The Federal Government is keeping up the pressure on home-grown extremism
sparked by the conflicts in Iraq and Syria. The Islamic State movement was
described by the Prime Minister yesterday as one of utter ferocity, of medieval
barbarism, allied to modern technology.
So, how do you approach a threat that Tony Abbott says is as dangerous and
serious as that posed by Islamic State. Yesterday the PM outlined a range of
measures aimed at trying to stop the radicalisation of young Australians, to
prevent them from going abroad to fight and to arrest and jail those who do if
they try and return to Australia.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has been looking at the issue with her US
counterpart John Kerry and they’ll be taking a joint US-Australian plan to the
UN General Assembly next month. The Foreign Minister joins me now in our
Parliament House studios.
JULIE BISHOP: welcome to RN Breakfast.
JULIE BISHOP: Good morning Fran.
Julie Bishop, yesterday you spoke with John Kerry about the plan the two of you
intend to bring before the UN General Assembly on this notion of foreign
fighters, home-grown terrorists. What is the essence of that plan?
JULIE BISHOP: We first
began discussing this during the AUSMIN meeting, that is the US-Australia
Foreign and Defence Ministers meeting that was held in Sydney recently. And the
US joins with Australia in our deep concern about hardened home-grown terrorists
carrying out terrorist activities in our respective countries - not only
Australia and the US, but also other countries in our region. This is an issue
affecting Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Arab nations, throughout Europe, UK,
Canada and the like. This is not an isolated situation and we decided that it
should be the feature of the United Nations General Assembly Leaders’ Week -
that’s in mid-September – when many of the world’s leaders will gather,
President Obama will be present.
Will Tony Abbott be going?
JULIE BISHOP: Well if
President Obama makes foreign fighters and the fight against terrorism and
extremism a feature I would hope that the Prime Minister would be able to
attend. It is during a Parliamentary sitting week but I’m hoping that the Prime
Minister would be able to be there and put forward Australia’s support for the
counter-terrorist activities that will have to take place across the globe.
In terms of the plan you mentioned though. Again, can you give us some sense of
what are the central elements of the plan you’re bringing?
JULIE BISHOP: This is a
call to other nations to take steps to counter terrorist activities in their
countries. This is not just Australia, although we do have a significant number
of Australian citizens who are taking leadership roles, we understand, within
the ISIS or Islamic State terrorist organisation. This is a particularly brutal,
barbaric organisation and we are concerned that while there are about 60
Australians fighting in Syria and Iraq with them there are about 100 that we
know of back here in Australia supporting them.
Australia is putting in place some measures to try and deal with this and some
soft counter-terrorism measures were announced yesterday by the Prime Minister.
But what about first and foremost for instance, full biometric screening at all
airports being put in place because we’ve already had in recent times two known
extremists leave Australia headed for Iraq. I mean for instance Khaled
Sharrouf’s brother, why didn’t he have the biometric passport given that he was
the brother of a known terrorist? We’re falling at those kind of hurdles
JULIE BISHOP: That’s why
we have announced $630 million in new funding to boost our border protection,
customs, passport capability. There had been a reduction in funding for our
intelligence organisations, for customs, for border protection over the last six
years or more. We are now trying to boost that so that these matters are less
likely to occur. It’s very difficult to screen every person but we want to
ensure that we are in the best possible position to prevent people who pose a
security risk to our nation, leaving the country so they can be prosecuted here,
or indeed coming back if they’ve already been fighting overseas with terrorist
Proscribed terrorist organisations are those that if you support them or work
with them you can face punishment of up to 25 years in jail so it’s very serious
to be supporting, or working with a proscribed terrorist organisation under
Minister does the plan and discussions you’ve been having with John Kerry and
the discussion you imagine will be taking place at the UN General Assembly, does
it go beyond this? Does it go to developing a broader coalition of support for
military action in New York? Because yesterday the Prime Minister said in
Question Time Australia was a very close and supportive partner of the US and
consultations are continuing with the US and others. What options for Australian
involvement has been considered?
JULIE BISHOP: The United
States has asked us to be involved in the humanitarian effort in Northern Iraq,
and we have in terms of humanitarian air drops. The United States has not asked,
or invited us to be involved in any further activity, we’re keeping in close
contact, to understand the United States plans as to how it intends to prevent
the spread of this extreme, brutal ideology and extremism that we’re seeing with
the likes of IS and others.
But National Security Cabinet is considering possible future options isn’t it?
JULIE BISHOP: We are
looking at what we can do in Australia and overseas to prevent the spread of
this kind of terrorism.
And on a military front what might that be?
JULIE BISHOP: We’ve not
been asked to put forward any suggestions on military intervention but we are
supporting the United States in its humanitarian efforts in Northern Iraq. But
the United States has been taking steps in other countries, in Yemen, in North
Africa, in the Middle East more generally to stop the spread of this extremism
because these are people who want to exterminate anyone who opposes their
ideology. So it’s not just a threat to the West, it’s a threat to Arab nations,
and we want to build a coalition of support to stop this kind of terrorist
activity including among Arab nations.
Yesterday in the Parliament, the Greens deputy leader Adam Bandt accused the
Prime Minister of mission creep on Iraq and asked the Prime Minister for a
commitment that he would seek parliamentary approval before any troops were
deployed. The Prime Minister said, well he will consult, but that’s as far as he
went. Essentially, is that decision in your view, the view of the government, a
leader’s call? Or should any further military action in Iraq, if there is any
against IS, require some kind of parliamentary approval?
JULIE BISHOP: We will
continue to consult with the opposition and with the crossbenchers. Indeed, we
offer intelligence briefings. I know that the opposition has taken them up. I
don’t know whether the crossbenchers have. But we can share with the
crossbenchers the kind of information that we have that gives rise to our great
concern that this is one of the greatest security risks that we have faced in a
very long time and I want all parliamentarians to understand, indeed I want all
Australians to understand, the security risk that we currently face.
But no parliamentary approval if we decide to go further militarily?
JULIE BISHOP: We would
act as we have always done, and that is consult with the opposition and the
crossbenchers but we’re talking hypotheticals. We’re focussing on the
humanitarian effort into Northern Iraq. That’s what we’ve been asked to do and
that’s what we’re responding to.
Minister, later today you’re heading to Indonesia, I want to come to that in a
moment, but before I leave this – a Kurdish representative to Australia Haval
Syan has asked you directly I understand for weapons and aid for the Peshmergas
military and humanitarian operations in Northern Iraq. Will you say yes?
JULIE BISHOP: We are
providing humanitarian support and we will continue to do so, we have..
JULIE BISHOP: I’ve not
been asked to supply weapons…
He said he’s asked you for weapons. Have you not been asked for weapons?
JULIE BISHOP: I’ve not
met with him, no, I’ve not been asked.
Alright, because Iran is arming the Kurds, we know that, so if we were
considering that we would be – Iran and Australia would be in a sense supporting
the Kurdish Peshmerga.
JULIE BISHOP: The enemy
of my enemy is my friend.
Which goes to the same issue in Syria because if the US does have operations,
military operations, over the border in Syria, it would be in a sense giving,
serving the interests of the Government of Bashar al-Assad. It’s throwing up
some strange bedfellows the Islamic State, isn’t it?
JULIE BISHOP: We would
only act in our national interest and our national interest is to ensure that
Australians can be as safe and secure as the Government can achieve. And that’s
what we’re seeking to do with the changes in the law. That’s why we want the
support from the crossbenchers, from the Opposition to ensure that we can make
the environment in Australia as safe as possible and to prevent terrorism. It’s
better to be preventing people becoming terrorists than prosecuting them after
they’ve carried out terrorist activities.
And sorry I interrupted you in terms of if there is a Kurdish request, it’s in
the press that there has been, if there is for weapons, would Australian
JULIE BISHOP: Well I
would consider any request that a country made but we are focussing on a
humanitarian effort and if (Iraq) Kurdistan has sent the request to the
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade well I’ll follow it up but we have most
certainly responded to their request for humanitarian support.
Minister, you fly later today to Bali for talks with your counterpart Marty
Natalegawa in Indonesia. You’ll sign the code of conduct on intelligence matters
that was prompted quite spectacularly by Indonesian fury over revelations that
Australia had spied on senior Indonesian officials and tapped the phone of the
President’s wife. Is this code of conduct more of a tidying up episode or a
face-saving exercise with Indonesia before the Presidential change, rather than
a code with much to it? Will it change much?
JULIE BISHOP: These
allegations referred to events in 2009. They came to the surface via the Snowden
revelations and it was a matter that we inherited, if you like. Over time we
have been continuing to work very closely with Indonesia and at the request of
President Yudhoyono we are signing what I call a Joint Understanding and its
pursuant to the Lombok Treaty, which is already a treaty between Australia and
Indonesia over respecting each other’s sovereignty. And this specifically says
that Australia and Indonesia will not use our resources, including our
intelligence resources, to harm each other’s interests. It also lays the ground
for greater cooperation between our intelligence agencies and this is
particularly pertinent in the light of the foreign fighter terrorist activity in
Syria and Iraq because there are a significant number of Indonesians who are
also heading to Syria and Iraq to fight with the likes of ISIL.
In the light of that, and the potential increase in terrorism threat in our
region, is this code of conduct going to change anything? Will it limit the
capacity of Australian intelligence forces to gather or conduct intelligence
JULIE BISHOP: In fact it
enhances the opportunities for cooperation between our intelligence agencies and
anticipates a greater level of engagement between Australian intelligence
agencies and Indonesian intelligence agencies.
Minister, just before I let you go, Clive Palmer yesterday made an apology to
the Chinese Government for his comments last week on Q and A. His colleague
Senator Jacqui Lambie is not backing off her criticism of the Chinese and the
threat she says is posed to Australia by the communist regime. What’s your
response to that and has there been, have you had any representations from China
to suggest that these comments by Clive Palmer had done any harm?
JULIE BISHOP: Clearly Mr
Palmer himself recognises the potential for damage to the relationship because
he’s made this fulsome apology and I welcome it. It’s a little late, I wish he’d
done it earlier. I did ask him to reflect on his words, he clearly has done that
and he’s now apologised. I hope that Senator Lambie likewise reflects on the
comments that she’s made and the potential for harm with one of our largest
Well she’s reflected and she’s standing by them.
JULIE BISHOP: Well
that’s what Clive Palmer said last week until he apologised. We should be
working to enhance our relationships with trading partners. We want to be
friends with other countries. They don’t have to trade with us and we’re
dependent on getting our exports into countries like China. The Government wants
to enhance our relationships. Of course we can have differences with other
countries, but you deal with them in a respectful way. Australians are not
normally discourteous people and I don’t think Senator Lambie’s discourtesy
towards China would be a reflection of the views of the majority of Australians.
Minister thanks very much for joining us.
JULIE BISHOP: My
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