ALAN JONES: The Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is on the line, it's damned early, she's in Perth, and she should be having a sleep. Jules, good morning.
JULIE BISHOP: Good morning Alan. You're quite right. I got in from Indonesia late last night, but I wanted to be on your show this morning, so, it's a beautiful morning in Perth, it makes it worthwhile.
ALAN JONES: Yes, she's just run three times around the block I might add as well before she does all of this. What is the mood - you're in constant contact every day with at least foreign ministers from around the world, in the wake of Brussels, what's the mood?
JULIE BISHOP: Well in fact I was speaking with the Netherlands Foreign Minister in Bali yesterday as we addressed the issue of people smuggling and trafficking and human slavery at the Bali Process. He was also representing the European Union at this meeting so he had fairly up to date information.
Alan, the fact is that there is a severe terror threat environment confronting Europe, particularly in Belgium at present where the national threat level has now been increased to its highest level. In other words, serious and imminent, that's the way they see the potential for terror threats.
Europe is dealing with the imminent threat to its citizens. I have held numerous meetings with foreign ministers, security agencies in Europe. They acknowledge past failings that have led to the current - what I call dire - level of terror threat. There is a sense that so much more must be done to exchange information. It is disconcerting to find that there are still serious gaps in the level of communication and exchange of information not only between countries but between states and provinces within countries. All have gathered information that would be of use to those seeking to counter terrorist attacks in one form or another, so there has to be a much greater effort to share intelligence, share information.
After Paris it was a wake-up call, but clearly still more needs to be done, and that is where I hope the efforts are directed. I've met with the head of INTERPOL, for example, the head of the police agency, the international agency, and they are working assiduously to ensure that the information they have is known to the countries that should have it.
ALAN JONES: This is the Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop. Minister, when you read though the Belgium Interior Minister saying in the last 48 hours we don't have control over the situation in Molenbeek at all, or one European analyst saying police have very little grip on Molenbeek, you don't feel part of Belgium. As you know, there are these no-go areas; where- when are we going to start confronting the reality that we've got to exercise some control over these areas?
JULIE BISHOP: Well imagine if there were no-go areas in Australia. …
ALAN JONES: Yeah, yep.
JULIE BISHOP: … that were made up of different communities or different ethnic societies, it would be abhorrent, it would just not- it would not be allowed. I understand that in France and in Belgium particularly there are areas that the law enforcement agencies feel they cannot address. Now, that is a deep challenge, a profound challenge for those countries, and it must begin there. If this is where terrorism is being bred then they must enforce the law, they must carry out surveillance in those areas. It's going to the root cause of terrorism.
ALAN JONES: Yes.
JULIE BISHOP: It is fighting terrorism at its root and seeking to stamp it out.
ALAN JONES: So you talked about the failings in the past, there have been - what do you reckon is the biggest failing? For example, I've been saying this morning, while, you know, I know you were having a bit of a rest, but after Paris the Pope said - the Pope, of all people - we are at war. Now it's obvious some countries in Europe haven't taken that warning as it ought to have been taken.
JULIE BISHOP: I think that they find the challenge so overwhelming. As you know, there's such a free flow of people through Europe; they essentially don't have any internal border control. Of course that's changing now with the massive numbers of people that are coming up through the Horn of Africa, Libya, Syria, Iraq - there is a change in attitude, but until recently, there was literally no border controls, and so no one country knew who was within its borders at any one time. A more insidious issue is of course home grown terrorism. You will note that the alleged terrorists in the Belgian attack were Belgian, they were Belgian citizens.
ALAN JONES: Well they've been involved in the last four big attacks, all from this area in Europe from Molenbeek. See, everyone's asking now, Minister, everyone's asking well, what about the 12,000 Syrian refugees which you've promised to take because now you've got people like the FBI in America in particular and spokespeople for the FBI - I mean, only last year they said we know little about these refugees. Now how could we be sure that we are not importing terrorism under the guise of compassion?
JULIE BISHOP: Alan, the Australian Government takes our national security extremely seriously, and we have made clear from the outset that the security and character checks of any entrants coming in under the humanitarian visa will not be compromised. So before the visa is granted, applicants for resettlement in Australia have to meet all the criteria - that's health, character and security. And these - they're rigorous security checks, they're conducted prior to their arrival in Australia and at a number of key visa processing points.
This includes the collection and checking of biometric data, you know, facial images and fingerprints. So we have very close co-operation between the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, the Australian Federal Police, our security law enforcement agencies and international partners, so we can conduct security checks, including the checking of biometric data across the globe.
ALAN JONES: Just to interrupt you there Julie, the head of the FBI, James Comey said last year that he can't properly screen the 10,000 Syrian refugees the United States is taking because he said nothing will show up because they have no records. Are you able to guarantee to the Australian people that if some of these refugees have no records, they won't be coming?
JULIE BISHOP: Well can I make the first point – you will note that in the case of Belgium, they did have records. They did have criminal records, and I think you'll find that is often the case, but of course it's not possible to provide any guarantees. I mean, this threat continues to evolve, and by its very nature, it's difficult to predict and prevent, but we do all we can. The Prime Minister was right to say that Australia is in a better position than most. We're an island continent, we have very strict border controls, and we also have a great deal of integration and flow of information across our agencies. That is yet to be seen in a number of countries in Europe.
ALAN JONES: Good to talk to you always; we'll talk again soon I hope.
JULIE BISHOP: Thanks Alan. Have a very happy Easter.
ALAN JONES: Thank you for what you do there. Happy Easter to you too. There is the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.
- Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555