MICHAEL BRISSENDEN A short time ago I spoke to the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

Julie Bishop, welcome to the program.

JULIE BISHOP Thank you Michael.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Last week it was from the Prime Minister if you want to stop the deaths you have to stop the boats. Now we are talking about lifting our intake. Was the Prime Minister too slow in recalibrating his response to the Syrian crisis?

JULIE BISHOP The Prime Minister wanted to ensure that Australia’s response was part of an international effort and that is why we sent our Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to Paris and Geneva to meet with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Guterres, as he has done overnight, and then today he is meeting with other officials from the UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration. We work in partnership with these two organisations and so we will be part of an international response to this unfolding crisis.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN You are shifting on this though because previously, a couple of days ago it was, we will accept more Syrians but we won’t increase our overall intake. Is there a suggestion now that you are going to increase the intake?

JULIE BISHOP We are going to take advice from Peter Dutton as to the outcome of his discussions. Now that he is in Geneva, well he is in Paris on his way to Geneva, he is discussing this with those on the ground, I am making contact with my counterpart foreign ministers not only in Europe, but also in the Gulf countries and Persian Gulf, surrounding countries Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey who are bearing the brunt of those leaving Syria. We will be in a position to make a considered judgment on this and we are also focussing on taking a permanent resettlement of people not just safe haven, although that is an option. Some people are fleeing Syria but are looking to return when the conflict is over or when it is safe for them to do so. Many of those in camps are looking to return. So in the case of Australia it might be an option to do some Kosovo-style model where we take people temporarily until such time as the conflict is over and they return, but otherwise we would be looking at permanent humanitarian refugee resettlement.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN The situation is quite different isn’t it?

JULIE BISHOP Very different.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN In the Kosovo situation it was pretty clear that within a short period of time those people would have a safe haven, back at home, to return to. It is not really clear now how long this is going to take.

JULIE BISHOP In the case of Kosovo it was a matter of years. In the case of Syria the conflict is so complex. There is a process underway to obtain some kind of political solution, the Geneva Communique of 2012, which Australia supports, which is about putting in place a transnational government post-Assad but this has not made as much progress as we’d like. The conflict has become even more complicated by the rise of these terrorist organisations who are attacking civilians and attacking the Assad regime. So it is a multi-layered conflict here and it will require a military as well as a political solution.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Now, Labor has called for an increase of 10,000 – the Greens are saying 20,000, clearly there is a Cabinet process to go over this and you will make a decision about that but do you accept that if you lift the Syrian intake but you don’t lift the overall intake than we are going to be denying safe haven to a lot of other people?

JULIE BISHOP Well that is precisely why Peter Dutton is in Paris and Geneva at present to discuss the international response, to ensure that Australia is part of it and we will be having more discussions about this within our leadership group, within the National Security Committee and also in Cabinet because we have to ensure that we have facilities in place for permanent resettlement. They need health care and education services, accommodation. Australia does resettlement very well but that is because we plan it and we ensure that we have the services available to resettle people. Temporary safe haven is a different option but it is something I believe we should consider.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Sure, but only a few months ago we saw a similar migration crisis unfolding in our own region with Bangladesh and Rohingya migrants all at sea. A terrible humanitarian crisis and the answer at that point was “nope, nope, nope”. What is the difference?

JULIE BISHOP This is a humanitarian crisis of an unprecedented scale. There are displaced people leaving countries all over the world all of the time. What we did was dismantle the people smuggling trade so that the people coming to Australia were not the choice of the people smugglers. We took back control of our borders so that the Australian Government makes the decision as to who we will resettle here and that has been a very important change in our approach to it. We now have the flexibility to take more people through our refugee, humanitarian process. We have more capacity to take people in other visa categories. So the Government must have control of the immigration system and not sub-contract it out to people smugglers.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Some are already arguing that we should give priority to Syrian Christians and I note that you are talking about focussing to a certain degree on persecuted minorities. Presumably that is mostly Syrian Christians?

JULIE BISHOP I think that Christian minorities are being persecuted in Syria and even if the conflict were over they would still be persecuted and so I believe there will be a focus on ensuring we can get access to those persecuted ethic and religious minorities who will have no home to return to even when the conflict is over. So that includes Maronites, it includes Yazidis, there are Druze, there are a whole range of ethnic and religious minorities that make up the populations in both Syria and Iraq and we will be focussing our attention particularly on the families who are in the refugee camps along the borders of Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Okay, also on Syria. We are expecting an announcement on whether we are going to extend our mission there and start bombing in Syria – is that inevitable?

JULIE BISHOP We believe that we need to end this conflict in Syria. That is why so many people are leaving Syria. There is a massive conflict – a civil war – going on inside the country.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN But isn’t there an inconsistency there that we are…?

JULIE BISHOP No, not at all.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN …dropping bombs on them and giving them refuge?

JULIE BISHOP No, no we are not dropping bombs on civilians. We are targeting the terrorist organisations; its military bases, its supply lines and this is the organisation that is carrying out horrific attacks against civilian populations and so if we are able to defeat the terrorist organisation, that stops the terrorist organisation attacking civilians. So we have to go to the root cause of the conflict. There is a political solution with the Assad regime, a military solution with the terrorist organisation.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN So that is the mission is it? It is an attack on IS only?

JULIE BISHOP Absolutely. That is all we have been asked to do and that is all we would consider.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN What is the exit strategy? When is the mission over?

JULIE BISHOP When the terrorist organisation is prevented from carrying out attacks on the civilian populations in Syria and Iraq. And I note that Great Britain took part in airstrikes last night, the Canadians are taking part and Australians will give due consideration to the request because we are part of the air strikes over Iraq.

I am informed that we are making progress, that we have dismantled a number of the terrorist strongholds in Iraq and we will try and do that in succeeding efforts over the next few weeks but also we have been asked to look at air strikes over Syria targeting ISIL or Da’esh military bases from where they are launching attacks on Iraqi civilians.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Okay, just quickly, of course, as we all know this week marks two years of the Abbott Government – your Government. Polls have been consistent now for many, many months that you are behind the Opposition and you are stuck there, yet the Prime Minister yesterday said he has a plan and he is going to stick with it. It doesn’t seem to be working, does it?

JULIE BISHOP His plan is to grow the Australian economy, to provide more job opportunities to the Australian people, to ensure that Australia is an attractive destination for foreign investment so that we can build some of these massive mining and resource projects…

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN If you stick with this plan and the polls don’t shift then there is not much future for the Government is there?

JULIE BISHOP Well governments have to make hard decisions and we are doing what we can to build the Australian economy to be as resilient as possible, economic security and national security are our main priorities. That is why we are so keen to conclude the China Free Trade Agreement because that is undoubtedly the source of more Australian jobs and greater growth in our economy. This is the contrast, Labor is opposing a Free Trade Agreement, opposing more Australian jobs – we are for the Australian worker, for more jobs.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN And you are confident you can turn those polls around?

JULIE BISHOP Well we will certainly be doing everything we can to win the trust and confidence of the Australian people in the lead up to the election.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Julie Bishop, thank you for joining us.

JULIE BISHOP Thank you.

Media enquiries

  • Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555