JULIE BISHOP I am here in New York attending my third United Nations General Assembly Leader’s Week on behalf of Australia. Already I have attended a number of significant forums and meetings. I have met with the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. We had a very wide-ranging discussion, particularly focussing on MH17 and he assured me that he continued to support our efforts to bring the perpetrators of that terrible tragedy to justice and he agreed to continue to support our efforts in that regard.
I have also met with Helen Clark, the head of the United Nations Development Program and we discussed a range of development issues in our region, and, again focusing particularly on innovation and the innovative approach that Australia is taking to our aid program.
I have met with a number of my counterpart Foreign Ministers including Afghan Foreign Minister Rabbani and I have also met with President el-Sisi and Foreign Minister Shoukry of Egypt, and spoke specifically about Peter Greste’s situation. I have just met with Peter Greste and passed on the news that Egypt is favourably considering a pardon for Peter Greste, which will be a relief for Peter and his family.
I have also attended a meeting on the wanton destruction of antiquities and cultural heritage in Syria and Iraq and made a contribution to that, and my itinerary is very full and I’ll be very busy representing Australia over the next few days.
I have also just attended the Pope’s address to the General Assembly and was present for the endorsement of the Sustainable Development Goals Agenda 2030, which Australia supports.
JOURNALIST What did you think of the Pope’s remarks?
JULIE BISHOP The Pope is the fourth Pope to address the General Assembly so it was an historic occasion. He made a number of wide-ranging comments, particularly focussing on the global economic order, and had some very interesting things to say about that. My response would be that the difference that we have seen in recent years, to levels of poverty, globally, have come about because of economic growth. China is an example of where hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty because of economic growth, but otherwise I thought it was a very interesting speech.
JOURNALIST Did he inspire you at all, with his words on climate change, to consider increasing Australia’s emissions reductions targets?
JULIE BISHOP I believe Australia is already doing its part. We have had a number of discussions since I’ve been here with other countries and also with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon about Australia’s contribution. What we’re looking for is a global agreement on climate change and on emissions reduction. Australia has put forward credible, responsible, achievable targets and we look forward to other countries doing the same.
JOURNALIST Will you be able to get a chance to speak with Mr Putin about MH17 on Monday?
JULIE BISHOP I will look for an opportunity to speak to Russia, whether it’s President Putin or the Ambassador or the Foreign Minister, because we do have a meeting of the Joint Investigation Team; that is Australia, the Netherlands, Belgium, Ukraine and Malaysia and we are looking at the options available to us to set up a tribunal to bring the perpetrators of that crime to justice. Of course Russia as one of the members of the Security Council and the only member that vetoed our last attempt, is obviously a very important voice in this issue. I’ve not given up on the Security Council as a means by which we can get international support for an international tribunal once the reports into the incident are finalised
JOURNALIST Will you be shirt-fronting Mr Putin or will you be taking a more tactful approach?
JULIE BISHOP I think my terminology is button-holing.
JOURNALIST Will you be - could you just outline for us the current position or the change in position of the Australian Government on Syria and Assad’s involvement in any pathway forwards with Syria, whether or not that is linked to Russia’s increase in support of the Assad regime?
JULIE BISHOP The point we are making is that there must be a political solution in Syria. The Geneva process that was first instigated in 2011 through 2012, and has not made progress in recent times and so a discussion about the political solution must be reinvigorated. The reality is President Assad is still in Syria. The reality is Russia is backing President Assad. We must find a creative way of trying to bring some kind of peace and security and unity to Syria so Australia’s view is that all options should be considered.
JOURNALIST Will you be discussing that with your American counterparts on Monday or over the coming days?
JULIE BISHOP It’s a matter that I’ve been discussing with our American counterparts for some time.
JOURNALIST Does Russia’s involvement in Syria and the concentration of Russian forces in Syria and the influence that the Kremlin has over the Assad regime, does that make it more likely that we’ll see - does Russia’s involvement make it more likely that we’ll see a political solution to Assad?
JULIE BISHOP One can only hope that Russia’s involvement will be a positive contribution and I use as an example the P5 + 1 negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. Russia’s involvement has been said to be very positive by all of those negotiating that agreement. So if we use that as an example of Russia’s preparedness to be a part of the solution rather than part of the problem, then we can have some optimism that Russia’s involvement is positive. I would not like to think that Russia’s involvement was purely for its own self-interest.
JOURNALIST What would be the consequences for the Western coalition fighting Islamic states if the Assad regime were to collapse?
JULIE BISHOP The fear that a number of countries have is that if the Assad regime were either removed or collapsed, it would create a vacuum and one might find that it was filled by an even more diabolical presence than the Assad regime. I don’t for a moment shy away from the comments that we have made in the past about the illegitimacy of the regime because President Assad unleashed chemical weapons on his own people and the death and destruction in Syria is appalling on unprecedented levels. The humanitarian crisis is creating an issue throughout the Middle East and Europe, the likes of which we have not seen before. Australia is playing its part. So the Assad regime has been diabolically bad for Syria. However we’re dealing with reality and the fact is we need a political solution because a military solution will not be the only answer.
JOURNALIST Did Helen Clark raise with you her bid for the United Nations Secretary-General position and has anyone else had conversations with you about that this week?
JULIE BISHOP I have been contacted by a number of people about the Secretary General’s position. I won’t go into details of private conversations I’ve had with people, but it is a matter of some interest because Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s term comes to a close, and so obviously there are a number of people who are interested in the position or interested in the outcome and there is a view that it’s Eastern Europe’s turn for the Secretary-Generalship but we’ll see and when people declare their hand then Australia a will take position on it.
JOURNALIST Is Kevin Rudd someone who’s raised it with you?
JULIE BISHOP These are matters that I’m obviously not going to go into detail, of private conversations, but a number of people have raised a number of names and I think it will be a very interesting process if the number of people who are touted to be interested actually put up their hands. It would be quite a contest.
JOURNALIST Would we support Kevin Rudd’s candidacy for the UN? Would that be in Australia’s interest?
JULIE BISHOP Of course if Kevin Rudd were to put his hand up, Australia would give it serious consideration. After all he is a former Prime Minister of our country. but we would need to see those names of the people who are likely to stand for that position. That would be the sensible thing to do, to ascertain whether there were candidates that had universal support, or whether there was going to be a significant contest, but of course Kevin Rudd is a former PM of Australia.
JOURNALIST Can you elaborate any more on your conversations with the Egyptian delegation about Peter Greste? Is it clear to you whether he has or has not been pardoned already in that list that came out last week?
JULIE BISHOP I do not believe he has been pardoned; Foreign Minister Shoukry informed me that there was a technical or legal hurdle because he was not present in Egypt for the trial and that causes some technical problem. However, he made it clear that they would either change the law or the President would consider being able to use his power as President to achieve the same result but the conversation was in the presence of President el-Sisi.
JOURNALIST Did he give you a timeframe on how long that might take?
JULIE BISHOP No he did not. He did not, but I certainly reiterated our deep concern and interest in the matter and informed him that I would be speaking to Peter Greste shortly after our meeting.
JOURNALIST Have you passed this on to Peter?
JULIE BISHOP Yes I have.
JOURNALIST Can you tell us anything about his response?
JULIE BISHOP He was very pleased about the optimism that I showed that we should be able to get that result.
JOURNALIST Can you tell us about dinner last night? On weightier matters!
JULIE BISHOP Much weightier matters! Well as it happens in June at the Canberra Press Gallery Midwinter Ball, one of the prizes that was auctioned for charity was a dinner for two in New York at Nobu restaurant with Hugh Jackman and Deborra-lee Furness and it coincided with UN General Assembly Leader’s Week, so I was available to be there and I can assure you that the bidders of that auction prize had the most delightful evening and Hugh and Deborra-lee were wonderful company.
JOURNALIST There were other guests, weren’t there?
JULIE BISHOP If I have to name drop, I won’t be forgiven, I won’t be forgiven so you’ll have to press me on this one.
JOURNALIST Robert De Niro, Jamie Packer…?
JULIE BISHOP Mr De Niro was present because he provided the restaurant, Nobu and he provided the evening as his donation to charity and I thanked him and his wife, Grace very much for the generosity because of course, the proceeds of the auction went to charity, including the Maslin Foundation. I spoke about the fact that some of the proceeds from the auction went to charities including the Maslin Foundation set up after MH17.
JOURNALIST Is it true that James Packer and Mariah Carey dropped by?
JULIE BISHOP Yes, they were guests at the dinner last night.
JOURNALIST What does a group like that discuss?
JULIE BISHOP It was a very, very entertaining evening and we discussed everything from world affairs to Mariah Carey’s latest hits to her concert in Israel recently. Hugh and Deborra-lee are great friends of New York and they had many stories to tell and it was a most enjoyable evening. I’m so sorry that none of you could be there.
JOURNALIST Finally Minister Bishop, on domestic issues, Tony Abbott’s given interviews to News Limited Papers about his departure. Do you think a week after saying he wouldn’t try and do anything to unseat the government, that was a wise move?
JULIE BISHOP I’m not going to pass judgement on matters that Tony Abbott undertakes, that’s a matter for Tony, I’m focusing on the very positive agenda that Prime Minster Turnbull has laid out for the country. During my time here already a number of leaders and ministers have expressed their desire to work closely with Prime Minister Turnbull, and so I’m looking forward to the positive agenda that we are undertaking at present and I don’t intend to go into matters involving the leadership change. Thank you.
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