CHRIS SMITH: As I said earlier Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has arrived in Australia. It’s a visit that will include an address to a joint sitting of Parliament and the issues of free trade and energy security are said to be the main topics for discussion.

Energy security, it’s reported, will be the key underlying issue with Japan reportedly looking at doubling LNG volumes from Australia and Papua New Guinea, doubling, so at the moment more than 60 per cent of Japan’s gas that is used to produce power comes largely from the Middle East. Now the gas is shipped through disputed waters in the South China Sea where you’ve got China, South Vietnam and the Philippines involved in what’s been described as ‘open territorial conflict’. Increasing gas and LNG imports from Australia and PNG from 18 million tonnes a year to 36 million would aim to avoid that.

Mr Abe and Tony Abbott will sign a Free Trade Agreement known as the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement which Mr Abe has described as “very significant”. Mr Abe says that Australia is the largest trading partner Japan has concluded such an agreement with. As I said earlier, Mr Abe has also pointed to the history behind the agreement and it’s quite interesting - in 1957 his grandfather, and then Prime Minister, Nobusuke Kishi welcomed Robert Menzies as the first Australian PM to visit Japan in the wake of World War 2.

I thought we’d talk about all of this and some other current issues, there’s plenty of those too, with the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop who is on the line.

Minister good morning.

JULIE BISHOP: Good morning Chris.

CHRIS SMITH: Thank you so much for your time. How important and significant is this visit by Prime Minister Abe?

JULIE BISHOP: This is a very significant, indeed historic visit. During this visit to Australia Prime Minister Abe and Prime Minister Abbott will sign the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement or a Free Trade Agreement. This is enormously good news for Australian business because they’ll be able to get goods into Japan at reduced or zero tariffs, great news for Australian consumers who’ll be able to buy cheaper Japanese goods.

And it is the first such agreement that Japan has undertaken with a developed economy and it’s by far the most liberalising trade agreement that Japan has ever included. So it’s going to deliver significant benefits particularly to Australian farmers, manufacturers, exporters, service providers and of course our consumers.

CHRIS SMITH: You say that you’ll get cheaper prices on Japanese goods for Australians but, you know, the truth is there’s always a degree of cynicism towards these so called free trade agreements with Asia, any Asian country, because we cannot compete on wages. Are there guarantees in this agreement that those benefits will flow on?

JULIE BISHOP: Well under the agreement, let me take resources and manufacturing, on entry into force of the agreement, almost 100 per cent - 99.7 per cent of Australian resource, energy and manufacturing product will enter Japan duty free. Then on full implementation of the agreement all of our resources, energy, manufactured goods will benefit from duty free entry into Japan. Now this is a multi-billion dollar sector of the economy. These products exported to Japan in 2013 were worth over $40 billion. So there will also be big benefits for Australian consumers because tariffs on Japanese imports will be eliminated on full implementation.

So this is a significant agreement and it’s something that we took to the last election as an election policy. We promised the Australian people that we would work very hard to conclude free trade agreements that benefit Australian businesses and Australian consumers with South Korea, Japan and China. Well we’ve concluded one with South Korea, we’re now about to sign off on the Japanese one and we’re very busy negotiating a Free Trade Agreement with China. So these are all designed to boost the Australian economy, boost job opportunities and to open up new markets or enhance existing markets for our export businesses.

CHRIS SMITH: I think it’s fair to say that the consumer focuses on our relationship with China when we think about and purchase goods on a daily or weekly basis but until recently Japan was our number one trading partner wasn’t it?

JULIE BISHOP: That’s right. From the time of the 1957 Commerce Agreement, to which you referred, Australia and Japan have had a very broad and deep relationship and for many years Japan was our number one trading partner and it’s only been surpassed in more recent years by China because of China’s immense growth and its economy is demanding iron ore and coal and other resources from Australia as its economy develops. And Japan is now our second largest trading partner, our third largest foreign direct investor but that still means Japan has been for over many decades a most significant partner.

Now I come from Western Australia and I know how important Japan has been to that state and of course the West Australian resources sector. I would say it drives the Australian economy, people on the East Coast might differ, but nevertheless Japanese companies have been very responsible corporate citizens in Western Australia, and indeed throughout Australia, for many many decades.

CHRIS SMITH: So is that where traditionally foreign investment has gone?

JULIE BISHOP: Well indeed the Japanese have been investing in significant levels in Western Australia in mining and resource projects for decades and I think it’s quite fitting that Prime Minister Abe is visiting the Pilbara with Prime Minister Abbott. And this is about 40 years, in fact exactly 40 years, since a previous Japanese Prime Minister, Tanaka, visited Western Australia’s North West in 1974 and that preceded the huge growth in Japanese steel making and so that’s when the relationship with the Pilbara really took off after the previous Prime Minister visited the Pilbara. I think it’s quite fitting that Prime Minister Abe will visit the Pilbara and it’s also as you mention, quite a historic nicety that it was Prime Minister Abe’s grandfather, Prime Minister Kishi who signed the original Commerce Agreement in 1957 with Robert Menzies.

Tonight we will be awarding the Kishi Fellow to a young Australian undergraduate who has been awarded a 12-month scholarship to study in Japan under the Government’s New Colombo Plan. This gives students an opportunity to study in universities in our region. It’s a reverse of the original Colombo Plan of the 1950s that used to bring Asian students to study in Australia and these people have gone on to become political leaders, business leaders and community leaders in the region. Now, the Abbott Government has reversed that and we’re sending young Australians to study at universities in the region and so tonight we’ll be awarding a fellowship to a young Australian who will be studying for 12-months in Japan and called the Kishi Fellow.

CHRIS SMITH: An excellent program.

I mentioned energy security earlier and suggested this is likely to be the big underlying issue. Why?

JULIE BISHOP: Well energy security is so very important to Japan. Of course they had a focus on nuclear security, because of the Fukushima Tsunami incident they have downgraded their reliance on nuclear and they have a huge demand for energy and so they are now looking to supplement with energy from other sources including LNG and that’s where Australia has so much to offer with our LNG projects. In the North West of this state we can supply Japan.

It won’t be only Australia, there’s also a significant LNG operation in Papua New Guinea that will be supplying energy, LNG, to Japan and so I understand Prime Minister Abe is also visiting PNG which I know will be an historic moment for the citizens of that country.

CHRIS SMITH: Prime Minister Abe is also addressing our National Security Committee, would that be a first by a Japanese leader?

JULIE BISHOP: I believe it would be. It wouldn’t be the first by a leader of another country but Prime Minister Abbott was invited to sit in on the Japanese National Security Committee meeting and so we are returning the compliment. And I think it’s a positive that Prime Minister Abe is going to take the opportunity to discuss his announcement recently that Japan will be exercising the United Nations Charter right to collective self-defence.

For decades Japan has demonstrated a really strong commitment to peacekeeping operations, humanitarian and disaster relief and this decision will enhance those efforts. We’ve worked very well with Japan in difficult security environments overseas and I think this decision will support future efforts to deepen the practical defence cooperation we have with Japan.

I’m hoping Prime Minister Abe will explain the new policy. I understand that under this policy Japan can now respond in the event of an armed attack against a close partner of Japan or where there’s a clear danger to Japan’s survival and to the Japanese people and so here we will be taking an opportunity to discuss that with him and I think it’s important we be transparent about our defence and military capabilities.

CHRIS SMITH: Okay, a couple of other quick issues and some which will develop later this afternoon - Sri Lanka is in the news, a case involving asylum seekers goes before the High Court at 2 o’clock. You’ve twice been to Sri Lanka, once as a Minister. How would you describe the political climate, and secondly, given the fact that we intercepted one of these boats outside of our waters, is it the jurisdiction of the High Court?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, you’ll understand that I won’t be making any comment because the matter is before the Court and it would be inappropriate for me to make any comment about matters that the High Court will be dealing with.

But in relation to Sri Lanka, yes, I visited there in opposition as Shadow Foreign Minister with Scott Morrison and with Michael Keenan, who is our Justice Minister as well, Scott of course is Border Protection. We went there in opposition and we were accompanied by Tamil Members of Parliament to the north of Sri Lanka and so I visited the previous war torn areas of Jaffna and Kilinochchi, all these Tamil areas in the North where most of the fighting went on. And we’ve got to remember that the Tamil Tigers were, are a proscribed terrorist organisation. This was a bloody, horrible civil war for 30 years inside Sri Lanka.

CHRIS SMITH: Although the war is over are there reprisals still going on though?

JULIE BISHOP: There are challenges in reconciliation.

CHRIS SMITH: Reprisals?

JULIE BISHOP: Not that I was aware of, and not that I have seen and we’ve had assurances from the Sri Lankan Government that that will not occur. I met with many Tamils both in the South and the North. I know they have challenges with reconciliation but they are holding elections. There was an election in the North, the Tamils won by a substantial majority, they have Members of Parliament, they are free to travel, they are free to speak. There’s a very vibrant Tamil and Singhalese community in Sri Lanka.

I believe the best way for there to be reconciliation between the Tamils and the Singhalese after 30 years of the most horrible conflict is for the international community to engage with Sri Lanka and assist Sri Lanka in resettling people who are displaced by the war, reconciling their differences and working with them so that it can be a country that fulfils its potential.

CHRIS SMITH: So are the vast majority of those jumping on a boat and heading to Australia, whether it’s with their dog or without their dog, are they – the vast majority economic asylum seekers?

JULIE BISHOP: Well I can quote Bob Carr, former Foreign Minister of the Labor Party, and he said indeed that these were economic migrants coming to Australia.

CHRIS SMITH: Do you agree?

JULIE BISHOP: I don’t believe that Tamils are being persecuted in Sri Lanka. If anyone were in fear of persecution they can go to Tamil Nadu in India which is a mere few kilometres away from Sri Lanka where India promises anyone experiencing persecution access to medical services, educational services. In fact the United Nations, the UNHCR, says India is a model for the way it treats Tamils. So if you were feeling persecuted or you had been persecuted in Sri Lanka you wouldn’t get on a boat that is probably unseaworthy and pay criminal syndicates to travel thousands and thousands of kilometres at sea when you could get shelter in Tamil Nadu which is a few kilometres away.

CHRIS SMITH: And worse still you don’t take your dog with you if you think you’re being persecuted. I don’t get that.

You’ve described the situation with the ISIS extremists and Australians thought to be fighting for ISIS at the moment as one of the most disturbing developments on the security front in recent years. Is it getting worse?

JULIE BISHOP: I believe so. We are already tracking about 150 Australians who have been, or are, in Syria and Iraq and they are, to our knowledge supporting or promoting or indeed even training with ISIS which is an offshoot of Al Qaeda, it is so violent that even Al Qaeda has distanced itself from this terrorist organisation.

CHRIS SMITH: So if they weren’t twisted, murderous extremists before they went, this is exactly what they’ll end up being after this war?

JULIE BISHOP: Our fear is that they are being radicalised and that they are being brought into this extremist terrorist organisation whose atrocities are truly appalling, who revel in mass executions and then we fear that they’ll be coming back to Australia having trained as terrorists.

CHRIS SMITH: Can you promise our listeners this morning that you won’t let them back in?

JULIE BISHOP: I’m already cancelling passports, or rejecting passport applications from those who our intelligence community believe put our country at a security risk.

CHRIS SMITH: What about if their only passport is an Australian passport?

JULIE BISHOP: They are being cancelled.

CHRIS SMITH: So they will be stuck in this no man’s land in the Middle Earth, northern Iraq?

JULIE BISHOP: I am cancelling passports on the advice of our intelligence community.

CHRIS SMITH: What is your advice to families of those who have either got people fighting for ISIS in Iraq or Syria and/or about to send a family member over to that part of the world? What’s your advice to families?

JULIE BISHOP: My advice to families, but particularly to the women, I’m urging them to see what they can do to prevent their husbands, or sons, or brothers, or uncles - please prevent them from leaving Australia and joining up with these terrorist gangs and then coming back to Australia. They must do all they can, because it’s an offence against Australian law, terrorist offences are punishable by sentences of up to 25 years in jail and..

CHRIS SMITH: …and they’ll be left on their own because they won’t be allowed back in.

I’ve got to leave it there I’m getting to news but thank you so much for your time this morning Foreign Minister.

JULIE BISHOP: You take care.

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