JOURNALIST The Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is working with authorities in Burkina Faso to secure the release of an Australian doctor held hostage by an Al Qaeda-backed militant group since last month. And joining me now is the Foreign Minister, thanks for your time. Dr Ken Elliott remains in captivity with this group, what’s the latest?
JULIE BISHOP Well that’s right, I spoke to Mrs Elliott yesterday morning Australian time and she had been released, we believe, by this militant group Al Qaeda and her husband is still missing. We have not been able to secure his release but we are working very closely with the governments of the region. The government of Niger facilitated Mrs Elliott’s release and the government of Burkina Faso is actually leading the effort.
JOURNALIST Do we know what prompted this group to release Jocelyn Elliott?
JULIE BISHOP It seems that it was public pressure, which is an interesting concept – that Al Qaeda would bow to public pressure, but we’re just grateful that she’s been released and I know her family is so relieved, as is she.
JOURNALIST Because they’re very well thought of, they’ve been there since the 70s running this medical centre.
JULIE BISHOP Indeed, they have been there for 40 years. They set up a hospital, they are very well known in the region in the northern part of Burkina Faso. It was a great surprise to a number of people that they had been taken in this way, but we are very relieved that Mrs Elliott has been released and she seems fine. She was very tired when I spoke to her, but she seems to be in relative good spirits. Of course her concerns are for her husband. We have authorities over there who’ll be talking with her to gain as much information as we can.
JOURNALIST I guess if they’ve released her then there is hope, there’s some hope, that they might release the Doctor.
JULIE BISHOP Of course, we are hopeful that given they were both held in such high regard and there’s been a good outcome for Mrs Elliott that we’ll continue to work with the authorities. Of course we are gravely concerned for his safety and his well-being and they are in their 80s…
JOURNALIST Of course. No, that’s right. Let’s look at some other issues now and North Korea, again, so unpredictable. Pyongyang launching this, what they say is a satellite but everyone knows that it’s not. What can the international community do given they are heavily armed and so close to Seoul, in moments they could start launching attacks on the capital of South Korea.
JULIE BISHOP Australia unreservedly condemns this latest provocative act by North Korea. It’s dangerous, it’s destabilising, it’s adding to the tensions on the Korean Peninsula in any event, and it’s not only a threat to regional peace, it’s a threat to the globe, and this idea that they are launching a satellite is, quite frankly, ridiculous. It’s not borne out by the facts. These peaceful means are achievable by existing methods without the cost to the long-suffering North Korean people. So we have no reason to doubt that it was a long-range ballistic missile test. It comes on a nuclear test that North Korea claimed in recent weeks, their fourth nuclear test, and this testing of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons is a gross violation of UN Security Council resolutions.
JOURNALIST Do you think they’re trying to show strength in a bid to get around the table with the US, like the Iranians did?
JULIE BISHOP Well this is what Kim Jong Un’s father would do, Kim Jong Il. He would announce that he was about to launch a nuclear test or a ballistic missile test and do so and then seek to sit down with the United States to negotiate. This leader is a little different. He’s much more unpredictable in his predictability.
JOURNALIST And so, in terms of the international response, what more can be done? As I was saying, they are very heavily armed, while they’re the hermit state as they’re known, but they’ve got enormous weaponry right alongside Seoul, the capital of South Korea. So the international community is restricted in what it can do here.
JULIE BISHOP The recent actions by North Korea just confirm its status as a rogue state, and I’ve called on the North Korean regime to focus on the long-suffering people of North Korea and not to engage in nuclear and ballistic missile testing as so many people in North Korea are suffering, they are hungry. It’s the subject of an extensive World Food Program effort because people are starving. The United Nations Security Council has put out a very strongly worded statement overnight which is a sign that the international community is united in its condemnation and has threatened significant measures. North Korea is already subject to a sanctions regime but there is more that can be done.
JOURNALIST Let’s look at a few other domestic issues now and the GST. Is the prospect of an increase in the GST dead now?
JULIE BISHOP The Prime Minister said yesterday that we have been considering options in what I thought was a very mature and sophisticated debate with the Australian people about our tax mix. We know we have to be internationally competitive when it comes to corporate tax and personal tax. We know that the GST is one element of that tax system, so of course we have been considering what we can do to ensure our tax system is lower, simpler, fairer.
JOURNALIST It sounds like he’s backing away from the GST though, that’s the general since, that he’s basically shelved it now with his language yesterday.
JULIE BISHOP As the Prime Minister said, he has to be assured that it would actually achieve a better outcome for the Australian people and if we can’t be assured of that, well you wouldn’t do it. In the meantime, Bill Shorten’s been running around with his lettuce wars, claiming that there’s going to be 15 per cent GST and we’ve never said that. We have been looking at different models, different options and when the Cabinet has determined which is the best tax mix for us to put to the Australian people, what is the best tax reform for the Australian people, then we’ll announce it.
JOURNALIST But what do you say to Jennifer Westacott and the Business Council of Australia, worried this morning across a number of the papers that the Prime Minister’s baulking here and that it is necessary to deal with the indirect taxation?
JULIE BISHOP Well the Prime Minister and the Cabinet will deal with the evidence. We will see what will make Australia competitive, what tax system will ensure that people are incentivised (I’m not sure that I like that word). Anyway, that they’ve got incentives to work, to save and to try new ideas…
JOURNALIST But you’re not baulking on reform?
JULIE BISHOP We are having a discussion about it and will continue to do so in the Cabinet, amongst colleagues and certainly with the Australian public.
JOURNALIST Finally, Stuart Robert went on a secret deal to China, had a meeting with Chinese Communist Party officials for a signing of a mining deal. Is that appropriate for a Minister to do?
JULIE BISHOP I don’t know how you have a secret visit to China, whenever I go to China it’s certainly not secret…
JOURNALIST You’re the Foreign Minister.
JULIE BISHOP Well, even if I went in a personal capacity it’s not secret, but I understand that Stuart Robert was there in a personal capacity and he’s entitled to do so but matters to do with Ministerial Conduct are matters for the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister’s Department.
JOURNALIST But are you comfortable with him attending a function with Communist Party officials as a Minister for a friend?
JULIE BISHOP I don’t know the details of it but if he’s there on his own personal time, a meeting with members of the Communist Party is commonplace in China.
JOURNALIST Sure is. Minister, thanks for your time.
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