Weekend Sunrise, Perth - Interview with Andrew O'Keefe and Monique Wright

  • Transcript, E&OE

JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop joins us now to discuss. Thank you very much Minister for being with us this morning.

JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.

JOURNALIST: This intake of an extra 4,400 refugees we are saying that's our fair share. Given the numbers we are talking about is that right?

JULIE BISHOP: In fact, the Prime Minister and I had a very long discussion about this yesterday. We recognise that this is an international crisis. It's beyond the capacity of any one country or indeed any one region to resolve it. So we are reaching out to our partners and friends and allies in Europe, Middle East, including United States, to see how we can be part of a coordinated international solution. There are obviously a number of responses that could be undertaken - more resources to the refugee camps that already exist in Lebanon and Jordan and Turkey; other countries increasing their refugee intake, their humanitarian intake, not just in Europe, but also in the Middle East, the Persian Gulf and beyond; and of course other countries, looking at what further aid we can provide.

So we are talking to our partners and allies. I have been in touch with some overnight. We will do our fair share. There are a number of options that people could look at, including the establishment of safe havens within Syria and Iraq, safe havens along the border. I was in Lebanon and Jordan last year, of course many people do not want to leave Syria, they want to stay there - it's their home. So if there were a temporary safe haven somewhere they would consider that.

I went to UNHCR resettlement registration places and spoke to people, a number said if they were able to return when the conflict was over, that would be their choice. So I think that there are a lot of options and a number of different responses we should consider, but it is an international crisis and Australia will play its part.

JOURNALIST: Minister up until this point, at least publicly, you mentioned that you had long discussions with the Prime Minister yesterday. Up until this point his primary response has been to laud Australia's efforts to stop the boats. How do you respond to the New South Wales Premier Mike Baird's comments on his Facebook page that stopping the boats can't be where this ends, it is surely where humanitarianism begins? And he is challenging the Federal Government to do more, to take more people.

JULIE BISHOP: The point the Prime Minister is making in that now we have stopped the boats we have more flexibility within our humanitarian program. We take 13,750 each year, we want to increase that to 18,750 over time. That would be the highest intake under our humanitarian program in 30 years.

We did, within that 13,750 have places - 4,400 places - for people from Syria and Iraq that was just in the last financial year. We are obviously considering that. We welcome Mike Baird's comments about this, he's making a very positive contribution, he's suggesting that the NSW government will be able to help. Indeed, a number of members of parliament in the Coalition have suggested that we could increase the intake and of course they may well have resources available that we could draw upon. So the Prime Minister and I have been discussing this, as the Minister for Immigration has been discussing it with me and the Prime Minister over the last few days to see how we can help in an international response. And the point about stopping the boats means that we now have the flexibility to provide places to those most in need, whereas in the past under Labor they provided all of those humanitarian places or most of the places by those who had arrived via the people smuggling trade. We have stopped that trade, we can use the humanitarian program as it was meant to be used, to provide support for people coming out of the camps.

JOURNALIST: I think that's quite a generous reading of what the Prime Minister was saying there 'cause he was saying that the European Union leaders are looking to Australia saying we should stop the boats too. And you know, stopping the boats in this situation certainly means that people just die in Syria rather than on beaches in Italy and Greece.

JULIE BISHOP: The fact is when I was in Europe this year, there were many European Union parliamentarians asking what Australia had done. These are things that Europe could have done a long time did ago, and didn't. And now we are in a situation where there are millions of people displaced because of the conflict in the Middle East.

This is another point. We are doing our fair share to defeat the terrorist organisations that are driving people out of Iraq and Syria in the first place. These people are displaced from their homes because of the conflict, and that's caused by this terrorist organisation Da'esh. So we are doing our part in Iraq, in trying to defeat the terrorist organisations, by attacking their military bases, their supply lines. We were asked to do the same in relation to Syria and that is a matter under consideration at present.

JOURNALIST: So you have raised a number of issues there. Number one our humanitarian intake. Number two, how we support aid on the ground in the Middle East, which is after all the main reason why people are fleeing to countries surrounding Syria. But the third point that you raise is our military presence in Syria. Now of course this week former defence force chief Peter Gration described a proposed operation to scale up our actions in Syria as strategically dumb, to increase the number of casualties and refugees. So what evidence is there that air strikes on Islamic State targets within Syria won't worsen this humanitarian crisis?

JULIE BISHOP: See well that overlooks the fact that air strikes are targeted at the military bases and supply lines for the terrorist organisations. There is zero tolerance when it comes to air strikes that would affect civilians; so the whole idea of air strikes is to take out the military capacity of ISIL or Da'esh to continue to carry out its brutal and violent activities in Syria and Iraq. So it does make strategic sense. Indeed there is logic in relation to air strikes in Iraq and Syria, because the terrorist organisation considers it to be one theatre of conflict, with no respect for the boundary of Syria and Iraq and they are crossing that boundary each day and carrying out their activities against the Iraqi people against Syrian people. If we are able to prevent the terrorist organisation carrying out its brutal activities there is some chance of returning Syria and Iraq to stability and peace.

JOURNALIST: A lot more to come on that. Just before we let you go Minister we want to get your response on the News Corp report overnight which is talking about the Treasurer Joe Hockey and possibly removing him. Now, the Prime Minister has said not one person has raised that. News Corp is claiming that you had a discussion with the Prime Minister just before Christmas where you discussed that very issue. What's your response to that report?

JULIE BISHOP: I think this is an old story that was put out some time ago, so it's just rehashing an old story. I think it was a Fairfax story, indeed. I don't comment on that kind of gossip. And the Treasurer has a very tough job dealing with the debt and deficit that we inherited from Labor and is doing a very good job in tough circumstances.

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

JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.

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