ANDREW O’KEEFE Joining us now to talk about the Paris terror attacks and how it impacts us and the wider world is Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.
Good morning Minister, and thank you so much for joining us. First of all, for many of our viewers, I guess they will wonder why an attack like this, which has such global dimensions, doesn't change the terror alert level here in Australia. Can you talk us through that?
JULIE BISHOP Good morning, Andrew. I'm on my way to Manila for the APEC Conference, but I have had an opportunity to speak this morning with the Prime Minister, our Ambassador in Paris, our Ministerial colleagues on the National Security Committee and security and law enforcement heads of our agencies. It has been agreed that the threat alert in Australia remains at high. It has been at high since September of last year and it is under constant review. That means that the evidence we have is that there is not an imminent attack - that's why the threat is at high. Whereas in Paris, of course, the threat is extreme, because not only was an attack imminent, but attacks were under way.
In fact, the situation in Paris remains exceedingly tense. Ambassador Stephen Brady was describing a situation as we spoke on the phone where about 100 police had arrived at a hotel just three doors from the Australian Embassy on Rue Jean Ray and they had stormed that hotel and interrogated people. Clearly there was a security operation but I understand it has now been resolved.
So the situation in Paris is still extremely intense and security operations are still underway, thus a different threat level or alert level to that in Australia. But we are, of course, focused very much on keeping the Australian people safe, reviewing the situation constantly and ensuring that we are working in cooperation with all state and territory law enforcement agencies.
MONIQUE WRIGHT With that in mind Minister, what is your advice to Australians who are about to travel to France, who may be in Paris at the moment? I understand there are about 2,500 Australians registered in Paris at the moment.
JULIE BISHOP There are 2,500 Australians registered, but we believe there would be many more Australians in Paris and France than that. We do ask anyone in Paris to contact their families and loved ones so that people can confirm that they are okay. Likewise, if families could contact anyone that they know that they believe is in Paris then we can get a better picture of who is in Paris and who might be needing help, but what we do know is that a number of Australians are there - one has been injured. I spoke to Emma Parkinson in the early hours of this morning. She had just come out of surgery and she is going to recover from the gunshot wound that she suffered.
So the situation is tense. We are asking Australians to re-think the need to travel to Paris, to contact their airlines, to contact their travel agency, but the departmental website, smartraveller.gov.au recommends people reconsider their need to travel to Paris because there is a state of emergency, an ongoing security situation. There are border controls and obviously, as I said, things are very tense there.
ANDREW O’KEEFE Just on Paris itself Minister, of course we have the Climate Change Conference coming up. What are your thoughts around that? Do you think that will proceed unaffected - well, it can't be unaffected, but will it proceed apace?
JULIE BISHOP I understand, from the French Ambassador to Australia, that the Paris talks will proceed and, of course, Australia will attend, subject to security advice. But we can't allow these terrorist attacks to disrupt our way of life. That would give them the win that they are seeking. I mean, these attacks, whether they are in Paris or elsewhere, are an abhorrent affront to civilised people, and that's why we must continue our efforts to confront ISIL, Da’esh, terrorist organisations that carry out these atrocities and these horrendous attacks against innocent people.
MONIQUE WRIGHT Minister, we are hearing some details this morning that potentially two of the gunmen travelled from Syria through Greece as part of this huge influx of refugees. Australia is accepting a number of refugees here, over 10,000. Will that affect our intake?
JULIE BISHOP Australia, of course, screens all people who come to this country and those who have been selected as refugees from Syria will be screened and will be carefully considered. You will recall, this was last August, when we offered to take 12,000 refugees from Syria and we said we would be selecting those from ethnic or religious minorities who were being persecuted in Syria. But our screening processes are very tight and we will continue to do that in relation to that group of refugees or any other people coming to Australia.
ANDREW O’KEEFE Minister, in their statement of responsibility for the attacks, ISIS spoke of the ‘War against Islam in the lands of the caliphate’. This morning our Prime Minister very clearly linked the events in Paris yesterday to the continuing saga of the Syrian and Iraq war and spoke about the need to find a political solution to the war in Syria. What hope do you think there is of finding a political solution, of finding a transitional government around which there can be some consensus?
JULIE BISHOP Clearly the military option alone will not defeat an ideology or a terrorist organisation that has claimed a caliphate over parts of Syria and Iraq, and while the military operations continue - and Australia is playing its part in supporting the Iraqi Security Forces, taking part in air strikes over Syria and Iraq - significant attempts are being made to achieve a ceasefire and a political settlement in Syria. Indeed, there was a meeting of about 20 countries on the 14th of November in Vienna, including the United States, Russia, Iran, countries from the Middle East, and I understand that progress was made and there is now a time frame, talk of UN-monitored elections, a ceasefire, a transitional government, and this is the kind of breakthrough that we've been hoping for.
So these talks are continuing, led by the United States, and other Security Council nations, including Russia, China, but also Middle Eastern countries and the will to obtain a political solution is very strong. I'm in constant contact with my counterparts overseas to ensure that we explore every avenue, to ensure that there can be some kind of peace, stability and transitional government in Syria.
MONIQUE WRIGHT Minister, if we dig deeper into that IS statement, it says, ‘Let France and all nations following its path know that they will continue to be at the top of the target list for the Islamic State and that the scent of death will not leave their nostrils as long as they partake in this crusader campaign’, that campaign Andrew mentioned. What is your message to Australians this morning who’ve watched all these events unfold over the last 24 hours and are fearful of a similar attack here?
JULIE BISHOP We have about 130 Australian citizens who are fighting with this terrorist organisation in Syria and Iraq and we have a similar number of Australians who are supporting this terrorist organisation in Australia. Therefore, we must be vigilant to ensure that there is no attack on our shores, that we have in place the right legislative framework, the right security framework, the support and resources for our intelligence and law enforcement and security agencies, so that we can ensure that an attack doesn't occur here. But that's why we have to confront ISIL and Da’esh at its source in Syria and Iraq, so that we can prevent Australian foreign terrorist fighters taking part in the conflict, starve them of fighters and funds and ensure that our people are safe at home.
ANDREW O’KEEFE Minister, you know, ISIS does seem to be this hydra-headed beast. Every time you cut off one part of it, you know, you inspire another part to spring up somewhere else. Even assuming that we can find a political solution to the government’s problems in Syria and even assuming that you can, in the short-term, wipe out ISIS forces in Syria and Iraq, which is a big ask in itself, it would then require a very long-term commitment on our part to the area, to ensure that a different style of government arises and that ISIS doesn't pop up again?
JULIE BISHOP Well, of course we need strong governments in both Syria and Iraq so that they can control their own borders, so that they can protect their own people, and that hasn't been happening. In Syria, the Assad regime has been attacking its own people, unleashing chemical weapons against its own people. So we have to bring political stability to Syria, so that the government can then protect the Syrian people against these terrorist organisations.
Likewise, in Iraq, we have to support the elected government to ensure that it is strong enough to protect its people and maintain its borders against these terrorist organisations. That's what we are seeking to do, but the work of terrorists has been ongoing for many years now, and we must continue to maintain our fight against terrorism, and stand for our values of freedom and democracy and choice and a safe and secure environment for our people and that's what we are standing up and fighting for in Iraq and over the skies of Syria.
There is a coalition of countries around the world, there are about 90 countries that say they have foreign terrorist fighters in their midst, so this has to be a global effort to stamp out terrorism wherever we see it, wherever we find it.
MONIQUE WRIGHT Minister, we are speaking to terror experts this morning who say we underestimated ISIS. Do you feel like world leaders underestimated ISIS?
JULIE BISHOP I don't believe we've ever underestimated terrorism because we have responded in every way we know how. We've boosted our intelligence and security forces resources, we have changed the laws to deal with the ever-changing situation. We have focused on national security and I believe it has been an appropriate level of response and we've also sought to support the US-led coalition and send our Defence personnel thousands of miles away from home to support nations that are trying to fight this terrorist scourge at its source. And we will continue to do that.
I don't believe we've underestimated it at all and when you see the horrendous attacks in Paris, Beirut and elsewhere, we know that this is a very long fight. President Hollande called it a war and he is right. There has been an abhorrence of a situation in Paris – it is just shocking - and we must continue to confront this terrorist organisation, to ensure that innocent people can safely go about their lives.
ANDREW O’KEEFE Minister, it is very easy for a group like ISIS, or affiliated groups, to paint this as a sort of an ‘end of times’ war between Islam and the values of the West, which is, you know, one of the reasons they've been so successful in recruiting people outside of Syria and Iraq. What are the Saudis, the Iranians, the Jordanians doing to counter that narrative, to say that this is not a war of religions, this is about fanatical crackpots, essentially?
JULIE BISHOP Well, this is indiscriminate, cold-blooded murder and they don't care whether they are Muslim, Christian, whatever religion - they are just indiscriminately killing people. In Paris, recently, there are obviously people of different religions, different faiths, different ethnicities and different racial backgrounds but they were all shot indiscriminately by these terrorists. So it's not a religious war in the sense that it's Muslims against Christians. These are cold-blooded murderers.
ANDREW O’KEEFE Yes, we understand that and we totally agree with that, but what are Muslim countries, the Muslim power players in the region, doing to propagate that message? That it is not about religion?
JULIE BISHOP A number of them are part of the US-led coalition, so they actually have military resources fighting this ISIL, Da’esh terrorist organisation. A number of them were present at the Vienna talks on the 14th of November, trying to find a solution, and not just a military solution, but trying to find a political path to peace, and so they are engaged heavily. The UAE, the Saudi Arabians were there, Jordan was there, so they are working with the United States and other Coalition members to try and resolve this horrendous situation.
MONIQUE WRIGHT In the face of all this horror and all this tragedy Minister we are seeing some beautiful pictures come out of Paris and right across Europe of candlelit vigils being held outside embassies, we saw it in Sydney as well. It must give you some heart when you are dealing with such tragic events?
JULIE BISHOP Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of France, with people around the world, who have suffered so horribly in terrorist attacks. We stand in solidarity with the people of France and we support their efforts to find out what happened, and to ensure that this does not happen again. The perpetrators, it appears, have blown themselves up, but there would be others who were involved in the organisation of these horrific crimes and they must be brought to account.
ANDREW O’KEEFE Minister, before you go, as well, there does seem to be a little bit of fracturing in amongst the Europeans in how they are going to deal with the refugee crisis, as it is ongoing there. You know, the Poles and Hungarians have very strongly stated this morning that they are going to take no part in the EU quota system. Where does that leave a country like France and countries like Germany, where there are still masses of refugees coming?
JULIE BISHOP Well clearly France is focused on its immediate security concerns but this, of course, does raise the much broader issue of border controls and how people are able to traverse Europe and go from one country to another. It focuses our minds on the humanitarian crisis, as a result of the conflict in Syria and the terrorist attacks in both Syria and Iraq. So this is a situation that has many aspects to it. It is exceedingly complex, but it does require a very firm response by each European country. And I have no doubt that national security committees and cabinets of these nations throughout Europe will be meeting to discuss their response and what is appropriate for their country.
MONIQUE WRIGHT Foreign Minister Julie Bishop from Perth there. Thank you so much for joining us this morning. We very much appreciate your time.
JULIE BISHOP Thank you.
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