JOURNALIST An international effort is under way to free kidnapped Australian Dr Ken Elliott after his wife Jocelyn was released in West Africa. They were abducted from their home in Burkina Faso by Al Qaeda-backed militants three weeks ago. For the latest on this we are joined by Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop. Minister good morning to you.
JULIE BISHOP Good morning Karl.
JOURNALIST You have been in contact with Mrs Elliott since her release, how is she?
JULIE BISHOP I spoke to her yesterday morning Australian time. She was very relieved and pleased to be in the company of Australian officials who were with her. She was very tired and she was looking forward to sleeping in a “lovely bed”, as she put it, but she was obviously deeply concerned about the plight of her husband, Dr Ken Elliott and that remains our concern, to ensure that we are able to secure his release and we are concerned, deeply concerned, about his safety and well-being.
JOURNALIST I would imagine that there are grave concerns for his future. Are you optimistic about his release and how that will be negotiated?
JULIE BISHOP The Government of Burkina Faso is leading the effort. I have been in contact with them and also the Government of Niger that was able to facilitate the release of Mrs Elliott. There is an effort in the region and they are very focused upon this because the Elliotts are very well-known and very respected in the region. So this is a matter of deep concern to the governments of the region and our authorities are over there, we are working closely with them. I have been in touch with the families over time and kept them informed of the efforts that governments are making.
JOURNALIST How are they holding up?
JULIE BISHOP Well obviously they are very deeply concerned and worried about it. I spoke to them on Australia Day, when it was Mrs Elliott's birthday, and I think there was a certain poignancy about it. And I was relieved to say that Mrs Elliott had been released and was in the custody of the Australian officials.
JOURNALIST Is the reason why they were taken because of their line of work and because they were so well- known?
JULIE BISHOP It is still to be verified which group actually did this although Al Qaeda has claimed responsibility for it and it seems that Al Qaeda released her, but the motives are unknown.
JOURNALIST Moving on, the PM says 267 asylum seekers from Nauru must return to the Island. Any idea when that will happen?
JULIE BISHOP No I don’t have any of the operational details. We are maintaining our policy to ensure that the people smuggling trade does not start up again. The last time the people smuggling trade was in business 1200 people died at sea – men, women and children trying to get to Australia and we must ensure that the policy that prevents the people smuggling trade from flourishing remains in place.
JOURNALIST So what are the Premiers getting at then?
JULIE BISHOP The Premiers have a policy position that they are pushing, but the Australian Government has responsibility for our borders and our immigration and combatting the people smuggling trade. We are maintaining our policy that is proven to work and prevent deaths at sea.
JOURNALIST Your message to them is butt out.
JULIE BISHOP My message to them is keep raising issues and keep engaging with the Federal Government but ultimately the Federal Government is responsible for border protection.
JOURNALIST Alright so butt out but more diplomatically said?
JULIE BISHOP Well I am the Foreign Minister.
JOURNALIST Is a lift in the GST definitely out now?
JULIE BISHOP We have been discussing our tax mix for some time. I think we have been having a mature and sophisticated debate with Australian people who understand that Australia must remain internationally competitive. The GST is one tax that was under consideration, but until such time as the Prime Minister and the Treasurer make an announcement I am not going to add to the speculation.
JOURNALIST Just one final question if you may, worrying developments out of North Korea with long-range rocket launch. He keeps on getting bolder and bolder, is it time that we sent you over there to shirt front Un?
JULIE BISHOP I don't know if that assist matters and I’m not sure that I’m going volunteer for that one – many others have tried. We are certainly working closely with our partners and friends and allies. This is a threat, not only to regional peace and adding to tensions on the Korean Peninsula but it is a threat to world peace. This follows on from a fourth nuclear test from North Korea. It is provocative and dangerous and destabilising and the UN Security Council have come out with a very strong statement indicating that they will implement more significant measures against North Korea so that the North Korean regime stops this provocative dangerous behaviour.
JOURNALIST He doesn't seem to care.
JULIE BISHOP He clearly doesn't care about the fate of his own people. Instead of spending so much money, time and effort on weapons of war, he should be supporting his people, some of whom are starving. The country is the subject of a massive World Food Program effort because people are literally starving in North Korea. He clearly has no concerns for the citizens of his own country.
JOURNALIST Well said, Foreign Minister. Thanks for your time again always appreciate it.
JULIE BISHOP My pleasure.
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