MICHAEL ROWLAND Joining us now from Canberra is Julie Bishop, the Foreign Minister.
Good morning to you.
JULIE BISHOP Good morning Michael.
MICHAEL ROWLAND Firstly, can I take you to this morning's breaking news – that is the death of former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, as you would know a towering figure in Singaporean politics but also politics in the region. What is his legacy?
JULIE BISHOP He was a giant of Singaporean political life and was responsible for so much of Singapore's development into the dynamic economy and society that it is today. He will be sorely missed and I certainly pass on my sympathies to his family including the Prime Minister. He made such a profound impact, not only on Singapore, but also our region. He truly was a global statesman.
MICHAEL ROWLAND You have come back from that trip to Vanuatu over the weekend, Julie Bishop, just how bad is it on the ground there?
JULIE BISHOP The impact of the cyclone is quite devastating, very widespread - buildings, roads, infrastructure, flattened. But the people of Vanuatu are getting on with the job of cleaning up and the long road to recovery.
I was delighted to see so many Australians on the ground working with the local people in rebuilding houses, putting schools back together. We had a medical team at Port Vila Hospital who since last Sunday have treated about 600 people. So Australia is making a considerable difference there but it will be a long-term recovery effort that will be required.
MICHAEL ROWLAND From what you were able to gather from officials on the ground there, was enough assistance, particularly food and water, getting to those outer islands in Vanuatu?
JULIE BISHOP There had been somewhat of a hold-up in getting food out to the outlying islands but Australia has come to the fore with HMAS Tobruk arriving today. We have also sent a number of Black Hawk helicopters to the outlying islands. We rescued some of the volunteers. I have never been so pleased to see a group of young Aussies who had been on some of these outlying islands as volunteers. But food and water are getting through to the people now. HMAS Tobruk will be able to travel to the various islands. We have landing gear so they will be able to get vehicles off the ship and on to the islands. But we have been carrying out reconnaissance flights over the islands and checking on people to ensure that they are safe.
MICHAEL ROWLAND What greater capacity does Australia have to ramp up its aid effort, its assistance effort if that is required in the weeks and months ahead?
JULIE BISHOP The United Nations is convening a meeting on Wednesday of all of the donor partners. Australia is the largest donor to Vanuatu but other countries – Great Britain, France, New Zealand, PNG and others are also offering assistance and are providing that assistance. So it will be a coordinated effort that is required.
MICHAEL ROWLAND You are announcing an initiative today, speaking broadly about foreign aid, of harnessing the strengths of the private sector to overhaul the delivery of Australia's foreign aid program. How will that work in practice?
JULIE BISHOP What I have done is brought in some of the best and brightest thinkers from across the world to be part of an International Advisory Group to help us come up with projects to attack some of the intractable aid challenges that face our region and get these bright, creative, innovative thinkers to come up with ideas on how we can do things differently and get better outcomes. So people like Michael Bloomberg, Bjorn Lomborg, Ryan Stokes, Sanjay Reddy, the Director-General of the PNG museum Andrew Moutu, a whole range of different thinkers from different countries and together we hope to be able to come up with solutions to some of the challenges that we've been facing for such a long time. We can't keep spending money and not get better outcomes.
MICHAEL ROWLAND Federal Parliament is putting its normal business to one side today to allow those condolence motions for the former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser. What in your view, Julie Bishop, was his legacy to the party and more importantly to Australia?
JULIE BISHOP He made an enormous contribution over many years to public policy - whether it was in education or defence or foreign policy or environmental policy. He always had a deep curiosity and a deep interest in ensuring that the best possible policies were available for Australia, and I think his contribution was quite extraordinary in a number of areas.
I hope to have an opportunity to speak about Malcolm Fraser today and pay tribute to him for he was always concerned about our national interest, putting Australia first, and that was the view he took right to the very end.
MICHAEL ROWLAND How would you describe his decision, which was opposed in the many quarters, in the late 70s to allow those Vietnamese refugees in Australia, they were fleeing their war-torn homeland.
JULIE BISHOP Over the weekend I spoke to a number of people who were refugees from Vietnam after the Vietnam War and they spoke so very fondly of both Malcolm Fraser and Andrew Peacock as being those who had enabled them to start their life in Australia. Indeed one was the Governor of South Australia, Governor Le who spoke so fondly of Malcolm Fraser's decision to allow them to stay. And I think our Vietnamese people have made such an incredible contribution to our economy. It is not easy to measure that kind of contribution but when you look back over the years the Australian Vietnamese community has made an enormous contribution to our economic and social life in this country.
MICHAEL ROWLAND I am going to end this interview with the video everyone around Australia is talking about, Julie Bishop, that is the Insiders Christopher Pyne 'Star Wars' parody. What do you think of it?
JULIE BISHOP Well, I saw it and found it very amusing. I am sure Christopher will be delighted with being portrayed as a character out of 'Star Wars'. May the force be with him!
MICHAEL ROWLAND May the force be with him indeed! Julie Bishop we will leave it there. Thank you very much.
JULIE BISHOP Thank you.
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