JULIE BISHOP: The reports that North Korea has acquired the ability to develop a miniaturised nuclear device that could be placed on an intercontinental ballistic missile that could have the range of hitting the United States is clearly deeply concerning, deeply unsettling. The reports are yet to be verified I understand, by the Pentagon, but nevertheless we are aware that over the past few years, North Korea has been developing its ability - and we know that through the ballistic missile tests and the nuclear tests that have taken place; an intercontinental ballistic missile test as recently as 28 July. So, if one assumes that they have the capability of hitting the United States, they clearly have the capability to hit other nations in the region, including Australia. So, unless North Korea is prevented from pursuing this path, it clearly is an unacceptable existential threat to Australia. But our strategy, our policy remains clear and consistent, and that is to use every means of asserting pressure on North Korea through diplomatic and economic means.
JOURNALIST: You described it as a nightmare scenario.
JULIE BISHOP: It would be catastrophic if North Korea were allowed to proceed unchecked. It is utterly unacceptable for North Korea to continue in direct violation of UN Security Council resolutions and in defiance of international law. A breakthrough did come on the weekend when both China and Russia joined with other permanent five members and the entire Security Council in imposing the toughest, most comprehensive package of economic sanctions against North Korea. So I believe North Korea is deterrable, as long as the international community remains resolute and determined to impose these sanctions.
JOURNALIST: A lot of people are calling for cool heads. Was it the best strategy for the US President to promise fire and fury?
JULIE BISHOP: The US strategy hasn't changed. I met with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Manila on Monday, and with other relevant foreign ministers - foreign minister of China, Japan, South Korea and others - and the strategy hasn't changed; and that is to impose the strongest possible sanctions on North Korea so it has an economic impact which will lead North Korea to change its calculations. As Secretary Tillerson said, the President of the United States was responding in language that Kim Jong-Un should understand, because he's clearly ignoring the diplomatic language to date, but the strategy hasn't changed.
JOURNALIST: Now, many people would say Australia is not the primary target of North Korea, however there is this discussion now about whether we need a missile defence system of some kind. What do you think would be the cost-effectiveness of that strategy, and how long would it take to actually put it in place?
JULIE BISHOP: Australia is not the primary target for Pyongyang, and I don't envisage a scenario where we would be. The United States, Japan, South Korea are entitled to defend themselves against the provocative threats that North Korea's been making for some time now. And we will have seen the South Koreans and the United States working together with the THAAD anti-missile system. Australia is constantly reviewing our security, our defence arrangements; I won't go into the details, and this is clearly a matter for the Defence Minister; but we are continually ensuring that our self-defence capability will meet any risk that we are facing.
JOURNALIST: Because there are experts - including Tony Abbott's former national security adviser - you'd be aware have mounted the case. Couldn't it just be a sort of extremely expensive exercise, if - as you say - we're not directly threatened by North Korea?
JULIE BISHOP: We're not anticipating that this threat will materialise in relation to Australia. What we are doing is pursuing a clear and consistent strategy of averting any conflict by the means of enforcing the sanctions so that North Korea will come back to the negotiating table, and Secretary Tillerson made it quite clear: the United States is not looking for an excuse to put its troops north of the 38th parallel. They're not looking for an excuse to change the regime in North Korea, they're not looking to enforce a reunification of North Korea. They want North Korea to abide by the international law, and respect and uphold the authority of the UN Security Council. They're in direct violation of over six Security Council resolutions banning their actions in developing ballistic missiles and carrying out nuclear tests.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask you just about the young Australian woman, Cassie Sainsbury, in Colombia. As a result of her plea deal not being accepted, what are the cost implications of that for Australia? Will Australia now have to fund what is likely to be a very expensive trial?
JULIE BISHOP: This situation is evolving. She was before the courts in Colombia this morning our time, and as I understand it, her case will now go to a full trial. I believe she has sought assistance in the past, and that's handled by the Attorney-General's department. There is a capacity for Australia to provide legal support for someone facing very serious charges. So whether her application succeeds is a matter for the Attorney-General. What we have done to date is provide her with consular support in accordance with the Consular Charter; the same support that we would provide to any Australian who found themselves in this situation. That includes regular visits. Our consular staff were at the court today. We provided her with this list of local lawyers. I understand she has legal representation, she has a legal team, and keeping in touch with her next of kin.
JOURNALIST: And just finally, on the issue of same-sex marriage. You were one of the first people to call for a plebiscite in that 2015 party room meeting. Will you be campaigning for the yes case, or maintaining a respectful distance?
JULIE BISHOP: Well, Sam, I had hoped that the plebiscite legislation would pass the Senate. We put it up last year. Had the Greens and Labor truly believed in same-sex marriage they would have backed that plebiscite, and we would have had in February this year, done and dusted; the issue would have been over. So that's why you really have to question whether Labor's policy is to support same-sex marriage; because what we now have is Labor voting again against a plebiscite, which could have been conducted with formal yes and no campaigns. Now with a postal vote there will not be public funding for yes and no campaigns, so there is no national campaign.
I will obviously work within my own electorate. My effort will be directed towards encouraging people to get out and vote. Now, this is not something we're used to doing as politicians in Australia, because we have compulsory voting, but this will be like other countries where we actually have to encourage people to get out to vote. I would like to see the largest number of voters possible in this postal plebiscite.
JOURNALIST: And do you have any response to Penny Wong and Michael Kirby's intervention where they essentially accusing the Government of subjecting the gay and lesbian community to an ordeal through a public plebiscite?
JULIE BISHOP: The public plebiscite could have been held in February. It's Labor's opposition in the Senate - blatant, base, political opposition for their own purposes - that has dragged this matter on. It could have been done and dusted in February of this year.
JOURNALIST: I don't think that's necessarily what they want, because some of them don't want a plebiscite at all, of course.
JULIE BISHOP: But the issue would have been concluded, Sam. It would have been concluded by February, and there is no logical reason why Labor, if they've now changed their policies- because for six years, including under Julia Gillard, their policy was no free vote, no support for change of legislation, upholding the Marriage Act as it currently stands. That was Labor's position. They are now in opposition, they say they've changed their policy, and they now support same-sex marriage. If they truly believed that they would have given the earliest opportunity for the Australian people to have their say, and for legislation to be in the Parliament. That was the February plebiscite. We're now facing a postal vote, and of course it's a completely different scenario. So, Labor's only got themselves to blame.
JOURNALIST: Okay, thank you very much for your time today.
JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.
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