ASHLEY HALL The Federal Government initially resisted efforts to establish a global fund to help developing nations deal with climate change, but late last year it backed down and committed $200 million over four years.

And this week, Australia made its first $70 million payment to the newly created Green Climate Fund.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told a gathering of Pacific Island foreign ministers last night that Australia would use its position on the fund's board to help its neighbours.

The delegates are meeting in Sydney today to discuss how to better coordinate the response to natural disasters like Cyclone Pam that battered Vanuatu earlier this year.

The Foreign Minister joins me now. Julie Bishop, welcome to AM.

JULIE BISHOP Thank you, good to be with you.

ASHLEY HALL How much sway will Australia have over where our payments to the Green Climate Fund are directed?

JULIE BISHOP Australia's announcement of a $200 million contribution to the Green Climate Fund has been well received internationally and particularly amongst my Pacific island colleagues. And we have a seat on the board, so as a Green Climate Fund board member, Australia will advocate for the interests of Pacific island nations.

We have offered to be the Pacific's voice on the board and I'm confident that we will be able to have an influence as to where the funding is directed.

We have committed $200 million. We paid our first tranche of $70 million as asked, and I call on other countries to do similarly.

Australia has long assisted Pacific nations to support their sustainable development, their environmental management, disaster risk reduction, effective management of marine resources and oceans so we'll continue this work but hopefully leverage more funds out of the Green Climate Fund.

ASHLEY HALL Where do you see the main priorities are for the Pacific region out of the fund?

JULIE BISHOP Well, the main focus is on building resilience, and we do that across our policy initiatives and aid investments in the Pacific. Our focus on trade and investment in private sector developments and labour mobility contributes to a more resilient Pacific, but there will also be other initiatives that the Pacific Islands will seek themselves.

I mean they will have particular initiatives that they want us to consider, particularly where people are displaced by natural disasters or where they want to be able to assess the meteorological likelihood of an event, a natural disaster, because our Pacific region is sadly prone to natural disasters - whether it is cyclones or tsunamis or flooding, earthquakes the region is particularly susceptible.

ASHLEY HALL New Zealand has come to today's meeting with grave concerns about corruption, the rule of law and human rights abuses on Nauru.

Last week its parliament unanimously passed a motion expressing concern about the political there.

How concerned is Australia about the, what seems to be, a breakdown in law and order in Nauru?

JULIE BISHOP I have raised our concerns directly with the President. He is in fact, here as part of the Pacific Islands Forum Foreign Ministers Meeting and I will have an opportunity to speak with him again today.

I did contact him by telephone. He is now attending this forum and I will have an opportunity to speak with him.

He has also met with other Pacific Island foreign ministers, presidents, vice-presidents, premiers who are present at this meeting in Sydney and they likewise have raised their concerns with him.

These are domestic matters but we urge there to be an adherence to the rule of law, that their justice system operates properly, that people are not denied natural justice, that they are given an opportunity to present their case, but I've had one confidential discussion with the President and I'll be having another one today.

ASHLEY HALL Well, given that we rely on Nauru's justice and legal system to operate the asylum seeker camps there or to oversee them, it is more than a domestic issue, isn't it?

JULIE BISHOP Yes, we are concerned. That's why I'm raising it. I mean if it were purely a domestic issue and Australia had no interest in it, I wouldn't have raised it with him, but we do have a concern. I have raised it directly with him. I know my colleague, Murray McCully, the foreign minister of New Zealand has raised it because New Zealand funds the Nauru justice system, so New Zealand has a direct interest in ensuring that the justice system delivers the appropriate outcomes, the adherence to the rule of law and that the money is spent wisely but I will raise the issues with him.

We have been concerned. We want an update on the prosecution of the opposition members of parliament and we want to ensure that this is all done openly and transparently and in a way that is accountable to the international community.

ASHLEY HALL You've just returned from a visit to Canada. How are they dealing with the radicalisation of Muslim youth in their country? Are there lessons there for us?

JULIE BISHOP Yes, I had a very interesting series of meetings with Prime Minister Harper, with Defence Minister Kenney, with the Foreign Minister, Rob Nicholson, and Canada is as deeply concerned as Australia is about the threat of violent extremism.

Of course there was the shocking incident in Ottawa when two members of the Canadian Defence Force were slaughtered and the gunman attacked the Parliament.

There are a number of Canadians who are foreign terrorist fighters in Syria and Iraq and Canada has sent defence personnel to support the Iraqi government, as has Australia, to build up the defence forces particularly the Peshmerga in the north.

Canada is also involved in air strikes in Syria and in Iraq so the Canadian Government has a deep commitment to working with the Coalition to defeat this terrorist group, Daesh, and to work on deradicalising young people who have been lured, in some instances to their death, by this, this violent terrorist extremist group.

ASHLEY HALL Do you agree with Malcolm Turnbull who earlier this week said Australia has faced far greater threats than Islamic State?

JULIE BISHOP Well, Malcolm can explain the basis of his views. I make my assessment on my judgement based on the briefings and discussions that I have had and that's informed my view. I've been receiving classified briefings for almost two years and of course, I won't reveal the classified advice, but I've been meeting with world leaders, foreign ministers, defence ministers, prime ministers and security and intelligence chiefs across the world and at every meeting the situation in the Middle East is raised.

In the last 12 months in particular, the focus has been on Daesh, this group that has claimed territories, the caliphate and whose brutality and means of abusing and killing innocent people is as inhumane as we've ever witnessed and the world has a deep strategic interest in the Middle East.

Daesh and other extremists pose a risk to stability in the Middle East and therefore the globe. In fact only last week British Prime Minister, David Cameron, called Daesh an existential threat to the British way of life. So, it's a view expressed by leaders in countries that I've visited recently in Lebanon, Jordan, Iran, Iraq, the UAE (United Arab Emirates), Afghanistan, Pakistan.

I've attended NATO summit briefings, I've spoken to leaders from the US, the UK, Europe and I can say with a high degree of certainty that Islamic extremism and groups like Daesh are considered a global security risk.

ASHLEY HALL And you're comfortable with the sort of language that's being used around this?

JULIE BISHOP I believe that this is a security risk that is more dangerous and more complex than we've seen before and I believe that the Government's response is proportionate and responsible and that we will take every step we can to ensure Australians are safe from terrorism either here or abroad.

ASHLEY HALL Just quickly now to the economic instability that we're seeing out of China at the moment. It is being felt in markets around the world. How concerned are you about it?

JULIE BISHOP We are watching this very closely, watching the situation but I'm confident that the Chinese will do all they can to take appropriate steps to ensure that whatever correction takes place in their stock market, their stock exchange, it takes place in an orderly fashion.

China is a large and resilient economy. No doubt Beijing is facing challenges and we will watch this situation very closely.

China has been through the Asian financial crisis in the past and I'm sure they'll adopt whatever measures they can to make this a seamless transition.

ASHLEY HALL The global iron ore price has plummeted as well to USD$44 a tonne. That's going to have a significant impact on the budget, isn't it?

JULIE BISHOP That does present challenges for us, of course. Forecasting is based on assumptions and when those assumptions change you have to reassess the situation. That's why we're so focused on diversifying our economy.

My colleague Andrew Robb is pursuing free trade agreements - not just with China and Japan and South Korea but also with India. We are also negotiating what's called the Trans Pacific Partnership, 12 countries, so that we can diversify our global trade and that kind of preventative action I think will stand us in good stead should there be a downturn in particular sectors of our economy, other aspects of our economy can rally.

ASHLEY HALL And just finally, Bill Shorten has just spent two days at the royal commission into trade unions. Labor MPs say it's been nothing more than a political witch-hunt. How do you respond to that?

JULIE BISHOP Well, I think Bill Shorten faces two major challenges. First, he has to convince the membership of the AWU the people he was meant to represent in the union, that he was seeking the best possible deal for them without doing secret side deals. And the question is, did he get an advantage or did his union receive a benefit at the time that he was meant to be negotiating a deal for the union members? And his second challenge is to convince the Royal Commission that his conduct at that time was legitimate and we'll see how that unfolds.

ASHLEY HALL Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, thanks for talking to AM.

JULIE BISHOP It's been my pleasure.

Media enquiries

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