JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, welcome back to Breakfast.
JULIE BISHOP: Good morning Fran.
JOURNALIST: In the past 24 hours, you’ve spoken with the US Secretary of State and the Chinese Foreign Minister. Are both sides trying to turn down the heat caused by some of that early rhetoric coming from the Trump Administration?
JULIE BISHOP: The feeling I got from both my conversation with Secretary of State Tillerson and my very lengthy meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is that both sides are determined to work together, that potentially this is a new era of cooperation between the United States and China and that both sides realise the importance of the US-China relationship to peace, stability, prosperity in our region.
JOURNALIST: Well China clearly doesn’t want to clash but then China you could argue already has what it wants – strategic control of the South China Sea. Will the Chinese stop its militarisation of those contested islands? Did you discuss that?
JULIE BISHOP: We most certainly did discuss the South China Sea, in fact that was also part of our press conference – we gave a very lengthy press conference last evening – and questions about the South China Sea were put to Foreign Minister Wang Yi. He made it clear that they are working very closely with the other claimants and China is not the only claimant for territory in the South China Sea, there are about eight, and they are now working very closely in dialogue, negotiation, consultation with those other claimants. Australia’s…
JOURNALIST: How does that match with China’s behaviour and, as I say, the militarisation and the build up?
JULIE BISHOP: We have certainly informed China in the past, and we continue to do so, that we don’t support land reclamation, militarisation, the scale and the speed of the construction on these islands, and that any territorial disputes or maritime disputes should be settled peacefully. That’s what the countries are now doing. The Philippines and China as you know, the Philippines took China to an international arbitration over the competing claims…
JOURNALIST: Which China ignored.
JULIE BISHOP: That’s right, but they are now working closely, Philippines and China. So Australia’s position is we don’t take sides on the territorial claims but we urge calm, we urge a negotiation between the parties, and Australia will continue to exercise our rights of freedom of overflight, freedom of navigation because we want to ensure that there is unimpeded access for our trading routes.
JOURNALIST: Australia not taking sides is one thing, Australia getting dragged into something is another. Wang Yi said last night that “for any sober…”, this is a quote, “for any sober-minded politician, they clearly recognise there cannot be conflict between China and the United States because both will lose and neither country can afford that”. Are you assured that Donald Trump is sober-minded enough to also recognise the folly of conflict?
JULIE BISHOP: I’m certainly reassured by the several conversations that I’ve had with senior leaders within the Trump Administration…
JOURNALIST: What about Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, who we know was on the record last year predicting war over the South China Sea within five to ten years?
JULIE BISHOP: Well neither Vice President Pence or Secretary of State Tillerson made any such observation to me, and most certainly I was reassured by Foreign Minister Wang Yi that China believes that the relationship with the United States is the most important around the globe at present, and that they are determined to work hard to ensure that the relationship is strong. Now the interests of our region, the interests of the globe depend upon a strong and deep and cooperative relationship between the United States and China and that’s most certainly what we are urging.
JOURNALIST: In your conversation with Rex Tillerson, during his confirmation hearings we all know he was explicit. He said China should be barred from the artificial islands; we’re going to have to send China a clear signal that the island building stop, access to those is not going to be allowed. Now he’s since toned down that kind of talk but will the US flex its muscles soon in the South China Sea, more freedom of navigation exercises, and has there been any talk that Australia should join them?
JULIE BISHOP: No there has not been any requests. Australia will continue to do what we have always done and that is exercise our rights of freedom of navigation, freedom of overflight in accordance with international law. Our interest is to ensure that we continue to maintain peace and stability in the region and access to our trading routes because about two thirds of our exports pass through the South China Sea.
JOURNALIST: So no mention of the President’s agreement to honour the deal on the refugees from Manus Island and Nauru and what that might mean in return? Donald Trump, we know, is a transactional President.
JULIE BISHOP: That was not raised. The refugee agreement is being managed by officials and is proceeding.
JOURNALIST: You’re listening to RN Breakfast; it’s eighteen minutes to 8. Our guest is the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Minister when you spoke to the US Secretary of State, was there any mention of that telephone conversation with Malcolm Turnbull and Donald Trump?
JULIE BISHOP: No, we spoke about the alliance, about our partnership, our friendship, and ways that Australia and US interests can continue to work together. Secretary Tillerson was very warm, very engaging. He spoke about his visits to Australia – he’s been to Perth – and as the chairman of a significant global company he has visited project across Australia, in our region. He knows our part of the world well.
JOURNALIST: After our Prime Minister said he had an assurance from Donald Trump about honouring that deal, the President famously went out and tweeted it’s a dumb deal and he’ll review it. As Australia’s Foreign Minister you’ll be doing most of the transactional work in this relationship, how can Australia deal with a President who behaves like this, who breaks trust, who publicly denigrates our country?
JULIE BISHOP: He’s a very different personality, he’s a very different President from President Obama, but it is our job in Australia’s national interest to work with whomever the people in the United States choose as their President. And it’s my job to get very close to the Foreign Secretaries of these countries and the leadership. And that’s what we’ve been doing, reaching out to members of the Administration as they are confirmed, as they are announced, and our Embassy in Washington likewise. So we’re working very hard to ensure that we have the connections, the networks, the relationships that matter for Australia.
JOURNALIST: It’s about what we get dragged into again, I come back to that point. The White House has a running war with the media, you know what. It’s compiled now a list of terror attacks it believes did not receive adequate attention, including five in Australia – the Lindt Café siege and the Curtis Cheng shooting are on that list, so too the stabbing death of a British tourist which police say was a murder not a terror attack, also a non-fatal stabbing of a man in Minto in New South Wales last year. The White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said just in the last few hours, “Terror attacks are not getting the spectacular attention they deserve. We need to remind people the earth is a very dangerous place right now.” I mean, what do you make of that and what about Australia getting dragged in to shore up Donald Trump’s, you know, security pitch?
JULIE BISHOP: The role of Foreign Minister is to engage closely and deeply with other countries and to ensure that they understand our perspective. That’s why I take every opportunity to put Australia’s point of view, to persuade others to the way we see the world, to talk about issues that affect us and promote our national interest. That’s my job, that’s what I do.
JOURNALIST: OK, what about with China. The Prime Minister said he hopes that China might take up America’s spot in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. I understand you offered this invitation to Wang Yi but he didn’t exactly embrace it. What do you think the chances of it are? What was the reaction?
JULIE BISHOP I didn’t exactly offer it. I pointed out that there were 11 members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership who are still keen to embrace the principles and the standards that had been negotiated and agreed in the Trans-Pacific Partnership because we think that the more access we have to markets, the more opportunities there are for Australian exporters to sell their goods and services, the more jobs there are for Australians. So each country sees the benefits for their people, the jobs in their country. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is still alive, there is an opportunity for other countries to opt in, I know that other countries have expressed interest. If China were to express interest then we would certainly welcome that opportunity…
JOURNALIST: Did they? Yesterday?
JULIE BISHOP: They are very interested in an Asia-Pacific free trade zone and as Foreign Minister Wang said, there are a number of ways to achieve that. One of them could have been through the Trans-Pacific Partnership but they were not part of the original negotiations, another is through the ASEAN countries’ Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP as it’s called.
JOURNALIST: OK. Can we come to domestic politics now? A lot is going on in the last 24 hours. The Government dumped the compulsory acquisition of farms in Queensland, it fast tracked the abolition of the politicians’ gold card; today is a compromise, as we heard this morning, on paid parental leave and cuts to family tax payments. It looks like what John Howard used to call ‘scraping off the barnacles’. We are a long way from the election so we’re not in election mode; what are we in, self-preservation mode?
JULIE BISHOP: Not at all, we are delivering for the Australian people. Where there are changes to legislation that should be made in the interests of the Australian people, we will do it. We’re getting on with the job, we’re not sitting around talking about it, we’re actually delivering. The Prime Minister has made it quite clear that 2017 is the year to continue to deliver on the promises we took to the election and if there are changes to legislation then we will make it, in the national interest. Now one of them, for example, is we are making changes to the Australia Building and Construction Commission legislation so that more Australians who work in the construction industry can be in an environment where the militant unions have to obey the law. So there are some very positive pieces of legislation that we’re passing at present.
JOURNALIST: And yet it has been a very poor start to the year for the Government, there’s been a few things setting it off track and then we had the resignation of Cory Bernardi. Cory Bernardi reportedly told Malcolm Turnbull yesterday that there are moves afoot to replace him, the Prime Minister. You’re Malcolm Turnbull’s Deputy in the Liberal Party, have you been talking to your colleagues to check if this is true?
JULIE BISHOP: No, I have not. I’ve not spoken to one person about it and not one person has raised it with me. I keep in very close contact with the backbench and it has certainly not been a matter that has been raised with me and Cory Bernardi certainly never raised it with me either, so I don’t know where he’s getting his information from. But I’m very disappointed that Cory chose to leave the Party in the way that he did. I was in South Australia during the election campaign and I know that a lot of Liberals in South Australia worked very hard to ensure that Cory Bernardi had the number two spot on the Liberal senate ticket. That’s a very privileged position because it virtually guarantees you another six years in the Senate, and there are many people who worked very hard to ensure that he had that very privileged spot for the Liberal Party. I think had he told people that he was intending to leave and start his own party, well then the support may well have been different.
JOURNALIST: It’s very early in the term to be talking leadership and it seems nonsensical and I’m sure there’s not much…
JULIE BISHOP: I believe it is nonsensical and I’m not going to add to it!
JOURNALIST: I’ve been talking to people around this place and someone said to me yesterday, well people are playing games. I guess the question is, given the poll on Monday is any leader of any party really safe with a primary vote of just 35 percent?
JULIE BISHOP: I believe that as we continue to deliver for the Australian people, as we put their interests first, people will focus on what we’re achieving and what we’re doing for the Australian people. And I certainly haven’t heard any leadership talk and I’m certainly not going to add to any such speculation.
JOURNALIST Julie Bishop, thank you very much for joining us.
JULIE BISHOP: Thank you.
JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.
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