JULIE BISHOP: Hello Ben, how are you?
BEN FORDHAM: I’m okay. Good to talk to you on a busy afternoon so I’ll race through a few bits and pieces.
What the hell is going on in Thailand?
JULIE BISHOP: In Thailand the Royal Thai Army has imposed marshall law across the country and I have been speaking with our ambassador in Bangkok to get further detail and clarification of the situation. The military has said it’s not a coup. The caretaker government is still in office and so obviously we’re following events very closely. We’ve been monitoring the events over the past few months with some concern but this is as a result of the constitutional court in Thailand removing Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra from office and a number of Cabinet Ministers back on the 7th of May and so the..
BEN FORDHAM: For the average Aussie the message is don’t jump on a plane to Thailand? Or not that drastic at this stage?
JULIE BISHOP: We’re asking Australians to register on a Department of Foreign Affairs website, that’s the Smartraveller website. This morning the Department reviewed and re-issued the travel advice for Thailand. We urge Australians travelling to Thailand to exercise a high degree of caution because of the possibility of civil unrest particularly in Bangkok. Avoid any protests, avoid protest sites and political events and follow the instructions of the local authorities and of course the local authorities are now the Royal Thai Army so the army has now got the policing powers. But I do urge Australians to familiarise themselves with the Smartraveller website. That’s www.smartraveller.gov.au.
BEN FORDHAM: Minister, what can be done for these 200 schoolgirls who were abducted? I don’t know how long ago now, but it’s been weeks ago, in Nigeria by this Islamic militant group Boko Haram and they are being held in the North East of Nigeria. I mean you have a look at the faces of these young girls and your heart just breaks. What can be done? I mean I know you’ve listed them as a terrorist group or something.
JULIE BISHOP It is truly appalling. The Australian community, in fact the global community is rightly outraged. We utterly condemn the group responsible for these attacks and you’re right, our Government is moving urgently to list Boko Haram under the Criminal Code as a terrorist organisation and terrorist offences carry penalties of up to 25 years of imprisonment in Australia.
What we’ve done is we’ve offered our support to the Nigerian Government through our Ambassador for Counter Terrorism. I announced Miles Armitage on the weekend as our ambassador, he’s been heading up the division on counterterrorism, he’s now our Ambassador for Counter Terrorism. We’ve offered our support through our High Commissioner in Abuja that’s John Richardson. They’ve not accepted our offers yet but the United States, the United Kingdom and others have also offered support. I note the US and UK met with the Nigerian Government and other African Nations and the EU in Paris over the weekend.
BEN FORDHAM: The Nigerian Government doesn’t seem all that fussed about this. I mean I might be a bit rude in saying so but they don’t seem to be viewing this as an urgent matter.
JULIE BISHOP: There’s strong international pressure for Nigeria to accept the offers of assistance particularly from the US, the UK and others and as I said Australia has offered whatever support we can give. Nigeria has welcomed our support for their counter terrorism efforts. We’re both founding members of what’s called the Global Counter Terrorism forum but at this point they haven’t accepted our offers.
BEN FORDHAM: It sounds like a lot of talking going on as well. And I’m not talking on your part here, but as an international community there’s different divisions and committees and people can have all of these discussions. You’ve got hundreds of school girls who are scared for their life at the moment in the jungles of Nigeria.
JULIE BISHOP: What I understand happened is that the girls have been separated into groups and I know that there’s a great deal of concern about the separation of the girls because if you try to get one group free it could have an impact on the other group so I know that the security concerns are being considered very carefully by countries such as the US, the UK. In fact I have a call in tomorrow to Foreign Secretary William Hague in the UK to talk to him about what more we can do.
You’re right there’s a lot of talking. There was a meeting in Paris over the weekend where the EU, the US, UK and African nations met with the Nigerian Government. But all we can do is continue to offer whatever support we can and call upon the Nigerian Government to work with the international community, who are offering all the support they can, to work with them to free these girls.
It’s just heartbreaking to think that these girls could be abducted by this Islamic extremist group. They are a terrorist organisation as far as I’m concerned and that’s why we’re moving urgently to formally list them. In the United Nations Security Council, as you know we’re on the Security Council, we have condemned in the strongest possible terms the attacks committed by this terrorist organisation. It’s not just the school girls, as appalling as that is, they are also carrying out shocking terrorist attacks and this organisation Boko Haram should be condemned at every turn.
BEN FORDHAM: We saw some pretty ordinary polls yesterday for the Federal Government off the back of the Budget that was released last week. It struck me, and I made the point yesterday, that I think Australians will cop tough Budgets particularly when we’re in the desperate state we are at the moment. They will cop a broken promise or two if they feel like, look, we wanted to be able to deliver this but now we’ve had a close look at the books we just can’t deliver it.
What they are struggling to cop in my opinion is the failure to acknowledge that promises have been broken because people are smarter than that. Minister, do you see that as well? That people are thinking hang on, ok fair enough you giving us a tough Budget, fair enough that you’ve had to break a few promises, but don’t lie to us and pretend that there aren’t broken promises.
JULIE BISHOP: Ben, we’re aware the tough decisions that we’ve taken aren’t popular. But we didn’t hand down the Budget to focus on our political fortunes. You do remember at the last election we promised, time and time again, to stop the boats which we’re doing. We were told it couldn’t be done and for the last five months we haven’t had one successful people smuggling venture. We said that we were going to repeal the carbon tax to save families $550 every year and we’re trying to do that. We said we’d grow the economy by having a big infrastructure spend..
BEN FORDHAM: [Interrupting] You’re doing all those things but you also said you were going to keep your promises.
JULIE BISHOP: ..we also said we’re going to fix the Budget.
Now what I didn’t know when I got into my portfolio is how the previous Labor Government had increased what it said it was going to spend beyond the four year forward estimates and when we got into Government we saw these ridiculous claims out beyond the forward estimates that Labor was going to keep on spending so that the debt was going to be driven up to $667 billion.
We knew that we couldn’t continue with Labor’s economic policies. We weren’t elected to continue Labor’s policies. We were elected to get this Budget under control, to stop the wasteful spending, stop those $900 cheque giveaways, stop programs like the home insulation scheme.
BEN FORDHAM: No arguments with all that but is there going to be a point, and I know you’ve got to run and I’ll let you go in a second, is there going to be a point where there’s a bit of an honesty session with the Australian people because you know what it’s like in a relationship. You’ve got a relationship with the Australian people as the Government and if there is untruths or there’s unsaid lies in a relationship then we know it goes downhill. Is there a stage where you’ve got to say, ‘listen we were unable to keep those promises’?
JULIE BISHOP: Ben we want to be as upfront as we can about what we can afford and what we can’t afford. That’s what the Budget is saying. We can’t afford what Labor is promising. We can’t afford the..
BEN FORDHAM: [Interrupting] and you couldn’t afford to keep all of the promises correct?
JULIE BISHOP: And we’re being upfront about what we can afford. That’s what we’re saying. We’re being upfront about what we can afford. We’re being upfront about what we can’t afford and I’ve not heard anyone say, ‘gee let’s go back to the days of Rudd and Gillard’.
BEN FORDHAM: No I know, but I’ve not heard anyone say from the Government, ‘we couldn’t afford to keep all of the promises’.
JULIE BISHOP: I just said that. We’re being up front about what we can afford. We’re being up front about what..
BEN FORDHAM: You haven’t said it.
JULIE BISHOP: I just said it then. We’re being up front about what we can afford and what we can’t afford.
BEN FORDHAM: We couldn’t afford to keep all the promises.
JULIE BISHOP: We were elected to take tough decisions. We’ve got to have the courage to make these reforms in health and education and welfare spending. Now it’s easy to keep spending and borrowing but it can’t last when we’re borrowing a billion dollars every month to pay interest on Labor’s debt.
Of course we’ve had to take some tough decisions and people know you can’t put all your spending on a credit card. You can’t put your groceries, your power bills, your rent on your credit card and then keep extending the limit, then take out a credit card to pay the interest on a credit card debt. That’s effectively what Labor were doing.
BEN FORDHAM: Okay, we know you’re doing it for the good of the country but are you sorry you’ve been unable to keep some of those promises?
JULIE BISHOP: Ben, what I’m sorry about is that Labor put us in this situation. None of us, none of us, want to do this. The Australian people didn’t want us to have to make these tough decisions. We didn’t want to have to do it but we’ve got to admit that if we didn’t do it now it was going to be a lot worse later on and that’s what we have to tell people because it’s the truth. If we didn’t make the tough decisions now it would be a lot worse down the track and everybody is going to have to contribute.
There’s a lot of misinformation out there and I do urge people to get the full facts before they pass judgment on some of these things. For example, there are no cuts to the pension, funding for hospitals will increase, funding for schools will increase, funding for universities will increase.
BEN FORDHAM: Well let’s not go through them one-by-one because then I’ll say to you well you said there’d be no cuts to the ABC.
JULIE BISHOP: Well the ABC, what I’ve done is I’ve..
BEN FORDHAM: You know what I’m saying though don’t you Minister?
JULIE BISHOP: What I’m telling you is that the public diplomacy contract for the Australia Network could not continue and I said that long before the election. I said that long before it. That’s not base funding to the ABC that was a separate public diplomacy contract. It’s DFAT’s money, it’s the Department of Foreign Affairs money that goes to DFAT and they subcontracted it out to the ABC so that public diplomacy contract should not continue.
BEN FORDHAM: I know we’re not allowed to talk about the appearance of politicians but is the short hair here to stay?
JULIE BISHOP: [Laughs] What do you think?
BEN FORDHAM: Well you know how much I loved your old hair?
JULIE BISHOP: No I didn’t know that! Now you tell me, after I get my haircut, you tell me you liked the old cut. I just can’t win, can I?
BEN FORDHAM: Have a good one Minister.
JULIE BISHOP: Thanks Ben.
BEN FORDHAM: Thanks for the talk.
Julie Bishop, Foreign Minister.
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