JULIE BISHOP: This afternoon I will be leaving Australia to travel to Wales to attend the NATO Leaders’ Summit with our Defence Minister David Johnston. At this meeting Australia will accept a formal invitation to become an enhanced partner of NATO. This enhanced partnership means that we will continue to cooperate at the very highest level with NATO, the most powerful political and military organisation in the world, and this will bring considerable benefits to our Defence Force and to Australia more generally.
It’s in our national interest to continue to cooperate with NATO at this higher level given that we are now in the transition phase of the longest mission that NATO has been involved in in Afghanistan.
The focus of the Leaders’ Summit is to discuss post 2014 Afghanistan and that will include the role that Australia can play in coordination with other NATO partners and allies. We will be continuing our humanitarian effort, we will be continuing the training effort, to ensure that the Afghan forces can take responsibility for defence and security of Afghanistan - so the transition away from an international force to an Afghan-led force.
I envisage that the issue of Ukraine and Russia’s behaviour in relation to Eastern Ukraine in particular will also be the subject of discussion and specifically the conflict in Iraq and Syria will also be the subject of discussion, indeed Secretary of State John Kerry informed me yesterday that he intends to discuss the response to ISIS at the NATO Summit.
So there is a very busy agenda and I will be returning to Australia on Sunday in time to meet with the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi who will be in Australia for a couple of days.
JOURNALIST: What sort of obligations does this enhanced partnership come with? Is it likely that we’ll be sending some sort of contingent into Afghanistan as part of this?
JULIE BISHOP: We are discussing what contribution Australia can make to Afghanistan post-2014. It will be in the form of continuing to advise, assist and train Afghan forces as needed. It will be humanitarian assistance and of course we’ll continue to have our Embassy in Kabul which will be kept under review.
JOURNALIST: Minister what’s your response to the reported beheading of a journalist in Iraq and then also can you tell us the latest on the mission in Iraq with our equipment drops?
JULIE BISHOP: Assuming that the image is authentic it represents a heinous crime. It’s a despicable act - grotesque - and it underscores the kind of people that we are facing here in Iraq and Syria.
ISIS is a barbaric, brutal organisation and that is why we are so concerned about Australian citizens who are leaving this country to fight with ISIS in Iraq and Syria. This represents a serious, heightened and growing security risk here in Australia because of these foreign fighters, radicalised, extreme terrorists who come back to Australia.
We fear that there could be an attempt to undertake terrorist activities here. We’ve seen it before with those who trained with the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and we have at least five times the number of Australian citizens involved with ISIS than were involved in Afghanistan pre the NATO–led intervention.
So we are deeply concerned about this and the imagery of the beheading of journalists is shocking and I don’t believe anybody can see that without feeling deeply for the family and deeply concerned about the nature of this barbaric organisation that we’re confronting.
JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] Coalition involvement might be required?
JULIE BISHOP: What we’ve been asked to do is offer humanitarian support and also military equipment so that the Peshmerga can defend themselves. We are trying to support the local communities in a humanitarian way and also provide them with support so that they can defend themselves against this barbaric and brutal organisation.
As the Prime Minister said yesterday we will not call it a state for it is not. It might have territorial designs but it is a brutal terrorist organisation and we are working very hard to ensure that the local communities can defend themselves against it.
JOURNALIST: Minister in the last few minutes we’ve had some breaking news from AFP. President Barack Obama has ordered another 350 US troops to Baghdad to protect American diplomatic facilities and staff. What’s your reaction to this?
JULIE BISHOP: We certainly have plans in place in relation to our Embassy in Baghdad. That has been in place for quite some time. I’m not surprised that the President is increasing the security because the situation in Iraq is exceedingly dangerous and volatile and we will do all we can to ensure that our Embassy staff are safe, they’re secure. But we certainly have contingency plans in place should the situation deteriorate.
JOURNALIST: Might that involve additional Australian troops Minister?
JULIE BISHOP: We are working closely with our partners including the Americans in relation to security and that involves our staff, our personnel in Baghdad.
JOURNALIST: Do these 350 extra US troops impact on Australia’s role in Iraq? Do you foresee that any extra troops might be going down to the ground from our end?
JULIE BISHOP: As we have said, we do not envisage being asked, nor offering combat troops on the ground but there will be a discussion at NATO, on the margins or during the NATO Summit, about the contribution that the international community can make in response to the brutality of ISIS.
So there are other things that we can do in terms of support, as we’ve done with the supply of military equipment to the Kurdish region but we don’t envisage that there will be a request for combat troops on the ground.
It seems that the United States is concerned to ensure that the Iraqi forces can defend themselves. They’re working closely with the Iraqi Government and I expect that we’ll have a very detailed discussion about this in NATO.
JOURNALIST: Forgive me for not hearing or seeing the AFP release as yet but is your understanding that the additional American forces in Baghdad would in part be protecting Australian staff there?
JULIE BISHOP: What I said is that we have contingency arrangements in place already that should the situation in Baghdad deteriorate we would be able to have our staff removed with the assistance of the United States.
JOURNALIST: How confident are you that you’ll get consensus from the NATO partners to essentially revoke the G20 invitation for President Putin?
JULIE BISHOP: Let me be plain about this, I didn’t say I was going to NATO to lobby in relation to President Putin’s attendance at the G20. What I did say is I expect that the matter will be discussed. It would be naïve to think that the matter wouldn’t come up for discussion at a meeting of the representatives and leaders of some 60 countries.
But the point is this – there are a number of international meetings before the G20. We have UNGA Leaders’ Week. President Obama is calling a special meeting on the Wednesday of the UN General Assembly Leaders’ Week, there’s APEC, there’s the East Asia Summit, a number of meetings before the G20 and I think we’ll have a better idea of the international community’s attitude, and indeed President Putin’s attitude, to attending these meetings before we consider the G20.
Our role as host of the G20 is to consult and to reach a consensus but we’re some way from that decision and of course we’ll take soundings, I have no doubt that people will raise it with me, but it’s not Australia’s call, it has to be a consensus from the G20.
JOURNALIST: But Australia has a view? What’s Australia’s view?
JULIE BISHOP: At this stage we are, in our role as chair, seeking the views of others. We are the chair, our responsibility is to consult with others and reach a consensus and that’s what we’ll seek to do.
JOURNALIST: Minister, on the ISIS video again, what’s your reaction specifically to the person in the video suggesting other countries shouldn’t follow the US? And particularly they were using the term evil to describe the West. What’s your reaction to that? Does that deter Australia in any way?
JULIE BISHOP: We cannot allow the brutal, barbaric activities of organisations such as ISIS to continue to spread. This organisation must be contained, we must limit the security risk, not only in the region but also in Australia. That’s why our intelligence sharing agreements, such as the one we entered into with Indonesia last week, are so important.
We need to work as part of a concerted effort of international community and countries who are absolutely and utterly opposed to the spread of this kind of extremism and brutality in the Middle East. And so we have a responsibility to protect the Australian people from this increased threat and we’ll do what we can, through enhanced security and intelligence cooperation, particularly with countries in our region.
Australia is not alone in this and the issue is not isolated to Syria and Iraq. There are a number of foreign fighters leaving countries in our region – Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines. We believe China is deeply concerned about foreign fighters from China fighting in Iraq with ISIS. So we need an international response and that’s one of the reasons I’ll be spending two days at the NATO Summit on Thursday and Friday with Defence Minister Johnston. These are serious, deeply concerning issues that must be tackled with an international response.
JOURNALIST: Just on another issue, Tanya Plibersek this morning called Africa a country instead of a continent. Is she a capable shadow?
JULIE BISHOP: Well Africa most certainly is a continent and Australia has a very good relationship with a number of the countries that make up the African continent, so perhaps she made a slip of the tongue.
JOURNALIST: Do you believe some members of the Labor Party are supporting the Government on national security issues through “gritted teeth”?
JULIE BISHOP: I have certainly been reminded of the response of a number of the leaders of the current Opposition to the military activities undertaken by the Howard Government. And the response they’re giving today is in stark contrast to the attitude they took previously, but that’s a matter for them to answer.
JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] party room was that politicising? [Inaudible].
JULIE BISHOP: I don’t talk about my comments to the party room. My statements in the party room are for the Members and Senators of the Coalition.
JOURNALIST: Minister we went to Afghanistan in 2001 to deal with terrorism after September 11. Surely there are grounds that we need to go to Iraq to deal with it now, to nip it in the bud, to try and prevent it from spreading further. Would you say there is an argument therefore that we went in 2001, the circumstances are just as credible, to go in now?
JULIE BISHOP: ISIS is a new and evolving and heightened threat and I believe that the international community should respond accordingly, try to limit its spread and try to ensure that innocent civilians are not slaughtered.
That’s why we’ve been taking the steps of humanitarian support as well as taking the step of providing military equipment to the Kurdish region so that the Peshmerga can defend themselves, and this is in cooperation with the Iraqi Government.
The circumstances are very different, but the point is we are facing a heightened security risk here in Australia because of the presence of the foreign fighters from Australia, some of whom we understand are taking leadership positions. It’s hard to even contemplate that there are Australian citizens taking leadership positions in an organisation that apparently beheads innocent journalists and innocent people in such a brutal and vile way.
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