JOURNALIST We will leave that because the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is speaking in Canberra.
JULIE BISHOP Our Immigration Minister is in Paris meeting the UNHCR to discuss what Australia can do to play our part in this unmitigated disaster that is unfolding in Syria. Australia has taken a lead over the past two years in relation to the UN Security Council and authoring and leading debate on resolutions to call for ceasefires, to call for greater access for humanitarian aid into Syria and so we will continue to play our part. We have already provided about $156 million in humanitarian aid to Syria and I'm also giving consideration to what more we can do in that regard.
JOURNALIST [Inaudible question]?
JULIE BISHOP When will that happen? When he has spoken to all the people he believes he needs to. I believe he is going on to Geneva and will also be speaking to other agencies including Red Cross so he will be in a position to provide the Prime Minister with some advice after he has met with all relevant authorities.
I'm also speaking to counterpart Foreign Ministers, not only our partners, but the Foreign Ministers of countries in the region - Persian Gulf countries, other countries in the Middle East, as well as European countries who are involved in the international response.
JOURNALIST Would you like to see the planned increase in the refugee intake fast tracked?
JULIE BISHOP It is being fast tracked. We are obviously looking at making an announcement this week on what we can do, so that is fast tracked. There are a number of options. Some people will be only looking for a temporary safe haven. When the conflict is over or when it is safe for them to return, they will wish to go home. Others, such as the persecuted minorities in Syria, will be looking for permanent resettlement. Australia will consider what we can do in relation to both those categories.
We are focusing on particularly families, women and children who have been in the camps along the Syrian border in Lebanon, Jordan and now in Turkey and also the persecuted minorities because there are a number of ethnic and religious minorities in both Syria and Iraq who claim persecution and even if the conflict were over they don't believe they have a home to return to, so we will be looking at those particular groups.
JOURNALIST To be clear, is there room for one-off increase to Australia's annual intake?
JULIE BISHOP These are matters that we will discuss with Minister Dutton. Cabinet will deliberate on this. There is a Cabinet process and then we will make an announcement.
JOURNALIST Do you think Australia has been slow to respond?
JULIE BISHOP No I don't think Australia has been slow to respond at all. We were authoring and leading the debate in the UN Security Council back in 2013. In 2014 I was involved in resolutions calling for more humanitarian support to Syria, in February of 2014, in July of 2014, again in December of 2014. Under the previous Government and under this Government we have provided about $156 million in humanitarian support. Not only do we pledge it, but we pay it. I call on all countries who have pledged humanitarian support to actually pay the money.
We are also considering what we can do to resolve the conflict. Australia has been part of the discussions on what's called the Geneva Communique, to find a political solution to the Assad regime, but also we are prepared to be part of the military solution, that is carrying out air strikes in Iraq to defeat this terrorist organisation ISIL or Da’esh that is operating both in Iraq and Syria and carrying out appalling attacks on civilians in both countries.
JOURNALIST Is it a fait accompli that Australia will start bombing IS targets in Syria?
JULIE BISHOP This is a matter to be discussed by our National Security Committee, and of course Cabinet, so there are processes that we will undertake. We are also seeking legal advice, our military advisers will have much to say on this matter so it's a process that we will go through to come to the right conclusion.
It is without doubt one of the most horrendous conflicts we have seen. A terrorist organisation that is focused on brutal violent acts against civilian populations and we must defeat this terrorist organisation to ensure that some form of peace and stability can return to Syria and Iraq.
JOURNALIST Ewen Jones wants Australia to consider taking up to 50,000 Syrian refugees. Do you think a figure like that is unrealistic?
JULIE BISHOP Anybody can come up with any figure they wish but the fact is we need to resettle people permanently in the case of the persecuted minorities. That means ensuring there is the accommodation, the services, whether it be in health or education or otherwise, available for them.
Australia does permanent resettlement exceedingly well under our Humanitarian and Refugee Resettlement Program. We have one of the highest per capita intakes in the world but we have to ensure the services are available for them and these are some of the issues we are working through now.
JOURNALIST Are you surprised by Australians' reactions to this and the vigils that were held last night?
JULIE BISHOP No I'm not surprised by it at all. The images on our television screens are horrendous. I have been in Lebanon and Jordan, I have been in Iraq, I have spoken to people who are suffering under the regime of the Assad Government. There are others who are suffering and fear the consequences of the rise of this terrorist organisation. It's a very complex, diabolical situation in both Syria and Iraq.
JOURNALIST Do you agree with assessments that the Assad regime has only a few months left in it [inaudible]?
JULIE BISHOP We are certainly part of the support for what is called the Geneva Communique, the Geneva Process, which is to find a political solution to the Assad regime. I'm of the view the Assad regime lost all legitimacy when it used chemical weapons against its own citizens. The removal of the Assad regime is something the European countries have been talking about for some time but there needs to be a transition. We certainly support that process.
JOURNALIST [Inaudible] is there any timeframe?
JULIE BISHOP We will make a decision when we have all the appropriate and necessary advice but the Prime Minister is seized of this matter. We have sent our Immigration Minister to Geneva. European countries have been discussing this matter for some time, they are in Europe, they have been meeting. We have sent our Immigration Minister now to Geneva, to Paris, to speak with the authorities, to speak with the experts on the extent of the problem and what Australia can do to assist. Australia always steps up to the mark when it comes to humanitarian assistance and we will certainly do so in this case.
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