ABC Radio National, Breakfast – interview with Fran Kelly

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

Subjects: Ukraine, Qantas, WA Senate election, PNG resettlement arrangements

3 March 2014

FRAN KELLY: Let's return now to the escalating tensions in Ukraine, where Russia's military intervention has prompted a chorus of international condemnation. The new government in Kiev has put its army on alert, accusing Moscow of declaring war on Ukraine after Russia sent troops into the Crimea region. These dramatic events in the former Soviet Republic are shaping up as the most serious crisis facing Moscow's relations with the West since the breakup of the USSR more than two decades ago.

Australia has expressed its unequivocal support for Ukraine sovereignty and is calling on Russia to, quote, step back urgently from the crisis. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop joins us now.

Minister, good morning. Welcome to Breakfast.

JULIE BISHOP: Good morning, Fran.

FRAN KELLY: Austra… Ukraine has told Moscow that a military invasion would be, quote, an act of war, and the Prime Minister of Ukraine, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, said the country is on the brink of disaster. Is armed conflict unavoidable, do you think, in Ukraine?

JULIE BISHOP: The reports are deeply disturbing. Military activity is clearly escalating, so too are the tensions. The way to resolve it is for Russia to withdraw its forces. We are deeply concerned by the ongoing reports of Russian military deployments, and particularly the decision by the Russian Parliament to authorise the use of force. What the international community needs to do now is to focus on how to step back urgently from the crisis, and clearly, resolution of tensions will require urgent dialogue.

FRAN KELLY: Australia is currently president of the UN Security Council. The council has met twice over the past 24 hours or so on this matter. What outcome was Australia, as the chair, trying to achieve here?

JULIE BISHOP: Within the UN Security Council, Australia has supported moves for intentional mediation. A number of scenarios have been put forward, including by the United Nations, the European Union, and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. We've made it clear that we unequivocally support the territorial integrity and the sovereignty of Ukraine. It's unacceptable for any nation to threaten the territorial integrity of Ukraine in any way. The Australian Government has made it clear that there should be no use of force or threat, and disputes should be settled by peaceful means.

FRAN KELLY: What chance or what sign that any of this international condemnation or pressure or calls for mediation is getting anywhere? Vladimir Putin has already rejected a request from the Ukraine Government for urgent talks. US President Barack Obama spent 90 minutes on the phone with the Russian President; got nowhere, it would seem. Chances of mediation look slim, don't they?

JULIE BISHOP: It does at this point, but we must continue to urge all parties to keep open channels for dialogue. I know that a request by the new Government of Ukraine for urgent talks with the Russian Federation has been rejected. There's been a lot of pressure from the United States through President Obama's conversation with President Putin. He did underline the grave implications for violations of Ukraine sovereignty. There are talks of economic and political isolation, and Senator – sorry, Secretary Kerry said that there'll be very serious repercussions from the United States and other countries, including sanctions to isolate Russia economically.

So the UN Security Council should be doing all it can to promote mediation and dialogue to resolve the conflict, because there are serious consequences if this continues.

FRAN KELLY: As I say, though, the US President also talked about the will-be costs, but it seems as though Vladimir Putin is not affected by this at all. They've moved troops in, they've moved 30 armoured personnel carriers, 6000 additional troops over the border into Crimea at the moment, and an analyst we spoke to earlier said other parts of Eastern Ukraine, but no sign that Russia is even slowing down on its intention here, and on the basis of, it says, that it has Russian residents – 60 per cent of Crimea's population – Russian residents there to protect.

JULIE BISHOP: The international community must speak with one voice and must give support to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. This is not just a question of Russia unilaterally deciding that it wants to protect Russian-speakers in Ukraine. It's a question of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and it's unacceptable for Russia or any other nation to threaten it.

So the international community must continue to speak with one voice, through the UN Security Council, and individual countries can make decisions as to action that they will take. For example, I am seeking an explanation from the Russian ambassador this morning in Canberra, first to express our concerns and to ascertain the intentions of the Russian Government. So it is important to continue to talk, to continue to promote mediation and dialogue to resolve this conflict.

FRAN KELLY: So you're calling in the Russian Ambassador in Canberra to explain if this continues, if there is no backdown or no letting up of this, will it get to the point where Australia would consider expelling the Ambassador?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, first things first. We want to meet with the Ambassador this morning. He'll be meeting with the Secretary of the department, and we'll express our concerns officially, directly, through him, and also seek to ascertain exactly what the Russian Government thinks it's doing.

And we are urgently requesting the Russian Government to abide by its international obligations. Military moves are not only contrary to the United Nations Charter, but Russia itself had committed to preserving Ukraine's sovereignty under a series of international agreements to which it is a party.

In the meantime, we'll remain in close contact over the situation in Ukraine with friends and allies over the coming days.

FRAN KELLY: But essentially, Russia claiming the responsibility to protect doctrine, claiming it has some legal force under that, you don't accept? Australia doesn't accept?

JULIE BISHOP: We are waiting to hear from the Russian ambassador as the intentions of the Russian Government. The reports are disturbing, they are confusing in some instances, and so we are seeking detailed explanations from the Russian ambassador.

FRAN KELLY: Ukraine is not a member of NATO, so US and Europe are not under obligation to come to its defence. Is military intervention out of the question?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, one would hope it would be the last resort. That's why we are urging for the United Nations to continue to promote mediation and dialogue and to keep channels of communications open.

FRAN KELLY: We just heard in the news this morning, overnight, the head of the – the newly-appointed head of the Ukranian Army has already defected two days later, aligning himself to the semi-autonomous Crimean Government, which suggests – you know, the question of sovereignty is not always so straight forward. I mean, the semi-autonomous Crimean Government intends to hold a referendum at the end of March to resolve the issue of their independence.

JULIE BISHOP: That's right, it's not straight forward. It's a very complex situation and it's unfolding hour by hour. That's why Australia must work through the UN Security Council. We are a temporary member of the Security Council at present. There are limits to what we can do at home. We have changed our travel advice for Ukraine due to the volatile political situation, and the serious risk of further escalation, with the potential for violence. We have increased the level of our travel advice for Crimea to "do not travel".

So there are limits to what Australia can do, but we will continue to work with our friends and allies in the United Nations Security Council and more broadly.

FRAN KELLY: And just on that issue, Australians who are currently in Ukraine and Crimea, your advice to them?

JULIE BISHOP: To leave if it's not necessary for them to be there.

FRAN KELLY: It's quarter to eight on Breakfast. Our guest this morning is Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

Minister, on domestic issues now, Cabinet will discuss Qantas tonight. Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss will reportedly propose changes to the Qantas Sales Act to relax the restrictions on foreign ownership and the location here in Australia – the mandated location in Australia of the airline's maintenance facilities. Is that a good idea and is that going to be enough in helping Qantas get back to where it needs to be on a level playing field, in your view?

JULIE BISHOP: I don't intend to pre-empt Cabinet discussions today or any other day. There will be a discussion around Qantas. What I do know is that it's important for Qantas to have access to foreign capital and that's the aspect of the matter that I'll be focusing on today and otherwise if there's a decision of Cabinet the Prime Minister will announce it.

FRAN KELLY: Is a debt guarantee off the table for Qantas? Do you have some sympathy for Qantas' message? And we got it again here on this program from Alan Joyce last week that in the short term they need immediate access to that government debt guarantee, so that their borrowing costs are under control.

JULIE BISHOP: Well, these are matters we'll consider but there should be a level playing field for all airlines.

FRAN KELLY: On another matter; you are the most senior West Australian Liberal in the Government. The Liberal Party had three senators elected at the election last year, for six year terms, of course. You can't do any better than that I don't think. How real is the possibility though that at an election on May – April 5, the Liberal Party could do worse and lose one of those seats, either to Labor, the Greens or Palmer United?

JULIE BISHOP: This is an unprecedented situation. I'm not aware of there ever being a situation where we've had a half Senate election in one state only, as a result of lost ballot papers, so it is unprecedented. We did have three senators elected fair and square in the last election: Senator David Johnston, Senator Michaelia Cash and the third seat went to Linda Reynolds, who's a very senior woman in the Army Reserve, the first female to be a Brigadier I believe, in the Army Reserve.

So Linda Reynolds was elected, but now as a result of the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the Australian Electoral Commission, West Australians have to go back to the polls on 5 April. Nobody wants this election, no other state has to go through it.

FRAN KELLY: Are you worried you'll lose one of those numbers?

JULIE BISHOP: Well it does give us the opportunity to allow Western Australia to help shape the future of the nation by voting to strengthen the team of representatives from the Government. You see, whatever the outcome of the election, the Australian Government won't change. The Coalition still won't control the Senate. So it's a question of getting a stronger team within the Government so we can achieve for Western Australia the things that are needed; to make sure we get our fair share of infrastructure funding and funding for schools and hospitals and other services.

So our message is to do what we need to, to send the Liberals' strong and experienced West Australian Senate team to Canberra and that includes Linda Reynolds on the number three spot.

FRAN KELLY: And just finally, Minister; Australia and Papua New Guinea have agreed to monthly ministerial meetings to oversee the resettlement arrangements and operations of the Manus Island detention centre. You will be attending. Would it be a better idea to implement the recommendation of former Prime Minister Julia Gillard's expert panel for independent oversight of the offshore detention centres?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, the Manus Island agreement was reached by Kevin Rudd just prior to the last election, as well as a $420 million development package for Papua New Guinea. The agreements were signed but there was very little detail, so we were left with the bare bones of agreements that had been signed, but no details, so that's what we're trying to work out now.

We're going to have monthly meetings whereby we can work through the issues relating to the detention centre, but also the $420 million development package that Kevin Rudd promised Papua New Guinea. So I think it's sensible that we meet on a regular basis so that both governments are on the same page when it comes to fulfilling the agreement that the previous Labor Government entered into.

FRAN KELLY: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, thank you very much for joining us.

JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure, thanks Fran.

FRAN KELLY: Julie Bishop is the Foreign Minister.

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