DAVID SPEERS: To discuss this and other issues, we are now joined live from Geneva by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop who has been attending there and at The Hague talks at and at the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit and a UN Conference on Disarmament.

Welcome to the program, good morning to you, good afternoon where we are, can I start with Egypt. How do you react to this declaration fromAbdel Fattah al-Sisi that he will be running for president, is this going to entrench the military control in Egypt?

JULIE BISHOP: It is not unexpected news David that the military chief al-Sisi would be running for the presidency, he has now stood down so he will be running as a civilian. A date has not yet been set for the election, but there is some assumption that it will be in the middle of the year, perhaps in July. What we want to see in Egypt is a return to democracy but we want to see peace and stability, so the sooner an election can be held the more likely we are to see a return to some kind of stability in Egypt and hopefully the election will be free and fair and democracy will return.

DAVID SPEERS: But are we really seeing signs of peace and stability, the courts there have just this week sentenced 529 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood to be executed – now it looks to all intents and purposes like a clean-out, a wipe-out, of the Muslim Brotherhood opposition. How do you view this?

JULIE BISHOP: This is deeply troubling, I think the reports disturbed many people around the world. The Muslim Brotherhood has been deemed a proscribed terrorist organisation in Egypt and some others support that view. Australia has not moved to proscribe the Muslim Brotherhood in that way, but in Egypt it is deemed to be a terrorist organisation. Of course the concern that we have is that this will lead to greater instability, that’s why we are hoping for an election as soon as possible to allow the people to have their say, that it be a free and fair election and that we can see some kind of return of stability, normality and hopefully democratic institutions, and that democracy can be restored in some way.

DAVID SPEERS: And all the while the Australian journalist Peter Greste remains detained in an Egyptian jail, he has been there since December, he was refused bail again this week. You met with Egypt’s deputy Foreign Minister. Did you raise this case?

JULIE BISHOP: Absolutely. We have been making representations at the highest level ever since Peter Greste was detained. Last week was the third hearing of his case, it has been adjoined now, and it will be re-scheduled for the 31st of March. Disturbingly, he was again denied bail in the interim and we have been making representations across the board to ensure he is treated fairly.

I met with the deputy Foreign Minister who was present at the Nuclear Security Summit, I spoke to him specifically about the Greste case. He was aware of it, I suspect he was awaiting my representations because he seemed to be well briefed on it. I have also raised the case directly with the Egyptian Foreign Minister Fahmy, I have spoken to him on a couple of occasions. We have raised it with the prosecutor, we have raised it with Ambassadors, we have also asked Governments in the region who are closer to Egypt than we are to make representations on our behalf, and I met with a number of the Foreign Ministers of those Governments during the Nuclear Security Summit, who assured me they had been making representations on Australia’s behalf.

I emphasised that it was a matter of public concern in Australia, that it did not support Egypt’s claim to be returning to democracy if they were suppressing the ability of journalists to do their work. But the court processes are still underway and what we are trying to do is, as soon as proceedings are over, to get him back to Australia as soon as possible...

DAVID SPEERS: ..and is that what the Government – the Egyptian Government – has said to you? Do they simply say “look, this is a matter for the courts there is nothing we can do”? What sort of response do you get?

JULIE BISHOP: Essentially they say that the legal process must take its course and draw a parallel with Australia, if a case was before the courts then there is a limit to what the politicians can do....

DAVID SPEERS: …do you really believe that the courts are really independent in Egypt given what we have just been discussing about the Muslim Brotherhood people who have been sentenced to death?

JULIE BISHOP: Egypt has a functioning legal system but all the indications that I have had to date, from the Foreign Minister, from the Ambassadors, from our representatives in Cairo who are talking on a daily basis with the representatives of the Egyptian Government, is that this case must be allowed to take its course, but as soon as it is over we will move very quickly to ensure that we can get him home.

DAVID SPEERS: Let’s hope that happens soon. You mentioned the Nuclear Security Summit that you attended, Australia has over the years taken a very strong line on this, what came out of those talks?

JULIE BISHOP: This was a summit that was convened by President Obama in 2010 to focus specifically on the scenario where terrorists could gain access to nuclear materials, or a nuclear weapon, or indeed be able to obtain access to enough nuclear materials to build a nuclear weapon or a bomb of some description.

So the focus is all about securing nuclear weapons, nuclear materials. Now Australia does not have nuclear weapons, nor do we have civilian nuclear power, but we have a very strong track record in nuclear security. We are the third largest producer of uranium, we have the largest reserves of uranium, we have a research reactor – we have transitioned from a highly enriched uranium-fuelled reactor to a low enriched uranium-fuelled reactor – and so we have experience in transporting nuclear material. In fact, Australia is ranked number one in the world in terms of nuclear security.

The summit showed how much has been done since the 2010 summit, countries ratifying nuclear agreements, countries securing their nuclear materials and we will meet again in 2016 to ensure that as much that could be done, has been done, in the area of nuclear security. Australia plays a very significant role in that regard.

DAVID SPEERS Now on the sidelines of those talks and the ones you have been at in Geneva, I know you have met with quite a number of Foreign Ministers and leaders. You met with the Ukrainian Foreign Minister as well, as I understand it, my question to you on this issue is - the US, Australia and Europe have all imposed sanctions on Russia over its actions and yet it has seemingly gotten away with the annexation of Crimea. What message does this send to Russia and other emerging powers about what happens if you do this sort of thing?

JULIE BISHOP: There were many leaders present at this Nuclear Security Summit at The Hague – the G7 leaders, President Obama, David Cameron, the president of France, Japan – they were all there, President Putin was not present but his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was there. The G7 met and considered other sanctions, other options, other steps they would take should there be further incursions by Russia into Ukraine, but in terms of Crimea, the annexation has taken place, the international community has condemned Russia in the strongest possible terms but short of some sort of military intervention, Russia has annexed Crimea....

DAVID SPEERS: …but that’s the point isn’t it, that they can do that because they know there isn’t going to be any military intervention, it is just going to be a condemnation.

JULIE BISHOP: It is also isolating Russia in unprecedented ways and these sanctions will hurt Russia – there is no question of that – and it is not just the European Union and Canada and the US. Switzerland, Japan, other countries with whom Russia has friendly relations, are also taking steps to freeze negotiations on agreements, to put in place ways and means of sending a very strong message to Russia that its actions are not supported, they are condemned and that they are isolating themselves even further.

This isn’t the end of it. If Russia continues to act in this aggressive way in breach of Ukraine’s sovereignty, there are other measures that are under consideration. Tomorrow I am going to Warsaw and meeting with the Polish Foreign MinisterSikorski, he is in Ukraine at present, so I will be having a discussion with him about how the surrounding countries are viewing Russia’s actions and what they believe the international community can do to halt this assertive foreign policy that has been adopted by Russia in relation to its neighbours and surrounding countries.

DAVID SPEERS You’ve also met while there with the President of China, no less, and this is coming ahead of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s visit to China in a couple of weeks’ time. Can I ask did the meeting go any better than your last meeting with the Chinese Foreign Minister?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, in fact, I had a very productive meeting with Foreign Minister Wang Yi and we talked about the Malaysian MH370 plane crash and we worked out ways that Australia and China can continue to co-operate in the search effort and it was a very productive conversation. At the end of our meeting he asked if I would meet the President, so we went over, on the sides of the Nuclear Security Summit, and I met with President Xi Jinping and we again talked about the Malaysian search effort, he was very grateful and said he was very grateful for what Australia had done.

China is feeling very distressed, as a nation, as a people about this, because there were so many Chinese nationals on board and it's such a baffling mystery as to what happened to the plane. So Australia’s efforts, the fact that we were co-ordinating the efforts in the Southern Ocean, and that we were prepared to put assets to that effort was much appreciated, so it was a very warm discussion. We spoke about the fact that the Prime Minister will be going to China....

DAVID SPEERS: Have those tensions over China’s air defence zone over the Senkaku Islands, have those tensions now eased? Are things back on a better footing in this relationship?

JULIE BISHOP: It was always on a strong footing, but we disagreed over a particular aspect of China’s foreign policy. It was in Australia’s national interest to make our concerns known, we stood up for our national interest, China disagreed with us, we had a disagreement, but we get on with the business with co-operating on the broader relationship that we have.

The President spoke about how much he was looking forward to Prime Minister Abbott’s visit, I will also be going to China with the Prime Minister and there are so many issues that we have to discuss with China. But they know that we disapprove of their unilateral action in imposing an air defence identification zone over the Senkaku/Diayou Islands, they know that we objected to that, they don’t believe we had the right to object, so we agree to disagree.

DAVID SPEERS: And you’ve agreed to disagree with Indonesia on turning back the boats, you’ve met Marty Natalygawa there – the Indonesian Foreign Minister – too just finally, how are things going on that front?

JULIE BISHOP: Marty and I have a constant communication, we are in touch with each other on a regular basis, we met on the sides of this Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, we will be meeting shortly in Hiroshima at a Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Meeting and we are planning to meet in Jakarta, possibly at the end of April.

So the communication is very important, we take this opportunity to discuss the range of issues, the positives as well as some of the challenges that face the relationship, but this is what is important – dialogue must continue and it does – and so we had a very productive meeting, as we always do.

DAVID SPEERS: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop live from Geneva, thank you so much for joining us this afternoon.

JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure David, good to be with you.

- Ends -

Media enquiries

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