KIERAN GILBERT Our top story this half hour is that Australia reportedly set to send more troops to Iraq. With me this morning is Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Minister, thanks so much for your time. Is this story accurate and will Australia be contributing to a joint training mission with New Zealand?
JULIE BISHOP Kieran we are looking at this very closely, it is under review by our National Security Committee but I won’t pre-empt any announcement. We have had our presence in Iraq under constant review. You will recall that we sent in about 200 Special Forces to advise and assist the Iraqi Defence Force so it could build its capacity to take on Daesh, the terrorist organisation, so that it could take back territory and protect the Iraqi people. So the composition of our presence there is under constant review by our Defence Force and also in discussion with the Iraqi Government, so if there is an announcement to be made the Prime Minister will do that.
KIERAN GILBERT John Key announced yesterday 143 New Zealanders, the Prime Minister is heading to Auckland this week of course and it follows a visit by Phillip Hammond the British Foreign Secretary in which he told the New Zealand Herald, only in the last few days that Australia was looking at a training mission that would need another 400, but if we do the numbers 400 for a training mission, the Kiwi’s contributing 140, are we going to be contributing an additional 200?
JULIE BISHOP But we’ve already got 200 Special Forces there, the question is the composition of our forces in Iraq and that’s a matter that’s under review by the National Security Committee.
KIERAN GILBERT So no decision finalised, but it sounds like it’s imminent?
JULIE BISHOP Well, as I said, we have had our presence in Iraq under constant review to ensure that we are achieving the best outcomes and I welcome the announcement by the New Zealand Prime Minister that New Zealand will also take part in this Coalition of assisting the Iraqi Defence Forces build their capacity and their capability. The Coalition is now quite extensive, the air strikes have been taking place and have been effective, Australia is taking part in those air strikes and in the training mission we have had 200 Special Forces there for some time. Now if that training mission was to evolve into something with more troops, such as the New Zealanders then that’s obviously something that the Prime Minister would announce.
KIERAN GILBERT Has Mr Key pre-empted the announcement here?
JULIE BISHOP No, not at all. Mr Key is talking about what New Zealand is proposing to contribute to the Coalition. Australia is already there, we already have a presence of about 200 Special Forces so the question of whether we will do something New Zealand is a matter for the Prime Minister to announce.
KIERAN GILBERT The Iraqi PM has said that plunging oil prices have affected their ability to pay their own soldiers. How does that fit into all of this if we’re training them but they’re not equipped? Will we look at monetary aid, at funding?
JULIE BISHOP The United States is by far the biggest contributor to the effort in Iraq and I know that this is a matter that the United States has been looking at. But our role has been very specific – at the invitation and request of the Iraqi Government we sent in 200 Special Forces to assist in training, advising, assisting plus our air force contingent that is taking part in the air strikes.
KIERAN GILBERT There is the story from the weekend I know that the Prime Minister has said was fanciful, this was John Lyons story in The Australian newspaper, the chief of the defence force and others, the defence secretary Dennis Richardson have said they’ve had no discussion with the Prime Minister on such an idea of unilaterally sending 3000 plus troops, ground troops, have you ever had that discussion with the Prime Minister, was that ever raised with you?
JULIE BISHOP No I haven’t and I certainly at any meeting or at any dinner when that was discussed.
KIERAN GILBERT Ok, let’s move on to the Bali 9. We’re seeing the last ditch efforts legally to try and have Joko Widodo relent but he’s not showing any sign of that, he says it’s their sovereign right to implement their law.
JULIE BISHOP We respect Indonesia’s sovereignty, we respect their legal system. What we’re asking is that President Widodo show mercy to these two young Australian citizens who have been rehabilitated. He is a generous and forgiving man and we appeal to his sense of forgiveness to grant an indefinite stay of execution to these two young Australians.
They are making a valuable contribution to the Indonesian prison system, in fact their rehabilitation is a remarkable story. Over the last 10 years they’ve gone from drug offenders, convicted traffickers, to now making a seriously valuable contribution to Indonesian prison life and helping to rehabilitate other Indonesian prisoners and I hope that will be taken into account. We won’t give up hope, we will continue to make representations at every level of the Indonesian Government. I understand that there is still another legal avenue for the lawyers to pursue and that they’re doing that.
KIERAN GILBERT Is this a sign of a President that’s fairly weak at the moment in terms of his political situation, he’s got off to a very rocky start and doesn’t have any leeway to grant clemency as possibly SBY might have been able to at the end of his Presidency.
JULIE BISHOP I’m not going to give a running commentary on Indonesian domestic politics. My focus is on ensuring that we can get the best possible outcome for these two young men and we believe that their lives should be spared, that they should be given a second chance. They did commit very grave and serious crimes and I don’t understate the gravity of them at all but after 10 years and this extraordinary rehabilitation I believe they should be granted a stay of execution and that’s the plea I make to the Indonesian people to the Indonesian President.
KIERAN GILBERT There’s an online campaign, or has been one to hand back money in the wake of the Prime Minister’s statement last week regarding Australia’s aid. This has become now a front page news story, the broader issue of the executions. Did those comments backfire inadvertently?
JULIE BISHOP It was the way they were reported in the Indonesian media and that’s why I contacted Vice President Kalla and informed him that it was certainly not the Prime Minister’s intention to link them in a way that would cause this kind of outcome. What the Prime Minister was seeking to do was underscore our close friendship that we are with each other in times of need, that Australia and Indonesia are close friends, we’re neighbours, we cooperate on a whole range of areas and that we will continue to be close friends.
But we do ask that the President, President Widodo to show mercy, to show forgiveness to these two Australian citizens who will spend the rest of their lives in jail in Indonesia, but they are making a contribution to the Indonesian prison system and in fact, the story of their rehabilitation is something of which Indonesia can be proud.
KIERAN GILBERT Minister a few other issues I want to touch on before I let you go, the Gillian Triggs issue, the Opposition has referred this matter to the Federal Police. Has the Attorney-General got a case to answer here in terms of a possible inducement offered to President Triggs to resign as President of the Human Rights Commission?
JULIE BISHOP I’m advised that no such inducement was offered to her. Not by the Attorney-General, not by the Secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department.
KIERAN GILBERT Can you understand why some Coalition MPs think the Government should not “shoot the messenger” in Gillian Triggs, and rather promote your successful policy?
JULIE BISHOP Well we most certainly have been succeeding in taking children out of detention. Our concern was with the actions of the Human Rights Commission in determining that it was too political to have an inquiry into the fact that up to 2000 children under the previous Labor Government had been put in detention. It was considered too political to make an inquiry into it at that time, yet when we have reduced the number down to below 200, which is still too many, but we’ve had enormous success in getting children out of detention, suddenly it’s not too political to have an inquiry into children in detention.
So we’re concerned about the priorities and the direction that the Human Rights Commission has been heading and I think it’s appropriate that the Government should question this.
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