JOURNALIST: The Deputy Liberal Leader, the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, I spoke to her earlier this morning and began focusing on the defection of Cory Bernardi.
Julie Bishop thanks very much for your time. Tony Abbott says he regrets that more wasn’t done to keep Cory Bernardi in the tent; do you think that more could have been done in that regard?
JULIE BISHOP: Well I’m very disappointed that Cory chose to stand for the second spot on the Liberal Party senate ticket. He received a lot of support, a lot of people campaigned for him, the volunteers were out there working for that senate ticket and the number two spot is a very privileged position – it virtually guarantees you another six years in the Senate. He came here as the number two senate ticket holder and then took three months off to go to the United Nations, again with the support of those colleagues to do that, and then announced that he’s leaving the Liberal Party. So I think a lot of people would be very disappointed. He should have done this twelve months ago and taken his policies and his party to the election so that the Australian people, the people of South Australia could have voted for him on his new platform as opposed to the number two ticket holder for the Liberal Party.
JOURNALIST: This wasn’t a surprise though, this had been speculated on for months. Is Tony Abbott right when he says more could have been done to keep him in the tent?
JULIE BISHOP: Well apparently he has been talking about this for years so Tony Abbott was obviously Leader when Cory was having these discussions with other people and having these thoughts, so I presume a number of people could have done a lot more but I’m not aware of the level of discussion that Cory had with various people, he certainly didn’t discuss this with me.
JOURNALIST: As a senior figure of your Party and a long-time political practitioner, what do you make of the suggestion that this is a fracturing of your side of politics that we’re seeing happen right now?
JULIE BISHOP: I think that’s a gross over statement. One person for many years has obviously felt that his thoughts and policies weren’t in alignment with the Party that he stood for so I’m very disappointed that if Cory felt this way, that he had a different policy position to the Liberal Party on some issue, he should have taken that to the last election, as opposed to being the number two ticket holder for the Liberal Party, and having thousands and thousands of volunteers campaign for him in that spot.
JOURNALIST: I want to ask you some questions in a moment but just finally on this domestic politics, what’s the mood like in the Coalition right now given what’s been a difficult start to the year?
JULIE BISHOP: The mood is very positive; we’re getting on and getting things done. We’ve made a number of changes to legislation, the anticipated changes to the Australian Building and Construction Commission means that we’re strengthening the Building and Construction Commission – about a million Australians who work in the construction industry who will now have the benefits of a Commission will impose the rule of law. And so these are the sort of things that we’re achieving, changes to childcare legislation, all things in the interests of Australians.
JOURNALIST: That change to childcare that Samantha Maiden reported last night here on Sky, is that a capitulation in terms of the amount it saves that you’ll make to pay for that? Because those on Family Tax Benefit Part A for example, will receive $20 more per fortnight; is it capitulated in terms of just how many savings will be made to cover that?
JULIE BISHOP: Well what we’re doing is making sure that it’s fair and so we will make changes that are fair, we’ll make changes in the interests of hard working Australians.
JOURNALIST: You met with the Chinese Foreign Minister here in Canberra yesterday. I want to ask you about his view of the trump Administration, specifically General Mattis recently said some quite soothing words in relation to the South China Sea, has that been welcomed by Beijing?
JULIE BISHOP: Beijing certainly welcomes a deep engagement with the United States and I think that was evident from Foreign Minister Wang’s press conference here in Canberra yesterday, that they are looking forward to an era of cooperation. They see opportunity with the new Administration to deepen the connections and as he said, the United States and China have too much to lose for there to be conflict between them. So my impression was that China is looking forward to engaging positively with the United States. We did discuss the South China Sea, in fact he answered questions on the South China Sea, and China is now deeply engaged in negotiations, discussions, consultations with the other claimants. China is not the only country claiming territorial and maritime rights over features in the South China Sea. So hopefully we’ll continue to see both sides working very hard for peace, stability and prosperity in our region.
JOURNALIST: Is there an opening here for China to play more of a leadership role in this region, not just in terms of trade policy but also with leading in terms of cooler heads when it comes to that contested area of the South China Sea?
JULIE BISHOP: China is already a very important power in our region; economically it’s the second largest economy in the world, but also we encourage China to play a responsible role committed to the international rules based order which has provided so much opportunity for peace and stability and prosperity…
JOURNALIST: But has Donald trump provided that opening given how erratic some of his policy pronouncements have been in that they, Xi Jinping and China, could become more of a leader in terms of free trade but also strategic issues as well?
JULIE BISHOP: Most certainly we welcome President Xi’s statement at the Davos Forum about committing to open, liberalised trade because we believe it’s in our interests to have greater access to marketplaces including the marketplaces of North Asia – China, Japan, Korea. That’s why the Coalition Government entered into these free trade agreements. The more opportunities we have to export our goods and services into these huge marketplaces, the more our businesses here grow, the more jobs there are for Australians.
JOURNALIST: I want to ask you finally about this disturbing report from Amnesty International in relation to a prison near Damascus, the report suggests the Bashar al-Assad regime has killed systematically upwards of 15… or thereabouts, 15,000 people at this prison?
JULIE BISHOP: This report is deeply disturbing and it adds to our deep fears about the attitude of the Assad regime towards its own people. There have been instances in the past where the Assad regime has turned on the Syrian people, there have been terrible killings, massacres and that’s why Australia has been engaged in the US-led coalition to defeat the terrorist organisation in Iraq but also to ensure that the conflict in Syria – it is a civil war in Syria – can be overcome. That’s why we’re working so hard in the forums around the world to try and find a political solution to the conflict in Syria because a military solution just will not be achieved.
JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister, as always appreciate your time. Thanks so much.
JULIE BISHOP: Thanks Kieran.
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