JULIE BISHOP I wanted to give you an update on the Australian managed and funded Ebola treatment centre at Hastings Airfield in Freetown, Sierra Leone. I can confirm that the first patient has been successfully treated at the Ebola treatment centre funded by the Australian Government, an 11-year-old girl Aminata Bangura and she has now been released with a clean bill of health into the care of her family. Tragically, eight members of her family have died from Ebola but she has survived through the skill and care provided for her at the Australian-funded treatment centre. Her father has paid tribute to the Australian and New Zealand health professionals who treated her.
There are two other patients who have been successfully treated and there have now been 37 patients admitted to the treatment centre, 26 are currently receiving treatment. The centre opened in mid-December after being constructed by the United Kingdom Government. There are currently 32 health professionals there and four have returned home so I pay tribute to the Australian health professionals who have already completed their deployment and our thoughts are with those who are still working at the treatment centre in Freetown.
The Australian health professionals have put up a wall in the centre to take the handprints of the patients that survive and are discharged with a clean bill of health and this 11-year-old girl Aminata is the first to have her handprint on the wall. So I am pleased that the treatment centre is underway and is making a difference, that we are saving lives. Tragically, 8 have died that were admitted to the treatment centre so it is a very serious disease but Australia is doing what we can.
We have provided $23 million for the funding of the clinic and overall our commitment to fighting this Ebola outbreak is $45 million and on top of that $40 million has been provided to the World Health Organisation for their activities this year.
JOURNALIST Minister a terror threat has been issued for Indonesia, how concerned should Australians be?
JULIE BISHOP Australia is monitoring this situation very closely, we work very closely with the Indonesian security and intelligence and law enforcement agencies and we have seen incidents in the past where Australians have been killed – we all remember the two Bali bombings where Australians were killed.
So the threat of terrorist activity anywhere in the world remains. That’s why counter-terrorism is our major national security threat and why we are taking steps to ensure that our intelligence agencies, our law enforcement agencies are well-resourced and have the funding and personnel they require in order to keep Australians safe both in Australia and overseas.
JOURNALIST There Australian families – West Australian families – who are still on school holidays should they be reconsidering holidays to Bali?
JULIE BISHOP I recommend that they read the travel advice that the Australian Government provides and ensure that they take note of the advice there and of course in all these situations people should be very aware of the fact that they are in another country, subject to the laws of another country but please read the travel advice and maintain a watching brief on Smartraveller – www.smartraveller.gov.au is the website.
There is always a need for caution when travelling overseas and of course we have had the tragic experiences in the past with Bali – where Australians have been killed in the past – but we are working closely with the Indonesian security and intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
JOURNALIST This comes after the Prime Minister increased the terror threat in Australia, so this region is obviously coming under the [inaudible]?
JULIE BISHOP This region has been an area of terrorism activity for some time – the Bali bombings were years ago – and we know that we have worked very closely with the Indonesia authorities to arrest, detain, prosecute and jail a number of people who have taken part in terrorist activities in the past. So we treat terrorism and our counter-terrorism activities as our highest national security priority.
JOURNALIST The Prime Minister has left the door open to greater involvement in Iraq is there a risk of mission creep having Australian boots on the ground now?
JULIE BISHOP The Prime Minister has been in Iraq to see firsthand the activities of our Defence Force personnel over there. We have responded to a request from the Iraqi Government and from the Coalition of partners who are assisting the Iraqi Government in training and building up their own defence forces so they can take back the territory that has been claimed by ISIL and so that they can protect their own people from this barbaric, brutal organisation.
We have responded to requests and at this point I am not aware of any other requests for further personnel. We have people involved in the airstrikes which have been to date successful – this was the first part of the strategy to counter ISIL. We are no longer seeing ISIL forming columns or marching into cities and taking over territory as they were. Of course the second part of the strategy has to be to build up the resources and the capacity and capability of the Iraqi defence force and that is what we are doing.
JOURNALIST Does that actually mean there will be more troops, I mean ‘deeper co-operation’ seems to be a broad term?
JULIE BISHOP It is a broad statement and presumably the Prime Minister has had a wide ranging conversation with the Iraqi leadership but I’m not aware there has been any specific request for further personnel. Of course if there were such a request then the National Security Committee would consider it, in discussion with our defence force and the capabilities that we have.
At this point we have about 400 personnel involved in the airstrikes and they have been successful and likewise about 200 personnel involved in training and assisting the Iraqi defence forces so that they have the capability to defend their own people and take back the territory that has been claimed by ISIL.
JOURNALIST Does that include the Special Forces, has there been a request from Iraq in relation to our Special Forces?
JULIE BISHOP It includes the 200 personnel that were dispatched some time ago.
JOURNALIST Should the media have been left out of that trip?
JULIE BISHOP I understand it was a matter of security advice and of course the Prime Minister must abide by security advice that we receive from the experts.
JOURNALIST Security advice not to bring the media?
JULIE BISHOP I'm not aware of the detail. I’m not on the trip, I am in Western Australia but I understand from the Prime Minister's office that it was in response to security advice and of course the Prime Minister's office and the Prime Minister should adhere to that advice.
JOURNALIST Have the US approached Australia about increasing our commitment?
JULIE BISHOP I said I'm not aware of any request for an increased commitment. We have responded and our response appears to be bearing fruit. The missions of the air strike missions have been successful to the extent that we have seen ISIL disperse, they are not forming those columns, they are not marching into cities in the way they were, they are not claiming territory like they were in the past.
JOURNALIST Is WA getting a fair share of the GST?
JULIE BISHOP This is a question that requires considered debate. The GST is a State tax and as we all know, the GST cannot be changed unless there's an agreement by all States and Territories. So if the States and Territories are able to reach an agreement, well then there'd have to be political consensus federally. The Federal Government is holding a review. There is a White Paper on taxation reform and I expect that the GST would be part of that review, but as the Prime Minister said, we're not making any changes to the GST in this term of government.
JOURNALIST Have you made submissions to that review on behalf of Western Australia?
JULIE BISHOP I understand that the Western Australian Members and Senators are making submissions. But I’m a member of the Cabinet and while I can send on submissions as a local member if any are made to me, I would not be making a personal submission – as a member of the Cabinet and as Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party.
JOURNALIST Is that an invitation for people to go through with that?
JULIE BISHOP People are always sending me submissions that they want sent to Cabinet and I always pass them on to the relevant ministers.
JOURNALIST Have you spoken to your Egyptian counterpart about a possible prisoner swap regarding Peter Greste?
JULIE BISHOP We have spoken in the past and our discussions are ongoing.
JULIE BISHOP I spoke to him in December and we are continuing to maintain contact and our Ambassador Ralph King in Egypt is continuing to make representations at the highest level in the Egyptian Government.
JOURNALIST Is there any cause for optimism on the Greste issue or do we just really have to wait for the Egyptian court process to take its course?
JULIE BISHOP We are continuing to make representations at a political level, at a bureaucratic, administrative and diplomatic level. And I have been optimistic for some time, particularly since the President Al-Sisi has made a number of positive comments about a prisoner transfer agreement, about a potential for a plea of clemency and he has also indicated that had he been President at the time, the journalists would not have been detained.
So I think that there is cause for optimism, but we are still having to work through the legal proceedings and from the outset, the Egyptian Government has said we have to respect the legal processes – as would be the case if there were an Egyptian national facing controversial charges here in Australia.
JOURNALIST Is there an expectation on how long that Indonesian travel alert will stay in place?
JULIE BISHOP No I haven’t got any specific advice on that.
JOURNALIST Is there any specific reason why [inaudible]
JULIE BISHOP Obviously these matters are in response to advice from the security agencies.
JOURNALIST The US Government recently warned that the potential threat is against US associated hotels and banks in Surabaya. Is that what sparked Australia to issue its increased threat?
JULIE BISHOP Australia takes into account a whole range of sources of information and if it’s credible information then the security agencies act on it.
JOURNALIST Would you feel comfortable holidaying in Bali at the moment?
JULIE BISHOP Yes I would.
JOURNALIST What’s your message to people in Indonesia at the moment? Are there places they should be avoiding?
JULIE BISHOP This is all in the travel advice and I suggest that if people have any concerns then they should ring our hotline or get in touch with our consulate in Bali or in Indonesia, but the information is all there on the Smartraveller website. And I do encourage people to read that and take account of the detail there and likewise make sure that they take up travel insurance. If you can’t afford to travel to Bali with travel insurance then perhaps you should rethink your travel, so I do encourage people to keep abreast of changing events through the Smartraveller website and also to ensure they have travel insurance.
JOURNALIST How can medical professionals thinking of going to Sierra Leone feel secure when I gather that Pauline Caffrey was tested at least seven times when she was allowed to go to Edinburgh?
JULIE BISHOP Well this has always been a concern of ours. You might recall that we took some time to respond to the request that Australia set up a treatment facility in Sierra Leone at the request of the United Kingdom. We had to ensure that the Australian health professionals who would volunteer would be safe and we were criticised for taking the time to ensure that we had in place means of treatment for the health professionals including treatment outside Sierra Leone should that be necessary and once we got those guarantees in place, that we now have, then we were happy to provide the opportunity for Australian health workers to go to Sierra Leone.
JOURNALIST You have no queries about the British system that they used [inaudible]?
JULIE BISHOP We are obviously taking our own steps by contracting the work to Aspen Medical who are very experienced in this. We’ve worked with them before. We’ve worked with them in our region and they are responsible to ensure that all appropriate steps are taken to keep our people safe and that’s why the Australian Government was very careful to ensure we have guarantees in place so that our health professionals would be able to work there but know that there were treatment options in place should that be required.
JOURNALIST We’re often told in relation to Ebola that its fatal, it’s very difficult to recover from, there have been a few recoveries but how significant is the recovery of the 11-year-old?
JULIE BISHOP It is very significant in the sense that we are able to treat people early. A lot of this has to do with the failure of the health systems in the places where this has occurred and we’re able, through our treatment centres to provide the kind of support that wasn’t there previously. So it is a milestone that the first patient successfully treated in an Australian-managed treatment clinic has been discharged with a clean bill of health. It is a great moment and we hope that we’ll be able to achieve more of it.
JOURNALIST Were the other members of her family who dies from Ebola, were they treated at the same clinic?
JULIE BISHOP No, my understanding was they were not. I’ll have to check that and get back to you but my understanding was they were already deceased.
JOURNALIST Does she have surviving family?
JULIE BISHOP Yes, she does. Her father collected her from the clinic and her father has paid tribute to the Australian and New Zealand health professionals who were involved in her care.
JOURNALIST Do you know who were the other members of her family who passed away. Do you know the family make up?
JULIE BISHOP Details would be available from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and I can get them if you require but we don’t actually have a mission in Sierra Leone so we’re in the process of getting that information but I’m pleased to say that this 11-year-old girl has now been discharged into the care of her family with a clean bill of health.
JOURNALIST Just on the Prime Minister’s meeting in Baghdad again. Is it fair to say that the impression was put to the Iraqi Government that they have to continue to do the heavy lifting as it were?
JULIE BISHOP Well, the Prime Minister can speak about the detail of the conversation he had with the Prime Minister of Iraq. I mean I obviously wasn't present, but the Prime Minister has spoken about the meeting.
I was in Iraq earlier, last year, talking about the conditions that we would expect to be in place in order for Australia to support the operations in Iraq and that included an inclusive Iraqi Government. And from my observation the Iraqi Government was being inclusive, was involving people from all of the different factions and ethnic groups – the Shias and the Sunnis, Peshmergas, Kurds, and I think that augurs well for the kind of successful operation that we want to see in Iraq. And that is the Iraqi Government being able to provide the support for a well-equipped, well-resourced, well-trained Iraqi Defence Force so that it can defend the country, defend the nation and the Iraqi nationals from ISIL and those who are claiming territory and who are carrying out such brutal acts against the people of Iraq.
JOURNALIST To what extent would Australia be comfortable working alongside Iranian forces, against IS?
JULIE BISHOP Well, that's a hypothetical at this stage. We're part of a coalition of countries, about 50 countries in all have provided support in one form or another to Iraq and Syria, and Australia has made a significant contribution because Australia is involved in this to the extent that there are Australian citizens who are travelling to Iraq and Syria to take part in the fighting, on the side of the terrorist organisations. This is an offence under Australian law and we're doing what we can to prevent Australians going to Iraq and Syria and taking part in the conflict on the side of the terrorist organisations.
Not only are they putting their own lives at risk but they are adding to the misery and the suffering of the people of Iraq and Syria. I've cancelled about 80 passports, including three from Western Australia, of people that we understand would pose a national security risk and we'll continue to act to ensure that Australians are kept safe from this kind of security risk.
JOURNALIST The Prime Minister spoke about 2003 in Iraq being a period of chaos and confusion and they’ve been interpreted as being about US mismanagement of the aftermath of the invasion. Do you support those comments?
JULIE BISHOP I’m focussing on what is occurring in Iraq now. I believe that the Australian Government has made the right call in providing support to the Iraqi Government so that it can defeat, degrade, disrupt this terrorist organisation that has attracted Australians to fight for its cause. They are being utterly duped the Australians who are going over there at the behest of ISIL.
They are being utterly duped. They are not there for a noble cause. All they are doing is adding to the suffering and misery of the people of Iraq and Syria. So we have very good reason for supporting the Iraqi Government in seeking to defeat, degrade, disrupt ISIL in Iraq and Syria and to ensure that we can maintain security and safety for Australians back here.
JOURNALIST Can you provide any more detail about these three West Australians?
JULIE BISHOP No I’m not in a position to provide that kind of detail for confidentiality reasons but I can confirm that of the 80 passports that have been cancelled, three were from Western Australia.
JOURNALIST Would they be monitored?
JULIE BISHOP Of course. The people who are of interest to our intelligence and security and law enforcement agencies would continue to be monitored.
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