JOURNALIST Julie Bishop, first to the baby Gammy story if I could. It's been revealed today that the father of the couple is a convicted paedophile. Will you act to protect the child that he brought home from Thailand?
JULIE BISHOP This is clearly a tragic case and it raises a whole range of issues that we've not confronted before. It came about as a result of a commercial surrogacy arrangement in Thailand. That, in itself, has raised issues of concern to the Department of Immigration, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Attorney-General's Department. So we are looking at that issue from that perspective. The reports that were raised today are, of course, of deep concern and the appropriate authorities should take action in relation to it. But I think that the very tragic nature of this case raises a whole raft of issues that must be dealt with at a State and Federal level. We are also coordinating our response with the Thai authorities and working with Thailand to see if we can resolve this to the satisfaction of all parties.
JOURNALIST Just in the first instance on the child who has come back, have you had any conversations with the WA Premier, for example, on this?
JULIE BISHOP No, I haven't, but I know that our department is working closely with the State Government, the State authorities as well as the Thai authorities.
JOURNALIST Let's just go to the press conference this afternoon. The Prime Minister has dumped the push to repeal the Race Discrimination Act today, is that an election promise that's better broken?
JULIE BISHOP The circumstances have changed, as the Prime Minister said. If we were drafting the Racial Discrimination Act from the outset we wouldn't have had the terminology used in 18c but what we're focussing on now is getting the entire Australian community behind what is a real and growing threat and that's terrorists fighting overseas, extremism in this country and we need a united approach. We don't want distractions and we know that the debate about 18c was raising concerns in the community. So in the context of the other measures that we announced today we thought it appropriate to talk about how we can work together as a community and not look at issues that had the potential to divide.
JOURNALIST So for you which is more important, the fact that 18c was a distraction or that it was alienating the Muslim community?
JULIE BISHOP Well, it's a combination of matters. We have announced new measures today in the counter-terrorism sphere. That is our priority.
JOURNALIST Why did members of the Cabinet read about a decision on new data retention laws in the tabloid press today before it was discussed in Cabinet?
JULIE BISHOP Well, these are matters that have been discussed for quite some time. In fact they've been the subject of Parliamentary Committee reports and the National Security Committee has been dealing with this issue and discussing this issue for some time.
JOURNALIST But would I be right to say that members of the Cabinet were not aware that that decision had been made nor released to the press before they saw it in print?
JULIE BISHOP Well I'm not in a position to comment because I'm a member of National Security Committee so I was well aware of the debate.
JOURNALIST And what about the rest of your colleagues were they so aware?
JULIE BISHOP You'd have to ask my colleagues. Obviously a number of them were aware because they're members of the National Security Committee but also we've been discussing this issue for quite some time because this terrorism threat is evolving and growing and it is a real threat that needs to be addressed as soon as possible and that's what the debate over the last couple of months has been all about.
JOURNALIST Let me ask you this, what is the purpose of forcing telcos to retain our meta data?
JULIE BISHOP Telcos retain data now. What we need to ensure is our intelligence agencies can have access to relevant material. This is not about breaching privacy or listening in to people's private conversations. This is ensuring that our intelligence agencies have the capability to detect terrorists at work. The way to detect a terrorist cell is to work out their networks and so our intelligence and security agencies need the capacity to do that. We will work with the telcos to ensure that there is a balance and that we only gather what we need to gather for the purposes of counter-terrorism.
JOURNALIST It's not just telcos, of course, it also applies to other new ways of making telephone calls like Viber and Skype and Tango. What sort of information will you be looking for and from whom when it comes to those companies and their services?
JULIE BISHOP These are the details that will be provided in the legislation as it goes forward. Our Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull will be working closely with our Attorney-General George Brandis to ensure that we only collect what our intelligence agencies need access to.
JOURNALIST The reason I ask you what it's for is because a White House panel review of the NSA metadata telephone collection found it hadn't prevented a single terrorist attack and had made ‘only a modest contribution to the nation's security’. So why do you think you need it?
JULIE BISHOP We're doing the changes to our laws as appropriate to the Australian environment and we are taking advice from our intelligence agencies and our security agencies. So this is to combat the threat as we see it in the Australian context…
JOURNALIST But there can't be any real difference between the threat in the Australian context to… I beg your pardon… but there can’t be a significant technological difference between the United States and Australia, so the question is what's going to be your benchmark to justify the potential intrusion into the lives of ordinary people?
JULIE BISHOP Well clearly we are able to learn lessons from other intelligence agencies. We can learn lessons from other countries who have gone down this path but what we are seeking to do is equip our intelligence agencies with the capability backed by legislative measures to enable them to do their job which is to counter the terrorist activity that is going on in this country at present. It is a real risk, it's an evolving risk and as the national government we must take steps to ensure that we can counter it.
JOURNALIST You're proposing to put the onus of proof on Australians travelling to conflict zones or areas of terrorist activity. You're a lawyer, are you comfortable with reversing the presumption of innocence for an Australian?
JULIE BISHOP What we're doing is designating areas where Australians must indicate why they would go to that area. We already have travel advisories from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade at various levels from 'think about travelling to those areas' to 'do not travel to those areas.'. So if, for example, a person was going to Mosul in northern Iraq, if they're going there for humanitarian reasons that's fine. If they cannot tell you why they are going to Mosul, which is now held by a proscribed terrorist organisation in IS, or ISIS, then I think it's appropriate that the Australian Government's intelligence agencies should know why a person would be going to Mosul.
JOURNALIST Just moving onto Gaza, if I could, today you described Israel's shelling of UN schools as indefensible. Israel hasn't denied the shelling of those buildings and the killings of the civilians inside them. Has Israel broken international law?
JULIE BISHOP I'm not in a position to say that. I have challenged Israel to justify what it's done. I've called for a full investigation into it. I am pleased that there's a ceasefire at present between Hamas and Israel. In the past I have been deeply disappointed that ceasefires have been breached by Hamas, and Israel should not have to tolerate the incessant firing of rockets into Israeli territory, but of course its response must seek to avoid civilian casualties and I'm deeply concerned about UN schools being targeted in this way. So we've called for an investigation into it. I just hope that this current ceasefire for humanitarian purposes can be turned into a permanent ceasefire.
JOURNALIST Ban Ki-Moon called those attacks on the UN shelter a criminal act and a moral outrage. Do you endorse that?
JULIE BISHOP Well, I've used my words, I've said it was indefensible. I was shocked by it. We've called for a full investigation and I think that's the appropriate response.
JOURNALIST Julie Bishop, thank you very much indeed for joining us.
JULIE BISHOP My pleasure.
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