FRAN KELLY: The Federal Government is keeping up the pressure on home-grown extremism sparked by the conflicts in Iraq and Syria. The Islamic State movement was described by the Prime Minister yesterday as one of utter ferocity, of medieval barbarism, allied to modern technology.

So, how do you approach a threat that Tony Abbott says is as dangerous and serious as that posed by Islamic State. Yesterday the PM outlined a range of measures aimed at trying to stop the radicalisation of young Australians, to prevent them from going abroad to fight and to arrest and jail those who do if they try and return to Australia.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has been looking at the issue with her US counterpart John Kerry and they’ll be taking a joint US-Australian plan to the UN General Assembly next month. The Foreign Minister joins me now in our Parliament House studios.

JULIE BISHOP: welcome to RN Breakfast.

JULIE BISHOP: Good morning Fran.

FRAN KELLY: Julie Bishop, yesterday you spoke with John Kerry about the plan the two of you intend to bring before the UN General Assembly on this notion of foreign fighters, home-grown terrorists. What is the essence of that plan?

JULIE BISHOP: We first began discussing this during the AUSMIN meeting, that is the US-Australia Foreign and Defence Ministers meeting that was held in Sydney recently. And the US joins with Australia in our deep concern about hardened home-grown terrorists carrying out terrorist activities in our respective countries - not only Australia and the US, but also other countries in our region. This is an issue affecting Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Arab nations, throughout Europe, UK, Canada and the like. This is not an isolated situation and we decided that it should be the feature of the United Nations General Assembly Leaders’ Week - that’s in mid-September – when many of the world’s leaders will gather, President Obama will be present.

FRAN KELLY: Will Tony Abbott be going?

JULIE BISHOP: Well if President Obama makes foreign fighters and the fight against terrorism and extremism a feature I would hope that the Prime Minister would be able to attend. It is during a Parliamentary sitting week but I’m hoping that the Prime Minister would be able to be there and put forward Australia’s support for the counter-terrorist activities that will have to take place across the globe.

FRAN KELLY: In terms of the plan you mentioned though. Again, can you give us some sense of what are the central elements of the plan you’re bringing?

JULIE BISHOP: This is a call to other nations to take steps to counter terrorist activities in their countries. This is not just Australia, although we do have a significant number of Australian citizens who are taking leadership roles, we understand, within the ISIS or Islamic State terrorist organisation. This is a particularly brutal, barbaric organisation and we are concerned that while there are about 60 Australians fighting in Syria and Iraq with them there are about 100 that we know of back here in Australia supporting them.

FRAN KELLY: Australia is putting in place some measures to try and deal with this and some soft counter-terrorism measures were announced yesterday by the Prime Minister. But what about first and foremost for instance, full biometric screening at all airports being put in place because we’ve already had in recent times two known extremists leave Australia headed for Iraq. I mean for instance Khaled Sharrouf’s brother, why didn’t he have the biometric passport given that he was the brother of a known terrorist? We’re falling at those kind of hurdles already.

JULIE BISHOP: That’s why we have announced $630 million in new funding to boost our border protection, customs, passport capability. There had been a reduction in funding for our intelligence organisations, for customs, for border protection over the last six years or more. We are now trying to boost that so that these matters are less likely to occur. It’s very difficult to screen every person but we want to ensure that we are in the best possible position to prevent people who pose a security risk to our nation, leaving the country so they can be prosecuted here, or indeed coming back if they’ve already been fighting overseas with terrorist organisations.

Proscribed terrorist organisations are those that if you support them or work with them you can face punishment of up to 25 years in jail so it’s very serious to be supporting, or working with a proscribed terrorist organisation under Australian law.

FRAN KELLY: Minister does the plan and discussions you’ve been having with John Kerry and the discussion you imagine will be taking place at the UN General Assembly, does it go beyond this? Does it go to developing a broader coalition of support for military action in New York? Because yesterday the Prime Minister said in Question Time Australia was a very close and supportive partner of the US and consultations are continuing with the US and others. What options for Australian involvement has been considered?

JULIE BISHOP: The United States has asked us to be involved in the humanitarian effort in Northern Iraq, and we have in terms of humanitarian air drops. The United States has not asked, or invited us to be involved in any further activity, we’re keeping in close contact, to understand the United States plans as to how it intends to prevent the spread of this extreme, brutal ideology and extremism that we’re seeing with the likes of IS and others.

FRAN KELLY: But National Security Cabinet is considering possible future options isn’t it?

JULIE BISHOP: We are looking at what we can do in Australia and overseas to prevent the spread of this kind of terrorism.

FRAN KELLY: And on a military front what might that be?

JULIE BISHOP: We’ve not been asked to put forward any suggestions on military intervention but we are supporting the United States in its humanitarian efforts in Northern Iraq. But the United States has been taking steps in other countries, in Yemen, in North Africa, in the Middle East more generally to stop the spread of this extremism because these are people who want to exterminate anyone who opposes their ideology. So it’s not just a threat to the West, it’s a threat to Arab nations, and we want to build a coalition of support to stop this kind of terrorist activity including among Arab nations.

FRAN KELLY: Yesterday in the Parliament, the Greens deputy leader Adam Bandt accused the Prime Minister of mission creep on Iraq and asked the Prime Minister for a commitment that he would seek parliamentary approval before any troops were deployed. The Prime Minister said, well he will consult, but that’s as far as he went. Essentially, is that decision in your view, the view of the government, a leader’s call? Or should any further military action in Iraq, if there is any against IS, require some kind of parliamentary approval?

JULIE BISHOP: We will continue to consult with the opposition and with the crossbenchers. Indeed, we offer intelligence briefings. I know that the opposition has taken them up. I don’t know whether the crossbenchers have. But we can share with the crossbenchers the kind of information that we have that gives rise to our great concern that this is one of the greatest security risks that we have faced in a very long time and I want all parliamentarians to understand, indeed I want all Australians to understand, the security risk that we currently face.

FRAN KELLY: But no parliamentary approval if we decide to go further militarily?

JULIE BISHOP: We would act as we have always done, and that is consult with the opposition and the crossbenchers but we’re talking hypotheticals. We’re focussing on the humanitarian effort into Northern Iraq. That’s what we’ve been asked to do and that’s what we’re responding to.

FRAN KELLY: Minister, later today you’re heading to Indonesia, I want to come to that in a moment, but before I leave this – a Kurdish representative to Australia Haval Syan has asked you directly I understand for weapons and aid for the Peshmergas military and humanitarian operations in Northern Iraq. Will you say yes?

JULIE BISHOP: We are providing humanitarian support and we will continue to do so, we have..

FRAN KELLY: Weapons?

JULIE BISHOP: I’ve not been asked to supply weapons…

FRAN KELLY: He said he’s asked you for weapons. Have you not been asked for weapons?

JULIE BISHOP: I’ve not met with him, no, I’ve not been asked.

FRAN KELLY: Alright, because Iran is arming the Kurds, we know that, so if we were considering that we would be – Iran and Australia would be in a sense supporting the Kurdish Peshmerga.

JULIE BISHOP: The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

FRAN KELLY: Which goes to the same issue in Syria because if the US does have operations, military operations, over the border in Syria, it would be in a sense giving, serving the interests of the Government of Bashar al-Assad. It’s throwing up some strange bedfellows the Islamic State, isn’t it?

JULIE BISHOP: We would only act in our national interest and our national interest is to ensure that Australians can be as safe and secure as the Government can achieve. And that’s what we’re seeking to do with the changes in the law. That’s why we want the support from the crossbenchers, from the Opposition to ensure that we can make the environment in Australia as safe as possible and to prevent terrorism. It’s better to be preventing people becoming terrorists than prosecuting them after they’ve carried out terrorist activities.

FRAN KELLY: And sorry I interrupted you in terms of if there is a Kurdish request, it’s in the press that there has been, if there is for weapons, would Australian consider that?

JULIE BISHOP: Well I would consider any request that a country made but we are focussing on a humanitarian effort and if (Iraq) Kurdistan has sent the request to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade well I’ll follow it up but we have most certainly responded to their request for humanitarian support.

FRAN KELLY: Minister, you fly later today to Bali for talks with your counterpart Marty Natalegawa in Indonesia. You’ll sign the code of conduct on intelligence matters that was prompted quite spectacularly by Indonesian fury over revelations that Australia had spied on senior Indonesian officials and tapped the phone of the President’s wife. Is this code of conduct more of a tidying up episode or a face-saving exercise with Indonesia before the Presidential change, rather than a code with much to it? Will it change much?

JULIE BISHOP: These allegations referred to events in 2009. They came to the surface via the Snowden revelations and it was a matter that we inherited, if you like. Over time we have been continuing to work very closely with Indonesia and at the request of President Yudhoyono we are signing what I call a Joint Understanding and its pursuant to the Lombok Treaty, which is already a treaty between Australia and Indonesia over respecting each other’s sovereignty. And this specifically says that Australia and Indonesia will not use our resources, including our intelligence resources, to harm each other’s interests. It also lays the ground for greater cooperation between our intelligence agencies and this is particularly pertinent in the light of the foreign fighter terrorist activity in Syria and Iraq because there are a significant number of Indonesians who are also heading to Syria and Iraq to fight with the likes of ISIL.

FRAN KELLY: In the light of that, and the potential increase in terrorism threat in our region, is this code of conduct going to change anything? Will it limit the capacity of Australian intelligence forces to gather or conduct intelligence surveillance?

JULIE BISHOP: In fact it enhances the opportunities for cooperation between our intelligence agencies and anticipates a greater level of engagement between Australian intelligence agencies and Indonesian intelligence agencies.

FRAN KELLY: Minister, just before I let you go, Clive Palmer yesterday made an apology to the Chinese Government for his comments last week on Q and A. His colleague Senator Jacqui Lambie is not backing off her criticism of the Chinese and the threat she says is posed to Australia by the communist regime. What’s your response to that and has there been, have you had any representations from China to suggest that these comments by Clive Palmer had done any harm?

JULIE BISHOP: Clearly Mr Palmer himself recognises the potential for damage to the relationship because he’s made this fulsome apology and I welcome it. It’s a little late, I wish he’d done it earlier. I did ask him to reflect on his words, he clearly has done that and he’s now apologised. I hope that Senator Lambie likewise reflects on the comments that she’s made and the potential for harm with one of our largest trading partners.

FRAN KELLY: Well she’s reflected and she’s standing by them.

JULIE BISHOP: Well that’s what Clive Palmer said last week until he apologised. We should be working to enhance our relationships with trading partners. We want to be friends with other countries. They don’t have to trade with us and we’re dependent on getting our exports into countries like China. The Government wants to enhance our relationships. Of course we can have differences with other countries, but you deal with them in a respectful way. Australians are not normally discourteous people and I don’t think Senator Lambie’s discourtesy towards China would be a reflection of the views of the majority of Australians.

FRAN KELLY: Minister thanks very much for joining us.

JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.

Media enquiries

  • Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555