UN General Assembly, New York - doorstop

Subjects: Syria, UN Security Council, Nairobi terrorist attack, Australian priorities and regional partners

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

23 September 2013

JULIE BISHOP: First, I just wanted to say a few words about the attack in Nairobi. The Australian Government condemns this absolutely brutal attack on innocent civilians. We condemn it in the strongest possible terms. The fact that an Australian, a dual national, was killed in this attack, is a tragic reminder that global terrorism is still occurring and that we must do all we can to fight terrorism. An al-Qaeda linked group has claimed responsibility. The matter is still underway and so we don't know if there are any more Australian victims – we can't rule that out. But at this stage we believe that there has only been one Australian killed and we extend our sympathy and our prayers to the family, not only of the Australian who has been killed, but also all of other nationalities, including the many Kenyans.

JOURNALIST: Minister – could you tell me what would be your list of priorities here in the short few days that you're here?

JULIE BISHOP: The United Nations General Assembly Leaders' Week is the single largest gathering of world Leaders and Ministers, and so I'll take the opportunity to meet as many of my counterparts as I can. I do have meetings with the Foreign Ministers of the P5 as well as many other nations that are important to Australia. This morning I'll be meeting with my counterpart Ministers from New Zealand and Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, also Japan, China and South Korea, and likewise throughout the week.

In terms of priorities, obviously Syria will be uppermost in people's minds and all the significant debate around Syria - the three elements. Firstly, the use of chemical weapons and what we can do to secure and eliminate those weapons. Secondly, the humanitarian effort in Syria. Australia is taking the lead in finding a resolution, hopefully, for some further humanitarian aid for the conflict in Syria. But also, the overall political solution and urging other nations to come together for a Geneva II conference. So Syria will be a priority and of course as Australia is chairing the UN Security Council, I imagine that much time will be spent on that issue.

Australia also has its own priorities. We will be presenting some submissions on disarmament, arms control, and Australia actually is leading the debate on this trade in small arms, so there are a number of issues that we will be pushing for.

JOURNALIST: Will you be having to explain Australia's 'turn back the boats' policy to Leaders you're meeting here?

JULIE BISHOP: Well I'm meeting a range of Ministers including Foreign Minister Natalegawa, but the relationship with Indonesia is much broader than the one issue of border protection and I'll be discussing a range of matters with Indonesia.

JOURNALIST: What about other countries, do you think it will come up?

JULIE BISHOP: I doubt that very much. We have a range of issues to discuss with each country, most of them focusing on the agenda here at the United Nations, but in terms of our friends and allies and partners in Japan, South Korea, China, we're talking about the possibility of concluding free trade agreements and trade and economic issues generally.

JOURNALIST: If you do get a few moments to speak with the President at any stage, what would you like to say to him on behalf of Australia?

JULIE BISHOP: President Obama – well I'll tell him how honoured we are to be chairing the Security Council and that this is an opportunity for us to show leadership in relation to Syria and that conflict; and look to him for leadership in the Asia-Pacific. I would certainly be encouraging President Obama to continue to focus US efforts in our region as they have been doing over the last few years.

JOURNALIST: This time last year Tony Abbott was criticising Julia Gillard for swanning around New York talking to Africans rather than being in Jakarta. Does your presence here rather than his indicate that he thinks the Rudd-Gillard governments have spent too much, put too much emphasis on this week?

JULIE BISHOP: Prime Minister Abbott has his own priorities and he was sworn in four days ago. His priorities currently are on the domestic agenda in Australia. But shortly he will be talking his first overseas trip, the first official trip, which will be to Jakarta. As he promised before the election, his first overseas trip would be to Indonesia and we hope that he'll be able to fulfil his promise at the end of this week.

JOURNALIST: You've got a pretty big role coming up, I think, Thursday chairing the (Security Council) here. How will you be feeling about sitting up at the top of the table there?

JULIE BISHOP: I'll be very honoured to represent Australia on the world stage chairing the UN Security Council. There are some very important issues to discuss and debate and I hope that Australia will continue to serve the UN Security Council with distinction.

JOURNALIST: The elevated role that Australia does have here this week comes with prestige. Do you feel like you are benefitting now from the Rudd Government's foresight, the Rudd-Gillard Government's foresight?

JULIE BISHOP: The Coalition always supported Australia's role in the UN, we certainly supported Australia being on the Security Council. We had an issue about the timing and the amount of money that was spent on the bid, but of course we have always said, should Australia serve on the Security Council we should do so with distinction, and that's what I aim to do.

Thank you.

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