ALAN JONES: The Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is on the line. Minister, good morning. I haven’t talked to you in ages but I really want to confirm something with you before we talk the serious stuff. Is it true that you once thought that you were having a telephone hook-up on major, major matters of international importance and you dived in to grab the phone in the dressing gown, or perhaps even less than the dressing gown, to find it was a video hook-up. Is that true?
JULIE BISHOP: Alan, that is absolutely true but indeed I was in a pair of Qantas pyjamas no less and I thought I was on an audio call just on the telephone. I looked up and they’d installed a video and at the other end of the video was the chief of the Defence Force in his uniform, the head of Federal Police in his uniform, the Prime Minister in his blue tie and suit and me in my Qantas pyjamas. There was silence for a moment and then Scott Morrison, who was also on the hook-up, said “going casual today Julie?”
ALAN JONES: In a play on words I suppose we could say you’d been badly briefed!
JULIE BISHOP: Please Alan!
ALAN JONES: Now listen, you are doing a wonderful, wonderful job. How serious is this matter?
JULIE BISHOP: This is very grim news, shocking, that there would be a gunman or gunmen targeting the military in Canada. One soldier was shot dead. He was guarding their War Memorial and then a gunman, and we don’t know if it was the same one, entered the Parliament in Ottawa and was shot dead in the Hall of Honour. Now, that’s like the foyer of our Parliament House here in Canberra. It’s where Prime Minister Abbott met with Prime Minister Harper during his visit to Ottawa just last June. Now it is a shocking incident. We must wait for the Canadian authorities to conduct an investigation into the motivation for the shooting however it does have the hallmarks of a terrorist attack.
The terrorist organisations have been saying for quite some time that they would target Parliament and military and other such institutions in countries that are opposed to their ideology and of course they are freedom loving, tolerant societies like Canada, Australia, the United States and the like. So it’s deeply concerning.
I did actually make contact with the Foreign Minister of Canada John Baird at about 4am Canberra time. I sent him a text to see where he was and whether he was okay. He was actually in the Parliament House, still in lockdown, and he sent back a text to me saying he was only 50 feet away from the gunman in the Parliament and that the body was just near where they were locked inside a room.
ALAN JONES: Yes I understand Stephen Harper was meeting with his Cabinet, which as you say wasn’t far. In the briefings you’ve had since then, goodness me to my listeners – just note the comment by the Foreign Minister she was in contact with the Foreign Minister at 4am – it’s a tough job this I can tell you. But there was talk that there was concern there might have been a second gunman. Have your briefings indicated the truth of that or otherwise?
JULIE BISHOP: Not yet. We are still to learn whether there was more than one and whether there’s a connection between the gunman who shot the soldier at the War Memorial and the gunman who was killed in the Parliament. There’s an assumption that it’s the same person but that’s not confirmed at this stage. But tragically the soldier was killed so of course our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of that young man. And of course this comes on from an attack in Quebec just two days earlier on Canadian military. The Canadians are rightly deeply troubled by their Defence Forces under attack on home soil.
ALAN JONES: You, as the Foreign Minister, along with the other senior people of the Government, see these files every day. You’re confidentially briefed on security measures every day. Just can you offer a word to listeners about your confidence or otherwise in the capacity of our security people and our intelligence people to take charge of the situation here. I mean Prime Minister Abbott and you have said many times we’ve got to get on with our lives and I think as Bill Clinton said at the time of the George Bush issue, just trust the President, we’ve got to trust the Government, trust security, trust intelligence. How confident are you that our people are really on top of all those issues that you see on your desk every day?
JULIE BISHOP: The Government has not underestimated the threat that our country faces, or the challenge of dealing with it and we have acted in recent weeks to increase security at various places around Australia. The security of the Australian people and the safety of our country is our number one priority and we are working with some of the best security and intelligence agencies in the world – our very own. And I’m confident that they are doing all that we can, and we’re receiving the best advice available as to how we can ensure that our country is kept safe but we’ve increased funding to our security agencies, we’ve increased funding to our border protection agencies, we’re absolutely determined to do all that is humanly possible to keep Australians, to keep this country safe.
ALAN JONES: Now I’m not being sycophantic here but I have to say this on behalf of people who write and listen to this program and talk every day because you’re so busy we don’t often get the chance to talk to you - you make Australians feel very proud of Australia when they see you representing us in some of these very troubled theatres because of the way you conduct yourself. Now you’ve recently, I think in the last couple of days, been in Baghdad. Can you just give us a brief update on that? Because the reports we get here is that Baghdad itself is under threat.
JULIE BISHOP: Alan I was in Baghdad on Saturday, last Saturday and Sunday to meet with the Iraqi Government and I did meet with Prime Minister al-Abadi, Foreign Minister Ja’afari, also the President of Iraq and the Speaker of their Parliament, as well as a number of other senior representatives.
The situation in Baghdad is very tense. While I was there a number of bombs went off in the city of Baghdad itself. About 25 or 30 civilians were killed on the Saturday night that I was there. Our embassy is very secure but nevertheless it’s unnerving to be in a place where you hear bombs going off. And on the Sunday morning I addressed the staff in the courtyard, our embassy staff as well as the security guards who are protecting our staff and while I was talking a bomb went off. It was audible, we could hear it and while I flinched, they were all very calm, very composed, very measured. And we have a wonderful Ambassador Lyndall Sachs in Baghdad and she’s as courageous and feisty as they come but it is a dangerous situation.
The Iraqi authorities assure me that they will hold Baghdad, but the rest of the country is in chaos. About a third of the territory has been taken by ISIL, this murderous terrorist organisation and the Iraqi Government has to fight back, that’s why we are sending Special Forces to assist, train and advise Iraqi Security Forces so that they can protect all Iraqis and I did meet with a number of minority groups, the Christians, Mandaeans, Yazidis, Shabaks and they told me of the horrible plight that their people are finding themselves in and there are millions of people displaced in Iraq without food, shelter. It’s a very dire situation.
ALAN JONES: And is there any feeling amongst them that they’re getting on top of these people?
JULIE BISHOP: The air strikes are having an impact and they are very grateful for Australian involvement in the Coalition of nations that are providing air strikes because what it’s done is it’s disrupted ISIL. They are no longer being able to form into military-style groups and as we see in the videos of them marching into towns and cities with their armoured vehicles. So the air strikes are having that impact of disrupting their activities but they do need their Security Forces to be able to go in on the ground and combat these terrorist organisations who are well-resourced and well-supported by foreign fighters. And that’s why the Australian Government is so determined to starve this organisation of funds, of foreign fighters and weapons and that’s why we’re working to ensure that Australians don’t pick up arms with this organisation.
ALAN JONES: Good on you Julie, good to talk to you. I just noticed there’s a story in where many of the lawmakers, I think they call them, Members of the Parliament, are hailing this man as a hero – Kevin Vickers the Parliamentary Sergeant-at-Arms in Canada who fired the shot that killed the gunman so we’ll know more about that.
Look, good luck in all that you do. Try and get some sleep and we’ll talk again soon.
JULIE BISHOP: Thanks Alan.
- Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555