NEIL MITCHELL: (Introduction) Julie
Bishop, good morning.
JULIE BISHOP: Good
morning. I’m currently in Samoa, so about as far removed from the conflict in
Syria and Iraq, but I am returning to Australia this evening and I’m happy to
talk to you about the reasons why we’re doing this.
NEIL MITCHELL: Thank you, I appreciate
that. Do we accept that it’s likely to end here, this commitment? That it must
be an open-ended commitment initially?
JULIE BISHOP: Well what we must do is support the Peshmerga people who
currently can’t defend themselves against this wave of atrocities being
perpetrated against them. Our contribution will continue to be coordinated with
the Government of Iraq, the United States and other regional countries.
But the situation in Iraq represents a humanitarian catastrophe, it’s a
potential genocide and we are helping to protect innocent civilians against the
atrocities of ISIS. We just can’t stand by while people are being slaughtered by
a terrorist group that has amongst its members a number of Australian citizens,
indeed it seems that a number of Australian citizens are figuring prominently in
the leadership of this terrorist organisation.
NEIL MITCHELL: But this is about
Australia’s security as well as a humanitarian issue is it not?
JULIE BISHOP: Of course
it is. We are working to make our country as safe and secure as possible and the
rise of violent extremism and terrorism in Syria and Iraq and elsewhere reminds
us that Australia is not isolated from potential threats - these horrific images
of the beheadings and the crucifixions and mass executions and slaughter by a
group that appallingly has a number of Australians among their membership.
We know that at least 60 Australians are known to be fighting with terrorist
groups in Syria and Iraq, about 100 Australians are known to be funding or
facilitating these groups. So the threat of their return to Australia and the
potential for terrorist activity in Australia is real and is growing.
We do know from previous experience with Afghanistan, when we had people
being trained with extremist groups in Afghanistan, some of them returned to
Australia and did carry out terrorist activities in Australia. So I find it
terrifying to contemplate the current scenario where Australian citizens are
active in groups that are carrying out these mass executions and killings.
NEIL MITCHELL: Is it likely, I noticed the
United Kingdom has increased its terrorism alert, is it likely we’ll do the
JULIE BISHOP: Well we
remain in close contact with the United Kingdom about the threat from terrorist
groups active in Syria and Iraq and from returning foreign fighters, indeed we
have been discussing that for some time with other countries. I visited Lebanon
and Jordan earlier in the year and discussed with their leadership the issue of
foreign fighters travelling through their country or indeed the rise of foreign
fighters in their countries.
Our National Terrorism Public Alert System level remains at medium, that
means “a terrorist attack could occur”, but the level is under constant review
by the Australian Government. We base it on the advice we receive from our
security and intelligence agencies and they are plugged into networks across the
world so I can assure your listeners that the Government will take all necessary
steps to keep Australia and Australians safe.
NEIL MITCHELL: Minister is the ultimate
aim of what we’re doing here to wipe out ISIS?
JULIE BISHOP: The
ultimate aim is currently humanitarian, to prevent the killings and to ensure
that people are safe but what we have to do is contain this terror threat and
ultimately eliminate it and that means destroy its structure, destroy its
organisation. We’re trying to prevent Australians going overseas and becoming
radicalised and undertaking activities with this terrorist group so we are doing
what we can through cancelling passports, through reaching out to the community,
through working within the law to stop people becoming members or supporting
these terrorist groups.
But the air strikes by the United States have had some impact. The United
States has now asked that Australia help to transport stores of military
equipment as part of this multi-nation effort to ensure that the Peshmerga
people can defend themselves, but we don’t want to see the likes of terrorist
organisations like ISIS flourishing. We want to see the end of this kind of
The United States Secretary of State John Kerry is calling for a global
coalition to use all the resources and tools available, political or military or
diplomatic, intelligence – whatever moral arguments we can mount to challenge
ISIS and its ideology. Its ideology is a genocidal vision to wipe out anybody
who opposes them.
NEIL MITCHELL: This is a pretty
sophisticated organisation – it’s got money, it’s got a level of organisation,
even a level of self-promotion that exceeds something like Al Qaeda. This is no
simple fight is it? This is a very sophisticated organisation to eliminate it,
as you say, it’s going to take a long time.
JULIE BISHOP: Well when
I say eliminate the structure, as happened with Al Qaeda, you can take away the
leadership, you can take away the structure but it’s like a cancer, it
metastasises. Al Qaeda was dismantled in Afghanistan but then you see offshoots
of it in Yemen and other places in the Middle East and I fear that that will
occur with ISIS.
It is a very sophisticated organisation in the sense that they’re now
claiming territorial rights and they’ve claimed an Islamic State so it’s not
like other terrorist organisations that carry out their attacks from a
headquarters somewhere. This outfit actually see themselves as having the status
of a nation. So it is a very complex and sophisticated situation we’re facing.
NEIL MITCHELL: [Interrupting] That’s my
point, it’s a long…
JULIE BISHOP: …yes it is
a long haul, of course it is. This is embedded in their ideology and their
ideology is to wipe out anyone that disagrees with them and that would of course
include many nations around the world. That’s why Australia is working with
other nations, supporting Iraq, the United States, Canada, Italy, France, the
United Kingdom and we’re calling on the Arab States to also be involved in
trying to counter this appalling terrorist threat.
NEIL MITCHELL: Final issue I guess
Minister is – do we have to accept that sending this aircraft in with, or
without, SAS troops but sending the aircraft in with the weapons is in fact
dangerous? It is a dangerous mission for our people?
JULIE BISHOP: Yes there
are risks. It is a dangerous mission and there are risks but these have been
carefully weighed by all of the nations involved including Australia. Our role
is clear and proportionate, our objective is clearly humanitarian. As our Chief
of Defence Force said the bigger risk is not to do anything. When these people
can’t defend themselves in the face of the most brutal and barbaric attacks –
beheadings and crucifixions – we can’t just stand by, we must do what we can to
help them and particularly where Australians are involved in this terrorist
organisation and potentially could come back to our country and carry out
terrorist activities in Australia.
NEIL MITCHELL: Thank you so much for your
JULIE BISHOP: It’s been
my pleasure. Thanks Neil.
NEIL MITCHELL: Julie Bishop, Foreign
Minister, in Samoa at the moment. And that sort of echoes what I’m saying, and
Peter Jennings was saying earlier in the program. It is a long haul, the aim of
it – although initially humanitarian will be to, as she says, eliminate the
structure of ISIS and it is an increasing terrorist risk at home that’s why I
say we have not got an option.
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