JULIE BISHOP: Tomorrow Australia will be hosting the 14th meeting of the Indian Ocean Rim Association. Australia has been chair for the last 12 months and we have another 12 months as a Chair and I will be welcoming to Perth the Ministers and senior representatives of the 20 member countries that make up the Indian Ocean Rim Association.
Australia’s neighbourhood includes the Indian Ocean and so I will spend the time tomorrow talking about the ways we can promote economic development, sustainable growth, job opportunities in the Indian Ocean Rim and also issues such as maritime security. We will be focusing on the lessons learned from MH370 and the search-and-rescue effort there. We will also be discussing trade and investment opportunities, fisheries management, disaster risk reduction. We will be talking about academic, scientific and technological exchanges amongst the member nations and also tourism and cultural exchanges. This is an opportunity for Australia to play host to a number of senior officials and Ministers from the Indian Ocean Rim and it’s a very diverse group. We have G20 economies, less developed countries -culturally, politically, economically very diverse. So it’s an opportunity to showcase Perth, while making some significant decisions regarding our region.
JOURNALIST: Can we just talk about Hizb ut-Tahrir. Why hasn’t this group been banned in Australia as yet?
JULIE BISHOP: We are taking steps to change our legislation so that there can be an offence in promoting terrorism. That currently doesn’t exist in our laws and we’re seeking to do that. We take steps to ban terrorist organisations based on the advice that we receive from our security and intelligence agencies. As soon as we’ve received appropriate advice we take steps. But we are looking to amend the laws, and I’m sure we’ll have the support of the Opposition to do this, to include as an offence under our laws of promoting terrorism. I think that will cover a number of scenarios we’re seeing unfolding for Australia through the foreign fighter issue.
JOURNALIST: On the foreign fighters bill, there have been some concerns raised at the Parliamentary Committee that some parts of the bill are unworkable. Is that consistent with the advice you’ve received?
JULIE BISHOP: Certainly not, but the whole purpose of the getting the legislation to a Parliamentary Committee is to find if there are any issues that need to be addressed. We will certainly take on any recommendations, we want the legislation to be workable and we appreciate the support that we have received from the Opposition. This is about protecting Australians from security threats, including the security threat that is posed by foreign fighters who are becoming hardened terrorists and then seeking to return to Australia. History shows that those who have trained with terrorist organisations and then returned to Australia, have sought to carry out terrorist activities here. That is why we are ensuring that the laws cover these situations so that we can keep Australians safe.
JOURNALIST: Some of Hizb ut-Tahrir organisers say that all of the speakers that they have [inaudible] in Australia. Was the Prime Minister wrong to say that he wanted to ban senior international figures from visiting Australia?
JULIE BISHOP: The Prime Minister is referring to the concerns we have about the promotion of terrorism, and that not being an offence. That’s why we are seeking to change the laws through legislation within the Parliament, to ensure we can keep Australians safe from what our security agencies and our intelligence agencies tell us pose a security risk to this country.
JOURNALIST: On September 29 you said that there had been 50 passports cancelled so far. Can you update us on that?
JULIE BISHOP: There have been a number since that date. I have cancelled a number based on security advice since the 29th of September. I can get the specific number but I have been cancelling them on a virtual daily basis.
JOURNALIST: How many per day?
JULIE BISHOP: Sometimes three, sometimes none.
JOURNALIST: Would the figure top 100?
JULIE BISHOP: No.
JOURNALIST: Will Australia be committing any more funds or personnel to fighting Ebola?
JULIE BISHOP: Australia responded immediately to a request by the United Nations for funds. We had already committed $8 million specifically to frontline services. The United Nations asked for an immediate pledge and Australia was one of the first to come up with a further $10 million. I received very fulsome thanks from the United Nations for responding so quickly and so immediately. In fact the UN said Australia was a model which other countries could follow in the way we had responded so quickly. If the UN seeks further support, we will certainly consider it. Many countries are being called upon to provide support, many countries which are much closer geographically to West Africa. Specifically they’re being asked to provide health personnel.
As I’ve made quite clear in the past, Australia is working hard to find a way to evacuate health workers back to Australia. We do not have such a credible evacuation plan. We do not have any guarantee from any country that they will take Australian health workers to their countries should any of them contract this virus. But we are certainly working with other partner countries to do what we can. In addition Australia has provided $40 million to the World Health Organisation this year, and we’re hoping that the WHO will use that $40 million to help with Ebola outcomes.
JOURNALIST: Just turning to Iraq for a second. Are there any circumstances in which Australian troops will participate on the ground?
JULIE BISHOP: I don’t envisage those circumstances arising. It’s not what we’ve been asked to do. We have responded to a general request by the United States and a more specific request from the Iraqi Government to support the Iraqi Government so that it can defend itself against ISIL and other terrorist organisations that are not only taking territory but also committing some of the most terrible, atrocious, brutal behaviour we’ve ever seen from a terrorist organisation or any other organisation. We respond to specific requests and that’s what we’ve done in this instance.
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