Sky News Viewpoint - interview with Chris Kenny

  • Transcript, E&OE

CHRISKENNYI am joined in the studio now by theForeign Minister Julie Bishop. Thanks for joining us again Foreign Minister.There is always so much to talk to you about, so I appreciate you joining us.


CHRISKENNYMay I start off with the battleagainst Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – I want to come to Australia'sdeployment in a moment – but first up I heard on Jonathan Spyer on this programon Friday night, he suggested that Islamic State is reasonably well containedbut not enough is being done on the ground to eliminate it within its so-calledcaliphate. He has been in Syria and Iraq of late. Is that the case? Do youbelieve you have them contained but you actually need to liberate that area soto speak?

JULIE BISHOPThe long-term goal ofcourse is to ensure that national sovereign governments are in control of theirown territory and can protect their own people. That's why we are supportingthe Iraqi Government try and take back the territory that has been claimed byIslamic State or Da'esh as it is called over there, and help build the capacityof the Iraqi Security Forces so that they can protect their own people.

In Syria itis far more complex because of course the Assad regime lost all legitimacy whenit used chemical weapons against its own people and there are more playersinvolved in Syria – Iraq, Iran, Hezbollah, Russia backing Assad – you havedifferent minority groups and Al-Nusra as well as Islamic State in Syria. Butwe are making progress with the airstrikes. The airstrikes in Iraq havecontained the march of Islamic State into other territories. You remember howthey used to form columns and go out with their black flags and vehicles sothat's been contained…

CHRISKENNYContained in Ramadi, only 60 or 70kilometres from Baghdad.

JULIEBISHOPThat's true but 12 months ago therewas a real fear that Baghdad might fall and that's when I went to Iraq and metwith the Government and signed up that status of forces agreement – well it istechnically not – but an agreement as to Australia's engagement in Iraq at therequest of the Iraqi Government. So the airstrikes are having an impact.

In Syria, theUnited States has now asked Australia to consider joining the Coalition. Anumber of countries in the region are part of those airstrikes – the UAE, SaudiArabia, Jordan and now Turkey last night took part for the first time in USairstrikes to target ISIL or Da'esh. So the airstrikes will continue but ofcourse the challenge is to ensure that the security forces on the ground ofIraq and the moderate Syrian forces in Syria can take back that territory andprotect the people.

CHRISKENNYYet to formally make the decisionabout whether or not Australian aircrafts can cross the border into Syria. Nowof course the United States wanted Australia to do that from the start – theywanted our missions to be able to disregard the border, fly into Syria as well– what's changing? We decided then that the legal technicalities made it notworth us committing to that or restricting our actions to Iraqi airspace,what's changed that we want to re-examine this?

JULIEBISHOPIt is effectively one theatre of war,one conflict, because Da'esh began in Iraq, moved into Syria and is now back inIraq, and that border area between Syria and Iraq is essentially ungovernedspace. Neither the Assad regime nor the Abadi Government…

CHRISKENNYBut that was always the case.

JULIEBISHOPHang on Chris, but there was a largecoalition of countries committing to support the United States and there havebeen a number of countries carrying out airstrikes in Iraq – Australiasupported that because we were asked by the Iraqi Government so it wasclear-cut.

In the caseof Syria it is more complex. The legal situation is different. The UnitedStates is relying on the principle of collective self-defence, Turkey isrelying individual and collective self-defence. We have now been asked to focuson Syria. We are considering that. We will take our own legal advice andconsult with Coalition partners and other stakeholders in this and make adecision on this.

CHRISKENNYOf course it is more complex in alegal sense because there's a sovereign government who is not going to inviteyou in to help them defend their territory in Syria. This is where the UnitedNations Security Council could be useful, but your old friend Russia of coursewill stymie any action to get United Nations cover for more serious operations.

JULIEBISHOPThat's right and the difficulty withSyria is that the Assad regime will seek to benefit from any attacks on ISIL orIslamic State/Da'esh. But any attacks by the Coalition should not be seen assupport for Assad. I mean his regime has been horrendous in its behaviour, itsconduct against its own people.

But what weare seeking to do is contain and defeat Da'esh so that its tentacles can'tspread further and of course we have 120 or more Australians who are fightingwith Da'esh and we are concerned that as hardened terrorists they might maketheir way back to Australia and seek to carry out a terrorist act here.

CHRISKENNYI presume you'd like to see moreaction in Iraq and Syria by the Europeans, both the EU and European nationsdoing more to deal with this threat. Do you think they might start to do moregiven the people smuggling crisis that is rising to unspeakable levels inEurope now which is driven in part of course by what's happening in Syria aswell as in Libya. Doesn't this show that the Europeans need to do more aboutresolving situations in the source countries?

JULIEBISHOPI think that the crisis that isunfolding in Europe will focus their attention – this humanitarian crisis isunprecedented. The UNHCR estimates that around 40 per cent of those currentlyseeking asylum in Europe are coming from Syria and there are a significantnumber also coming from Libya and also up through the horn of Africa – Nigeria,Somalia, Mali as well as Afghanistan. So the conflict in North Africa and theMiddle East is having a huge impact on Europe.

And whilethere are European nations already involved in the Coalition undertakingairstrikes – Netherlands, Poland, Belgium, a number of countries are supportingthe US – this will really focus their minds on trying to prevent the flow ofasylum seekers and some are economic asylum seekers, others are fleeingpersecution, war, conflict. It will focus their attention on trying to resolvethe situation at its source and that will include military and politicalsolutions in both Syria and Iraq.

CHRISKENNYAnd when will Australia formally makethe decision on whether or not to approve these operations in Syria – possiblywe read based out of Turkey, which is a turnaround for the history books,Australian forces operating out of Turkey.

JULIEBISHOPThere is no specific timeframe. The UShave asked us to consider this and they are continuing their airstrikes. TheCanadians, the Brits, the Jordanians, they are all involved. We will take ourown legal advice, we will consult with Coalition partners and then we will makea decision.

CHRISKENNYNow there have been some horriblepolitical claims suggesting that the whole question of going into Syria wasraised as an attempt at having a khaki by-election in Canning. This is patentlynonsense because the conversation between Tony Abbott and Barack Obama aboutthis predates the untimely death of Don Randall.

JULIEBISHOPIt occurred weeks ago. In fact, theissue of Syria and being one theatre of war with Iraq has been around formonths. We were discussing this with the United States very early on. As yousaid, the United States has always seen this as one theatre of war. Theybelieve that the legal principle of collective self-defence of Iraq and itspeople justifies their airstrikes over Syria. So this is an issue that has beenon the agenda for a long time.

CHRISKENNYI raise this as a segue into thosemajor issues of state and international crisis into the grubby domesticpolitics. Because that kind of ridiculous conspiracy theory is being pushed notjust by people on Twitter but by Ray Martin on Channel Ten I noticed last week,who has been appointed by the ABC to look at ABC-bias on Q&A. It just showsthat the level of debate in this country is reaching the lowest levelsimaginable.

JULIEBISHOPThat is an utterly false assumptionand just looking at the timeline shows there is nothing in it. And to suggestthat we are trying to contrive this outcome in the Canning by-election isoffensive and ridiculous. Of course, the Canning by-election has come about asa result of the untimely death of my friend and colleague Don Randall.

It hasnothing to do with our commitment to the Iraqi Government and the notion ofcollective self-defence of Iraq. We've been in Iraq for some time now – comingup to 12 months or more – so it was just a ridiculous suggestion and reallydoesn't reflect well on Ray Martin.

CHRISKENNYWell it doesn't. But look at thoseother excerpts I showed at the start of the program in relation to this BorderForce story in Melbourne. You have Andrew Wilkie invoking Stalin who wasresponsible for millions of death and the East German regime. You've got TonyWindsor suggesting that your Government wants to provoke a terrorist act on ourshores. How do you deal with this – not just these swipes – but the fact thatthey are run, particularly on the ABC, unquestioned? How are you going to fightback against this sort of hysteria?

JULIEBISHOPThere is nothing like relevancedeprivation syndrome is there? And in the case of Mr Wilkie and Mr Windsor,they obviously have an acute case of it. But to draw some sort of parallelbetween arbitrary, totalitarian regimes and the Australian Government iscomplete and utter nonsense. It makes them look ridiculous but it is alsopreposterous. For sensible – seemingly sensible – elected representatives totry and draw analogies between Hitler's Germany, Pinochet's regime, Stalin'sRussia and a misguided press release, it is just outrageous.

CHRISKENNYLet's just clarify. Obviously it was apoorly worded press release, but you are a lawyer, are our law enforcementofficers – whether they are customs, border force, police or whatever – arethey able to randomly pull people on the streets and demand theiridentification and the likes? My understanding, that is now within our rule oflaw?

JULIEBISHOPAbsolutely not, and that was never theintention and certainly is not government policy. It was never going to happen,and anybody with an ounce of sense could see that there was a mistake in thewording of the press release. The Border Force made it quite clear that it wasa very poorly worded press release and people could have taken it the wrongway. But we came out and said clearly this was not the intention, this was notgoing to happen and anyone who knew anything about law enforcement in thiscountry knew it wouldn't be policy.

CHRISKENNYYet Bill Shorten talks about a 'PoliceState' – a quasi 'Police State'.

JULIEBISHOPWell that is outrageous language. A'Police State' – meaning a totalitarian regime – is just nonsense. But I thinkthe Australian voters are smart enough to see this kind of overgrown hyperboleis just ridiculous in these circumstances.

CHRISKENNYI want to ask you about Bill Shortenbecause he of course is also attacking the trade union royal commission. He hasjoined with the ACTU – the Labor party really trying to get Dyson Heydon tostand aside – he will announce that decision tomorrow. Can you tell us thatwhatever Dyson Heydon decides to do that the royal commission will continue?Because otherwise we are seeing it shut down by the very people who it has maderevelations about.

JULIEBISHOPBill Shorten has very selectiveoutrage. He is outraged about poorly worded press release but he is notoutraged about the systemic corruption in the union movement. And those who areleading the charge against Dyson Heydon and that includes Bill Shorten, haveone motivation and that is to stop the investigation into corrupt unionofficials and behaviour that was ripping off honest union workers.

They aretrying to protect these union officials from further investigation. Alreadyabout 26 officials have been referred for further investigation andprosecution. And so for those who are trying to close down this royalcommission, all they are trying to do is protect corruption and behaviour thatwas working against the interests of honest union members.

CHRISKENNYSo will they fail no matter what DysonHeydon decides? The royal commission will continue somehow?

JULIE BISHOPThis Royal Commissionmust continue on behalf of those honest union members who have been ripped offby corrupt union bosses, who put their own personal interests ahead of thepeople they are meant to be representing.

CHRISKENNYTwo matters I want to clear up beforeI let you go. One is Canning, you have been on the ground campaigning withAndrew Hastie. What is your assessment of how he has recovered from thatinitial smear against him and what are the issues that it is going to be foughton – local or is it very much a referendum on the Abbott Government?

JULIEBISHOPHe is an outstanding Australian. Hewill bring rare insights and qualities for the role of a Member for Canning. Ibelieve that he is one of the most outstanding candidates I've seen on eitherside of politics for a very, very long time - a serving officer in the SAS, hebrings those leadership qualities.

CHRISKENNYSo there is no chance he will lose ifhe's such a great candidate and you have an 11 per cent margin, the Governmentcan be in no fear of losing the seat.

JULIEBISHOPI have every confidence that thepeople of Canning will want a person of his temperament and his character torepresent them, and that is what it is all about. This is a by-election, therewill always be challenges for the incumbent Government during a by-election,but this has come about because of the untimely death of Don Randall and thepeople of Canning get to choose who they want to represent them in Canberra.And I don't believe they can find anybody more outstanding, more committed totheir interests than Andrew Hastie.

CHRISKENNYWell speaking about politicians andambition and how much they can deliver, I also want to ask you in the contextof possible reshuffles, a lot of talk there could be a reshuffle in theGovernment's frontbench later in the year. You of course when you were firstDeputy Liberal Leader in Opposition had the Shadow Treasury portfolio, a lot ofpolitical drama around that, and Joe Hockey took the job you went into ForeignAffairs. It hasn't really worked out for Joe Hockey and he seemed very muchlike the weak link in the Government, don't we need one of the Government'sbest campaigners, best advocates in that crucial treasury portfolio?

JULIEBISHOPWe have to remember that Joe Hockey asTreasurer inherited the worse set of national accounts of any government inliving memory. Yet only six years earlier the Labor Government under Kevin Ruddhad inherited the very best set of financial accounts. So Joe has had to dealwith not only the debt and deficit that was brought about by six years of Laborincompetence and mismanagement of our national finances, but is also dealingwith an irresponsible Labor group of Senators…

CHRISKENNYWe know it is a tough job, but thepoint is most observers in the country think that Malcolm Turnbull or ScottMorrison or even yourself could do a better job than Joe Hockey.

JULIEBISHOPWell rather than criticise Joe I wouldcall on Labor to work with him, accept responsibility for the legacy they left- the worse debt and deficit that we have ever seen in Australia's history -and work with him to find the solutions.

They arebeing irresponsible in the Senate, they are blocking even their own savingsthat they put up. They are blocking the establishment of the ABCC – which is aproductivity measure bringing back lawful practices in our workplaces, ourbuilding sites – and yet Labor is blocking it. So Joe has a very tough gig butI am sure he is up for it.

CHRISKENNYThere you go, we have spent the bestpart of 15 minutes with you. You are a former board member of the West CoastEagles, of course, as a big Crows man I haven't even mentioned football today,thanks very much for your time.

JULIEBISHOPIt's not today, but well done theCrows, but it is the Grand Final that counts.

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