TOM TILLEY: Julie Bishop, thank you so much for joining us.
JULIE BISHOP: I’m delighted to be with you.
TOM TILLEY: Within just three days the Government has decided to almost double its refugee intake. Take us inside the Party Room. How did you come to this decision?
JULIE BISHOP: We are well aware of the scale of this humanitarian crisis. Australia has been involved for some time in responding to it. Indeed, when we were on the UN Security Council in 2013-14 we led the debate on resolutions in relation to the international response that was required for the humanitarian crisis that was unfolding in Syria and then in Iraq.
We sent Immigration Minister Peter Dutton overseas to Paris and Geneva. He met with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organisation for Migration. We took advice from them and we had a National Security Committee meeting where we discussed the options and how we could respond. We then had a Cabinet meeting this morning that endorsed the National Security Committee’s recommendations. We then took it to the Party Room so that all members of the Liberal and National Party could have their say and as a result we have been able to offer 12,000 permanent places for Syrian and Iraqi refugees in addition to the existing humanitarian program. We are also providing funding that will support 240,000 people who are in the camps bordering Iraq and Syria in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.
Winter is coming, there are thousands and thousands of people who require support, so we will have funding for food and water and shelter and clothing for around 240,000 people who are in these camps.
TOM TILLEY: Tony Abbott said priority would be given for people that need permanent protection – women, children and families from persecuted minorities. Can you ensure that Christians won’t be prioritised over Muslims, purely on the basis of their religion?
JULIE BISHOP: What we are doing is prioritising the persecuted minorities - that includes Muslims. There are Muslim minorities, there are non-Muslim minorities but the fact is there is a very high level of religious intolerance and persecution against ethnic minorities in the Middle East and these are among the most vulnerable and the most needy. It’s a very appropriate response to focus our attention on the most vulnerable, the most in need and the people who will not have a home to return to.
There are many people in the camps who intend to go back to Syria and Iraq when it is safe to do so but the persecuted ethnic and religious minorities will have nowhere to return. They are caught between the Assad regime, which has been carrying out brutal attacks on them, and the Islamic terrorist organisations including Da’esh that have been particularly violent towards the minorities. That includes Christians, but they are certainly not the only ones. In our last intake under our humanitarian program, about 2200 Syrian refugees were brought in last year, it was a whole mix of people – Muslim and non-Muslim minorities were supported in this way.
TOM TILLEY: Okay last month you berated Tanya Plibersek in Parliament for wanting to provide humanitarian support to Syria. You said she wanted to give a ‘terrorist picnic’ but she was talking about doing a similar thing to what you are doing with this $44m helping victims who fled to the neighbouring countries. How will you make sure your $44 million isn’t spent on terrorist picnics?
JULIE BISHOP: No she wasn’t saying that at all. If you read the reports she was saying that instead of dealing with this terrorist organisation militarily we should give priority to food drops. Well that was not something that we were ever going to countenance. There has to be a balanced military, security response and a humanitarian response on the ground and ours will be targeted. We will have partnerships with the UNHCR, with the International Organisation of Migration in relation to the refugees and in relation to the assistance we are providing to people in camps. That will be on the ground and we will be providing food, water, health care, education, emergency supplies, protection, including support for women and girls and working with trusted humanitarian organisations on the ground. This brings to a total of $230 million the Australian contribution to the humanitarian crisis in both Syria and Iraq.
TOM TILLEY: Okay, just lastly, independent MP and former military analyst Andrew Wilkie says bombing Syria is illegal. Is he flat out wrong?
JULIE BISHOP: He is absolutely wrong because we are not bombing Syria, we are targeting the terrorist organisation that is operating across the border of Syria and Iraq. The legal justification is called ‘collective self defence’ and that is the self defence of Iraq. The Iraqi Government has requested Australia, and others, to protect it from this terrorist organisation. The terrorist organisation is operating in eastern Syria and Iraq and so under the legal principle of collective self defence, recognised by Article 51 of the United Nations charter, we will be targeting the military bases and the supply lines of the terrorist organisation that is brutalising civilians and the broader population in both Syria and Iraq.
TOM TILLEY: Julie Bishop, great to speak to you. Thanks for joining us.
JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.
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