Sky News, AM Agenda – interview with Laura Jayes

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

Subjects: Ukraine, Peter Greste, PNG resettlement arrangements, Qantas

3 March 2014

LAURA JAYES: Julie Bishop, thanks so much for joining us.

How fluid is the situation in Ukraine at the moment? Is Russia and Ukraine on the brink of war?

JULIE BISHOP: The situation is very volatile at present. The military activity is escalating, tensions are escalating. The reports are deeply troubling and it seems that we have a choice – either this is settled by military action or peacefully. Of course, Australia is working through the UN Security Council. We are a temporary member of the Security Council at present. It has met twice in recent days over the escalating crisis in Ukraine and we are pushing and supporting international mediation. We are hoping that the dialogue remains open. That seems to be the alternative that must be pursued – international dialogue on this issue.

LAURA JAYES: There seems to have been intervention at the highest level, though, with Barack Obama speaking directly to Vladimir Putin, and that seems to have produced nothing. Is that a sign of things to come?

JULIE BISHOP: It is an indication that President Putin will be very hard line on this issue. It is unacceptable for Russia to ignore Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity. And this is the issue we face is the Russian President says that he's seeking to protect Russians in Crimea, the new government in Ukraine are saying that this is a breach of their territorial integrity and their sovereignty. Military action is against the UN Charter. It's certainly against Russia's own agreements with Ukraine to respect its sovereignty.

So the international community must be one voice on this issue – condemn any violence in Ukraine, in Crimea, and call for the channels of dialogue to remain open. We need to talk this through and continue to find a solution, a way for the countries to step back from the current position.

LAURA JAYES: What options are available? At the moment, the UN Security Council – you say it's against the UN to take military action, but are you not ruling that out as a possibility and, I guess as another step before we get to that, will sanctions be considered?

JULIE BISHOP: My point was that Russia's intervention, that military action is against the UN Charter. The UN itself, of course, could pass a resolution to that effect, but I believe a number of steps must be taken before we get to that point. The United States has been talking about the serious implications, the ramifications, of Russia's actions, and the international community needs to speak with one voice.

At present, there are moves afoot for there to be international mediation through the UN, through the European Union, and we'll see what happens. Of course, there is a limit to what Australia can do. We are a voice on the Security Council. We are part of the international community. I have requested that the Russian ambassador come into the Department of Foreign Affairs today and provide us with an explanation of the intentions of the Russian Government and also provide us with an opportunity to officially register our concern.

LAURA JAYES: And what assurances will you be seeking from the Russian ambassador and, if you don't get those assurances, is there a chance that Australia could expel the ambassador?

JULIE BISHOP: Australia will work in conjunction with our friends and allies with other parties on the UN Security Council. We must act as one in relation to this matter so that there's a very strong message sent that this military escalation is unacceptable, that the sovereignty of Ukraine must be respected. So we'll see what the Ambassador tells us today and we will be registering our concerns, but we'll also seek from him an explanation as to what the Russian Government intends to do.

LAURA JAYES: The travel warning at the moment for Australians is do not travel to Crimea. Is this going to be expanded to areas of the Ukraine and Russia, or does it remain that way at the moment?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, we watch it very closely. We get advice from our agencies and authorities in Russia, Ukraine. We have an embassy in Moscow, so we're keeping a very close watch on what's happening and we will update the travel advice as the situation changes. Currently it is "do not travel" to Crimea and to exercise a very high degree of caution elsewhere. And I do urge Australians to determine whether they really do need to travel there because the situation is so fluid.

LAURA JAYES: Just quickly turning to Egypt now, and Peter Greste will go on trial later this week. Are you confident that he will be released?

JULIE BISHOP: I have been in contact with the Egyptian authorities at the level of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, but you will know that the Egyptian cabinet stood down. There's now moves afoot to establish another cabinet. We are making representations at the highest levels through other governments in the region who have very close ties with Egypt. I have sought assurances from the Egyptian ambassador here in Australia that he receive a fair trial and that it proceed expeditiously.

I understand that the trial was adjourned to this week to enable Peter Greste to have a translator. I think that's a good sign. He does have legal representation, and our consular staff have been accessing him on a regular basis. We've had a number of visits in recent days. So we're working as closely as we can with the Egyptian Government, bearing in mind that there's no cabinet at present.

LAURA JAYES: You say the cabinet was stepped down, so all the progress that you had made with your counterpart there is now null and void. So are you saying the only channels you have at the moment is through friendly countries in the region?

JULIE BISHOP: No, we are still working through Egyptian authorities. The legal system is still in place, the President is still in place, but the cabinet stepped down, so we're working through the authorities and the official's level, but we're also working with other governments who have influence over Egypt. This is not just something Australia can do alone. There are other journalists in this situation, so it's a broad community of support working for the release of Peter Greste and other journalists.

LAURA JAYES: Just on Papua New Guinea, monthly ministerial meetings for oversight of the resettlement arrangements announced over the weekend. Shouldn't this have been undertaken before now and is this a sign that things perhaps aren't going as smoothly as you would have hoped?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, remember that this is what we inherited from the previous Labor Government. Kevin Rudd entered into an agreement with Papua New Guinea. He signed up to an agreement, but it has no details. He promised to provide them $420 million in additional development assistance, but there's very scant detail around that as well. So what we've put in place is a situation where Scott Morrison and I will meet on a regular basis with our counterpart ministers to ensure that we can flesh out the agreement that was put in place by Labor, but with no details.

I think it's a sensible thing to do. We have been working closely with PNG, but it's time for us to now have benchmarks in place so that we know what has been achieved at each point. And this does also include the expenditure of the $420 million that Kevin Rudd promised to Papua New Guinea to be part of the asylum solution.

LAURA JAYES: And just finally on Qantas, cabinet meets later tonight to decide the airline's fate and what exactly the government can do. Now, if a debt guarantee isn't offered, do you concede that the only solutions the government can offer are long term ones? There's no short term solutions other than a government debt guarantee.

JULIE BISHOP: I'm not going to pre-empt cabinet's discussions on this or any other matter, but obviously we'll consider all options. We must work out what we believe is the way forward for Qantas. There's a limit to what governments can do and, of course, it has to be a level playing field. There are other airlines in Australia as well. So we'll look at all of that, the aspects concerning it, and I'm sure we'll make a very considered decision and the Prime Minister will make any announcement relating to any decision that cabinet makes.

LAURA JAYES: So how important is Qantas as a soft diplomacy tool though? As Foreign Minister, would you be comfortable to see Qantas go into majority foreign ownership hands?

JULIE BISHOP: I don't think the question is the ownership, the question is the management of Qantas and the service that it can provide for Australians. And yes, it is well known. It's a brand recognised around the world as being synonymous with Australia. That's why we're so keen for Qantas management to do what it can to run an airline business. But it is a very competitive business and Australian businesses who compete internationally have to be unshackled from a carbon tax. I mean, Qantas has received a massive bill for the carbon tax, a tax that doesn't reduce global greenhouse gas emissions – it's a nonsense. So Qantas has to be unshackled from the burdens of unnecessary taxes, unnecessary regulation, and the inability to raise capital.

LAURA JAYES: Julie Bishop, thanks so much for joining us.

JULIE BISHOP: It's been my pleasure.

Media enquiries

  • Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555