GARY ADSHEAD The front of the Australian newspaper today, the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop talking about what’s next in relation to Islamic State, or Da’esh as she likes to call the organisation. The Foreign Minister joins me on the line.
Thanks very much for your time Minister.
JULIE BISHOP Good morning Gary.
GARY ADSHEAD Okay, you’re talking specifically about whether Europe could be doing more. Why is that, because of the amount of people that are leaving some of the countries impacted by Islamic State?
JULIE BISHOP Well Gary there’s a humanitarian crisis in Syria of unprecedented proportions and because of the conflict between the Assad regime and the fact that his regime used chemical weapons against his own people, the conflict with ISIL or Da’esh, as it’s called in the region, al-Nusra and other terrorist organisations, the fact that Turkey has also entered the conflict, means that millions of people from Syria are leaving and millions in surrounding countries are also heading to Europe.
I understand that about 40 per cent of those seeking asylum in Europe are from Syria. So clearly we need to solve this problem at its source so that people aren’t displaced. So we need both a military and a political solution in Syria and also a military solution in Iraq. The longer term goal is to ensure that national sovereign governments are in control of their own territory and can protect their people from terrorism and protect them from these terrorist organisation. So that’s why we’re in Iraq, working with the Iraqi government to build the capacity of their security and defence forces and why we’re taking part in air strikes on these military bases occupied by Da’esh and why the United States has asked us to consider expanding our role to include air strikes over Syria, because essentially it’s one theatre of conflict. The border between Syria and Iraq is now open to these terrorist organisations and they’re launching attacks on the people of Iraq from Syria.
GARY ADSHEAD So you don’t think that perhaps further air strikes and more countries getting involved could add to the displacement of people, to the people move…..
JULIE BISHOP No, I believe the sooner we are able to defeat Da’esh the better it will be. It will provide a great opportunity to restore some kind of peace in some of these war torn nations that have been absolutely ridden with conflict and so one of the major sources of the displacement of people is the terrorism activities of Da’esh. So if we can defeat Da’esh and if that could be done sooner rather than later, then we can get on with ensuring that these countries are able to come up with a political solution and have inclusive governments that represent the interests of all of the people.
GARY ADSHEAD Are you saying that there’s intelligence as well that Da’esh are involved in the people smuggling?
JULIE BISHOP There is certainly concern and evidence to that extent, that the terrorist organisations are profiting from the people smuggling trade. They are getting funding through drug trafficking, people smuggling, weapons trades, black markets in a whole range of areas and so this is also a concern. There are also concerns that the terrorists are targeting some people who are fleeing from countries as potential foreign terrorist fighters. So it’s a very toxic mix of these sophisticated terrorist organisations and vulnerable people fleeing areas of conflict.
GARY ADSHEAD I suppose a lot of people would expect that there are European countries who are actively involved, and not just obviously in air strikes, but clearly on the ground in Iraq with training and so on, but what are our European counterparts doing in relation to air strikes at the moment?
JULIE BISHOP There are about 60 countries as part of a broader coalition providing support to the US-led Coalition. There are about 30 countries who are more deeply involved, Australia is one of those, and then there are a handful of countries that are supporting the United States with air strikes and it depends whether it’s over Iraq or over Syria, but most certainly France, the Netherlands, Denmark, other countries are taking part. In Syria, the other partners include Middle Eastern countries, UAE, Jordan and Bahrain has also been involved.
GARY ADSHEAD Okay, in terms of what’s next, are you any closer to deciding whether or not from a legal point of view, from a legal standing, Australia should take part in air strikes in Syria?
JULIE BISHOP We are considering the United States request very carefully. There is not only the legal basis, and of course we have to have a credible legal basis in order to do this. The United States have legal advice as do other countries that air strikes in Syria come under the legal principle of collective self defence of Iraq and the Iraqi people. Indeed the Prime Minister of Iraq, has pointed to the fact that Da’esh is operating out of Syria to attack the Iraqi people as a reason why the air strikes should also be over Syria so we’ll take our own legal advice on that. Turkey, I mentioned before, Turkey is now taking part in air strikes over Syria based on individual self defence because they believe they are directly threatened and also through the collective self defence of Iraq principal, but we also have to look at our capability, our capacity to take part and the strategy and what outcome we could expect if Australia were to be involved.
GARY ADSHEAD Minister, if I can just ask you about Peter Greste, obviously two of his colleagues have been jailed in Egypt for three years, Peter Greste himself, but he’s not there, he was deported, so he doesn’t have to go through the hell of being put into a Cairo Prison. These other two colleagues though of his, he says he won’t stop fighting until he’s got them released. Is there anything the Australian Government can do at this stage?
JULIE BISHOP We have been fighting for Peter Greste to help him clear his name ever since he was first detained, and I’m just grateful we were able to get him out of Egypt after the appeal and before the retrial and of course he is now home safe in Australia. But he’s deeply concerned about the fact that he’s now been convicted in his absence and that two of his colleagues have also been convicted and now sentenced to three years. I will continue to make the highest level representations I can to the Egyptian government, and we will work with other countries who have a direct interest in this, including Canada. And I’ve had a number of discussion with my counterpart Foreign Minister Rob Nicholson from Canada about this in the past and will continue to do so. I think it does not reflect well on Egypt. We have respected their judicial and legal processes, we have made representations at the political level and that did result in the Presidential decision to release Peter Greste earlier this year, but we will continue to work with him and his lawyers to help clear his name.
GARY ADSHEAD Obviously it sends a pretty strong message to any Australian journalist that might be being sent to that country at the moment, what’s the advice? You wouldn’t expect any organisation to really send someone there at the moment.
JULIE BISHOP We expect all our Australian citizens to abide by the laws of the country and of course we provide advice to anyone travelling overseas as to the dangers, the risks, the threats that they might meet, but at the end of the day people have to be responsible for their own activities. We will provide consular and other support as and when Australians get into trouble, but we certainly ask them to seek advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. We have a Smartraveller website, if people log on to that they can get a pretty clear picture of the threats and risks of travelling in specific countries.
GARY ADSHEAD On the Canning by-election if I can, clearly there’s speculation today that should things go bad there that Joe Hockey’s job is on the line, that Cabinet members as well as MPs have spoken to the PM about Joe Hockey. Is that true?
JULIE BISHOP Well I certainly haven’t spoken to the Prime Minister about this. My focus is on supporting Andrew Hastie, the Liberal candidate for the Canning by-election. By-elections are always difficult for an incumbent government, but this is an election for the people of Canning to choose their representative. It won’t change the government, but it provides the people of Canning with an opportunity to select a member to replace Don Randall who so sadly died recently. Andrew Hastie is an outstanding Australian. He will bring rare skills and insight from his time serving as an officer with the SAS and I believe he’s got the character and the temperament to represent the people of Canning. And I do point out that a vote for Labor would endorse Bill Shorten’s mission to be the Prime Minster for the union bosses. So I think the people of Canning would be well served by electing Andrew Hastie as their representative.
GARY ADSHEAD Just on that, Dyson Heydon will decide his own fate later on today. What’s your advice to the Commissioner given the pressure that he’s under?
JULIE BISHOP Well those leading the charge against Dyson Heydon are motivated by one thing, and this includes Bill Shorten, to cover up the corrupt and illegal acts within the union movement and to protect corrupt union bosses. This Royal Commission is not politically motivated, it’s not investigating the Labor Party. It’s looking into the allegations of systemic corruption, union bosses ripping off honest union members. So its work must continue on behalf of decent working people who have been shamefully let down by union officials. And the work of the commission is already being proven because 26 or so union officials have already been referred for investigation and prosecution.
GARY ADSHEAD Just finally, can I just throw one at you from left field, there’s reports coming out from India, now I know we’ve forged stronger relations with India, given their immense workforce in terms of trade. Can I just ask you though, have you heard this story about how a bloke who ran off with someone from a lower cast, the punishment in relation to that now will be the raping of his two sisters. Have you heard this story?
JULIE BISHOP I have heard this story, clearly these allegations are appalling and we’ll be investigating that. Issues of human rights abuses around the world are quite distressing and Australia takes a stand on these issues, we’re an open liberal democracy, we are committed to freedoms, democratic institutions, the rule of law, we don’t lecture or hector other countries, but we try and demonstrate through our experience and what we stand for, that there is a much better way to deliver peace and prosperity by embracing human rights and freedoms for your people.
GARY ADSHEAD Obviously… the Federal Government, can they exercise their right to show their displeasure at that?
JULIE BISHOP Well I will obviously have to get more details about the specifics of the allegations, but I am aware of the story.
GARY ADSHEAD Thanks very much for joining us Minister.
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