Sky News Viewpoint - Interview with Chris Kenny

  • Transcript, E&OE

CHRIS KENNY Welcome back to Viewpoint. We are joined live in the studio by the Deputy Liberal Leader and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Thanks for joining us Julie.

JULIE BISHOP Thank you Chris.

CHRIS KENNY Look the fate of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran will wait to know their fate in Indonesia as we go to air tonight. You have been lobbying Indonesia, lobbying Jakarta probably almost daily as we come up to the planned execution. Have you made it clear to Indonesia that if they go ahead and execute these Australians that some of their foreign aid or any of their foreign aid would be in jeopardy?

JULIE BISHOP We have had some very forthright conversations with counterpart Ministers and Indonesia is in no doubt about the Australian Government's attitude to the death penalty and the idea that two Australian citizens will be executed by the Indonesian authorities – we have made that quite clear.

We are discussing a range of options but I don't want to go into the details of the conversations that I have been having, specifically because I don't want to say anything that would jeopardise the chance we believe still exists to stay their executions. While they are still alive, there is still hope that we can stay the executions.

CHRIS KENNY Sure and you will be wanting to maximise pressure. Have you made it clear to Indonesia that these executions would do damage to bilateral relations?

JULIE BISHOP The Indonesian Government is in no doubt about how strongly we feel about the need for a stay of execution. We have asked them to reconsider the clemency applications, we have put in writing our representations many times. There have been face-to-face as well as phone call communications and we have laid out every argument that is available to us and every possible option that we believe is available to us.

CHRIS KENNY Can you say whether the aid budget is a part of that? A lot of Australians are saying that we give hundreds of millions of dollars in aid every year to Indonesia yet they ignore us on this very, very reasonable plea. Is aid part of the bargaining process?

JULIE BISHOP Chris, I'm not going to go into the details of the conversations that I have been having with my counterpart Foreign Minister and all the conversations the Prime Minister has been having with the President. Indeed a number of Ministers have been having communications with their counterpart Ministers. The Governor-General has become involved. A number of envoys have become involved, and I don't want to say anything that could possibly be taken as a counter-productive step. I don't want to prejudice the opportunity that we still believe exists to stay their executions.

CHRIS KENNY Have Australian politicians from both sides of politics in the past made this task more difficult through the way they welcomed the executions of the Bali bombers? Don't we need to be absolutely, emphatically against the death penalty in any circumstances?

JULIE BISHOP Well the Abbott Government is absolutely against the death penalty in any circumstances, anywhere, anytime. But Chris for the last five years there hasn't been an execution in Indonesia of a foreign national. It is only since those executions were carried out recently and that Mr Sukumaran and Mr Chan's pleas for clemency were rejected in January this year that it became apparent that there had been a change in attitude on the part of the Indonesia administration and that they intended to carry out executions of those – particularly drug offenders – but those on death row.

So that is why we have increased dramatically our representations. In the past we have always made representations on behalf of the Bali Nine. I spoke to Foreign Minister Natalegawa on every occasion I met with him about Australian prisoners on death row or Australian prisoners who were facing life sentences. But since the change of government and since it became clear that the Widodo Administration intended to carry out these executions, we have embarked on a very wide-ranging high-level campaign.

CHRIS KENNY You say that attitudes have changed of late. Has Indonesia been executing its own nationals for these sorts of drug offences?

JULIE BISHOP I understand that over the last five years there have not been executions under the previous administration.

CHRIS KENNY Does that suggest that the Australians and others are particularly targeted for executions because they are foreigners?

JULIE BISHOP Well the most recent round of executions included an Indonesian national. But it also included nationals from other countries – from the Netherlands, Brazil, Nigeria – and so it is not a question of the particular nationality, so it is not because Australia's relationship with Indonesia is in question. It is because they are drug traffickers on death row. So they have not been discriminating, it has been quite clear that all sixty prisoners who are currently on death row will be executed. That's why we have increased dramatically our level of representation across the Indonesian Government to seek a stay of execution for the two Australian citizens.

CHRIS KENNY I just want to raise with you an issue that's broken – a story that's broken – late today. Allegations from Chan and Sukumaran's Indonesian legal team alleging that the six judges who handed down the death penalty in this case actually offered to give them lighter sentences in exchange for money, in exchange for bribes. Do you have any additional information as to whether these claims have any legitimacy?

JULIE BISHOP Chris, these are allegations. These are matters that of course would be raised in an appropriate context with Indonesia for their response. But again I don't want to say anything publicly that would jeopardise our opportunity to seek a stay of execution and their clemency pleas to be reconsidered. Everything that we say publicly is being analysed in Jakarta and my sole focus is to put forward the very best case we can to ensure that Mr Sukumaran and Mr Chan have their executions stayed and one of the most powerful arguments we have is that they have been rehabilitated.

In a quite remarkable transformation over the last nine/ten years these young men have undergone a rehabilitation that a prison system anywhere in the world would be proud to claim as their own work. And this is an opportunity for the Indonesian prison system to show the world that they can rehabilitate drug traffickers, drug offenders in a most extraordinary way. These two young men have a quality of life – not one that you or I would choose or others – but they have a quality of life, they have a contribution to make, they are paying their debt to society, they should not pay with their lives.

CHRIS KENNY How much hope do you hold out at this late stage? Our Embassy is going to get a briefing from the Indonesian Government tomorrow, do you expect that to be just the actual formalities? The practical realities of how the executions are going to be carried out?

JULIE BISHOP We don't have any specific details as yet. Our Embassy has been asked to attend a meeting, as have other Embassies, we are told it is for administrative, technical details, but we don't have any specifics, any particulars at all at this stage.

CHRIS KENNY I want to shift onto terrorism. Of course we have had the events in Copenhagen today – a terrorist attack there – people killed and the alleged terrorist shot dead as well. Obviously it has focussed our minds in Australia both domestically and through our involvement in the Middle East and Tony Abbott today has announced he will be handing down a statement tomorrow week – a national security statement. He says that extremists should no longer be given the benefit of the doubt, that we have given people the benefit of the doubt of the borders and through welfare and citizenship. But how do you stop giving people the benefit of the doubt?

JULIE BISHOP First on Copenhagen I understand there were two attacks, another shocking reminder that terrorism can occur anywhere at any time and of course our deepest sympathies are with the people of Denmark and the victims and families of those who have been injured.

The Prime Minister's statement has indicated there will be a much broader statement on the threat of terrorism in Australia. We have said for some time that counterterrorism is our number one national security priority. The threat of foreign terrorist fighters is a security threat not just in Australia or regionally, but globally. This is a global terrorist issue that requires a global response.

When the Prime Minister talks about people being given the benefit of the doubt- let's take for example, Monis, the subject of the Martin Place siege - at every step along the way it seems from his history, he was given the benefit of the doubt and quite clearly he made a number of fraudulent claims. So the Prime Minister is referring to us tightening the approach, bringing fresh eyes to consider some of the circumstances that our border protection and immigration people are presented with and taking into account what we have seen in recent times and how can we change the system to ensure these sort of things are detected and that we can do whatever we can to keep Australians and this country safe.

CHRIS KENNY I should add for the benefit of viewers that Tony Abbott said he would announce his response to the Martin Place siege – the report on that – and jointly with the New South Wales Government. The report on what went on and also their response to anything that needs to change from that.

Staying on that idea, we have seen in a YouTube video, the Prime Minister mentioning things like citizenship, immigration, law, welfare access and getting rid of this idea of giving people the benefit of the doubt. The concern that there – I'm certain we will hear from the legal fraternity – is that if you stop giving people the benefit of the doubt it sounds awfully close to giving up on the presumption of innocence.

JULIE BISHOP No, I don't believe that is what the Prime Minister is saying at all. I think that we will be looking at the procedures and processes that are in place and how we can better check out stories that are presented to our authorities. Also, this whole phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters, young Australians who are being attracted to this brutal ideology and taking up with a terrorist organisation – either leaving the country to fight with them in Syria and Iraq or supporting them back here in Australia…

CHRIS KENNY [Interrupting] some of them are dual citizens, is that somewhere that you can look at some changes so that if dual citizens get involved in this sort of activity, they could lose their Australian citizenship?

JULIE BISHOP I can assure you that all these issues have been under consideration by the National Security Committee for some time. We have also been following very closely what is happening in the United Kingdom, in the United States, in France, in Europe, in countries across the world where they are confronted by these foreign terrorist fighters and also acts of terror that have been carried out often by home-grown terrorists, dual citizens, or others that have come into the country. So there are a whole range of areas where we need to refocus, revisit, reanalyse whether we can do things better to make the country safe.

CHRIS KENNY Will you ban the fundamentalist, political group Hizb ut-Tahrir, which has been banned in many other countries around the world?

JULIE BISHOP We take advice from our security and intelligence agencies. We need evidence but the Prime Minister has made it very clear that he's asked for that matter to be considered. This is the type of thing he will be speaking about when he makes his national security statement.

CHRIS KENNY No doubt when you announce whatever it is your measures are going to be, there are going to be claims – it is so predictable, this is a hypothetical question I suppose, but it isn't really because it is so predictable – you will be accused of Islamaphobia and you will be accused of talking up the threat of terrorism for political gain. Do you have distain for that sort of criticism?

JULIE BISHOP I think that some of the brutal violent acts that we have seen in recent times speak for themselves. When you hear Australian accents on videos of ISIL or Daesh beheadings, executions, when our intelligence agencies tell us that there are young Australians who are taking part in these violent brutal acts overseas, that they are becoming hardened terrorists and there is a risk they will come back to Australia – I believe that people understand the extent of the threat.

CHRIS KENNY Just finally on this, don't we need a public education campaign – a deep public education campaign – so that Australians, or even start with the media, actually understand that Islamic extremists or jihadists are not a group that have a grievance that can be settled.

They are not a group that can be negotiated with, they are not a group who if we don't do anything to prod them they won't hurt us, people need to understand this absolutist ideology that is all about creating a global caliphate and is all about attacking us for our values and our democratic systems and our plurality.

And we need to know what we are up against in order for the public to be focussed on combating it and to not lose the cohesiveness we have in this country with the overwhelming majority of Muslims who of course would not have a bar of this sort of extremism.

JULIE BISHOP That's precisely the point Chris and this is a conversation that I have had with foreign ministers or secretary of state around the world. Last year we had a meeting at the United Nations where we focussed specifically on foreign terrorist fighters and it was considered then that about 80 countries around the world have amongst their citizens those who are taking up the fight with these terrorist organisations, the likes of which we have never seen before.

The ISIL or Daesh or al-Nusra – these organisations, these terrorist organisations – respect no laws, no governments, no territories, they do not recognise the concept of a sovereign state, a sovereign nation. They have no regard for humanity, they have no regard for any rules of behaviour and it is an ideology that is so brutal it takes us back to the Dark Ages, to Medieval times. And it doesn't matter whether it is a liberal western democracy or a sectarian government or a Middle Eastern government or a European government, they are determined to claim territory, people and execute in the most barbaric way anyone that doesn't support that sick, toxic ideology. That is the message we have to get through.

It is not about Australia changing its foreign policy or Saudi Arabia changing its foreign policy – you see a Jordanian pilot burned alive in a sickening way – this is not a normal organisation that can be reasoned with. These are not people that you can sit down and negotiate hostages with. We have seen people executed – civilians, humanitarian workers, journalists – it is terrifying.

Yes we do need a national conversation in Australia, that is what we have been seeking to do in every public utterance that the Prime Minister and I and the Attorney-General and others have made about national security ever since this became a much more ever-present, omnipresent issue as it has in the last couple of years.


CHRIS KENNY Thank you very much for joining us Julie Bishop.

JULIE BISHOP My pleasure.

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