JOURNALIST Hello and welcome to the France 24 interview, I’m Annette Young. Australian politics is renowned for its viciously rough and tumble nature – it’s certainly not easy being a female politician. You only have to ask former Prime Minister Julia Gillard who captured world headlines when she attacked the then opposition leader Tony Abbott for his supposed misogynist attitudes. So with me here today is one of the only two women Ministers in Tony Abbott’s cabinet, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Minister, thank you so much for being with us.
JULIE BISHOP Delighted to be with you.
JOURNALIST: Now let’s talk about why you currently are here in Paris. Australia, along with other members of the anti-Islamic State Group Coalition is meeting in the French capital, this after a series of battlefield gains by the militants – but Washington continues to use the term “setback”, but it really does appear that the militants are gaining ground.
JULIE BISHOP: I don’t accept that. I believe that the fall in Ramadi was a setback to the extent that the terrorist organisation ISIL or Daesh, whatever one wants to call it, was able to gain ground, but the organisation had been in Ramadi for some time. Inevitably, in a conflict of this type, there will be ebbs and flows, but I believe that overall we made considerable gains. Australia has an interest in what is going on in Iraq because we have Australian citizens who are foreign terrorist fighters, are taking part in the fight in Iraq, so we have a contribution to make, not only because it’s a domestic terrorist threat for Australia, but also regionally, and internationally. We believe that Australia should play its part in seeking to counter terrorism and counter violent extremism wherever it occurs.
JOURNALIST: But it’s a very messy situation. It is quagmire. So what are the options on the table?
JULIE BISHOP: Well it’s a quagmire because we’re dealing with non-State actors. This is one of the most violent and brutal terrorist organisations the world has ever seen. It has no respect for governments or borders or sovereignty or human life or people in general. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Sunni or a Shia or a Christian or a Jew, they are all targets of this organisation. So the usual rules of engagement don’t apply. What Australia is seeking to do is support the Iraqi security force at the invitation of the Iraqi government, and we are working to provide training so that they can build their capacity and capability. We’re also part of the airstrikes that the U.S.-led coalition have been undertaking in Iraq and also in Syria.
JOURNALIST: Now the feeling is that this meeting will be used to sending [sic] a message to the Iraqi government that it’s time for them to step up more to the plate, to do more in this fight against ISIS. I assume that’s something that you would very much support.
JULIE BISHOP: Prime Minister Abadi will be at the meeting and there will be a very strong message of support for him. I believe he is our best hope of reform within the Iraqi government. He’s our best hope to ensure that there is an inclusive government, that will support Sunni and Shia groups within the government, and that’s what’s needed to defeat Daesh. The Iraqi government must win this, the Iraqi government and the Iraqi security forces must be the ones that take back the territory that’s been claimed, and protect the Iraqi people. But the U.S.-led coalition, the 22 countries that will be meeting at this Summit, plus the other 40 or more countries that make up the over 60-country coalition, are there to support the Iraqi government and its sovereignty.
JOURNALIST: Now, you were just talking there about the fact that there is somewhere in the order of 100 Australian people fighting on behalf of the Islamic State group. You’ve just butted heads with your own Prime Minister Tony Abbott over plans to strip any terrorist suspects of their Australian citizenship. He wants to – rather he wants to and you don’t: why?
JULIE BISHOP: Well, I think that’s putting it in terms that I certainly wouldn’t use. There was a discussion within our cabinet, as one would expect – there are 19 members of our cabinet, we all bring our different views and perspectives, and we had a very robust debate about it. But what has happened is we put out a discussion paper for the Australian people to consider the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, and those rights and responsibilities in the context of terrorism. And we have this unprecedented situation where there are over a hundred Australians fighting in Syria and Iraq; that number or more, perhaps to a hundred and forty, a hundred and fifty people that we know of within Australia who are supporting this terrorist organisation. This is an organisation that has called for attacks on Australia, attacks on Australians, essentially at war with Australia, and so we have to be very careful to ensure that whatever options we can take on board that will prevent Australians going overseas and taking part in terrorist activities are considered, and that’s what we’re doing. We’re having a discussion with the Australian people about whether you can take citizenship away from someone who is supporting an organisation that is calling for attacks on the Australian people.
JOURNALIST: Now moving on, your government has attracted widespread condemnation over its hard-line approach to refugees. Human rights activists have accused the country of violating international law and returning possible refugees to the country where they’ve been persecuted. Just last month, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians sort of described the policy as “inhumane”, saying that the detention of children is a form of abuse. These are very strong words coming from a sector that’s not known for its radical views.
JULIE BISHOP: Well I reject that as a criticism of the current government. The children in detention occurred under the previous government as a result of a weakening of our border protection laws. And under the previous government, about 50,000 people were lured onto boats to travel to Australia by the criminal networks that make up the people-smuggling trade in our region. There is nothing humane about luring them to their deaths, and about 1200 people died at sea in boats that were hired via the people-smuggling trade, and trying to make their way to Australia. Women, children, and men died on those boats. And so we were determined that this would not continue to occur. We came into government with a promise to the Australian people that we would dismantle this people-smuggling trade that preys on vulnerable people, and that we would take control of our borders. We are not going to sub-contract our border security to a group of criminal networks that make up the people-smuggling trade. And I note that European countries are now asking Australia how we did it, because we did stop this trade. In the twelve months leading up to our election, about 200 boats came to Australia and as I said 1200 people drowned at sea; since we put in place much stronger laws to protect our borders, there’ve been no deaths at sea, and no boats.
JOURNALIST: But do you think it’s damaging to Australia’s image abroad?
JULIE BISHOP: No I don’t; I’ve been in Europe recently and I’ve had many European parliamentarians and lawmakers and legislators asking Australia what we did under what was called “Operation Sovereign Borders”. Now there are different circumstances in Europe, there are different circumstances around the world, but the Australian government was determined to prevent the people-smuggling trade flourishing. And Australia is one of the most generous resettlement countries in the world – we are the third largest recipient of UNHCR-referred refugees in the world, so we take our fair share of refugees and have a very generous humanitarian programme, but we’re not going to have the people-smuggling trade dictate the border protection laws in our country.
JOURNALIST: Okay, so leaving behind foreign policy issues, you don’t describe yourself as a feminist. In fact you said while you recognise the women’s movement, feminist or feminism is not a term that you find particularly useful. Why is that the case?
JULIE BISHOP: Well, I’m a parliamentarian, I’m a member of the Liberal Party, I’m an Australian, I come from Perth, I think that gives you enough description of who I am, what I do, what I believe in, and – the more people demand that I call myself a feminist, the more I say well, if it’s not a term that comes naturally to me, why should I be forced to call myself that? So, what do I do? I’m a Member of Parliament. What do I believe? I’m a member of the Liberal Party, and I’m Foreign Minister. So I think my experience and track records speaks for itself.
JOURNALIST: But, I mean, feminism is about equal rights, and you believe in equal rights, don’t you?
JULIE BISHOP: Of course I do, and I stand for that and I fight for it, and it’s part of our foreign policy. I talk about the empowerment of women – not only do I talk about it, I implement policies that empower women particularly in our region. The economic empowerment of women, giving people the encouragement to become leaders, women in business, in communities, in politics. I’m passionate about preventing sexual violence against women in conflict. So yes I fight for women all the time, every day.
JOURNALIST: So you – as a result you are a feminist.
JULIE BISHOP: Why do I have to be labelled this way? I really find this such a puerile conversation that I seem to be subjected to constantly. I believe in equality for men and women and how I self-describe is surely a matter for me.
JOURNALIST: Now the Swedish foreign minister doesn’t shy away from being a feminist. In fact it drives some of her foreign policy positions. Surely a woman brings something different to the table, a different perspective, you know a different…
JULIE BISHOP: You know, everybody brings their life experience and their background and what they’ve done and what they believe and their values. Of course everybody brings something different. Women, probably if you wanted to generalise, bring a greater empathy, the ability to see things from all sides, but that’s not just confined to women, I think diversity is important, but not just diversity in gender, I think diversity more broadly is important in political life.
JOURNALIST: Would you like to see more women members in cabinet?
JULIE BISHOP: Of course, of course, I’ve been a champion for more women and I think what has happened in recent years, the fact that there are only two women in our cabinet – but there are more women in our outer ministry – is an aberration. The trajectory is increasing, and I want to see more women take their role in political life, in business life, in community life, in civil society across Australia, across our region, across the globe.
JOURNALIST: Now, earlier this year you were tipped as a potential leadership candidate when there were moves to remove Tony Abbott from the job as Prime Minister. Are you interest in being Prime Minister at some point?
JULIE BISHOP There were a number of people who were tipped as leadership contenders but it was not a contest that was going anywhere because the Prime Minister was not leaving the job, so it was all hypothetical. I’m very satisfied being Australia’s Foreign Minister, it is an honour and a privilege to take this role, and to represent Australia in our region and globally, and I have enough challenges with this role, I can assure you.
JOURNALIST: Julie Bishop, we’ve run out of time, thank you so much.
JULIE BISHOP: Thank you.
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