AM, ABC Radio National - Interview with Anna Henderson

Subjects: China Free Trade Agreement, Bali Consulate, arrest in Russia of Greenpeace activist, study leave entitlements.

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

11 October 2013

ANNA HENDERSON: Julie Bishop, welcome to AM. The Prime Minister has been on the world stage saying he wants a free trade agreement with China within twelve months. What compromises have been made to provoke such confidence in his deadline?

JULIE BISHOP: It's not a question of compromises; it's a question of having the political will. We commenced negotiations for a free trade agreement with China in 2005 under the Howard Government, nineteen or so rounds of negotiations later and it seems that the former Labor Government dropped the ball on this.

ANNA HENDERSON: Well can I pick you up on that because Labor says a deal with China at this stage is a total fantasy because of what it's described as the xenophobic Coalition policy to tighten restrictions on foreign investment. Are you prepared to compromise on foreign investment thresholds to reach an agreement?

JULIE BISHOP: Well that's a rather insulting statement to China because during Prime Minister Abbott's meeting with President Xi Jinping the notion of a free trade agreement was raised and was enthusiastically welcomed by China. So I think Labor's on the wrong page on this one. Of course...

ANNA HENDERSON: Is China aware though of what the Coalition plans to do policy-wise in terms of tightening the foreign investment review regulations?

JULIE BISHOP: Our policies were public before the last election and I have no doubt that China is aware of the different policy positions of parties. But a free trade agreement involves a negotiation.

ANNA HENDERSON: Can we move to a diplomatic front here. Are you absolutely confident the activists from the West Papuan province who climbed into the Australian consulate in Bali ahead of APEC were not threatened by Australian officials?

JULIE BISHOP: I'm advised that no threats were made, that they produced a letter and gave it to our Consul-General Brett Farmer. He took the letter and they left voluntarily - they had a discussion and they left voluntarily.

ANNA HENDERSON: Well there was a discussion as you say, the West Papuan province activists says that in that discussion they were told that the Indonesian authorities would be called if they didn't leave and an Australian academic says he was on the end of a phone line and he heard threats made. So are you going to investigate further or is this case closed for you?

JULIE BISHOP: I've been advised that the Consul-General acted appropriately, acted professionally and that the three people who said they were from the Papuan provinces left of their own accord, they left voluntarily.

ANNA HENDERSON: What about the case of detained Australian Greenpeace activist Colin Russell. He's being held in Russia on piracy charges. The Greens wanted the Prime Minister to raise this matter with President Putin at APEC.

JULIE BISHOP: I raised our concerns and registered our interest in this case with the Deputy Foreign Minister Morgulov. In fact I raised it on a second occasion. Our consular officials have visited Mr Russell twice now, once on 30 September and then again more recently. He's been detained in Murmansk. This is a location some thousands of kilometres away from our embassy in Moscow.

ANNA HENDERSON: In terms of the issue of entitlements, was it justifiable for you to claim the overseas study allowance to attend the wedding you went to in India?

JULIE BISHOP: I sought and received prior approval for my study leave. The wedding I attended was no social event. There were about 10,000 people at this event and so it would hardly be described as a social event for me to attend. It was more like a very high powered gathering of some of the most significant business and political figures in India.

ANNA HENDERSON: And should the rules, particularly for domestic entitlements, do you think be looked at again and be reviewed because of these grey areas?

JULIE BISHOP: I don't believe so. I believe that there is a very grey area between what is official business and what is an event that could be characterised in another way. When we are invited to events most of the time it's in our capacity as a parliamentarian. If someone wanted to characterise it because I knew the people for example, well is that a social event? The question is disclosure. Disclose it and be transparent about it.

TONY EASTLEY: The Foreign Minister Julie Bishop speaking to Anna Henderson.


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