Australia's bipartisan commitment to our region is on display this week. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is leading a cross-party sweep through the Pacific.
The delegation, which includes the Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong, is visiting the Solomon Islands, Samoa, and Vanuatu. Regional stability, climate
change, and response to natural disasters are all on the agenda. The Foreign Minister Julie Bishop joins us now from Apia in Samoa. Julie Bishop, welcome
back to Breakfast.
Good morning, Fran.
You're there with the Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong. Such bipartisanship is rare in politics these days. Why is it important for both sides of
politics to come together when it comes to the Pacific like this?
Fran, the Pacific region - which is made up of the Pacific Island nations - is of vital importance to us. We engage with each Pacific country to help build
security and stability and economic growth in this region. It's our neighbourhood. It's our part of the world, and I don't think any country has a greater
responsibility for the Pacific than Australia.
So I visit the Pacific regularly, but we also have a minister specifically tasked with looking after our relationships in the Pacific, Senator Connie
Fierravanti-Wells. I invited our Opposition counterparts, Penny Wong and Claire Moore, to join this three day visit to Solomon Islands, Samoa, Vanuatu
because Australian support for the Pacific and an understanding of the need to keep closely engaged is and should always be bipartisan.
This was a very effective way to show the Opposition what we're doing in our aid program, in defence cooperation, in building the private sector capacity
here. So all four of us - two Government and two Opposition representatives - have attended all the meetings, all the events, including briefings with
Prime Ministers and ministers. It's been very successful.
You're in Samoa at the moment. Samoa, like many other of the Pacific nations, is very much exercised about climate change and rising sea levels. Their very
existence depends on action to stop this, really. Australia's responsibility to lead the way on this as the major power in the region, many say we're
letting them down. The best and most- for instance, in the debate we're having at the moment, that the best and most effective way to transition to a lower
carbon economy is some kind of an emissions trading scheme. Here in this country we're having the argument about the emissions intensity scheme. Is that
being discussed there? Are the Pacific nations looking on as we continue to fight about this in this country?
They are certainly not interested in our domestic discussion on it. Next week, Australia will co-host the Green Climate Fund board meeting here in Samoa,
and so there's a great deal of interest in Samoa, but with Australia they will be co-hosting global leaders in the area of climate change, and of course
Australia has ratified the Paris Agreement, we are taking a leadership role in the Pacific. The reason we are on the Green Climate Fund is to ensure that
this global fund does focus its attention on climate resilience projects in the Pacific.
The Prime Minister also announced that we would be committing $300 million - that's an $80 million increase on what was expected - to climate change
projects here in the Pacific, and of course, Australia has committed funding to the Green Climate Fund. So I believe, and from the feedback I've received,
the Pacific Island nations are very appreciative of the role that we're playing and the support that we're providing them through our aid programs.
Can I divert to domestic issues just for a moment? You are the Foreign Minister, but you're also the Deputy Liberal Leader. All the experts reporting to
the Government on energy policy - the Climate Change Authority, the CSIRO, we understand the Chief Scientist now - are all saying the Government should
consider an emissions intensity scheme for the electricity sector as the most cost-effective way of reducing emissions, increasing stability in the
electricity sector, keeping prices down. Why has the Government decided to ignore all that advice?
The Government has an energy policy that's designed to deliver secure and reliable energy. I mean, that's the basic responsibility of a government, to keep
the lights on, and we …
There's been some appalling examples with South Australia in recent times, but energy also has to be as affordable as possible for the sake of businesses
and families and communities, and our energy policy also has to enable us to meet our target of the 26 to 28 per cent reduction in emissions from the 2005
baseline by 2030. So we believe that our Emissions Reduction Fund is working well. We have beaten our Kyoto target by something like 128, 130 million
tonnes. We are on track to beat our 2020 target by something like 78 million tonnes, and so Australia under the Direct Action Emissions Reduction Fund
which has been part of our policy since 2010, I believe, is actually meeting the targets. Not every country around the world can do that.
Yeah it is. It is meeting the targets for now. But the review, planned for next year, is to work out how to meet the targets for 2030 and beyond and the
Emissions Reduction Fund is limited in terms of its budget. And the advice has been, and we've heard from Danny Price from Frontier Economics who was a
designer of this scheme, Tony Wood from Grattan, both clearly saying - and all the experts seem to agree - that the cheapest way to deliver emissions cuts
and keep pressure off prices is an emissions intensity scheme for the electricity sector. Why is the Government ignoring that? The advice is not that that
will put up bills.
Well, Fran, we have said from the outset, I believe it was from 2015, that we would have a review into our emissions reduction policies and that's
precisely what's been announced. It's a review …
But you've closed off the options.
Well the Prime Minister has laid out the parameters of the review and it must be in accordance with our energy policy - that is to deliver secure, reliable
energy, as affordable as possible - enable us to meet our targets, and that's what we're seeking to do with the review.
Now, to date, our Emissions Reduction Fund has been working well. As I said, we are not only meeting, but beating our targets and that's what we are
intending to continue to do.
You were one of the senior ministers who helped negotiate Australia's position within the Paris Climate Agreement; we've now got Senator Cory Bernardi who
not only seemed to push the Government successfully to locking out the option of an emissions intensity scheme, considering that, he's also now calling for
Australia to pull out of the Paris Agreement. Do you have a response to that?
Well I was also a member of the Cabinet and the Coalition Party room in August 2015 that decided on our 2030 targets which are part of our commitment to
the Paris Agreement. So this was something that was agreed by the Cabinet, by the entire Coalition Party room back in August 2015 and it is part of our
commitment to the Paris Agreement. One-hundred-and-ninety-six countries signed up to the Paris Agreement, it has been ratified by well over 100 countries,
so it is in effect now and Australia will meet our targets, our commitments under the Paris Agreement.
So it's not in doubt, our signing up to Paris? It's not in doubt?
Well we've ratified the Agreement.
Can we …
Australia has ratified the treaty, as have well over 100 other countries.
You're listening to RN Breakfast. Our guest is the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, she joins us from Samoa.
Back to issues there in the Pacific, Minister. The big issue for the Solomons is the end of the RAMSI peacekeeping commission in June next year. When the
mission began in 2003 ethnic tensions had cost hundreds of lives, the Solomons was close to being a failed state. Some say it's too soon to pull out,
locals are nervous that the violence could re-emerge. What did you see in the Solomons to convince you that the time is right to hand over security to the
Royal Solomons Police?
Well, Fran, that's exactly why we came to Solomon Islands. It was an opportunity to meet with the leaders of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon
Islands, known as RAMSI. It was established 13 years ago at the height of the conflict and tensions when Australia led a 15 country response of Defence and
Police personnel from across the Pacific and I think it's become a model for the world of effective regional co-operation. There's still a joint force of
about 100 police there, but now the Solomon Island Government has assured us that the Royal Solomon Island Police Force are ready to take back control of
policing and national security.
It was quite evident to us from a visit to police headquarters that the local police have been well-trained to a very high standard by the Australian
Federal Police. They have been tested over recent years and have performed well; indeed they are now being deployed on a UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur.
They have taken part in recovery efforts in Vanuatu after Cyclone Pam and the Solomon Island Government is confident that the RSIPF - the Royal Solomon
Island Police Force - will be able to handle policing and national security. So we'll be leaving on 30 June 2017. I think the Australian Federal Police
will continue to have a presence here for training, for advice, for building capacity.
And just very briefly, violence against women and girls: it's a huge issue throughout the Pacific. Two out of three women in the Solomons say they have
suffered physical or sexual violence from a partner. Australia's funding the Pacific Woman Shaping Pacific Development Program $321 million over a decade;
have you seen signs that that is working?
Well indeed women in the Pacific do see some of the highest levels of violence in the world and they also have one of the lowest levels of Parliamentary
representation in the world. Here in Samoa, the Government made a constitutional change and 10 per cent of Parliamentarians are now females and I expect
that in the next election that will be even greater because women are being trained and engaged to be more involved in community and business and public
sector activities. We have a number of programs to focus on empowering women and girls through leadership programs; through economic development
opportunities, particularly focused on women; and a number of programs to reduce violence against women and families. There are many cultural and social
barriers, but Australia is playing its part.
Minister, thank you very much for joining us. Good luck with the rest of the trip.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop joining us there from Samoa.
- Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555