CHRIS KENNY I am joined in the studio now by the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Thanks for joining us again Foreign Minister. There is always so much to talk to you about, so I appreciate you joining us.
JULIE BISHOP My pleasure.
CHRIS KENNY May I start off with the battle against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – I want to come to Australia’s deployment in a moment – but first up I heard on Jonathan Spyer on this program on Friday night, he suggested that Islamic State is reasonably well contained but not enough is being done on the ground to eliminate it within its so-called caliphate. He has been in Syria and Iraq of late. Is that the case? Do you believe you have them contained but you actually need to liberate that area so to speak?
JULIE BISHOP The long-term goal of course is to ensure that national sovereign governments are in control of their own territory and can protect their own people. That’s why we are supporting the Iraqi Government try and take back the territory that has been claimed by Islamic State or Da’esh as it is called over there, and help build the capacity of the Iraqi Security Forces so that they can protect their own people.
In Syria it is far more complex because of course the Assad regime lost all legitimacy when it used chemical weapons against its own people and there are more players involved in Syria – Iraq, Iran, Hezbollah, Russia backing Assad – you have different minority groups and Al-Nusra as well as Islamic State in Syria. But we are making progress with the airstrikes. The airstrikes in Iraq have contained the march of Islamic State into other territories. You remember how they used to form columns and go out with their black flags and vehicles so that’s been contained…
CHRIS KENNY Contained in Ramadi, only 60 or 70 kilometres from Baghdad.
JULIE BISHOP That’s true but 12 months ago there was a real fear that Baghdad might fall and that’s when I went to Iraq and met with the Government and signed up that status of forces agreement – well it is technically not – but an agreement as to Australia’s engagement in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi Government. So the airstrikes are having an impact.
In Syria, the United States has now asked Australia to consider joining the Coalition. A number of countries in the region are part of those airstrikes – the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and now Turkey last night took part for the first time in US airstrikes to target ISIL or Da’esh. So the airstrikes will continue but of course the challenge is to ensure that the security forces on the ground of Iraq and the moderate Syrian forces in Syria can take back that territory and protect the people.
CHRIS KENNY Yet to formally make the decision about whether or not Australian aircrafts can cross the border into Syria. Now of course the United States wanted Australia to do that from the start – they wanted our missions to be able to disregard the border, fly into Syria as well – what’s changing? We decided then that the legal technicalities made it not worth us committing to that or restricting our actions to Iraqi airspace, what’s changed that we want to re-examine this?
JULIE BISHOP It is effectively one theatre of war, one conflict, because Da’esh began in Iraq, moved into Syria and is now back in Iraq, and that border area between Syria and Iraq is essentially ungoverned space. Neither the Assad regime nor the Abadi Government…
CHRIS KENNY But that was always the case.
JULIE BISHOP Hang on Chris, but there was a large coalition of countries committing to support the United States and there have been a number of countries carrying out airstrikes in Iraq – Australia supported that because we were asked by the Iraqi Government so it was clear-cut.
In the case of Syria it is more complex. The legal situation is different. The United States is relying on the principle of collective self-defence, Turkey is relying individual and collective self-defence. We have now been asked to focus on Syria. We are considering that. We will take our own legal advice and consult with Coalition partners and other stakeholders in this and make a decision on this.
CHRIS KENNY Of course it is more complex in a legal sense because there’s a sovereign government who is not going to invite you in to help them defend their territory in Syria. This is where the United Nations Security Council could be useful, but your old friend Russia of course will stymie any action to get United Nations cover for more serious operations.
JULIE BISHOP That’s right and the difficulty with Syria is that the Assad regime will seek to benefit from any attacks on ISIL or Islamic State/Da’esh. But any attacks by the Coalition should not be seen as support for Assad. I mean his regime has been horrendous in its behaviour, its conduct against its own people.
But what we are seeking to do is contain and defeat Da’esh so that its tentacles can’t spread further and of course we have 120 or more Australians who are fighting with Da’esh and we are concerned that as hardened terrorists they might make their way back to Australia and seek to carry out a terrorist act here.
CHRIS KENNY I presume you’d like to see more action in Iraq and Syria by the Europeans, both the EU and European nations doing more to deal with this threat. Do you think they might start to do more given the people smuggling crisis that is rising to unspeakable levels in Europe now which is driven in part of course by what’s happening in Syria as well as in Libya. Doesn’t this show that the Europeans need to do more about resolving situations in the source countries?
JULIE BISHOP I think that the crisis that is unfolding in Europe will focus their attention – this humanitarian crisis is unprecedented. The UNHCR estimates that around 40 per cent of those currently seeking asylum in Europe are coming from Syria and there are a significant number also coming from Libya and also up through the horn of Africa – Nigeria, Somalia, Mali as well as Afghanistan. So the conflict in North Africa and the Middle East is having a huge impact on Europe.
And while there are European nations already involved in the Coalition undertaking airstrikes – Netherlands, Poland, Belgium, a number of countries are supporting the US – this will really focus their minds on trying to prevent the flow of asylum seekers and some are economic asylum seekers, others are fleeing persecution, war, conflict. It will focus their attention on trying to resolve the situation at its source and that will include military and political solutions in both Syria and Iraq.
CHRIS KENNY And when will Australia formally make the decision on whether or not to approve these operations in Syria – possibly we read based out of Turkey, which is a turnaround for the history books, Australian forces operating out of Turkey.
JULIE BISHOP There is no specific timeframe. The US have asked us to consider this and they are continuing their airstrikes. The Canadians, the Brits, the Jordanians, they are all involved. We will take our own legal advice, we will consult with Coalition partners and then we will make a decision.
CHRIS KENNY Now there have been some horrible political claims suggesting that the whole question of going into Syria was raised as an attempt at having a khaki by-election in Canning. This is patently nonsense because the conversation between Tony Abbott and Barack Obama about this predates the untimely death of Don Randall.
JULIE BISHOP It occurred weeks ago. In fact, the issue of Syria and being one theatre of war with Iraq has been around for months. We were discussing this with the United States very early on. As you said, the United States has always seen this as one theatre of war. They believe that the legal principle of collective self-defence of Iraq and its people justifies their airstrikes over Syria. So this is an issue that has been on the agenda for a long time.
CHRIS KENNY I raise this as a segue into those major issues of state and international crisis into the grubby domestic politics. Because that kind of ridiculous conspiracy theory is being pushed not just by people on Twitter but by Ray Martin on Channel Ten I noticed last week, who has been appointed by the ABC to look at ABC-bias on Q&A. It just shows that the level of debate in this country is reaching the lowest levels imaginable.
JULIE BISHOP That is an utterly false assumption and just looking at the timeline shows there is nothing in it. And to suggest that we are trying to contrive this outcome in the Canning by-election is offensive and ridiculous. Of course, the Canning by-election has come about as a result of the untimely death of my friend and colleague Don Randall.
It has nothing to do with our commitment to the Iraqi Government and the notion of collective self-defence of Iraq. We’ve been in Iraq for some time now – coming up to 12 months or more – so it was just a ridiculous suggestion and really doesn’t reflect well on Ray Martin.
CHRIS KENNY Well it doesn’t. But look at those other excerpts I showed at the start of the program in relation to this Border Force story in Melbourne. You have Andrew Wilkie invoking Stalin who was responsible for millions of death and the East German regime. You’ve got Tony Windsor suggesting that your Government wants to provoke a terrorist act on our shores. How do you deal with this – not just these swipes – but the fact that they are run, particularly on the ABC, unquestioned? How are you going to fight back against this sort of hysteria?
JULIE BISHOP There is nothing like relevance deprivation syndrome is there? And in the case of Mr Wilkie and Mr Windsor, they obviously have an acute case of it. But to draw some sort of parallel between arbitrary, totalitarian regimes and the Australian Government is complete and utter nonsense. It makes them look ridiculous but it is also preposterous. For sensible – seemingly sensible – elected representatives to try and draw analogies between Hitler’s Germany, Pinochet’s regime, Stalin’s Russia and a misguided press release, it is just outrageous.
CHRIS KENNY Let’s just clarify. Obviously it was a poorly worded press release, but you are a lawyer, are our law enforcement officers – whether they are customs, border force, police or whatever – are they able to randomly pull people on the streets and demand their identification and the likes? My understanding, that is now within our rule of law?
JULIE BISHOP Absolutely not, and that was never the intention and certainly is not government policy. It was never going to happen, and anybody with an ounce of sense could see that there was a mistake in the wording of the press release. The Border Force made it quite clear that it was a very poorly worded press release and people could have taken it the wrong way. But we came out and said clearly this was not the intention, this was not going to happen and anyone who knew anything about law enforcement in this country knew it wouldn’t be policy.
CHRIS KENNY Yet Bill Shorten talks about a ‘Police State’ – a quasi ‘Police State’.
JULIE BISHOP Well that is outrageous language. A ‘Police State’ – meaning a totalitarian regime – is just nonsense. But I think the Australian voters are smart enough to see this kind of overgrown hyperbole is just ridiculous in these circumstances.
CHRIS KENNY I want to ask you about Bill Shorten because he of course is also attacking the trade union royal commission. He has joined with the ACTU – the Labor party really trying to get Dyson Heydon to stand aside – he will announce that decision tomorrow. Can you tell us that whatever Dyson Heydon decides to do that the royal commission will continue? Because otherwise we are seeing it shut down by the very people who it has made revelations about.
JULIE BISHOP Bill Shorten has very selective outrage. He is outraged about poorly worded press release but he is not outraged about the systemic corruption in the union movement. And those who are leading the charge against Dyson Heydon and that includes Bill Shorten, have one motivation and that is to stop the investigation into corrupt union officials and behaviour that was ripping off honest union workers.
They are trying to protect these union officials from further investigation. Already about 26 officials have been referred for further investigation and prosecution. And so for those who are trying to close down this royal commission, all they are trying to do is protect corruption and behaviour that was working against the interests of honest union members.
CHRIS KENNY So will they fail no matter what Dyson Heydon decides? The royal commission will continue somehow?
JULIE BISHOP This Royal Commission must continue on behalf of those honest union members who have been ripped off by corrupt union bosses, who put their own personal interests ahead of the people they are meant to be representing.
CHRIS KENNY Two matters I want to clear up before I let you go. One is Canning, you have been on the ground campaigning with Andrew Hastie. What is your assessment of how he has recovered from that initial smear against him and what are the issues that it is going to be fought on – local or is it very much a referendum on the Abbott Government?
JULIE BISHOP He is an outstanding Australian. He will bring rare insights and qualities for the role of a Member for Canning. I believe that he is one of the most outstanding candidates I’ve seen on either side of politics for a very, very long time - a serving officer in the SAS, he brings those leadership qualities.
CHRIS KENNY So there is no chance he will lose if he’s such a great candidate and you have an 11 per cent margin, the Government can be in no fear of losing the seat.
JULIE BISHOP I have every confidence that the people of Canning will want a person of his temperament and his character to represent them, and that is what it is all about. This is a by-election, there will always be challenges for the incumbent Government during a by-election, but this has come about because of the untimely death of Don Randall and the people of Canning get to choose who they want to represent them in Canberra. And I don’t believe they can find anybody more outstanding, more committed to their interests than Andrew Hastie.
CHRIS KENNY Well speaking about politicians and ambition and how much they can deliver, I also want to ask you in the context of possible reshuffles, a lot of talk there could be a reshuffle in the Government’s frontbench later in the year. You of course when you were first Deputy Liberal Leader in Opposition had the Shadow Treasury portfolio, a lot of political drama around that, and Joe Hockey took the job you went into Foreign Affairs. It hasn’t really worked out for Joe Hockey and he seemed very much like the weak link in the Government, don’t we need one of the Government’s best campaigners, best advocates in that crucial treasury portfolio?
JULIE BISHOP We have to remember that Joe Hockey as Treasurer inherited the worse set of national accounts of any government in living memory. Yet only six years earlier the Labor Government under Kevin Rudd had inherited the very best set of financial accounts. So Joe has had to deal with not only the debt and deficit that was brought about by six years of Labor incompetence and mismanagement of our national finances, but is also dealing with an irresponsible Labor group of Senators…
CHRIS KENNY We know it is a tough job, but the point is most observers in the country think that Malcolm Turnbull or Scott Morrison or even yourself could do a better job than Joe Hockey.
JULIE BISHOP Well rather than criticise Joe I would call on Labor to work with him, accept responsibility for the legacy they left - the worse debt and deficit that we have ever seen in Australia’s history - and work with him to find the solutions.
They are being irresponsible in the Senate, they are blocking even their own savings that they put up. They are blocking the establishment of the ABCC – which is a productivity measure bringing back lawful practices in our workplaces, our building sites – and yet Labor is blocking it. So Joe has a very tough gig but I am sure he is up for it.
CHRIS KENNY There you go, we have spent the best part of 15 minutes with you. You are a former board member of the West Coast Eagles, of course, as a big Crows man I haven’t even mentioned football today, thanks very much for your time.
JULIE BISHOP It’s not today, but well done the Crows, but it is the Grand Final that counts.
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