JOURNALIST: Australia is certain to join the US-led campaign against Islamic
State. The only question is in what capacity? Earlier, Australia's Foreign
Minister, Julie Bishop, joined me from Pretoria in South Africa. Foreign
Minister, when will our Government explain to the Australian people exactly what
commitment Australia will be making to the US-led Coalition?
FOREIGN MINISTER JULIE BISHOP: Leigh, that will be after the United States has
made a request and there has been no formal request made. Should a request be
made, we will then consider it at our National Security Committee. It will be
considered by Cabinet, we will consult with the Opposition and then we would
make it public. President Obama has indicated he is building a broad coalition
of support not only from nations in the region, and of course with the Iraqi
Government, but also beyond, and because Australia has such a significant number
of foreign fighters, Australian citizens who are fighting in Syria and Iraq,
then it's in our interests to do what we can to prevent the spread of ISIL.
JOURNALIST: Will Australia be prepared to engage in air strikes if requested?
FOREIGN MINISTER JULIE BISHOP: We haven't been asked to but I know that we
have the capability to support air strikes. At this stage, our support has been
limited to humanitarian assistance.
JOURNALIST: When you say 'support', are we prepared, though, to go beyond
that, if requested to do so? Are we prepared to have Australian planes and
Australian pilots involved in air strikes?
FOREIGN MINISTER JULIE BISHOP: The President has outlined a strategy to deal
with ISIL and try to contain its murderous activities. Australia has already
taken part in the humanitarian aspect of it but the President has pointed out
that air strikes will continue and they have been effective as far as we
understand, and we do have the capability to take part in air strikes if we're
requested to do so. We will consider it in terms of the overall objectives. We
will need to have a clear and proportionate role for Australia. We would need to
understand the resources and the assets that would be required and have a
defined timeline so that we can then weigh the risks, make our judgment and then
inform the Australian people.
JOURNALIST: Should our nation be prepared for the loss of Australian lives in
the pursuit of this mission?
FOREIGN MINISTER JULIE BISHOP: This mission, so defined to date by President
Obama, is of course risky, but I believe there is a greater risk if we do
nothing, that is if we allow Australian citizens to continue to leave this
country, take part in terrorist activities in Syria and Iraq, and then come home
to Australia with terrorist intent. And we understand from our intelligence
agencies, our law enforcement agencies, that there are a number of Australians
with that intent; so the risk of doing nothing, I believe, outweighs the
terrible risks associated with going into this strategy to defeat, destroy ISIL.
JOURNALIST: If you were serious about the risk you just described and about
truly destroying Islamic State, wouldn't you commit all and every available
resource, including ground troops?
FOREIGN MINISTER JULIE BISHOP: We have to support the Iraqi Government. The
Iraqi Government has a Defence Force. We need to support the Iraqi Government
JOURNALIST: So far the Iraqi Defence Force has proven woefully inadequate when
it comes to the task of securing the country. Major cities have been lost to
Islamic State. The lessons of Libya and Afghanistan also show that there are
limited results to be gained from training and arming local forces.
FOREIGN MINISTER JULIE BISHOP: In this instance we are looking for a broad
coalition, as President Obama outlined in that very important speech. There are
other nations, particularly in the region, the Arab State nations, who are
militarily well equipped - they are well resourced - and we are hoping that a
number of nations will take part in a coalition to combat ISIL.
JOURNALIST: How will Australia decide which local militias and forces to arm
in Syria given the Prime Minister's previous assertion that the conflict there
is baddies versus baddies?
FOREIGN MINISTER JULIE BISHOP: Our focus at present is on Iraq and working
with the Iraqi Government, indeed I telephoned the Foreign Minister yesterday
and had a discussion with him about what Australia can do in supporting the
Iraqi Government. I've not had such a conversation with anybody in Syria. So our
focus is about supporting the Iraqi Government defend itself, defend its
communities, and I was heartened by the Foreign Minister's support for an
inclusive Government, of including all of the representatives - whether they
were Kurds or Sunnis, Shia - in one Government. They all have a common enemy and
that is ISIL.
JOURNALIST: Julie Bishop, briefly on another matter, the Department of Foreign
Affairs has revealed today that several Australians are facing the death penalty
in China because of drugs charges. How many exactly?
FOREIGN MINISTER JULIE BISHOP: I won't go into the detail of the numbers; I
don't think it will be helpful at this stage. The travel advisory was altered on
the advice of our experts to inform people travelling to China that drug-related
activities can carry the death penalty.
JOURNALIST: Why is it not helpful to state the number, it's just a basic
statement of fact and indeed allows human rights monitors to know how many
Australians are involved?
FOREIGN MINISTER JULIE BISHOP: Those details can be obtained if human rights
monitors want to contact the Australian Government but I'm not going to go into
the details. There are a number. It is concerning but not all of them are
charged with offences that relate to the death penalty - a number are, others
aren't. Over all, the message is loud and clear: if you're travelling to China,
indeed if you're travelling anywhere in South East Asia, North Asia, a number of
countries have criminal codes, criminal laws that include the death penalty for
drug-related activities and I warn all Australians to not engage in drug-related
activities if they're travelling overseas.
JOURNALIST: Julie Bishop, thank you for your time.
FOREIGN MINISTER JULIE BISHOP: It's been my pleasure Leigh.
- Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555