JOURNALIST: Joining me live here in the Canberra studio is the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Lots to talk about. First of all, our top story, the Mosul offensive. What’s your advice on what progress is being made there?
JULIE BISHOP: This is an important milestone in the battle against the terrorist organisation ISIL. Mosul and the region around Mosul was part of the so called Islamic Caliphate that the terrorist organisation declared about two years ago. So taking back Mosul under Iraqi Government control is an important milestone in the war against ISIL and we understand that it will take some time. The Australian Defence Force is being involved in training and advising and assisting the Iraqi security forces, in fact we have trained about 12,000 of their security forces, some of whom are taking part in the Mosul offensive now.
JOURNALIST: Are you worried then, obviously that once, if they are pushed back as expected in Iraq and then back into their last stronghold of Raqqa in Syria that then these individuals, foreign fighters, thousands of them around the world from I know there are several hundred from Indonesia for example, dozens from Australia that then may head back to their own countries and wreak chaos.
JULIE BISHOP: That has always been our concern. Whenever an Australian leaves this country to seek to take up arms for the terrorist organisation in Syria or Iraq we are concerned about whether they survive and then seek to come back to Australia. And so that’s why we have been giving greater resources and funding and support and legislative powers to our law enforcement agencies, to be able to deal with these matter and also working in partnership with so many countries in our region and into Europe and beyond so that we can track and deter these foreign terrorist fighters from carrying out any further atrocities.
JOURNALIST: There are a lot of issues to get across. I need to ask you about a few consular cases now in relation to, first of all, the Crown employees in China. What’s your latest advice on how soon they will have their day in court?
JULIE BISHOP: Yesterday our consular officials were able to visit the senior employee, Mr O’Connor, and one of his colleagues. There are three Australians who have been detained so we have had a consular visit for two. We are concerned, of course, that they are in good health and they are, and that their wellbeing is looked after, and it is. I understand that under Chinese law the authorities have up to 30 days to investigate any allegations and then make a decision whether or not to charge. That period can be extended by up to seven days under Chinese law, so it could be some time…
JOURNALIST: How come only two of the Australians, though, you’ve had access to at this stage?
JULIE BISHOP: The third, I understand, there is still some questions about whether they entered on an Australian or a Chinese passport so that is being clarified, but we will continue to seek to have access and, of course, we are keeping the families informed.
JOURNALIST: One Australian businessman who was detained in China for a number of years, Matthew Ng, has said that the families, the Government should be making more noise not less right now. What do you say to that advice from someone who saw it from the inside?
JULIE BISHOP: Well we also have very professional consular officials who sadly are well versed in looking after Australians who are detained in all sorts of circumstances overseas, and this is the professional advice that we are receiving at this time.
JOURNALIST: Ok and to be cautious. What about Wayne Gardner, the motorcycle champion, he’s behind bars as is his son in Japan. What advice do you have on that?
JULIE BISHOP: Certainly our consular officials have provided support to Mr Gardner and his son. The details of the incident are being reported as a case of road rage but I don't have the specifics and at this stage I don't believe he's been charged with anything, just detained and we will continue to provide consular support.
JOURNALIST: Another man, just to wrap up on the consular matters, this is news just to hand, someone's been kidnapped in Yemen, what was an Australian doing in that particularly troubled country?
JULIE BISHOP: Well we do understand that an Australian who has lived in Yemen for some time has been kidnapped but we don't know the details of it. But we are seeking to provide consular support to his family, to keep them informed of as much as we know. Of course we don't have a diplomatic presence in Yemen, so we are having to rely on partners and others to assist us in trying to find out what actually happened.
JOURNALIST: Ok just finally, to other big news internationally, Donald Trump. Well he's behind in the polls, yesterday I spoke to Andrew Shearer, the former national security advisor to Tony Abbott and John Howard when they were prime minister, he has said that if Trump wins, in a Trump world alliances can't be taken for granted. Is that your starting point?
JULIE BISHOP: Well the Australian Government is committed to working with whomever the American people in their wisdom choose as their President and the relationship between the United States and Australia is very strong. They are our security ally, they are our security guarantor, they are a strategic partner, they are one of our most important economic partners, so that relationship will continue. Of course each President brings their own world view to the role and we are closely monitoring the foreign policy statements of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to get an idea of where the emphasis is likely to be, because it is in our interests that the United States continues to show leadership on the world stage and particularly remains engaged in our region. And that will be the role of me, as Foreign Minister, and the Prime Minister and our officials in Washington to keep engaged with the new administration to ensure that our national interests are continued to be looked after.
JOURNALIST: And there are other avenues as well aren't there, in terms of our region of boosting the relationships with the likes of Tokyo and others if the US does rein in its presence here?
JULIE BISHOP: All likeminded countries are seeking to engage with the United States to ensure that the United States remains focused on their area. And in fact I was on a panel last night with the Ambassadors of Japan and the United States here in Canberra, and we spoke of the desire of countries in our region to see more US engagement, both strategically, militarily and importantly economically. That's why we are supporting the Trans Pacific Partnership because that involves the United States and eleven other partners in liberalised trade in our region, which is good for the region.
JOURNALIST: And finally back to China in a sense. Richard Marles has copped some flack, the Shadow Defence Minister, for comments in relation to the South China Sea from Paul Keating and a number of diplomats, but wasn't he stating the obvious in the sense that he says operational decisions should be left to military commanders once the parameters are set by politicians. Isn't that what you do now?
JULIE BISHOP: The challenge for Labor, of course, is to come up with a clear and coherent policy. They've now had about four or five different pronouncements on what Labor would do in relation to the South China Sea. The importance of dealing with great powers like China is to be clear and consistent in your messaging, and Labor's all over the shop. They've had about five different positions on what they would do in relation to South China Sea. Our position has been clear. We've articulated consistently that in relation to the South China Sea we should be de-escalating tensions, not escalating. Richard Marles' suggestion would escalate tensions…
JOURNALIST: Only if he was talking about 12 nautical miles…
JULIE BISHOP: He’s talking about…
JOURNALIST: …the territorial waters of the South China Sea.
JULIE BISHOP: He's talking about something that Australia has never done before. So if Australia suddenly did something it would escalate tensions, not de-escalate. We have been very clear on this, we are not a claimant state, we're not part of the competing claims for maritime boundaries so we don't take sides but we urge all parties to negotiate peacefully, as we have done in relation to maritime boundaries in the past, and to respect the rule of law and the international rules based system. That is the clear message that Labor seems unable to articulate.
JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister, thanks for your time. I appreciate it.
JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.
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