ABC Newsradio, interview with Karen Barlow

Subjects: Visit to Papua New Guinea, Manus Island Regional Processing Centre, ABC apology over reporting of asylum seeker claims.

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

5 February 2014

SANDY ALOISI: The Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, is maintaining the ABC should apologise over the reporting of allegations of abuse by asylum seekers. The ABC's managing director Mark Scott and director of news Kate Torney have released a statement conceding the phrasing of the ABC stories on the asylum seeker claims needed to be more precise. There was no apology for covering the story but the Foreign Minister is not satisfied. She says the matter has been very unfortunate and the Navy deserves an apology.

Julie Bishop is now in Papua New Guinea for a two-day visit focusing on investment, aid and asylum seekers.

And the Foreign Minister is speaking here to the ABC's Karen Barlow.

JULIE BISHOP: Australia is currently reassessing our approach to foreign aid and I will be discussing with Papua New Guinea a way of ensuring that their priorities and our priorities align.

Our focus is on economic development and job opportunities to lift people out of poverty, to raise standards of living through economic development and that will be the focus of my discussions on the aid program between Australia and Papua New Guinea.

KAREN BARLOW: You also have a big push on accountability and putting benchmarks down in regards to Australian aid. Is that part of this?

JULIE BISHOP: That's right. We are putting in place a series of benchmarks against which our aid program and specific initiatives should be judged, and that includes mutual accountability. So, we will be working closely with the PNG Government on the aid budget.

I am meeting with a number of PNG ministers, including the Prime Minister, including the Foreign Minister and other ministers, because it is a deep and diverse relationship but we want it to be even stronger on the economic front to move away from the stereotype of aid donor-aid recipient and a much more mature relationship built on strong economic ties.

KAREN BARLOW: Will you be seeking an update on the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre. It has been the scene of a few protests over the past week or so. And just today, on the Guardian, there's been a leaked report from the Immigration Department - an environmental impact assessment pointing to hazardous material. In regards to the expansion there, it talks about unexploded ordinance and asbestos.

JULIE BISHOP: I will certainly be seeking an update on PNG's strong cooperation and, might I say, regional leadership in combating people smuggling, particularly with implementing the Regional Resettlement Arrangement with Australia. Offshore processing and settlement is playing a vital role in deterring potential maritime arrivals from risking dangerous boat journeys to Australia.

So I will be talking to the PNG ministers about the issue about Manus Island and about any other matters, operationally or otherwise, that may well arise.

KAREN BARLOW: Are you concerned about the management of this centre at the moment?

JULIE BISHOP: Look, I'm aware of these allegations and some of the claims about the management of the centre. I'll certainly be talking with the relevant ministers about it and we are very appreciative of PNG's role and their cooperation and their regional leadership in combating people smuggling.

KAREN BARLOW: Is the situation sustainable at the moment in regards to how the asylum seekers are being managed and how the expansion is going?

JULIE BISHOP: Yes, I believe so. But one of the reasons for visiting PNG is to discuss the range of areas of engagement and that includes the work that they're doing on people smuggling and the way that the Regional Resettlement Arrangement is being implemented. And so these are the discussions I'll be having with a number of ministers.

This visit will build on the very successful Australia - Papua New Guinea Ministerial Forum that was held in Canberra last December, where we discussed the range of issues where our two countries are deeply engaged. We renewed our shared commitment to an economic and strategic partnership and that's the basis upon which I want to see the Australia-PNG relationship going forward.

KAREN BARLOW: The ABC has put a statement out about the asylum seeker claims and its reporting of it, and that's from the managing director Mark Scot, and the director of news Kate Torney, and it's not apologising - that statement - for the reporting of those claims. It's talking about the regret in regards to the way the reports were worded. Do you accept that?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, it's a matter for the Navy to accept a statement of regret. I thought the ABC would do the right thing and, having acknowledged that the reporting was substandard at best, that they would apologise. If the ABC refuses to do that, well I think that's a reflection on the ABC.

It's been a very unfortunate incident. It reflected very poorly and unfairly on our Navy. Our personnel are working in exceedingly difficult circumstances and to have the public broadcaster cast such serious doubts on the reputation and activities of our Navy was disturbing. And I would have hoped that the ABC would do the right thing, if they got it wrong, admit it and apologise and we can all move on.

KAREN BARLOW: So the matter doesn't rest here?

JULIE BISHOP: Well it's a matter for the ABC

SANDY ALOISI: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop speaking there with Karen Barlow.

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