KIERAN GILBERT The Prime Minister will be holding his first formal talks with Barak Obama. They are in Manila this evening. What will he want to hear from the President? What does Australia, our Government, want to hear from the US in the wake of the atrocity in Paris?
JULIE BISHOP Good morning Kieran.
Clearly there will be a focus on the response of the US-led Coalition to these horrific attacks in Paris, particularly the fact that there are warnings that there will be repeat attacks. Australia must do all we can at home to ensure we can foil any attempted attacks in our country, that we can keep our people safe, but a focus of the talks will be in relation to the Coalition and the work that we are doing in Syria and Iraq.
You will be aware that overnight President Obama and President Putin held very significant talks and hopefully about forming a single coalition in Syria and Iraq to take on, defeat and deter, the activities of ISIL, Da’esh. And so we will obviously be discussing the detail of the US/Russia strategy to destroy this terrorist organisation and prevent it launching attacks both in Syria and Iraq, but also elsewhere.
KIERAN GILBERT The US President overnight has ruled out ‘boots on the ground’, large numbers of ‘boots on the ground’ to take on IS in Syria and Iraq. Is that premature in the wake of this recent attack, in fact not just this one but the one on the Russian airliner in Beirut and Ankara as well, is it time now for the US-led Coalition to consider boots on the ground, whether it be special forces or whatever else to boost the anti-IS forces there?
JULIE BISHOP Well it is not just air strikes, it is also targeting the Da’esh leadership and if we are able to destroy the infrastructure and the leadership structure then we go a long way to destroying its capability to launch attacks. We will be keen to hear from President Obama a strategy that they are devising with Russia, and other nations. Iran is also involved, there is a significant coalition of nations providing resources and support to defeat Da’esh. Australia is currently the second largest contributor to the US-led Coalition, after the United States. We have about 780 defence personnel deployed to the Middle East, six of our F/A 18 aircraft and support planes are there. So the strategic discussions on how to defeat Da’esh are obviously the centre of our discussions with President Obama but at this stage I note that the President says that they are not putting boots on the ground in Syria. I can understand that. If we are able to achieve a massive disruption of Da’esh’s activities through air strikes and targeting the leadership then that should be our first priority. But a military option is not the only option on the table, we also have to pursue a political solution in Syria and that will also be the subject of discussions with President Obama.
KIERAN GILBERT Just as President Obama says that, the former Prime Minister Tony Abbott this morning has written in the Australian newspaper that Australia should consider sending our special forces to support the local forces in Iraq and Syria, similar to the 2001 campaign where the northern alliance took on the Taliban in Afghanistan. What do you say to the former Prime Minister’s intervention on that?
JULIE BISHOP As Tony Abbott well knows Australia does not act unilaterally. We have to have a legal basis under international law to send our forces into other countries for their own protection but as well because Australia plays by the rules and we are not going to expose our soldiers to international consequences should we be acting unilaterally.
We are part of the US-led Coalition. It has got to be a coordinated effort. We collaborate, we exchange information, we are part of the overall planning of how to defeat this terrorist organisation. Australia will continue to play its part, as we always have, and we always will, but at this stage the request for Australia has been to send trainers to ensure that the local troops on the ground in Iraq have the capacity and capability to fight this terrorist organisation, and to take part in very important air strikes to disrupt the activities of Da’esh, their supply lines, to prevent their momentum of launching attacks from Syria into Iraq and elsewhere. So we are doing all we have been asked for and, of course, should there be any other request, we would of course consider it, as we have always done.
KIERAN GILBERT What do you make of the analysis from some respected military and security thinkers like Peter Jennings from the Strategic Policy Institute who says that the only way we might see a rethink of the US position when it comes to boots on the ground if is there is a similar sort of attack, heaven forbid, in a US city?
JULIE BISHOP We obviously are part of a huge international effort to disrupt and defeat this terrorist organisation. Around the world countries are reviewing their security arrangements, they are reviewing their own legislative frameworks and there is an enormous intelligence and security operation worldwide at present. As President Hollande said to a special joint sitting of the French Parliament, “France is at war”. The State of Emergency has been extended by three months and as he said, terrorism will not defeat the Republic, the Republic will defeat terrorism, and that’s an attitude that has been adopted by world leaders.
The G20, for example, has put out a very powerful communique about the way that countries will cooperate to defeat this horrific terrorist organisation and Australia will continue to be part of that international effort.
KIERAN GILBERT What about the counter argument here, rather than thinking about sending in more fighter jets, or special forces, we actually disengage from the Middle East all together and the West should focus on their defensive mechanisms like border security and so on rather than engaging IS on the ground there and leaving it to the countries of the region to deal with that?
JULIE BISHOP We have to do both. Australia cannot disengage because we have Australian citizens who are in Iraq and Syria supporting this terrorist organisation and the risk of course is that they will come back to Australia. You have to deal with terrorism at its source. You can’t just put up a fortress and assume that you will be able to escape the scourge of terrorism.
It will be important for us to continue to be part of the international effort, to ensure that we are as safe as possible at home and that we have all of the resources and powers for our security and law enforcement and intelligence agencies. That’s why we’ve pushed through four tranches of legislative reform through our Parliament, a fifth tranche of legislative reforms is currently before the Parliament. That's why we’ve increased our resourcing to our law enforcement, intelligence and security agencies and our border protection support. There has been an enormous effort in Australia in that regard. I know other countries are doing likewise. There are changes to French laws underway now. In Belgium there is also a review so countries in Europe are taking this exceedingly seriously. There is a huge international effort underway to stamp our terrorism.
KIERAN GILBERT You’re in Manila, is it our biggest threat, the threat of returning foreign fighters to countries in our region - the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia on our doorstep?
JULIE BISHOP This is a significant threat. We have been warning the Australian people, we have been warning our region for some time about the threat of returning foreign terrorist fighters. That's why we’ve been focussing on preventing people from leaving the country. I’ve been cancelling passports, taking away passports from those who would seek to go overseas and train as a terrorist. We are preventing people coming back to Australia and of course working in close cooperation with friends and partners in the region, whether it be Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, to prevent terrorism taking hold in those countries through these returning foreign terrorist fighters.
It is the subject of discussion here at APEC, even though this is an economic, trade and investment forum, obviously regional and international security is vital to our region’s prosperity so it is a matter that is occupying a great deal of discussion here as well. Prime Minister Turnbull will be here in Manila later this afternoon,. He will be meeting with President Obama and other world leaders, as he has at the G20, and so the issue of counter terrorism will continue to dominate discussions here as we plan ways to continue to cooperate internationally to defeat terrorism at its source and wherever else it might arise.
KIERAN GILBERT As our viewers are well aware, and all Australians are aware, that most Australians killed in an act of terror have been at the hands of Indonesian extremists. How many are we talking about in terms of foreign fighters out of Indonesia? How big is that as an issue?
JULIE BISHOP It is a significant issue in Indonesia. The Indonesian Government is acutely aware of it. We’ve been having discussions with the Indonesian Government at all levels for quite some time now, working closely with them. Our intelligence agencies are cooperating very closely, not only on foreign terrorist fighters coming back which could be in the hundreds, but also those convicted of terrorist offences who have served their time in Indonesian jails and are being released. So these are areas of significant cooperation between Australia and Indonesia and I know that Prime Minister Turnbull’s recent meeting with President Widodo in Jakarta focussed on this very issue. We have a very high level of cooperation with Indonesia, with Malaysia, with the Philippines, other countries in our region.
No country is immune from the threat of terrorism. We have foiled a number of terrorist attacks in Australia in recent times and we have to ensure that our agencies, our law enforcement agencies have the resources, the support and the powers that they need to keep Australians as safe as possible.
KIERAN GILBERT Minister, my final question to you this morning relates to the refugee intake that Australia is taking from Syria. What do you say to those concerns expressed in recent days in the wake of the Paris attack and reports that at least one of the individuals might, in hasn’t been confirmed, but might have been part of that influx of refugees through the Mediterranean into Northern Europe?
JULIE BISHOP This is a vastly different situation. The Australian Government has offered to take 12,000 refugees who are fleeing from the horrors and persecution in Syria and Iraq. They are handpicked by the Australian Government, they are being screened by us, they are going through very significant health, security screening and it’s not as if they are just people turning up via the people smuggling trade. These are people handpicked by the Australian Government and will go through all appropriate security checks to ensure that they are the kind of people that we will embrace in this country and who will, as refugees have over the decades, make a significant contribution to Australian society. So it is a vastly different situation than uncontrolled mass movements of people throughout Europe.
KIERAN GILBERT Minister, of course, as you mentioned many of them the persecuted themselves. Thanks so much for your time there from Manila this morning. We’ll chat to you soon.
JULIE BISHOP Thank you.
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