ALAN JONES: Julie Bishop, a very very good Foreign Minister, is saying the Australian Government is seeking more information. She has rang through. Minister, good morning.
JULIE BISHOP: Good morning Alan, good to be with you.
ALAN JONES: Thank you. I want to thank you and embarrass you – I don’t care about embarrassing you – for the impressive job you do – I get letters about this – as the ambassador for Australia, in the work that you do. And I’m sure people only ever tell people when they are crook, well I’m telling you what people are saying about what you do and how they are grateful for what you do and how you present Australia to the rest of the world. So thank you for that.
JULIE BISHOP: Thank you Alan, I appreciate that. I see my role as Foreign Minister as Australia’s relationship manager and it is my role to ensure that our relationships with our friends, our allies, our partners and countries particularly within our region, as strong as they can be for the benefit of the Australian people and the benefit of our nation.
ALAN JONES: Well you’ve done it very well with Indonesia, of course, what about here this is difficult.
JULIE BISHOP: Well Alan we are gravely concerned by the announcement of General Prayuth, the chief of the Royal Thai Army, that the military has assumed all government functions in Thailand. The military is effectively in control of the country, as you said. The caretaker government is no longer the government, a curfew is in place and the constitution has been suspended.
I have spoken to our Ambassador in Bangkok overnight, we are seeking more information from the authorities on what I think is a regrettable development, the reasons for announcing a coup just days after imposing martial law, but insisting it was not a coup. So we need to understand what has been behind this. I suspect it has to do with pending violence and concern about attacks, but it also means we have to review the implications of the coup on our government-to-government relations.
ALAN JONES: I think what it means Julie is that the powerful forces in Thailand are uncomfortable with democracy.
JULIE BISHOP: We have seen coups in Thailand previously, I think that there have been 19 coups since 1932, and this coup has similar features to previous coups where the government has been sacked, Ministers have been detained, the constitution has been suspended, there is a curfew and the media has been muzzled and there are restrictions on freedom of assembly and expression.
I am concerned that there could still be violence. We have seen months of violent protests and since the last coup back in 2006 this grassroots pro-democracy movement the Red Shirts has emerged. This is a different element from previous coups.
Of course our concern is for the Australians who are in Thailand in their thousands. We expect that any one time there are 28,500 Australians in Thailand and probably 10,000 in Bangkok. But only 5,500 of them have registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. So we are concerned about their safety and security.
ALAN JONES: What about going to Thailand, supposing you have a ticket, people do book a holiday to Bangkok, what about going there?
JULIE BISHOP: I understand that the international airports and the airports in Phuket are still operating. Authorities have advised that the coup curfew will not apply if people are traveling to and from the airport. But of course people should have their passports and tickets with them when they are travelling to and from the airport.
We are not telling people not to go, but we are urging them to exercise a very high degree of caution and to be very careful about their personal security, to not go to demonstration sites or protest sites, avoid political events and avoid large scale public gatherings. We will continue to closely monitor the situation, we will update our travel advice as necessary, but we do urge people to register their travel plans on www.smarttraveller.gov.au.
ALAN JONES: Well done, it is a volatile situation. You have got Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted by military coup in 2006 and he has massive support – accused of being a crony capitalist particularly in Northern Thailand – he has got his sister Yingluck, she was dismissed as Prime Minister earlier this year, also democratically elected, this could go on for some time.
JULIE BISHOP: That is our concern. We had hoped that the declaration of martial law on the 20th of May would provide sufficient security in the country to enable the various political parties to negotiate, leading to the early return to democracy in Thailand. I continue to hope that a way will be found for all parties to resolve their differences through dialogue.
Alan, I believe that sustainable political stability is more likely to be found in the restoration of a democratically elected government operating under civilian law – that is what we are hoping for.
ALAN JONES: Just before you go, since your space was violated when you were trying to perform your functions as Foreign Minister, last night there were very ugly scenes at the Sydney University where the Liberal Club had a John Howard Debating Cup and there was a violent riot by fringe groups of extreme left students. It was violent with these dreadful chants about Christopher Pyne, two windows were smashed, they knocked over tables in their path – where do we go with this kind of behaviour?
JULIE BISHOP: Well Alan people have a right to protest, people have a right to disagree with the Government, but it should always be peaceful protest. It shouldn’t intimidate people, it shouldn’t be confronting, it should be respectful.
Last week in Sydney at Sydney University I was ironically there to attend a function to award scholarships – taxpayer-funded scholarships – to young students including Sydney University students who are being given an opportunity to study overseas at a university in our region under the Government’s New Colombo Plan.
About 20 of these students from what is called the Socialist Alternative were physically trying to prevent me from getting into that event. They blocked one door and when I went to another door they physically blocked me from entering. I was going about my business which was the award these scholarships.
ALAN JONES: Did you feel at risk?
JULIE BISHOP: I felt intimidated, I felt confronted, people were shouting at me very close to my face. I was touched – I was physically touched – and jostled. We got through, we got through to the room and I was determined to do that, I was not going to be prevented from doing what I had gone to Sydney University to do. How disappointing for those other students who were waiting quietly and patiently to be presented with a scholarship from the Foreign Minister.
ALAN JONES: I think we are too soft though. They should be rounded up and let to cool down somewhere. This wouldn’t happen to Hilary Clinton in America, security people would have these people rounded up immediately.
JULIE BISHOP: There is plenty of film footage – they had their own video cameras – I didn’t invite the media along to this event. So I was not the one arrange the film footage. I had the university security with me and the New South Wales police were there because they had been alerted by the students I gather.
We had invited all the Senators from New South Wales to this event from Labor, from the Greens, from the Liberal and National parties to this event because it was a bipartisan, cross-party event to award these scholarships for students. So presumably the students were alerted to it, they staged this protest, they had their own video cameras and then they sent film footage to the media outlet because they thought they were going to get some sort of support for physically confronting and intimidating people. I think they are sadly mistaken.
ALAN JONES: Always good to talk to you and thank you for your time.
JULIE BISHOP: Thank you.
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