Subjects: foreign workers, Joint Understanding with Indonesia, Iraq/Syria, Ukraine, Thai surrogacy.
JOURNALIST So Minister should employees be able to employ foreign workers and pay them 10 per cent less?
JULIE BISHOP No foreign worker can be paid less than an Australian worker. What we’re seeking to do is give flexibility to State governments to meet the circumstances of their labour market. We want a strong and prosperous economy and we will do that with flexibility in our work place, and we know that Australian workers will get first choice of jobs, first opportunity, and yet there are circumstances where we need to bring in workers from overseas – particularly for significant projects that can’t be filled by an Australian workforce.
JOURNALIST Minister, on the Indonesian pact yesterday, does that mean Australia isn’t going to spy on Indonesia from now on, or does it mean its back to normal?
JULIE BISHOP This document was very carefully drafted over a number of months. It provides that Australia and Indonesia will not use our assets, including our intelligence resources, to cause harm to each other’s interests. The document speaks for itself.
JOURNALIST I don’t think anyone would ever say that we would try to cause them harm, but do you now rule out any spying activity on Indonesia?
JULIE BISHOP The document has been published and I believe the words speak for themselves. I’m not going in to details on intelligence matters, that’s not been the practice of any Australian government. We’ve resolved an issue that we inherited and Indonesia and Australia are now committed to full cooperation across a range of areas and that includes intelligence sharing. The document does provide for the Australian and Indonesian intelligence agencies to cooperate more closely, indeed it envisages high-level visits from the heads of our intelligence agencies and the Indonesian intelligence agencies. As we are facing this new and heightened threat of terrorism and extremists going over to fight in Syria and Iraq, we need that higher level of cooperation between Australia and Indonesia and this document provides for that.
JOURNALIST It’s effectively status quo though, we’re back to before the kerfuffle came to light a few months ago.
JULIE BISHOP I believe that the cooperation is in fact enhanced by this agreement because it actually provides for an opportunity for our intelligence agencies to visit each other, at a very high level, on a regular basis; and in my conversations with Dr Natalegawa, indeed with other Foreign Ministers throughout the region, there is this understanding that we need to work together, to share information, to share intelligence, in order to combat this rising risk of terrorism and the risk of hardened home grown terrorists coming back to our nations and causing harm, and risking the security of our people.
JOURNALIST With the change in government do you think it’ll bring [inaudible]?
JULIE BISHOP It’s been agreed that this is a document signed by the Government, witnessed by the current President, and I am sure that it will be an agreement that covers us into the future. It has an enduring quality about it because it’s been signed pursuant to the 2006 Lombok Treaty on security cooperation between Australian and Indonesia - a Treaty where we agreed to respect each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and it’s in the interests of both Australia and Indonesia, for our countries to proper and grow and be safe and secure.
JOURNALIST In relation to the atrocities in Syria that have come to light recently, does Australia, whilst obviously you want to see an end to what Islamic State is doing in the region, but do we have any authority or any right to be entering Syria to assist without full Syrian approval?
JULIE BISHOP Well, in the case of Iraq and Syria, any intervention would of course require the consent, the invitation of the sovereign government. So in the case of Iraq for example, we are working with and supporting the Iraqi Government in its attempts to combat this barbaric and brutal form of extremism.
JOURNALIST …US [inaudible]?
JULIE BISHOP The United States is currently considering their options, and what it can involve other countries in, and we continue to talk to our friends in the United States and other countries about this extremism - and that is not isolated in Syria and Iraq but has the potential to go further, across the Middle East and North Africa. And Australia is sadly, tragically involved, because there are a number of Australian citizens who are leaving this country, to go to Syria and Iraq and take part in the fighting. Who can forget the sight of the American journalist being beheaded by people who claim to be part of ISIS. Likewise, a young Australian boy it seems, to have been taken by his parents, captured holding up a severed head of what was said to be a Syrian soldier. This is a particularly virulent and brutal and barbaric form of extremism and we don’t want Australians to be radicalised in this way and come back here as hardened terrorists. So we will do what we can to prevent this kind of terrorism, which is far better than seeking to prosecute terrorists after they have carried out these kinds of acts.
JOURNALIST So what sort of role can Australia play?
JULIE BISHOP Australia is already playing a role in seeking to alleviate the humanitarian crisis. We are supporting the Iraqi Government and we will work with our partners as we consider options that can be utilised to combat this form of terrorism.
JOURNALIST So you would say inevitably we’re going to railroaded down at least an area of invasion or an aerial support role with the US?
JULIE BISHOP It’s not inevitable, and we certainly won’t be railroaded into anything. It will need the understanding of a clear and proportionate role for Australia and there will have to be a clear humanitarian objective, and we will consider all options very carefully and weigh the risks as we’ve done in the past.
JOURNALIST When would you see a crunch time for making a decision on that?
JULIE BISHOP When we’re asked to do something – at that point we will make a decision, at this stage we’ve been asked to be involved in an humanitarian effort and that’s what we’ve done.
JOURNALIST What’s some of the other options [inaudible]?
JULIE BISHOP The United States is consideration all options – Australia is not taking the lead on this issue. We have a responsibility to be a good global citizen, particularly as there are Australians adding to this tragedy that’s unfolding in Syria and Iraq. We understand that there are Australian citizens who are figuring prominently in leadership roles, so we have a responsibility to ensure that we can combat this barbaric, brutal form of terrorism.
JOURNALIST So it’s likely we will…?
JULIE BISHOP It’s not inevitable. As I said, we will consider what options are put before us. We will weigh the risks; there will need to be a clear humanitarian outcome; there will need to be a clear and proportionate role for Australia before we would consider it. But we will weigh this very carefully – it’s a very serious issue, but we are also conscious of the fact that in a very short period of time we have seen ISIS, ISIL, the Islamic State, take over territory and brutally slaughter innocent civilians. They seem not to have a care in the world about executing people. The beheadings, the barbaric acts are shocking and its must be stopped.
JOURNALIST Russian troops [inaudible] what’s your reaction to that?
JULIE BISHOP Overnight Australia joined with other countries in the United Nations in condemning this invasion of Ukraine, breaching Ukraine’s sovereignty. It’s not the first time that Russia has done it. In the past we imposed sanctions on Russia and we will certainly consider what actions we can take to send a very strong message to President Putin and his government that what they are doing is a clear breach of international law, it’s against international norms, it’s interfering in the domestic affairs of another country; it is an invasion of Ukraine’s sovereignty, a breach of its territorial integrity.
JOURNALIST Is Russia going to attend the G20 Summit?
JULIE BISHOP That’s a matter for the other members of the G20. Australia is chairing, but it’s a matter for the other members of the G20 and I have no doubt that it will be a subject of discussion in weeks ahead.
JOURNALIST In relation to Thai surrogacy, there are reports that the DFAT Secretary is negotiating directly in relation to Thai surrogacy?
JULIE BISHOP My departmental secretary Peter Varghese is in Thailand at present meeting with his counterpart. Earlier this month I met with the acting Thai Foreign Minister and urged upon him the need for transition arrangements to be put in place. We understand that the Thai Government is considering the surrogacy laws and the framework around commercial surrogacy in Thailand, and my plea was that transition provisions be put in place so that parents are not caught between the old framework and the new – the last thing we need is babies abandoned through this commercial surrogacy process and the secretary will be, in Thailand, arguing that case.
- Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555