JOURNALIST We did want to ask you what you thought about the speech – the State of the Union – being there in the chamber.
JULIE BISHOP I was honoured to be in the Congressional Chamber this evening as a guest of Speaker John Boehner for the State of the Union Address. I thought there was a very positive message for Australia and indeed the rest of the world. President Obama spoke in positive terms about the growth in the American economy. That was a strong message that the American economy is back. He spoke of the decreasing unemployment, the strength of the manufacturing sector.
He also spoke about trade, a positive message for Australia as a trading partner of the United States and he gave a significant indication that there would be a focus on greater trade in our region.
He also emphasised the commitment to fighting extremism in all its forms and of course we are united in our efforts to combat the phenomena of foreign fighters and terrorism and radicalisation.
So overall I thought it was a very comprehensive message for Australia and Australians and that’s what I took out of it.
JOURNALIST Minister, on trade, the President warned basically that if America couldn’t get its act together in the Congress on Trade Promotional Authority, that it risked playing into the hands of China and that they’ll get to write the trade rules. Is that a concern shared by the Australian Government?
JULIE BISHOP I noted that the President was very forceful in seeking Trade Promotion authority which would open the way, for him, for example on the TPP. Australia is one of the stakeholders in the success of a Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement and we’re certainly negotiating very hard to conclude one so I’m very supportive of the President’s focus on trade and the fact that he is seeking a bipartisan commitment. I think that both Republicans and Democrats want to see the conclusion of trade agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership so that they can find markets, new markets, enhanced markets for their goods and services.
JOURNALIST On the issue of Islamic State, what have you been told or what have you learned about the global terror situation since you’ve arrived in the US?
JULIE BISHOP I spent much of today meeting with the heads of the United States national security agencies. I met with the Head of the National Security Agency, Mike Rogers. I met with the Head of the CIA, John Brennan, and I met with the Director of National Intelligence, Dr Jim Clapper, and in all instances we discussed the issue of terrorist organisations attracting foreign fighters. We spoke about the global nature of terrorism, the fact that terrorist organisations are more diverse, more dangerous, the situation is more complex - but we were united in our resolve to treat terrorism as a national security priority both in Australia and in the United States. And we underscored how important it is for us to continue to work together, sharing information, sharing intelligence, sharing experiences. Of course we are working with the Iraqi Government and the United States in Iraq to do what we can to disrupt ISIL or Da’esh as it’s known in the Middle East.
JOURNALIST Overnight the bodyguard of the Malaysian Prime Minister who had been sentenced to death for the murder of a model in Malaysia has been detained in Queensland. Are you aware of this situation and what can you tell us about it?
JULIE BISHOP I’m not in a position to give any details in relation to that matter.
JOURNALIST Minister, it’s been reported today and the Canadian General has actually confirmed that Canadian forces engaged in gunfire with Islamic State in Iraq. Can you tell us whether any Australian forces engaged in gunfire in Iraq, ground-force combat?
JULIE BISHOP Our Australian forces are there to advise and assist and that’s what they have been doing. And their role has been confined to that and I’m not aware of any reports – certainly any reports of Australian service personnel engaged in any gun battle with the ISIL forces. Indeed our role has been to advise and assist from bases that have been designated for that purpose.
JOURNALIST Minister, some of your colleagues have told colleagues of mine in Canberra – they’ve described the Prime Minister as toxic in their electorates – do you agree?
JULIE BISHOP I don’t believe that that’s a description that any of my colleagues would apply to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is leading a strong team. And I don’t intend to go into details of domestic politics while I’m over here. I have spent the day focusing on a national security priority for Australia and the Prime Minister has demonstrated great leadership in tackling the scourge of terrorism. We have changed our laws in Australia to protect Australian citizens. The Prime Minister has led that debate and here in the United States, there is deep appreciation for the role that Australia is playing and the Australian government has played, led by Prime Minister Abbott, in the fight against terrorism.
JOURNALIST Well 'toxic' is the word they used and they also suggested the government could lose office over one term. That’s the concerns of colleagues of yours.
JULIE BISHOP Who used that term?
JOURNALIST MPs have used that term to colleagues of mine in Australia, to Chris Uhlmann, they’ve said that the Prime Minister is toxic in their electorates.
JULIE BISHOP That’s not a term that they use with me so I’ll comment on how the Prime Minister is regarded here in the United States and there was a high level of appreciation for the work that we’re doing in my discussions with the heads of security agencies. I went into some detail as to the reforms we’ve put in place, the increased funding and resources that we’ve provided to our security and intelligence and law enforcement agencies. So that’s my focus while I’m here in the United States.
JOURNALIST And the Prime Minister has your support?
JULIE BISHOP Of course.
JOURNALIST The President spoke about climate change at length and in particular how it poses a risk to security. Does the Australian government agree with the sentiment that climate change poses a big risk to security?
JULIE BISHOP We have a very good story to tell in our actions to deal with climate change. Not only have we committed $200 million to the Green Climate Fund but through our Direct Action Plan we are on track to meet our 2020 targets. It’s commensurate with what the United States is doing and I believe that our focus on climate change through direct action, through incentive rather than punishment with an economy-wide carbon tax is a process that is being appreciated, as we explain it to countries around the world.
JOURNALIST Minister, you’re meeting with John Kerry, I believe, later tomorrow afternoon. What do you expect to be the key topics for discussion there?
JULIE BISHOP I have meetings tomorrow with Vice President Biden, with Secretary of State John Kerry and with the National Security Adviser Susan Rice. I expect that the focus will be on the joint threats and challenges that we face as two open liberal western democracies committed to freedoms and human rights and that is essentially terrorism and the extremism and radicalisation that we have seen manifest in Iraq and Syria but elsewhere. During my discussions today we focused on the situation in Yemen. We talked about the situation in Libya, in Somalia, in Nigeria. So whilst Australia’s focus is on where Australian citizens are being drawn as foreign terrorist fighters, we also have an interest in working with the United States to try and counter terrorism and extremism wherever it occurs.
JOURNALIST From your intelligence briefings today is there much of a concern amongst the intelligence community about a resurgence of Al Qaeda?
JULIE BISHOP There is concern about terrorist organisations generally. It’s not just ISIL, although ISIL, Da’esh has captured much of the attention recently because of its particular brutality - the executions, the crucifixions, the mass murder that ISIL appears to revel in, but of course post-Paris there have been other groups whether it be Al Qaeda, Al Nusra, and of course Boko Haram in Nigeria, have all been prominent in their own brutal and vicious ways. So there is a general concern. From Australia’s perspective of course we are deeply troubled by the young people in particular who are being attracted to this ideology on the basis that it is in some way pursuing a noble cause – it is not. They are criminals, they are murderers, they are not a noble cause, it is an ideology that must be countered at every turn.
JOURNALIST Minister, will Australia be sending representatives to the Summit that the White House is holding next month on countering violent extremism?
JULIE BISHOP At this stage we are waiting for details from the White House as to what they have in mind. If we’re invited to send representatives of course we would.
JOURNALIST Certainly David Cameron said last week that the Brits were going to be involved so do you think it is also the place for Australia to also have a seat at the table?
JULIE BISHOP I have an expectation that the White House will invite countries beyond Europe. It was borne out of what was happening in Paris but I have an expectation that they will invite countries beyond Europe and considering that we’re working closely with them in Iraq, I would hope that we would be invited and of course we would send appropriate representation depending upon the format of the summit.
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