Weekend Sunrise, New York - interview with Andrew O’Keefe and Monique Wright

  • Transcript, E&OE
21 September 2014

ANDREW O'KEEFE World leaders have come together at a meeting in New York to discuss the unfolding war in Iraq and Syria.

MONIQUE WRIGHT Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was a part of those discussions and she joins us now from New York.

Good morning to you Minister, thanks so much for your time on what we know has been a very busy week for you.

JULIE BISHOP Good morning, pleasure to be with you.

MONIQUE WRIGHT Now Minister, the US Secretary of State John Kerry singled out Australia for thanks for its commitment of troops to combat Islamic State in Iraq and last week of course the US declared itself at war with Islamic State. Can we be clear, does this mean Australia is also at war?

JULIE BISHOP No, what this means is that Australia is prepared to join an international coalition of countries who will support the Iraqi Government in its fight back against ISIL, this brutal terrorist organisation that is taking over towns and claiming territory in Iraq and leaving a trail of death and destruction behind it.

Yesterday's meeting was an opportunity for nations to pledge support for an international effort to combat ISIL wherever it occurs, and it is not just in Iraq, but there were about 40 countries who were present and they spoke about what they were prepared to do to support the Iraqi Government, including military intervention, humanitarian support and other means to starve ISIL of fighters and funding and weapons. So there was universal condemnation of ISIL and its barbaric activities.

ANDREW O'KEEFE Minister, regardless of whether we define it as a war or not, Australia is arguably the second most involved country in this so-called "coalition of the concerned". Of course, there are similar sectarian wars happening in places like Mali and Congo and even Somalia. How does this war, or this engagement, serve Australia's political interests? And why haven't we insisted on the great powers of the Middle East pledging their firepower before we pledge our troops?

JULIE BISHOP Yesterday's meeting was designed to gauge support for the Iraqi Government's fight against ISIL. This is a particularly barbaric form of terrorism, the likes of which we have never seen before. It specifically targets women and girls and minorities. The crucifixions, beheadings and mass executions are particularly horrible and it is an atrocious organisation. The connection with Australia, of course, is that we have about 60 Australian citizens who we believe are fighting with ISIL in the Middle East and at least 100 more back in Australia supporting this murderous organisation. So about 80 countries are believed to have foreign fighters leaving their shores or working with ISIL to support ISIL. So it is an international threat and it is an international response that is required.

Australia is by no means the only country willing to support the Iraqi Government or a US-led intervention. Saudi Arabia has pledged half a billion dollars and France has already begun air strikes on ISIL territory. There are others who have pledged significant amounts of money for humanitarian support and others talking about cutting off the financing.

On Wednesday there will be a meeting convened by President Obama where world leaders will talk about the pledges that they are prepared to make and indeed on Tuesday, I'll be attending a counter-terrorism meeting that is being convened by the United States and Turkey. The Middle East countries are involved, they are deeply concerned and because it is in their region, they are specifically focused on how to contain this murderous organisation, as it spreads throughout Iraq, Syria and beyond.

ANDREW O'KEEFE They don't appear to be doing as much as we are doing at this point? Apparently, our involvement will cost us half a billion dollars sometime in the next nine months. You would expect, perhaps Saudi Arabia or Turkey or Iran or Egypt to be pledging more because the war is on their doorstep.

JULIE BISHOP The pledging will come next week. We're seeing a significant level of support. The special meeting yesterday was attended by representatives of 40 countries and there was a significant level of discussion as to what different countries can provide.

But Australia hasn't done anything other than pre-deploy. We have sent Special Forces, we are prepared to commit planes. France is actually carryingout air strikes now. Australia is not. We are working with the Iraqi Government, indeed I am meeting with the Iraqi Foreign Minister on Monday to talk about how Australia can support Iraq in it fightback against ISIL and its ilk. So, countries are actually involved in activities now. Australia is prepared to provide aeroplanes and Special Forces to assist in the fight against ISIL.

MONIQUE WRIGHT We will move onto another topic now and you will represent Australia at next week's summit on climate change. How do you feel that the rest of the world views Australia after we have become the first developed nation to repeal a carbon price?

JULIE BISHOP I am representing Australia because I am the Minister with responsibility for international climate change negotiations, so it is appropriate that I should be there. Australia has a very good story to tell. The emissions from our country represent about 1 per cent or 1.5 per cent of total global greenhouse gas emissions, so we are certainly playing our role, a very proportionate role, appropriate to the level of emissions from Australia. We are committed to a target of a reduction of 5 per cent on 2000 levels by 2020. That is considered to be a significant target and I am confident that we will meet that.

We have also pledged $2.55 billion fund for emissions reductions and providing incentives for companies to change behaviours, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without losing jobs which of course was the situation under the carbon tax. The previous carbon tax was an economy-wide tax that no other country on Earth had introduced. It was job destroying, it was bad for our economy and so it was sensible and prudent for us to repeal that tax, but of course we are taking action in other ways that will boost our economy and ensure that we don't lose jobs while still reducing greenhouse gas emissions in line with our target.

ANDREW O'KEEFE That action better come quickly because the latest research shows that carbon emissions have really jumped in the time since the carbon tax has been repealed here in Australia. The UN Secretary General of course is marching with climate activists to raise the profile of climate change pretty much as we speak. We will look forward to hearing what results come out of the climate section of the summit in New York. Just finally tonight on the Sunday Night program we have an exclusive interview with former Prime Minister John Howard. Let's take a quick listen to a grab from that:

I don't think any Australian should assume we won't have a terrorist incident here. We shouldn't be complacent and we should be quite unapologetic.

The Immigration Minister of course this week said there would be no link between our current action in the Middle East and any threat of terror here at home, but isn't it fairly obvious that some extremists would use our part in this latest war as a pretext for committing criminal acts in Australia and for recruiting misguided radicals?

JULIE BISHOP For quite some time now there has been a concern of terrorist activity within countries from where foreign fighters have been leaving. So, for example, in Britain and France and other countries in Europe, foreign fighters have been leaving - so-called foreign fighters - have been leaving to take up arms in the Middle East. The concern is that they will go back to their home country and carry out terrorist activity there. That is why the Australian Government has been taking strong action. We have boosted the capabilities and capacities of our intelligence and security and law enforcement and border protection agencies. They have been carrying out raids to foil potential terrorist attacks, as we have seen recently, and we are introducing legislative reforms to ensure that we have the powers that are necessary to deal with this international phenomenon of foreign fighters taking up arms, learning terrorist skills, becoming extremists, radicalised and then coming home to carry on their activities in Australia. That is why we are taking such strong action now to prevent this happening and ensuring that Australians are safe.

MONIQUE WRIGHT Julie Bishop, just before you go, we saw overnight around forty Turkish hostages from Islamic State, they had been taken hostage by Islamic State, have been released overnight because the Turkish Government has negotiated, it seems, with Islamic State. What are your views on that and the way they have gone about negotiating?

JULIE BISHOP Well, we understand it was a covert operation. All of the details are not known. It is a great relief that the hostages have been released and are safe. Recently we saw the situation where 45 Fijian peacekeepers had been detained by Al-Nusra, another terrorist organisation in Syria, and they were also released. So this is of great relief to the international community, but unfortunately it doesn't take away from the fact that ISIL is renowned for kidnapping, seeking ransoms, torturing people and hoping to get money in exchange for the release of them.

In this instance, we don't have the details, but it would appear they are safe and that through a covert operation they were able to obtain their release. Sadly, in many other cases, that is not the outcome and we have seen beheadings of journalists and an aid worker by ISIL and we have to do all we can to work with the Iraqi Government to ensure that this extremist organisation is not able to continue those murderous activities.

ANDREW O'KEEFE Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, thank you so much for your time in New York this morning. Good luck for the rest of the summit.


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