JULIE BISHOP: This morning, the Australian Government decided not to proceed with the ratification of the Extradition Treaty with China at this time. The decision was taken by the leadership group during our morning meeting at 8:30am and during the course of that meeting, the Leader of the Opposition formally advised the Prime Minister that Labor would not support the ratification of the Treaty at this time. So under those circumstances, we thought it best to repeal the legislative instrument, that is the treaty regulations, and we will debate it at another time. In the meantime, my office has contacted the Chinese Embassy and informed them and I hope to speak with the Chinese Ambassador later in the day. This is a decision I support. It is very much in Australia’s national interests for us to have the highest level of cooperation with China and other countries with whom we have an extradition treaty.
So at this stage we will continue our discussions with the Labor Party – I must say I have had very constructive discussions with Senator Wong throughout, I’ve had a discussion with the Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten and the Shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus, and we want to continue those discussions. It is in Australia’s national interests to ensure that we can send back to China those who have committed crimes, subject to the significant safeguards that we have in place, and I have faith in our legal and political system to ensure that those safeguards would work so that the Extradition Treaty would operate as expected. And likewise, it is in Australia’s interests to be able to extradite back to Australia any Chinese national who may have committed a crime here and have them returned to China. So I’ll continue to pursue discussions with the Labor Party in relation to this matter.
JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister, weren’t you, I mean you, Barnaby Joyce, Steve Ciobo, you were all out this morning saying this Treaty should be signed, this is very important. By 8:50am it was dead. Isn’t this an omnishambles? Couldn’t the Government have handled this a little bit better?
JULIE BISHOP: Not at all. It is the policy and has been the policy of successive Australian Governments since 2007 to ratify this Treaty, but I don’t make unilateral decisions on a matter as significant as withdrawing a legislative instrument from the Senate. This has to be the discussion that takes place by our leadership team and our meeting is at 8:30am – I think I indicated to you all I was on the way to the leadership meeting – and it was during that meeting that Bill Shorten informed us formally that the Labor Opposition would not support the ratification of the Treaty. It was a very constructive discussion between the Prime Minister and Bill Shorten, and we agreed that we would repeal the legislative instrument and that we would continue discussions about this matter.
JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister, the Treaty report last December looked at this Treaty. Labor’s position was fairly clear, they didn’t formally announce a position but it was pretty clear that they were going to take this line that they’ve taken. Why did the Government table this on March 2 knowing that there was going to be difficulty getting it through the Senate?
JULIE BISHOP: This is a Treaty that was signed in 2007. Every subsequent Australian government has had as its policy the ratification of the Extradition Treaty with China, and these take a long time. I recall working closely with the Labor Government when we were in opposition over a similar treaty with the United Arab Emirates. They take a long time to negotiate. We put this Treaty through the usual processes, through the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, the majority report was that the Government should ratify the Treaty. The Labor report related to a desire to see the Extradition Act reviewed and in our discussions with Labor it was clear that Labor had already reviewed the Extradition Act, in fact it took them five years to review the Extradition Act in 2012. So that basis of their opposition I think was answered by the fact that the Extradition Act had been reviewed. When Bill Shorten formally advised the Prime Minister this morning during out leadership meeting that Labor would not support the ratification of the Treaty, we decided that the best thing in those circumstances was to repeal the treaty regulations and continue discussions with Labor. That’s the responsible thing to do.
JOURNALIST: Minister, what happens next? What happens next with this?
JULIE BISHOP: Well next we will speak with our Chinese friends in more detail and then we will consider a process to ratify the Treaty.
JOURNALIST: Given members of the leadership team including yourself had spoken so fondly of this this morning, is this a captain’s call by the Prime Minister and has he pulled the rug out from underneath your feet?
JULIE BISHOP: No not at all. The Prime Minister and I have been engaged in this matter since I advised him in October 2015 that the Treaty with China should be ratified, as previous governments had determined. So we’ve been working in lockstep all the way. It went through the Treaty Committee process and that Treaty Committee by a majority recommended the Australian Government ratify the Treaty.
We have a very close level of cooperation with China over some matters of deep national interest to Australia – in counter terrorism work, in the war against drugs, and Michael Keenan the Minister has indicated the extent of the AFP cooperation on the drugs issue with China which is so very important to us. We also have a very high level of cooperation on consular matters.
And as I pointed out to you this morning, when the Howard Government signed this Extradition Treaty, we also agreed for an International Prisoner Transfer Agreement at the same time – China implemented that in 2008 and the Australian Government and the Australian people have been the beneficiary of that International Prisoner Transfer Agreement. Indeed we have had Australian prisoners who were in jail in China brought back to Australia to serve their sentences in Australia. So it has been in our national interest to have this arrangement with China and we’ll continue to discuss it with our counterparts in the Labor Party and also with the Chinese.
JOURNALIST: Is it your opinion then that there will be serious consequences for the Australia-China relationship from a failure to ratify this Treaty?
JULIE BISHOP: Well clearly the whole idea of foreign policy is to engage with other countries on the basis of trust, and we signed an agreement with China and there would be an expectation that having signed a Treaty we would ratify it. So that’s what I’m seeking to do now, to find a way that we can honour the agreement we made.
JOURNALIST: Has there been any implied threat from the Chinese Government what the consequences might be if we don’t ratify this for people who are currently, Australians who are currently locked up over there?
JULIE BISHOP: China has asked us to uphold our end of the deal, which is to ratify the Treaty, and that’s what we’ve been seeking to do. So I’ll now talk to the Chinese Embassy and to others in China about the steps from now on but the decision has been made. The Labor Party has advised us that they can’t support the Treaty at this time so I think it’s in the best interests of our relationship with…
JOURNALIST: [Interrupts] But why aren’t you pressing on anyway? Do you not have the numbers to get it through?
JULIE BISHOP: …the Labor Party. We don’t have the numbers in the Senate. We need the Labor Party to support it and the Labor Party have advised that they won’t.
JOURNALIST: Would you advise Chinese Australian academics to travel to China and do you think that the families of critics of China in Australia, that their families are safe in China?
JULIE BISHOP: Clearly if you’re a dual citizen, China does not recognise the Australian side of the dual citizenship arrangement. I would advise people to travel on their Australian passport but also be aware that China doesn’t recognise dual citizenship. We have a consular agreement in place with China and in my experience, China has upheld their obligations under that consular agreement.
But the point I have made, not only in relation to China but in relation to any other country – once you leave Australia you leave behind the legal and judicial system of this country and you’re subjected to the legal and judicial of another country. That is a fact. So of course I would suggest that people read our Smartraveller travel advice before they travel anywhere overseas.
My other point about the Extradition Treaty which I just wanted to make is Australia has extradition treaties with 39 countries and they are all entered into because it’s in Australia’s interests to do so. And we have extradition treaties with countries with very different legal and political and judicial systems than ours, and I give as examples Venezuela, Vietnam, United Arab Emirates, and I’m not suggesting that their systems are any better or worse that China’s, I’m just pointing out that we have extradition treaties because it’s in our interests to do so. So as Foreign Minister, I’ll continue to work with the Labor Party and with the Chinese to see if we can find a way to ratify this Extradition Treaty which I believe and in my opinion, is undoubtedly in Australia’s national interest.
JOURNALIST: Is there a link between the Prisoner Transfer Agreement and the – the prisoner transfer you mentioned and the Extradition Treaty?
JULIE BISHOP: I’m sorry?
JOURNALIST: Is there a link between the two?
JULIE BISHOP: Yes, they were signed at the same time in 2007.
JOURNALIST: So, the Chinese see that as being linked?
JULIE BISHOP: Yes they do.
JOURNALIST: When do you hope to bring back this legislation - you say that you haven’t given up on it, when do you hope to bring it back and when do you hope to find a way forward with Labor and would you be able to contemplate any changes – substantive changes to those objections?
JULIE BISHOP: It’s just a couple of hours since we made the decision. We’ve advised the Party Room and so I’m not about to reveal any further strategies. Obviously this will be a matter for discussion within the leadership, with the Prime Minister and of course with our Cabinet.
JOURNALIST: Do you expect there to be any repercussions at all from Beijing?
JULIE BISHOP: What I think would have been difficult was if there were a debate in the Senate that ended up in a vote against the ratification of the agreement. I think it is far preferable for us to repeal the instrument and have further discussions. The Labor Party made it clear that they were not able to support it at this time and I note the concerns they had in the Minority Report in the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties. I thought those concerns had been dealt with – that related to the review of the Extradition Act – but clearly there are other concerns so I will continue to work with the Labor Party and as I say, the leadership in Bill Shorten and Penny Wong and Mark Dreyfus have been very constructive in the discussions we’ve had today.
JOURNALIST: Dr Feng’s plight was that bad timing this week, do you think that had any influence on Labor’s position?
JULIE BISHOP: I don’t think the timing of any consular matter should be put in this context. We will continue to do what we can to make representations to the Chinese authorities. Again, he’s not an Australian citizen, he was not traveling on an Australian passport so there are limitations as to what Australia can do – but we will certainly use whatever influence we have to ensure that he’s dealt with fairly.
JOURNALIST: Minister, can I take from your previous answer then that you thought you did have Labor on board because otherwise you wouldn’t have put it up in the Senate?
JULIE BISHOP: No, I didn’t say that. I said I am aware that there were concerns within the Labor Party because I saw their dissenting report that focused mainly on the review of the Extradition Act but the Act has been reviewed recently – 2012. I’m yet to have a discussion with the Labor Leadership as to whether there are other issues that they would like us to consider as we go forward.
JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister, you keep mentioning the concern in the Labor Party about this – last night you and the Justice Minister Michael Keenan heard from about a dozen backbenchers on your side who also had concerns. How significant were those concerns on the Liberal side of politics in this decision?
JULIE BISHOP: This Treaty went through a committee process that took public submissions, that held hearings, took evidence and I don’t recall any of those who are now raising concerns – raising concerns during the Treaty-making process. My meeting last night gave me an indication that there were a number - not a majority by any means - at that meeting who had concerns about it. We of course were relying on the Labor Party to support it because we don’t have a majority in the Senate. We can’t deliver it on our own. We were relying on the Labor Party and when Bill Shorten formally advised us – I’m not criticising Bill Shorten, he went through the proper process on the Labor side, took it to a Shadow Cabinet meeting - and advised that they couldn’t support it at this time. So we regroup and we keep discussing with Labor.
JOURNALIST: Does the, could the Treaty endanger critics of China who live in Australia?
JULIE BISHOP: I don’t want to speculate on this. We’ve got a very constructive relationship with China on a whole range of consular, law enforcement, security, counter-terrorism matters and of course we’ll be working very hard to ensure that continues. Michael Keenan announced yesterday a significant drug haul that was able to be undertaken because of the close cooperation between the Australian Federal Police and the Chinese authorities. We clearly want that to continue because we want to stop the importation of ice into Australia through channels in China and beyond and we need to continue to work with the Chinese officials to ensure that can be furthered.
JOURNALIST: Did the Chinese Premier specifically raise this Treaty and his desire to have it passed in his recent visit?
JULIE BISHOP: I understand that it was raised. Yes, it’s raised by – and has been for years - by premiers.
JOURNALIST: And what was his message?
JULIE BISHOP: They want the Extradition Treaty because they are seeking to crack down on criminals who leave China and seek safe haven in Australia. That’s been a longstanding position of President Xi Jinping I understand in his campaign against corruption.
JOURNALIST: Minister, do you know if this was raised with Tony Abbott when he was Prime Minister and whether he gave any assurance that it would proceed?
JULIE BISHOP: Yes, it’s been Liberal Party policy since John Howard. Of course I was the Foreign Minister in Tony Abbott’s government as well and it has continued to be Liberal Party policy that we would ratify an extradition treaty with China.
JOURNALIST: And what diplomatic level has the case of Chongyi Feng been raised?
JULIE BISHOP: It’s been raised at the consular level.
JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister, Steve Ciobo seemed to suggest this morning that not signing this Treaty could impact on the Crown employees apparently being held – how is that possible when their already being held in China? How would an extradition treaty affect them?
JULIE BISHOP: We are deeply concerned about the fate of the Crown employees and we’ll continue to work with the Chinese Government and hope that we’ll be able to make representations – as we are continuing to do. I’ve been involved in making such representations. Of course we are providing consular access under the Consular Agreement with China and I hope that that will continue.
JOURNALIST: Are extraditions still happening over the past ten years even without the Treaty? And how much more difficult does it make without having a treaty?
JULIE BISHOP: There are international conventions that relate to the extradition of prisoners and of those charged with criminal offences and the like. Why we enter into bilateral extradition treaties is because they can be more specific to the circumstances between the two countries – that’s why we have 39 extradition treaties in addition to the international conventions. I stress again, there are significant safeguards that are implicit, inherent, explicit, in our treaties with other countries.
In the case of the China Extradition Treaty, as everyone will have seen – because I’m sure you’ve followed the processes of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties in great detail – we have safeguards that means the Minister responsible for this Treaty has an absolute discretion to refuse extradition on a whole range of grounds that include; if the death penalty is attached to the offence then we can refuse extradition; if there is any suggestion that the person will be subjected to cruel or inhumane punishment or torture; if there are humanitarian grounds – and that can include whether they’ll receive a fair trial.
So there is a broad discretion - a total discretion - on the part of the Australian Minister responsible for treaties. Then the backup safeguard is – should a Minister make a decision to extradite the person - that person has the capacity to appeal it to the Federal Court. Our Federal Court, our legal system would be seized of the facts and the concerns and would make a judgement on whether that person should be extradited.
I have complete faith in our political system with this Ministerial discretion, and our legal system through the Federal Court, to ensure that extradition treaties operate as they are intended.
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