ANGELA CATTERNS: Thailand was subject to a military coup yesterday and in the latest development the military has summoned the country’s deposed cabinet and ruling party leaders to report to them after they seized power yesterday. We are joined on the line by Julie Bishop, she is the Foreign Affairs Minister. Minister, good morning and welcome.
JULIE BISHOP: Good morning Angela thank you for having me on your program.
ANGELA CATTERNS: Thank you for coming on the program. What is your reaction to this coup?
JULIE BISHOP: We are gravely concerned that the army chief General Prayuth has announced that the Royal Thai Army is assuming all government functions in Thailand. The caretaker government is no longer the government, the military have assumed that role, a curfew is in place and the constitution has been suspended.
I have spoken to our Ambassador in Bangkok, we are seeking more information on what I think is a regrettable development and the reasons for announcing a coup. I had hoped that the declaration of martial law on the 20th of May would have provided sufficient security in the country to allow negotiations to continue between the representatives of the political parties.
We hope it could have meant an early return to democracy and civilian law in Thailand. We do continue to hope that a way will be found for all parties to resolve their political differences through dialogue but it is a very polarised situation in Thailand.
ANGELA CATTERNS: So we heard in our news just then Minister that there are fears of bloodshed. Is that your fear too?
JULIE BISHOP: There have been previous coups in Thailand – I think this is the 19th by some counts – and in the past the coups have featured a government being sacked and ministers being detained and the constitution suspended, the curfew and the media being muzzled and restrictions on the freedom of assembly and expression. So in that sense this coup is like others.
To date it has been bloodless but of course there has been a lot of violence leading up to this and so we are not confident that there will be no violence but the military is in charge across the country.
And our concern is for Australians who are travelling to Thailand or who are living in Thailand. We understand that at any one time there can be about 28,500 Australians in Thailand, about 10,000 in Bangkok, but only about 5,600 have registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade so we are urging all Australians to exercise a very high degree of caution and to register their travel plans on the Government’s website Smartraveller.gov.au.
ANGELA CATTERNS: So there is a curfew currently in force there from 10am to 5pm?
JULIE BISHOP: From 10pm to 5am, it is a night-time curfew, and of course we urge all Austrlaians to abide by the curfew…
ANGELA CATTERNS: [interrupting] Would that be in effect in holiday areas like Phuket for instance where I know a lot Australians go for their holidays?
JULIE BISHOP: Yes I understand it is across Thailand, it doesn’t affect people travelling to and from the airport, and there are exemptions for shift workers and the like but for tourists the curfew will apply. And if people have any doubts or need more advice we are updating our travel advisory regularly and we ask people to register online on the Smartraveller website so they can receive these updates because the Australian Government will continue to closely monitor the situation and update the travel advice as necessary.
ANGELA CATTERNS: It is a disturbing development no doubt about it.
JULIE BISHOP: Yes it is indeed, and of course Australia has had a long standing relationship with Thailand for 60 years based on our shared interests and goodwill and we certainly look forward to our Thai friends enjoying political stability and social harmony as soon as possible.
ANGELA CATTERNS: Minister Bishop, while I’ve got you here, the PM and Treasurer are having a hard time aren’t they selling the Budget. Do you think with Parliament resuming next week that you and the rest of the Government will be able to turn things around?
JULIE BISHOP: There will be more opportunities when Parliament is sitting for us to explain the detail of the Budget. There is a lot of misinformation out there, for example, there was a story going around that pensions would be cut – that’s not true – pensions will increase in September and again next March, they will continue to go up twice a year as they have in the past.
There has been no response by Labor as to what they would do to address the debt and deficit. We have laid out our plan to say that the country cannot continue to live beyond its means, we have to pay down the debt, we have to stop borrowing $1 billion a month to pay interest on the debt that Labor accumulated, but we have had no response from Labor as to what they would do. So it seems to be a lot of complaining, a lot of whinging by the Labor party, but no alternative vision, no alternative plan.
ANGELA CATTERNS: What do you make of the front page of the Washington Post today – how Australia’s winking Tony Abbott became one of the world’s most unpopular Prime Ministers – that is the headline.
JULIE BISHOP: Clearly I disagree with the newspaper, the article and the content. I think the Prime Minister has shown great leadership, he has been courageous in putting forward a tough Budget.
He promised before the last election that he would stop the boats and we are stopping the boats. He promised we would repeal the Carbon Tax so that families could be relieved of an additional $550 a year in increased electricity costs and we are determined to do that. He promised that he would build infrastructure to grow the Australian economy and we have announced a $50 billion infrastructure package that people in Sydney would be relieved to hear that work was done on Westconnex and those important roads to make lives easier for people travelling around Sydney.
He said he would fix the Budget, he would stop the wasteful spending, stop the $900 cheque giveaways and the pink batt home insulation schemes and all the incompetent implementation under Labor, and he would restore the Budget and that is what we are determined to do.
ANGELA CATTERNS: And just finally Minister how close are you to signing that deal with Cambodia which will see asylum seekers in our offshore processing facilities in Nauru being resettled in one of the poorest nations on earth?
JULIE BISHOP: I visited Cambodia in February and Cambodia is determined to fix standards of living in their country, they are determined to develop as other poor countries in the Asia-Pacific have done. We are happy to support them and they were very keen to support us as part of a regional solution to the regional problem of people smuggling.
ANGELA CATTERNS: [Interrupting] If we support them financially, sorry for interrupting, if we support them financially there are a lot of fears expressed by both the Opposition in Cambodia and by Cambodians living here in Sydney that that money is going to line the pockets of corrupt politicians, what do you say about that?
JULIE BISHOP: Well we are determined to ensure that does not occur - just the way that our aid budget is handled. We directly provide aid, we have people on the ground, NGOs in country, so we go to a lot of trouble to ensure that our aid money, our development assistance money is directed to those who need it and to the right organisations and providers to ensure that it does not get into the hands of corrupt officials.
That is a challenge we face in Cambodia where we do provide already $80 million in development assistance or whether it is another country in the region we are very careful to ensure Australian taxpayer money is spend efficiently and effectively with positive outcomes to lift standards and alleviate poverty in the region.
ANGELA CATTERNS: It is good to talk to you, I appreciate your time this morning, all the best.
JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure, thanks Angela.
- Ends -
- Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555