ALAN JONES Many of the people out there say, well there is the Foreign Minister, but who is Julie Bishop? Let me just say to you by way of what we ought to know about her, and I’ve said before, I said it earlier on, I’m happy to be able to say in front of her and to her, Australians feel a great sense of pride that they are represented on the international stage by a woman of such presentational class and capacity, Julie Bishop.
She is of course, the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party. In my view that ought to mean she is the Deputy Prime Minister but she’s not, that goes to the minor party the Nationals.
She is a graduate in law from Adelaide University. A lot of people aren’t aware of all of this. She became a partner at an Adelaide law firm at the age of 26. She went to Perth and worked as a lawyer at Clayton Utz, specialising in commercial litigation, and was selected in 1994 as the Managing Partner of the Perth office of Clayton Utz which had 27 partners at the time and about 200 employees.
She won the seat of Curtin at the general election in 1998. She was named by Harpers Bazaar as their Woman of the Year last year, receiving praise in the article from people like Gina Rhinehart, the Australian Attorney-General George Brandis, who described Julie Bishop as “the complete political product. Someone who has mastered her portfolio, who has proven she can be among the best”.
But it is not only in Australia that she has been acknowledged. Last year in September, Julie Bishop, our Foreign Minister, was awarded a rare honour from the Dutch Government for her work in procuring access to the Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 crash site. She was presented a Dutch order of merit medal by her Dutch counterpart Franz Timmermans during a meeting on the sidelines of a NATO Summit meeting in Wales last September. It was only the eleventh time the order had been granted and Julie Bishop is only the third woman to receive it. It’s what the Dutch Foreign Minister Franz Timmermans said that matters. He said that “Julie Bishop did a marvellous job this summer. She helped the Netherlands, she helped Europe, she helped me personally to tackle one of the most difficult situations the Netherlands has ever faced”. He said that together the pair, Timmermans and Julie Bishop, through the UN Security Council, convinced the world “that we should be allowed to repatriate the victims and their belongings”. He said without Julie Bishop’s “brilliant interventions” the countries would not have succeeded.
Well I suppose Julie Bishop as I know her would say ‘enough of all of this backscratching’. We welcome here and thank you for being on the program but you come to us at some very difficult times, don’t you?
JULIE BISHOP Good evening Alan. Good evening Graham. Thank you for that very kind introduction. You are two very gallant gentlemen and I’m delighted to be on your program.
ALAN JONES Difficult times though aren’t they?
JULIE BISHOP Yes Alan they are. I’ve just come from a National Security Committee meeting where we had a briefing via teleconference from our Immigration Minister Peter Dutton who has been in Paris, meeting with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr Guterres. He is now in Geneva, meeting with other UN officials and Red Cross, the International Organisation of Migration, as we determine what Australia can do to be part of an international response to this appalling humanitarian crisis that is unfolding in Syria.
Of course, this civil war has been going on in earnest since about 2011 and Australia has responded appropriately over time but now it has reached a situation where literally millions and millions of people are displaced in Syria, millions are crossing the borders into Lebanon and Jordan and Turkey. There are millions in Iraq so it is on unprecedented humanitarian scale. Australia will play its part of what has to be an international response because it is beyond the capacity of any one country, or any one region to deal with this issue. So we’ve had a very serious discussion tonight and I believe the Prime Minister will take the proposal to Cabinet tomorrow, will speak to our Party Room and then make a public announcement about Australia’s response.
ALAN JONES And what are the options?
JULIE BISHOP Alan, obviously what we need to do is establish peace and stability in Syria, to take away the reason for people fleeing from the Assad regime or from the terrorist organisations that have taken hold of territory inside Syria and are committing atrocious acts against civilian populations. But that is the ultimate aim. In the meantime we have to deal with the immediacy of these millions of people leaving Syria and looking for refuge in bordering nations and further beyond into Europe.
Australia can assist the countries that are bearing the burden of the displaced people, the refugees, mainly Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. We can support them because they have people in camps, people in their communities. We can take permanent resettlement numbers into Australia. We can look at temporary safe haven visas. So these are a range of options we are looking at. I won’t pre-empt the Cabinet discussion, nor should I, nor the Party Room discussion tomorrow, but I can assure you that Australia will respond in a considered and measured way to ensure that we play our part in this international response.
GRAHAM RICHARDSON Julie I think you heard the discussion that Alan and I had in the first 20 minutes of the show and there is a concern, and there has to be I think, that this current crisis isn’t going to have any easy ending because there are millions more who want to get to Europe. And of course once Germany hung out a sign that said ‘come’ then I’m sure that a lot of people saw the sign and they are already coming. And so I just have a feeling that whatever you decide to do – whether it’s 5000, or 10,000 or 20,000 or 100,000, it doesn’t matter. You are going to have to make another decision next year and the year after that because these people will keep on coming. There are millions of displaced people looking for a home.
JULIE BISHOP Well Graham there are millions of displaced people around the world. The Middle East is not the only location of conflict. There are millions of displaced people in Africa, through the Horn of Africa, up into Libya, Somalia, South Sudan. There are people on the move throughout the world. What Australia must do is respond to a particular crisis in Syria and we will do that. We have been assisting for some time now but it has to be an international response. The European Union are looking at taking mandated numbers. There are 28 countries in the EU. There are countries in the Middle East, in the Persian Gulf, the Gulf Cooperation Council countries. There are countries that traditionally take refugees under humanitarian programs, the United States, Canada and Australia but this is not an issue that one country can solve.
We will play our part but there must be a political solution in Syria.There must be a military solution to the rise of these barbaric terrorist organisations and there must be a security solution for the longer term. But we are talking about in Syria - a Sunni/Shia conflict; we are talking about the rise of these barbaric terrorist organisations and ISIL or Da’esh is not the only one; there is also al Nusra that is also an Al Qaeda offshoot, there is also the Khorosan Group, so within Syria there are a number of players; the Kurds are also involved; there are persecuted minorities; there is the Sunni/Shia conflict because of course you have a Shia minority governing a Sunni majority. Whereas in Iraq you have a Sunni minority being governed by a Shia majority. So this is an age old issue and we can only play our part as best we can.
GRAHAM RICHARDSON Julie when it comes to Syria on the ground, the difficulty is there aren’t any good guys. Who do you back?
JULIE BISHOP Well we will be considering also a request from the United States to take part in Coalition air strikes over Syrian territory but targeting the ISIL/Da’esh military bases and supply lines. This is not to assist the Assad regime. This is to get rid of a terrorist organisation that is beheading civilians, persecuting Christians and carrying out atrocious terrorist acts. They are operating between Syria and Iraq terrorising not only civilians in Syria, but also in Iraq.
We are already part of the air strikes against Da’esh in Iraq and there is a logical argument that we should also support the air strikes over Syria. But this is not to support the Assad regime, that has to be the subject of a separate process. It’s called the Geneva Communique at present and that is calling for a transitional government, a unity government in Syria post-Assad, but first things first. We have to deal with the humanitarian crisis. We are considering taking part in the air strikes.
You will have noted that overnight the United Kingdom carried out some drone strikes in Syria, the Canadians are also involved in Syria and we are considering whether Australia should become involved by extending our operations beyond Iraq into Syria.
ALAN JONES Minister you mentioned you had come from a meeting of the National Security Committee and I know until this refugee crisis emerged in the last 48 hours, of the dimension that we now see, there was to be a report from Kevin Andrews as to whether or not, or how you respond to the American request to increase the presence of RAAF hornets in Iraq and whether in fact that would take you across the border into Syria. There was some talk as to whether or not that would be illegal because the border now has been obliterated now by ISIS. When will you be able to tell Australia what the response to the Obama request is because there is the other issue isn’t there that these strategic experts say that we may not be able to succeed in the air unless we can actually put more bodies on the ground and there is no will for that it seems amongst the international Coalition?
JULIE BISHOP We’ve been asked to consider a request by the United States and the Coalition partners to extend our air strikes from, not only the Iraqi air space, but over Syria. Now the United States have relied upon what is called the principle of ‘collective self-defence’ in other words the Iraqi Government has requested the support of the United States and other partners to protect them from ISIL or Da’esh. And because the attacks against Iraq are coming from ISIL held territory in Syria, under the principle of collective self-defence the United States can attack ISIL, their bases, their supply lines in Syria because it is an attack on the people of Iraq. So the principle of collective self-defence would apply.
Turkey is also involved in these air strikes into Syria. They are using the principle of individual self-defence because they see ISIL attacking Turkey directly. So it is a complex legal situation. We are seeking, and have received, our own legal advice on the issue but the United States legal position was set out in a letter they sent to the UN Security Council last year. It is the same principle that Britain relied upon, just a night ago, to carry out drone attacks into Syria.
ALAN JONES What about the argument, the strategic argument that with all of that can you succeed because after all the refugee problem is the symptom, it’s not the disease, the disease is what you said in your opening remarks - the problems and the lack of safety for citizens in Syria. Can you succeed in the air without people on the ground?
JULIE BISHOP We take the advice of our military experts and we have been working in Iraq to build the capacity of the Iraqi Security Forces so that they can go out and protect the Iraqi people and take back territory that has been claimed by the terrorists. In the case of Syria the Assad regime has an army, a depleted army, that is fighting ISIL as well because ISIL has taken their territory. [inaudible] so there is another conflict going on between the Assad regime and ISIL.
What we must do is focus on taking out the military bases, the supply lines, the logistics that are supporting ISIL so that they can’t launch these attacks into Iraq. I don’t envisage Australia being asked to put troops on the ground in Syria. That would be a completely different scenario.
What we are doing in Iraq is working with the Iraqi Government, at the invitation of, and with the consent of the Iraqi Government to build the capacity of their forces. Russia and Iran are working with Assad in relation to building the capacity of his forces against ISIL. The common enemy is the terrorist organisation. This creates a multi-layered, complex, diabolical situation but Australia will play its part. Whether we join the air strikes into Syria will be a matter for further consideration and discussion in Cabinet.
GRAHAM RICHARDSON Julie it is hard to imagine that the nation that you and I are now talking about, Syria, ever being Syria again. I don’t see how that will happen. I mean it has got to break up, presumably Assad hangs on to a slither, but you talked about the Geneva Communique. Isn’t this sort of stuff just a bit of a sick joke - a unity government in Syria? I mean who the hell would be in it?
JULIE BISHOP The Alawite minority which is a Shia offshoot is governing a Sunni majority. That was always going to be a fragile situation. You also have the Kurds who are seeking territory and now these terrorist groups have filled the vacuum that has been left by the Assad regime. And the Assad regime? They are not angels. I mean back in 2011 they were attacking their own people. You recall all the reports about the use of chemical weapons against the Sunni majority and the action that was taken in the UN Security Council at that time to call on the Assad regime to cease attacking their own people. I think the Assad regime lost all legitimacy at that time but in the meantime we saw what was Al Qaeda in Iraq move into Syria, then declare itself to be Islamic State and claim a caliphate – territory - over Syria and Iraq. So it is a multi-layered and very complex situation. We can only deal with the requests that have been made to us and currently we are looking at the humanitarian crisis and the question of whether we will join air strikes into Syria.
ALAN JONES I got in a taxi the other day in Sydney and it was a Syrian taxi driver. Now he has been here for 27 years but he’s got family in Damascus and so I asked him this question about Assad because there was the chemical weapons and so on and he said well, there is two prongs to our support for this man. One, he is the only bloke supporting the Christians and secondly, he is totally opposed to the people you’re opposed to, namely Da’esh or ISIS or ISIL and so on. Aren’t there some elephants in the room here? See we had the Spring Offensive didn’t we and we demonised Mubarak and we demonised Gaddafi and we got rid of them. Well this is now the mess we’ve got in place. Is Assad, for all his previous convictions, nonetheless on the same sheet of music as you in fighting this terrible mob that was seeking to rebuild the boundaries of Europe?
JULIE BISHOP Well first there are persecuted minorities within Syria and they do include the Christians. I’m not saying Assad is persecuting them but they are being persecuted by other groups within Syria. So Christians are fleeing but there are also Kurds and Assyrians and in Iraq you’ve got Mandeans and Yazidis, Maronites, a whole range of ethnic and religious minorities that are being persecuted by various groups in both Syria and Iraq and they are fleeing and they literally have nowhere to go home.
Now a number of Syrians, if peace were able to be achieved, they would go back home. A number of people want to remain in the region so that they can go home when it is safe to do so but there are many in the persecuted minority who will have no home to return to. In the case of Assad, clearly if there were to be a vacuum in Damascus that would be disastrous because it would provide an opportunity for the terrorist organisations to fill the vacuum. So that’s why there has to be a very staged approach to the political transition. You cannot leave a vacuum. It will be filled by an even more diabolical grouping as we’ve seen in other places in the past so this has to be a very measured approach by the Coalition. It has got to be a very measured approach by Australia and that is what we’ve been discussing over the last few hours in the National Security Committee.
GRAHAM RICHARDSON Following on from what Alan says, Julie I understand the diplomatic words about the approach you’ve got to take but when the crunch comes the only person on the ground fighting Islamic State is Assad and so don’t we have to come to some arrangement with him?
JULIE BISHOP And the Kurds.
GRAHAM RICHARDSON And the Kurds, but the Kurds don’t want to take over the whole of Syria they are trying to hang on to what they’ve got and especially in Iraq they basically have a chunk of Iraq and they just want to keep it and they are the only ones successful in fighting the Islamic State. But I mean seriously it is such a big effort that is going to be required to beat them, you need the Kurds, but don’t you need Assad? Don’t you actually need him to actually keep fighting?
JULIE BISHOP Well you have the Russians and the Iranians supporting the Assad regime and that is what is occurring at present. Now, this is why the UN Security Council will be so vexed by these issues, Russia and Iran backing the Assad regime, the Coalition backing the Iraqi Government in Iraq but Iran also supporting the Iraqi Government, so it’s very complicated.
We will respond to the request made of us and I believe in the case of Assad he will remain for some time. I can’t predict how long but if the reports are true that Russia is providing support then let’s hope that the attacks are directed against the terrorist organisations because one thing of which I’m sure is we must defeat this terrorist organisation, unprecedented in its level of brutality and violence. These beheadings and crucifixions, their use of social media to not only terrorise but to recruit people, the fact that we have Australian citizens travelling to Syria and Iraq to support this terrorist organisation brings this conflict back home here to Australia which is why we must act to defeat this terrorist organisation.
ALAN JONES Well done, just coming back to home and then to the [inaudible] which is the issue you are addressing tonight obviously in that meeting that you’ve just come from, namely about refugees. The people watching you tonight would say I think, as they’ve said to me today on air overwhelmingly, the first obligation of government really is to the security of its own people. They are worried about the kind of people that come in in the people smuggler movement which you’ve managed to terminate. How can you guarantee, if you do increase the refugee intake from 13,750, if you do increase it, how can you guarantee to the people that you’re talking to here that we are not importing more trouble?
JULIE BISHOP Because Alan we will be in charge of the process. What happened under the previous government is they essentially subcontracted out our immigration program to the people smugglers. The people smugglers determined who they would take money from and who they would put on boats and send to Australia and if they didn’t drown on the way and they made it to Australia well then we had no choice in that. Having stopped the boats, having dismantled the people smuggling trade we are now in a position to determine the people who will come to Australia. So if we were to take a number of refugees, a number of displaced people, we are able to work with the UNHCR, with the International Organisation of Migration and choose the people that we will take. We partner with them, we provide them funding and then we say we will focus on women and children and families of the persecuted minorities for example. Australia can say that, we can determine who will come, and that is the difference. When you are in control of your borders, when you are not subjected to the people smuggling trade, you make the decisions, you put the integrity into the system.
GRAHAM RICHARDSON Julie, we’ll have to leave it there. That was actually, I’ve got to say I wish I didn’t talk to you as often because when the crunch comes you’re enough to make me vote Liberal. I’ve got to think seriously about ever interviewing you again.
JULIE BISHOP Okay Graham, challenge accepted!
ALAN JONES Just one final thing, when do you believe Cabinet and the Prime Minister and you will be in a position to tell the Australian people what the response is to a. the American request to put more planes in the air over Syria, not over Iraq and b. the response to the “refugee issue”?
JULIE BISHOP Alan, we don’t want to delay on the humanitarian issue. I believe that the decision will be imminent. Likewise with the request to extend air strikes into Syria, a decision will be imminent. We will let the Australian people know as soon as possible.
GRAHAM RICHARDSON Julie Bishop, thank you very much. I hope to see you soon.
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