining us Minister.

JULIEBISHOP: My pleasure Chris, good to be with you.

JOURNALIST: Look now I'll get onto your portfolio area in a moment of course, but thisresignation from Justin Gleeson is big news. Do you think it's a good thing? Inmany ways it's the democratically elected Government slapping down or winning abattle with a bureaucrat here who is essentially the Government's lawyer, andhe was looking to expand his role and got caught up in partisan politics.

JULIEBISHOP: Justin Gleeson himself has acknowledged that it's theproper course of action for him to take, and our Attorney General has notedthat it's a proper course of action. I think the important point though is thatthe Solicitor General is in fact the lawyer for the Government, he is the Government'scounsel, the Government's barrister, and there has to be a very high degree oftrust between the Government and its lawyer, that's self-evident. This all cameto a head through the actions of Mark Dreyfus. Once more the Labor ShadowAttorney General has overreached and he in fact put the Solicitor General in apretty invidious position when he contacted the Solicitor General during theelection campaign. The Solicitor General failed to disclose that fact to theAttorney General or to the Government. Then Mark Dreyfus dragged the SolicitorGeneral before a Senate inquiry, tried to use him as a political tool, and Ithink this outcome was inevitable. I have to point out though, the AttorneyGeneral did say as recently as last week that of course he was prepared to workwith the Solicitor General in a cordial and professional way, but JustinGleeson has taken this action, which I believe, as the Attorney said, is theproper course of action.

JOURNALIST: Yeah look despite all the partisan politics that got caught up in this and ofcourse, yes, Justin Gleeson did speak to Labor during the election campaign –probably nothing wrong with actually having the conversation as long as he'dtold the Attorney General about it; he didn't, he should have done that. Buteven given all those considerations, it's very difficult for a Governmentactually to remove someone from a position like this; you have to rely on themactually making the decision. And you've got to give credit to Justin Gleesonfor doing that, recognising the breakdown of trust and getting out of thisproblem.

JULIEBISHOP: Well I agree that Justin Gleeson has acted in a waythat is appropriate; it is a proper course of action. If he feels that hecannot work with the Attorney General, notwithstanding the fact that GeorgeBrandis said he was happy to continue to work with him, then it is a matter forhim to consider his position and in this case, he has resigned. So that thenclears the air and we are able to appoint another Solicitor General, but therehas to be trust between the Government and its lawyer, just as there has to betrust between any client and their lawyer.

JOURNALIST: The reason I ask, I raise that point and discuss it in those terms of course isbecause there is another situation that of course is not directly analogous butof course the situation with the Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs, thePresident of the Human Rights Commission, where there has been for a long timenow that same breakdown of trust. And of course she has been caught out anumber of times now giving misleading evidence to parliamentary inquiries, yetshe is stubbornly remaining in her job. Should she not also resign?

JULIEBISHOP: Well it is very disappointing to see any position,particularly one as senior as the Human Rights Commissioner, be politicised inany way. There has been quite a bit of controversy around the Human RightsCommissioner and some instances where she has been accused of giving misleadingevidence, well that is a very serious allegation. So Justin Gleeson assessedhis position and came to a particular decision, I'm sure the Human RightsCommissioner constantly assesses her position given that it is the subject ofso much public commentary.

JOURNALIST: Would you urge her to consider stepping aside, especially given that her termexpires in the first half of next year anyway?

JULIEBISHOP: It is not a matter for me to do that, Chris, as youknow the Human Rights Commissioner can assess her own performance, her ownposition and whether she believes she is acting in the best interests of thosewhom she is seeking to serve. As you say, the position comes up in the firsthalf of next year and I am sure the next Human Rights Commissioner will alsoassess their position to ensure that they are the right person for what is avery sensitive position.

JOURNALIST: Well they might want to try and stay out of politics and actually give accurateinformation to parliamentary inquiries. You mentioned there have beenallegations of misleading a parliamentary inquiry, it's very clear in thislatest example that her own evidence was misleading – she's now admitted thatin a letter and she's going to have to correct that. This comes on top of herappearance a year and a half ago when she denied meeting Labor ministers andthen had to correct it. There are not allegations here; there are instances,repeated instances of her giving misleading evidence to parliamentaryinquiries.

JULIEBISHOP: As I said from the outset, it is deeply troubling whena position as sensitive and senior as Human Rights Commissioner becomes socontroversial, and I would think anybody in that position would consider howthey can best serve the country or best serve the interests of those who aremeant to be served by the Human Rights Commissioner. But it is not up to me tocall for somebody in such a position to resign, I think it is incumbent uponanyone who has such a position to consider the impact that they are having onthe proper operations of the Commission.

JOURNALIST: Indeed Foreign Minister, I think you have made that position very clear. I wantto move on to foreign policy issues now and you've got a few dramas on theconsular front, especially with the three Australians caught up in China fromCrown Resorts. Are you satisfied in you dealings with the Chinese Governmentover this so far that they are going to get a speedy and transparent judicialprocess?

JULIEBISHOP: Well that is certainly what we hope. We have made ourinterests known at the most senior levels within the Chinese Government. We areasking China to respond to our requests for consular visits and so far theyhave, we have met with all three Australians who are in detention and we havealso inquired about the health and wellbeing of the others. I am informed thatthey are being treated appropriately. We will continue to press for consularvisits as and when we can but the issues surrounding this matter are still notknown to us, we don't have the details of the charges – if any – that theyface, and there is still some time to run before the Chinese authorities arerequired to charge or make a decision about charges involving people who havebeen detained. Apparently there is some issue as to how long they can bedetained and under investigation without charge – our advice from our missionsin China is that people can be held for 30 days and an investigation can becarried out during that period, and that period can be extended for anotherseven days, that is the advice we have, but of course we seek a speedyresolution to these issues.

JOURNALIST: You must be pretty worried about it though because the precedents are prettybad in this area. We've had other Australian business people caught up inclaims of business dealings, of corruption, of bribery and the like and oftenthey can be in detention, or certainly serve very long sentences without usever getting a really clear idea of what the Chinese processes are all about.

JULIEBISHOP: We have to understand that China is a sovereign nationand people who are in China are subject to their laws and their legalproceedings, just as people in Australia would be subject to ours. So it isvery difficult for Australia to become involved once people have been chargedbut at this stage investigations are underway, so we understand, and we are yetto learn the details of why they are being held and on what particularallegations or accusations or what particular charges are being considered. Wewill work as closely as we can with the Chinese authorities to ensure that theyare treated well and treated fairly.

JOURNALIST: President Xi Jinping is cracking down on corruption throughout China,throughout the business dealings with his country, and most people includingAustralia would welcome that but it appears that what might be happening inthis case is apart from cracking down on corruption he is very much crackingdown on gambling, which is illegal in China – of course they are allowed inMacau and other places. Is there a concern that this crackdown on gamblingcould be quite damaging for Australian investors' interests in Macau and alsofor inbound tourism, for Australian business investment and tourism from China?

JULIEBISHOP: Well I'm sure these are all matters that casinooperators from Australia and elsewhere have taken into account in doingbusiness in China. I am loath to speak more particularly about this casebecause I don't want to say anything that is counterproductive to the interestsof those who have been detained. So yes, there is a campaign, an anticorruptioncampaign by President Xi Jinping and that is to be welcomed in many instancesbecause he obviously identifies corruption, particular amongst governmentofficials, as a scourge that must be dealt with. As for Australian casinooperators, I would rather ensure that our Australians who have been detainedget a very fair and equitable level of treatment as one would expect under theconsular agreement that we have with China.

JOURNALIST: And over the years have you noticed an improvement in the way China has dealtwith these sorts of consular issues? Or is it still as tough as it was tenyears ago?

JULIEBISHOP: We have ongoing engagement with China over a wholerange of consular issues. Regrettably a number of Australians are caught up indifferent legal proceedings in China; some are of a corporate nature, others ofa criminal nature. We seek to be as deeply engaged as we can be but you'reright, there is a particular anticorruption campaign underway at present andthat can make access to information difficult.

JOURNALIST: Alright Julie Bishop, of course in the Middle East all eyes are on the battlefor Mosul and trying to retake that city in Northern Iraq, Islamic State seemto be on the retreat. Is your latest advice encouraging as to the progress ofthat military action?

JULIEBISHOP: It is a vital step in the campaign against ISIL todefeat this terrorist organisation. The Iraqi security forces must take backMosul, and this will undermine the terrorist organisation's claim for a socalled Islamic caliphate. It was also undermine its aura of being a powerful armedforce. Progress is being made but we know it is going to be a long and complexbattle. ISIL fighters embed themselves in civilian populations and the Iraqisecurity forces are having to fight back street by street. The AustralianDefence Force role is to advise and assist and build capacity within the Iraqisecurity forces so that they are able to take control of their borders and thesecurity of Iraq. We are there are the invitation of and with the consent ofthe Iraqi Government so we are supporting this effort to retake Mosul but therewill be setbacks along the way, it will be long – I don't know that anyone hasa particular timeframe in mind – but it is such an important step in defeatingthis terrorist organisation that not only causes havoc in Syria and in Iraq butalso beyond the Middle East as foreign terrorist fighters start to return home,whether that be in Europe or South East Asia or indeed in Australia. We aredealing with harden terrorist fighters, hardened terrorists who may seek to carryout terrorist attacks in our region on our home soil and that must be thwartedat every turn.

JOURNALIST: As you say there is a long way to go just for Iraqi and Coalition forces toreclaim Northern Iraq, much less get any sort of a resolution in Syria but haveyou turned your mind to the medium term prospects for Australian involvement inthe Middle East through the Coalition? We know that Islamic State arose ineffect after Coalition forces left Iraq to its own devices. Wouldn't thewestern world and the international community be wise to be thinking that theyneed to be a military role in that region for decades to come to preservewhatever peace they manage to bring out of the current conflagration?

JULIEBISHOP: As I said earlier we are in Iraq at the invitation ofand with the consent of the Iraqi Government, and our continued presence thereis dependent upon the Iraqi Government supporting our presence. But of coursewhat we and others in the Coalition have been considering in the longer term isto ensure that Iraq can be stable, can be in control of its own borders and canresist any resurgence of terrorist activity once ISIL is defeated. I'veattended a number of meetings in New York and elsewhere as representatives ofthe Coalition countries talk about the short, medium and long term outlook forIraq and indeed Syria. We need to boost the capacity of the Iraqi Government,ensure that a national unity government can take account of all the differingreligious and ethnic minorities to balance the conflicting power positionswithin Iraq and also to ensure that the Iraqi security forces remain capable ofimposing security in the country. So these are medium and long term issues thatare discussed often amongst the Coalition and of course with the IraqiGovernment itself.

JOURNALIST: And we would presume then if you're talking about the possible long termarrangements involving Coalition troops that Australia would be prepared toplay a long term role?

JULIEBISHOP: Well Chris, I don't think it will be helpful for me toput a timeframe on our involvement in Iraq. We have certain responsibilities toundertake and that is at the request of the Iraqi Government to advise andassist and build capacity within the Iraqi security forces. We are extendedthat to include the national police because community policing is also animportant part of any political solution and social solution. There is amassive humanitarian effort underway to support the civilians who are soaffected by this conflict. So there is much to do but the Australian Governmentwill respond to requests from the Iraqi Government and at this stage therequest has been for us to advise, assist and build capacity. We have about 400Australian Defence personnel doing that as part of the building partnercapacity coalition.

JOURNALIST: Look I've taken up a lot of your time going around the world but there is twoother issues I do want to run past you, firstly the Philippines and PresidentDuterte there, seemingly turning his back increasingly from America, embracingChina, saying and doing some frankly quite alarming things. How concerned isAustralia about the direction that he is taking the Philippines, particularlyin relation to its foreign policy?

JULIEBISHOP: The message I get from leaders in the region in theAsia Pacific is that they want to see more United States engagement, more USleadership not less. All countries in our region have benefitted over the last70 years at least, of the United States as a security guarantor bringingrelative peace, stability and security to our region. Many nations havebenefitted enormously from the US presence, including Australiana and I wouldsay including the Philippines. So we want to encourage nations to embrace moreUS engagement and of course that's the message we will be sending to the nextUS administration: that we rely on the United States as the indispensablepartner and security guarantor. The Philippines have benefitted from the USpresence as well and I hope that President Duterte acknowledges that under theUS security guarantee many of us have been able to build our economies, buildour societies in relative peace and security.

JOURNALIST: Indeed. Hopefully he comes to his senses. Now Julie Bishop, over the past tenyears or so Australians have looked at their politicians and leadership changesand our heads have been spinning. It must have been even worse for you asDeputy Leader of the Liberal Party seeing leaders and prime ministers come andgo. We saw horrible descent from the Government into Abbot-Turnbull tensionsthat have become so familiar in politics in this country through theRudd-Gillard and now Abbott-Turnbull years. I'm wondering whether MalcolmTurnbull might be making the same mistake that Tony Abbott made, in that he didnot embrace Malcolm Turnbull enough when he was Prime Minister, did not givehim a more senior role and try and sort of conscript him into the upperechelons of his Government. Is there a case for Malcolm Turnbull to perhapsinvite Tony Abbott into the Cabinet and try and get this whole Governmentpushing in the one direction?

JULIEBISHOP: Well Chris as you know, matters of appointments toCabinet are made by the Prime Minister and in this case the Prime Minister hasa very competent and capable Cabinet. There is no vacancy in the Cabinet. ButTony Abbott is making a contribution. I think last week has been completelymisread by many people. Both the Prime Minister and the former Prime Ministerare utterly aligned in relation to ensuring Australia's gun laws are notweakened in any way. These gun laws were put in place Prime Minister Howard inthe aftermath of the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre and neither the Prime Ministernor the former Prime Minister are advocating any weakening, in fact they areboth proposing a strengthening. So when we…

JOURNALIST: And I agree with you. Even on the Liberal Party reform they are pretty much onthe same page too. There's a really subtle differences in terms of emphasis andperspective which kind of highlights the point – if that is going to get peopledistracted, better to try and get everybody on board, perhaps have Tony Abbottin Cabinet and put this sort of distraction behind you.

JULIEBISHOP: We have many competent, able people in our Party andmany competing for the limited number of places in Cabinet. Malcolm came inwith a promise to refresh and renew the Cabinet and he has done that – we'vegot some young people in the Cabinet who are performing admirably – but we area party of ideas and we can accommodate different views and different ideas anddifferent perspectives and nuances. I just think that people need to appreciatethat both the Prime Minister and the former Prime Minister are on the same pagewhen it comes to promoting our national interests through stronger gun laws,through stronger economic security and through our commitment to nationalsecurity to keep Australians safe.

JOURNALIST: Alright Julie Bishop, thanks for joining us again and I think you're off toIndonesia next? Safe travels.

JULIEBISHOP: I am, tomorrow evening, thanks Chris.

JOURNALIST: That's Foreign Minister and Deputy Liberal Leader Julie Bishop. Always good tocatch up with her, so much going on around the world, we will try and get herback again in a couple of months.

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