ABC Radio National Breakfast interview with Fran Kelly

Subjects: Ukraine situation, Russia sanctions, Australians fighting in Syria, missing Malaysian Airways plane, Arthur Sinodinos, Clive Palmer and the mining tax, Prime Minister's PNG visit.

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

20 March 2014

FRAN KELLY The UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon is flying to Russia for emergency talks with the Russian President Vladimir Putin as the crisis over Crimea reaches flashpoint. This comes as Australia joined the US and Europe imposing financial sanctions and travel bans in response to Russia's move to annex Crimea, a direct threat to Ukraine's sovereignty according to our Foreign Minister Julie Bishop who joins me in our Parliament House studios. Minister good morning.

JULIE BISHOP Good morning Fran.

FRAN KELLY Minister, you've condemned the move to annex Crimea in the strongest terms. You say it has the potential for military confrontation. Now Vladimir Putin already has soldiers massed along the Ukranian border. Pro-Russian troops have stormed the Ukranian naval headquarters, they're under seize at the moment in Crimea. Do you fear military conflict is inevitable in Ukraine?

JULIE BISHOP There is certainly the potential for it and we are deeply concerned. That is why the UN Secretary General has headed to Moscow to see if he can assist in de-escalating what is already a very dangerous situation.

FRAN KELLY The Russian President I think is fair to say has so far brushed aside international criticism. How do you rate the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon's chances of getting any peaceful settlement or breakthrough here? What is the breakthrough that he’s after?

JULIE BISHOP This is part of collective action. The European Union, United States, Canada, Australia, Japan and others have expressed their condemnation and have imposed travel bans and sanctions and taken other action to show solidarity for Ukraine's sovereignty, to show collective support for our condemnation of Russia's actions.

So it's not just one act by Ban Ki Moon, although that is obviously pivotal, it will be the collective action of the international community that I hope will make Russia change course and come back to sensible discussion through diplomatic dialogue.

FRAN KELLY What would change course mean though? I mean has the horse bolted in terms of Crimea?

JULIE BISHOP This is a matter that we'll have to consider over coming days. Russia is moving in to physically take over Crimea with its troops. It has militarised what was until then a political situation that I believe could have been resolved through diplomatic dialogue,

but the presence of troops, the military, the attacks and there's been a death of a soldier, and the potential for escalation is very real.

But I hope that the collective international action, and other countries are joining, collective international action will make Russia change course and engage in dialogue because this situation could spiral out of control.

FRAN KELLY The targeted financial sanctions and travel bans you announced yesterday, who are these people targeted and how much investment might they have here in Australia?

JULIE BISHOP At this point I'm not able to identify them because we are implementing the Autonomous Sanctions Regulations of 2011 and I don't want to give an indication in advance in case any assets are moved, but once that process is completed I'll be able to give an indication.

The United States have named about a dozen, Canada about two dozen, the European Union about two dozen. In the case of Japan they have frozen negotiations over a number of trade and investment agreements that had been underway because you will be aware that Russia and Japan's relationship had been thawing in recent times, it's now back in the freezer.

FRAN KELLY It's six minutes to eight on Breakfast. Minister, on another issue - the issue of the young Australian man who we know was trained by the ADF was killed in Syria, he was fighting with the rebels.

This morning we spoke with another Australian with very close connections to the Syrian rebels and the Free Syrian Army. He says Australians fighting in Syria want to come home, many of them, but they can't because if they do they'll be put in jail. Let's have a listen to what he said.

UNIDENTIFIED: Australians will want to come back. The law says between seven to fourteen years in jail. But we have to find a solution for these guys otherwise either they get killed or they go to fanatical groups to protect themselves.

FRAN KELLY Now he's calling for an amnesty so that some of those Australians in Syria, he describes them as moderate Syrians, taking up the fight against Bashar al-Assad can return safely. What's your response to that?

JULIE BISHOP It is against the law for an Australian citizen, even a dual citizen, to fight on either side of the Syrian conflict. It's against the arms embargo, it's against the law.

So we have given notice for many months that Australian citizens who did that risked being in breach of our laws. In some instances, I have cancelled passports, but what I can do is provide passports for people to come home from Syria and then, like all Australians, they would be subject to the law. If they've done something against the law then the processes of our legal system will kick in. If they haven't…

FRAN KELLY But that's his point, that if they come home they've got seven years in jail, if they stay, some of them face beheading because of the conflict within the [inaudible]…

JULIE BISHOP We don't bring people home and put them in jail. We do have a legal process in this country. And if they have a defence, if they have not committed any act against our laws, well, then of course they're not facing jail. So our legal process would kick in if they had, in fact, breached the law.

FRAN KELLY Minister, a couple of issues to get through. On the missing Malaysian passenger plane 370, Malaysia has requested data from the US spy satellites monitored from Pine Gap. Will that information be handed over? Is there information to give?

JULIE BISHOP I won't go into the detail of any intelligence information, but Australia is cooperating at every level. We're doing all that we can to assist the Malaysian authorities in locating this plane. We understand the great distress and anguish that the families and friends of those who were on the plane must be feeling and Australia will do all it can to help in the search and rescue efforts.

FRAN KELLY And to matters here in Parliament House, yesterday the Assistant Treasurer, Arthur Sinodinos, stood down for the duration of the ICAC inquiry into business dealings he was involved in.

Will that be a lasting taint to his reputation and judgement do you think? Because he did agree to chair this company, we now know the minutes of that company show clearly Eddie Obeid was set to be a major shareholder. Is that troubling? Does that trouble you?

JULIE BISHOP Senator Sinodinos has agreed to step aside while there is an inquiry into a business in which he had some connection. He's a witness. There's no allegation against him. There's no allegation of impropriety against him. He's a witness as a number of other people have been witnesses in this inquiry. He stood aside and I think that was the right thing to do. He can focus on being a witness in that inquiry.

FRAN KELLY I understand that, but I'm not talking about a legality, I'm just wondering what you think about judgement in terms of a senior representative of the Liberal Party being a part of a company like that?

JULIE BISHOP Arthur Sinodinos is a man of great integrity. He has a long history of serving this country, as a Treasury official, as a chief of staff to a prime minister, he's a man of great competence and professionalism and I believe his reputation will remain intact.

FRAN KELLY And just finally, we heard earlier from Clive Palmer. He says the Palmer United Party will not support the repeal of the mining tax if the Abbott Government doesn't back down over the income support bonus for orphans. He couldn't be clearer. He says the Government is persecuting these kids. Bottom line: no bonus, no tax repeal for the mining tax.

JULIE BISHOP That is absolutely against the interests of Western Australia, and as a person involved in the mining sector, he, amongst all people, should know that the mining tax is bad for our economy, bad for Western Australia in particular, and without the mining tax…

FRAN KELLY He says scrapping the bonus is sad for the kids.

JULIE BISHOP Without the mining tax, our economy will grow, jobs will thrive, and we will be able to put the budget into a better position, and then we'll be able to address some of the concerns that people have about the decisions that we've had to take as a result of Labor's trashing of the budget. See, Fran, this is because Labor put a surplus budget into deficits, record deficits, $123 billion of deficits in the forward estimates, $667 billion of government debt.

FRAN KELLY This is $250,000, as Clive Palmer points out.

JULIE BISHOP If the previous government had not trashed the budget, trashed the Government's financial position, then we wouldn't be having this debate.

FRAN KELLY And, Foreign Minister, finally, we only have 30 seconds before the news but we should mention the fact the Prime Minister flies to PNG today for discussion presumably about the Manus detention centre, the operation of it?

JULIE BISHOP He is going for his first official visit to PNG because of our strong bilateral relationship with that country.

FRAN KELLY Not because of the problems in the detention centre?

JULIE BISHOP That will be part of his discussions, but our relationship with PNG is much broader than the offshore detention centre at Manus Island. He'll be discussing economic security, trade, investment, foreign aid issues as well.

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

JULIE BISHOP My pleasure.

FRAN KELLY Julie Bishop is Australia's Foreign Minister. Plenty on her plate right now.

- Ends -

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