Today Show, Interview with Cameron Williams and Deb Knight

  • Transcript, E&OE

JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says she's dismayed at the three year jail sentence that's been handed down to Australian journalist Peter Greste in Egypt overnight. The Australian Government is vowing to do all it can to clear his name. Julie Bishop joins us now from Melbourne.

Minister, good morning to you. What can Australia do exactly? What leverage do we have with the Egyptian Government?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, clearly we are deeply concerned by this conviction. Fortunately we were able to bring Peter Greste home in February after the Appeal Court had ordered a retrial and that was through Presidential intervention. We will continue to make representations at the highest level in Egypt. I will be in contact with my counterpart Foreign Minister and we will do what we can to have Peter Greste's name cleared. He has spent over a year in jail in Egypt. His first trial subjected him to a seven year sentence. There was an appeal. After the appeal we brought him home but he was tried in his absence at this retrial. I think he has suffered quite enough. I spoke to him yesterday. He is obviously shocked and dismayed by this result but we will do what we can to clear his name.

JOURNALIST: He and his family are obviously devastated by this sentence. In terms of ramifications will there be any for Egypt in pursuing this against Peter Greste and his Al Jazeera colleagues?

JULIE BISHOP: Egypt points out that this was part of their legal system, part of their justice system and that foreign nations should not interfere just as Australia would not want other nations to interfere in our legal and justice proceedings. But what we can do is seek political intervention at this point. There is the possibility of a Presidential pardon. We will do what we can to ensure his name is cleared.

JOURNALIST: We wish you well in that endeavour. Back home it's been another difficult week for your Government. Of course the abandonment of Operation Fortitude by the Australian Border Force - they were planning spot visa checks in Melbourne's CBD.

JULIE BISHOP: That's not actually right. That was never the plan. It was certainly not government policy for people to be stopped randomly in the street. It was a poorly worded press release. It was meant to be part of just an operational matter whereby Victorian police were targeting antisocial behaviour and if people were thought to be in breach of visas or breaking the law in terms of visas then they were to be referred to Border Force but because of this press release the wrong impression was given. That was a mistake.

JOURNALIST: That poorly worded press release was sent to Minister Dutton's office but no-one bothered to read it. This is a major bungle, isn't it?

JULIE BISHOP: It was an operational matter. It was never the intention to randomly stop people in the street - certainly not government policy I can assure you. When they discovered the badly worded press release the Victorian Police called off the operation. Border Force will continue to be there to make sure people adhere to their visa conditions which was the whole point of referring people to Border Force in the first place.

JOURNALIST: What authority does Border Force have? Are they able to do these sort of stops and checks on the street? It seems over the top.

JULIE BISHOP: It was never the intention. That's not government policy. The whole idea was while the Victorian Police were carrying out operations in terms of antisocial behaviour if they came across people who were in fact in breach of their visa conditions or they suspected they were in breach of their visa conditions they would refer them onto the Immigration Department or to Border Force in the usual course. It's what happens in operational matters all the time.

JOURNALIST: It's a fairly new agency Border Force. Do you think its credibility is going to be undermined by this episode?

JULIE BISHOP: I think clear-thinking people, right-minded people would understand it was a mistake. It was not government policy for this to happen and people aren't going to be randomly stopped in the street and any suggestion to the contrary is wrong.

JOURNALIST: On another topic the Prime Minister is currently considering this request from the US Government to send additional air support into Syria. Would Australian forces make a difference in the battle against Islamic State in the battle against Islamic State in this way?

JULIE BISHOP: Islamic State, or Da'esh as it's called, is a threat to not only regional but also global security. As you know we have about 120 Australians supporting this terrorist organisation in Iraq and Syria at present and a similar number supporting them at home. The United States has asked Australia to provide support for air strikes into Syria. We are currently supporting the Iraqi Government and the Iraqi Government has cited the fact that this terrorist organisation is planning and launching and carrying out attacks on Iraq from bases it has taken in Syria - and so it is one theatre of conflict, if you like. We will consider this request and see what contribution we can make and that will take place over the coming days.

JOURNALIST: And we have authority from the Iraqi Government to act in that theatre. Do we have the legal authority, Australia, to act in Syria in this way?

JULIE BISHOP: We will take our own legal advice but the United States, Canada, Great Britain, other countries are relying on the legal principle of collective self-defence - that means protecting the Iraqi Government at its request. It includes protecting the Iraqi Government from attacks by ISIL or Da'esh from territory it holds in Syria. Turkey has also joined the Coalition in supporting the air strikes. It relies on not only the collective self-defence of Iraq and its people but also individual self-defence because Turkey feels threatened by ISIL, Da'esh, as it operates out of Syria.

JOURNALIST: Will we see a decision on that soon? I know the Prime Minister said he wouldn't be rushed.

JULIE BISHOP: No we won't be rushed. We need to consider our capability, our defence capacity. We also need to be sure we have a clear legal basis for it. We will give it due consideration but as the Prime Minister said it will take some time.

JOURNALIST: Now the ballot for the by-election in Canning and your home state of WA is heating up. In terms of a test of the performance of your government, how much is it [inaudible] and leadership?

JULIE BISHOP: It's about the electors of Canning, who they want to represent them in Canberra after the sad death of Don Randall, a very popular local Liberal member. There has to be a by-election to replace him. We've preselected an outstanding young man in Andrew Hastie, a former officer of the SAS, who will bring to the role his leadership skills, his life experience, his team building capacity and he is a lovely bloke as well. The people of Canning are deciding who will represent them. I know commentators will extrapolate the result across the nation but it's actually about the people of Canning, their concerns and who they can trust to represent them in Canberra.

JOURNALIST: Finally, we can't let you go without talking about this. Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has tried his hand at a new job taking over as anchor on CNN's Amanpour show.

[Clip of Kevin Rudd hosting show]

JOURNALIST: He tried some jokes there in the mix. How do you think he went? Would you consider taking on a role like that?

JULIE BISHOP: I don't think so, I will leave that one to Kevin. I'm not sure that his humour translates that well outside Australia, do you?

JOURNALIST: He said he didn't stuff it up completely.

JULIE BISHOP: He's incorrigible.

JOURNALIST: Julie Bishop always good to talk. Thank you very much for your time. Thank you very much for your time.

JULIE BISHOP: Thank you.

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