Triple J Hack, ABC - interview with Tom Tilley

  • Transcript, E&OE

TOM TILLEY: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is here to explain why they've kicked out two Russian diplomats and to clarify whether the Government is considering boycotting the Russian Football World Cup. Julie Bishop, thank you so much for joining us on Hack today. In your press conference today it sounded like you left the door open to boycotting the World Cup and the Football Federation seemed worried. They've written to your office seeking clarification. So, are you considering pulling the Socceroos out of the World Cup in June?

JULIE BISHOP: The Government is not considering a boycott of the World Cup and that's not what was said. What we are considering is a range of options.

TOM TILLEY: Okay. So we are definitely not pulling out the Socceroos?

JULIE BISHOP: We certainly never said that. The Government is not considering a boycott of that kind. There are a range of options that can be taken but the Government is not considering a boycott of the World Cup.

TOM TILLEY: Okay, and can you explain how this expulsion works? Was it just a coincidence that you found out at the same time as you needed to take a stand with these other nations against the nerve agent attack that you found out that they were undeclared intelligence officers or had you known that for some time? Was that necessary to adhere to the Convention that you kicked them out under? How did it work?

JULIE BISHOP: I won't go into the intelligence matters. Obviously, I don't intend to broadcast to Russia or any other country our intelligence operations but we are able to expel diplomats pursuant to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and Consular Relations and we can declare them persona non grata, which means they are expelled from the country and we don't have to give any reason for it. However, the decision was taken because a Russia military grade nerve agent was used in an attempted assassination in the United Kingdom. It had the potential to harm possibly hundreds of others. It was a serious breach of the international rules based order, in fact, it was the first offensive deployment of chemical agents since World War II. It was such a blatant criminal act that Australia and 23 other countries are standing in solidarity with the United Kingdom saying that this kind of action will not be tolerated. Australia condemns the use of chemical weapons anywhere, anytime.

TOM TILLEY: Okay, yeah, we understand that side of the logic for this decision but you've also told the Australian public that these two diplomats were undeclared intelligence officers and to most people that says "spies", "Russian spies". We had two diplomats that were working as spies – what was going on there?

JULIE BISHOP: Russia has a number of personnel in an embassy here and we took a decision to expel two diplomats who we can advise were working as undeclared intelligence officers in Australia. I will not go into the details of how, when and where we knew because that goes to the very heart of our intelligence operations. This is not something we do lightly. The last time diplomats were expelled was in 2012 when two Syrian diplomats were sent back after the Assad regime used chemical weapons in Syria. It is an egregious breach of international law and should not be tolerated.

TOM TILLEY: Are you kicking them out because we are standing arm-in-arm with the other 23 nations who are standing up against the nerve attack? Or are we kicking them out because they're undeclared intelligence officers?

JULIE BISHOP: It is a decision we took in support of the UK's position on the deployment of the chemical weapon on European soil. It is a decision we've taken with 23 other countries who have also expelled Russian diplomats overnight and we are all expressing our outrage at this deployment of a nerve agent in an attempted assassination.

TOM TILLEY: And do we have evidence that Russia was behind the attack yet?

JULIE BISHOP: This is a Russian designed military grade nerve agent. Either the Russian Government was behind it, or the Russian Government has lost control of an illegal stockpile of nerve agent. Either way the Russian Government has to take responsibility for this. We are taking action that is commensurate with other countries and with embassies of a similar size to Australia's. Two diplomats sends a very strong message to Russia that we will not tolerate this kind of illegal, blatant, reckless act of deploying a nerve agent in an attempted assassination on European soil, in the United Kingdom in fact, that had the potential to harm potentially hundreds of other people.

TOM TILLEY: Should Australians be worried that there are more undeclared Russian intelligence officers working here, pretending to be diplomats?

JULIE BISHOP: The Australian people can be assured that Australia's intelligence agencies are keeping Australians safe and are very on top of security matters in this country.

TOM TILLEY: And should we expect any retaliation from the Russians?

JULIE BISHOP: Yes, we can expect retaliation given that when Britain expelled 23 Russian diplomats Russia retaliated by expelling 23 British diplomats from Moscow.

TOM TILLEY: Alright, interesting to speak with you. Julie Bishop, thank you so much for making time for us.

JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.

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