JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister thanks for your time. Hambali, it has emerged, has been charged over in the US and looks set to face trial in the United States for terror charges. What’s your message to Australians about this? Why has it taken so long to get to this point? What can you tell us?
JULIE BISHOP: We welcome any prosecution against those who plotted and supported the terrorist attacks in Bali in 2002. Those responsible for the murder of 202 people including 88 Australians should be prosecuted, should receive the severest of punishment and should never be freed. So we welcome these prosecutions. They are taking place in the United States subject to United States laws and procedures and processes.
JOURNALIST: Presumably Australia will be assisting the prosecutor’s case?
JULIE BISHOP: Australia would provide whatever assistance we can. We must never forget that 88 Australians, mostly tourists in Bali, were murdered when Islamist terrorists took their lives in a brutal terrorist attack. And so we will do whatever we can to hold those responsible for these atrocities to justice.
JOURNALIST: Forgive my ignorance; you said “severest” of penalties – would that go as far as the death penalty?
JULIE BISHOP: Australia does not support the death penalty, we’ve not had a policy supporting the death penalty for decades, and so we oppose the death penalty at home and abroad. I believe that those who are responsible for these attacks should never be freed.
JOURNALIST: What does this prospective prosecution mean to the families of people who lost their lives in Bali?
JULIE BISHOP: I hope that should this prosecution succeed, there will be some closure for those who were devastated by the loss of loved ones, family and friends. It has been a scar on the hearts of all Australians since these attacks occurred in 2002. It’s also a very timely reminder that Australia is not immune from terrorist attacks – at home we have thwarted 12 attacks since September 2014, but there have been five attacks, and in recent times four Australians have been killed in terrorist incidents. So we must be ever vigilant and focus our attentions on ensuring that Australians can be safe at home and abroad. Our Government is unrelenting in our focus on keeping Australians as safe as possible.
JOURNALIST: On an issue closer to home, the Council meeting endorsed the West Australian Division’s proposal for a review of the GST distribution arrangements. What do you expect to come out of that given there is already a Productivity Commission review underway?
JULIE BISHOP: I think the point was made that the Turnbull Government has already commissioned the Productivity Commission to look into the question of the distribution of GST. This is an economic challenge for the nation, this is not just a Western Australian issue, this is an economic challenge for the nation and the Productivity Commission has been tasked with determining what impact on Australia’s economic growth and productivity the Grants Commission’s distribution method is having. So we’ll await the finding of the Productivity Commission and then seek to solve what is an issue that has been of concern to States for some time. The question we should all be asking is: “What is Bill Shorten’s attitude to this? What is the Labor Party’s attitude?” We need to get some understanding from Labor because of course we need their support should there be any change what would need to go through our parliament.
JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister, just on a section of the PM’s speech I think he gave his clearest signal yet that Australia and its’ Five Eyes partners want to crack down on the use of apps like Facebook, WhatsApp by terrorists to commit terrorism. What form might those sorts of interventions or measures take to actually stop this occurring?
JULIE BISHOP: The Prime Minister has made it clear for some time, as have all the Ministers on the National Security Committee, as has our Cabinet, that we will do whatever we can to ensure that Australians are safe from terrorism. That includes tackling the dissemination of terrorist-inspiring material online. So we are obviously working through the details of how this can be done, working with online companies, and it’s a global effort, it’s not something Australia can do alone. We’re working very closely with the United States, with our other Five Eyes partners – the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand – as well as other countries through multilateral forums as well as through bilateral arrangements with other countries and online companies. This is part of a whole of government effort to keep Australians safe from terrorist attacks.
JOURNALIST: Minister what was your response to General Petraeus’ comments last night that Australia should consider conducting freedom of navigation exercises through the South China Sea and I guess his reiteration that we need to be firm with China. Are we being firm enough with China over the South China Sea?
JULIE BISHOP: I believe we have the right balance of engagement and standing up for our principles, and we will continue to traverse the South China Sea as we have always done. We are a country that calls on others to de-escalate tensions and so we would continue to navigate the seas and fly over the skies of the South China Sea. The United States has a global freedom of navigation operation system – they have a global FONOPS program – Australia does not. So we’ll continue to do as we have done, and we’ve certainly made our position very clear to China and to the other claimant states. Australia doesn’t take a position on the different claims but we call for de-escalation of tensions and for all claimants to solve their differences peacefully and in good faith.
JOURNALIST: So on FONOPS within the 12 nautical mile zone though, Foreign Minister? That specific point?
JULIE BISHOP: Australia will continue to do what we have always done in the way we navigate these seas. The United States has a global FONOPS program, one can understand with the size of its navy it is able to conduct global FONOPS – Australia does not. So we’ll continue to do what we have always done in the South China Sea which is to ensure that there’s freedom of navigation and freedom of overslight.
JOURNALIST: Just briefly Hambali [inaudible] can you just explain why it is that this prosecution is going on in the US rather than say in Indonesia?
JULIE BISHOP: Because Hambali was captured overseas and was taken to Guantanamo Bay – he is within the United States’ jurisdiction and so it’s US prosecutors.
JOURNALIST: Has Indonesia indicated that they might want to extradite?
JULIE BISHOP: I don’t have any information to suggest that they have. My understanding is that the courts in Guantanamo Bay will be proceeding with the prosecution.
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