ABC News Breakfast – Interview with Paul Kennedy

Subjects: Winter Olympics, Travel Warnings, Australian Journalist in Egypt, Wikileaks Party, Recognising Indigenous Australians in the Constitution, Gonski Reforms.

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

1 January 2014

PAUL KENNEDY: To tell us more about the Government's plans for 2014, we are joined from Adelaide by the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Minister, thank you very much for your time and good for you to join us so early, did you see midnight last night?

JULIE BISHOP: Well it seemed like a really good idea to agree to do ABC Breakfast yesterday. I'm not so sure this morning but Happy New Year to you and your viewers. Yes, I had a wonderful New Year's Eve. I attended the performance of South Pacific here in Adelaide and it was stunning, a lovely way to start the year.

PAUL KENNEDY: Terrific, yes, and you look very fresh this morning. So let's get to it. We've got a few things to cover this morning. And I want to ask you about the Prime Minister's message in just a moment. But firstly, to Russia, what would it take for you to issue a stronger message to athletes to re-consider going to the Winter Olympics.

JULIE BISHOP: Paul, we are keeping the situation very much under review. We are closely monitoring the security situation. We are working closely with the Australian Olympic Committee and the Paralympic Committee. We are consulting with Russian authorities. We are working with our people in Moscow, our people on the ground. So we will monitor the situation.

As I have said previously, we would not likely advise any athlete not to take part in the Olympics, they have been preparing for it for years. So we want to ensure that our athletes and their families and the officials and spectators are safe and secure and that we look out for their well-being, that's out utmost concern. So we will keep monitoring the situation everyday up to and during the Olympic Games in Sochi.

PAUL KENNEDY: What have you been told by the Russians about those two suicide bomb attacks in Volgograd and the potential for more attacks?

JULIE BISHOP: Clearly, this is a tragic reminder of the worldwide need to continue to battle extremism and combat terrorism in all its forms. The Russian authorities are obviously very well aware of the need to give confidence to the international community about the safety and security of athletes and spectators in the lead-up to and during the Winter Olympics. So we are working closely with them and monitoring the situation very closely.

PAUL KENNEDY: Are you sure at this stage that Sochi will be safe, and we know that other cities might be even more vulnerable, but because of the security presence, right now do you feel like the Winter Olympics will be a safe event?

JULIE BISHOP: The Australian Olympic Committee is confident that they will be able to provide a secure environment for the athletes and their families – that is what we will continue to aim for. Clearly, we are not going to give into terrorism, we don't want terrorists to achieve their goals and so we are very keen to see the Winter Olympics go ahead as a great success and wish our athletes all the very best. But we will monitor the security situation because their safety, their well-being, and the integrity of the games from a security point of view is so very important to us all.

PAUL KENNEDY: Minister, it has been a DFAT warning recently about travel in Indonesia, Bali, and there's been more recently an incident where police, Indonesian police, have understood to have shot dead a terrorist suspect, what do you know about the situation in Indonesia at the moment, is it concerning you?

JULIE BISHOP: The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has updated the travel advice to reflect advice we have received from Indonesian authorities that there was possible planning of attacks around New Year's Eve on churches. This is not the first time we have received such advice and we update our travel advice accordingly. Our travel advice is information that we provide to people who are thinking of travelling overseas so that they can make an informed decision about the security situation or whatever relevant information is required for them to go overseas.

In the case of Indonesia, we request travellers to exercise a high degree of caution, we want them to be aware of the information we have, but we also recommend that people subscribe to the Government's Smart Traveller website that is www.smarttraveller.gov.au to keep up to date with any developments and also to take out comprehensive travel insurance. That's a plea – I urge all travellers for 2014 to take out comprehensive travel insurance.

PAUL KENNEDY: Are you concerned that there is more terrorist activity in Indonesia now, say than six months ago?

JULIE BISHOP: We have a very close working relationship with the police in Indonesia, with their intelligence agencies, with their security, and we will work very closely with the Indonesian authorities to ensure that Australian travellers, indeed any visitors to Indonesia, are as safe as possible.

As I said earlier, the tragic reminder of what has gone on in Russia in recent days, where there have been terrorist attacks on civilians – shocking, deplorable acts – and we must do all we can to combat terrorism in all its forms worldwide.

PAUL KENNEDY: Just want to get an update from you on two different stories that we have been covering the last couple of days, before we talk about the year ahead. Firstly, the delegation from the Wikileaks Party that met with Bashar Al-Assad, has that done any damage to Australia's reputation?

JULIE BISHOP: It is an extraordinarily reckless thing for an organisation registered as a political party in Australia to try and insert itself in the appalling conflict in Syria for their own political ends. They sought to meet with President Assad and express their solidarity with him, yet the international community accuses President Assad of war crimes, of crimes against humanity, indeed of using chemical weapons against his own people.

Australia is part of the UN Security Council at present, we have been the co-author of resolutions to try and improve the humanitarian situation in Syria. It is a dreadful conflict that is occurring there and I just find it beyond belief that a political party from Australia would seek to go there and play politics with the situation, it is unbelievable.

PAUL KENNEDY: And have you had to do anything in the wake of that being revealed?

JULIE BISHOP: I have obviously not contacted Wikileaks about it. I have made public statements condemning the acts as exceedingly reckless. It is certainly counter-productive. It is not in support of the sanctions regime that Australia has in place, in fact, it risks undermining the sanctions regime that we have in place. It risks aligning Australia with one side of the conflict in Syria, which is something that we would not do. It was an exceedingly stupid thing for them to undertake.

PAUL KENNEDY: Just briefly on the journalist, the Australian journalist locked up in Egypt by the regime, what is the latest there and what is the Australian Government doing?

JULIE BISHOP: My understanding is that the matter is still under investigation. I understand that this journalist has been detained but that formal charges have not been laid as yet. We are keeping a very close eye on the situation. Our consular officials in Cairo are directly in contact with him and providing him with consular assistance directly. Our consular officials in Canberra are keeping in contact with his family, maintaining contact with his family.

So we are providing assistance but at this stage I don't want to speculate, I don't think it will be helpful to speculate publicly about the situation, but we know that his employer Al-Jazeera English has provided access to legal representation. So we are continuing to keep in touch with both him and his family here in Australia and his employer.

PAUL KENNEDY: Minister, looking forward to the New Year on this first day of 2014, what are the absolute key relationships that you need to strengthen internationally?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, we want to promote Australia's national interests around the world, we want to promote our strong economy, we want to grow our economy, so trading relationships will be very important. We are hoping to conclude free trade agreements with Japan and with China, having concluded a free trade agreement with South Korea just before the end of 2013.

Our relationship with Indonesia is a significant one and we are committed to building the closest possible relationship with Indonesia. Indeed, all of the ASEAN countries, the countries in our neighbourhood, are very important for us and we will continue to build close and personal relationships with the governments in our region.

Our relationship with the United States is the cornerstone of our security, and we will continue to maintain very close contact with the United States. There are many relationships a country like Australia, a mid-level power, geographically located in Asia, has a need to maintain very strong relationships with all our neighbours, with our region and with our allies and partners beyond.

It will be a very full year for me, I expect to be exceedingly busy nurturing relationships, promoting our national interests and protecting our relationship with a number of countries and promoting our reputation as an open liberal democracy committed to democratic values.

PAUL KENNEDY: You have only been in government a short time, you feel like you have had a rocky start in that time and that it is a good time for the new year to come?

JULIE BISHOP: Three months in, we have been very busy. We made a commitment to the Australian people at the election, and we are going to honour our promises. In fact, people often ask me what is your New Year resolution, well that's usually a personal promise to yourself to do something, I am part of the Coalition that made a promise to the Australian people that we would honour our election commitments and that is what we will be seeking to do in 2014.

We will seek to tackle the big issues like the economy, the mess that the Budget was left in by Labor, and we will seek to provide budget integrity. And it is going to be a very busy year for 2014, but I am certainly looking forward to the challenge.

PAUL KENNEDY: Talking about honouring commitments, the Gonski reform come into play today basically. Are you fully committed to Gonski now after the discussions we have seen and the difference messages from the Government just before Christmas?

JULIE BISHOP: We are committed to a quality education across Australia, we are committed to a national scheme and we are committed to funding that scheme. That is what we have promised, and that is what we intend to achieve.

PAUL KENNEDY: Now let's get back to the Prime Minister's message the mention of constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians. The wording of that, he was suggesting that his plans to have a discussion around it, what can we take by that meaning? What is the Government planning?

JULIE BISHOP: Prime Minister Abbott is deeply and personally committed to ensuring that Aboriginal people in Australia are recognised in the Constitution. It was a promise he made at the election and is something he will seek to fulfil.

But it is important to bring all the Australian people with you on a change to the Constitution. The Labor Party had an attempt at this but they did not engage in a deep discussion with the Australian people. For a referendum to be successful, the Australian people have to make an informed decision.

So we want to talk to the Australian people, have a broad ranging discussion about what it will mean to recognise Aboriginal people in our Constitution. The Prime Minister is very personally committed to this.

PAUL KENNEDY: Generally speaking, the people are behind it?

JULIE BISHOP: Last year there was an opportunity to have a referendum and the Labor Government did not take it up. What we want to do is ensure that any change to the Constitution in this regard is successful. I think there have been over 40 attempts to change our Constitution in the last 100 years and only eight have succeeded.

So we don't change our Constitution lightly, and we want to ensure when a change is made to recognised our indigenous people that it is embraced by the majority of people in the majority of states.

PAUL KENNEDY: Julie Bishop, thank you very much for your time this morning. I hope that 2014 is a safe and happy one for you.

JULIE BISHOP: Same to you and your viewers, thank you.

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