JULIE BISHOP: Overnight we have received reports that North Korea has carried out a fifth nuclear test. This is extremely destabilising behaviour which poses not only a regional threat but a global threat. We condemn in the strongest possible terms this further provocative action by North Korea, which is in flagrant breach of numerous Security Council resolutions.
Today Defence Minister Marise Payne and I will attend the Eighth Australia-United Kingdom ministerial dialogue. We will be focusing on a range of defence, security, consular and diplomatic issues. Particularly we will be focusing on Syria, where there has been a massive loss of life and a humanitarian crisis. We will be discussing with our UK counterparts the roles that our respective countries can plan in hoping to find not only a military solution against Daesh, the terrorist organisation, but also a political and humanitarian solution.
We have already spent time with our counterpart Foreign and Defence Secretaries, Boris Johnson and Michael Fallon. We met with Prime Minister Theresa May last evening. I expect today that the discussions will focus on the implications of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, on Brexit. This will follow on from discussions I have had this week with my counterparts at the European Union and in Germany and Belgium. We expect there to be numerous opportunities for Australia and the United Kingdom to broaden and deepen what is already a very close and historic friendship, but we believe that there will be more opportunities for us to work together for our mutual benefit but also for the benefit of our regions and globally.
JOURNALIST: Just regarding North Korea, the previous tests they have done, there have been similar condemnations; the regime has clearly not paid much attention to those. At what stage does the international community start to take a different approach or a more hard line approach?
JULIE BISHOP: We will certainly be seeking China’s response to this. China is an influence in North Korea; China has a special role to play, given its proximity to the North Korean regime. We will be working with other partners but also calling on China to do more to curb this provocative behaviour. While North Korea is testing nuclear weapons and carrying out these nuclear and ballistic tests, their people are suffering. The long-suffering people of North Korea need a regime that focusses on their needs, not provocative behaviour that represents a global and regional threat.
JOURNALIST: Minister, what do you say to the families of Australians who died defending Tarinkot in Afghanistan, now that the Taliban seems to have control of that area? Were their deaths in vain?
JULIE BISHOP: We will be focussing on the issue of Afghanistan because both the United Kingdom and Australia have been committed to security and safety and prosperity and nation building in Afghanistan for many years now. A number of Australians have paid the ultimate price; a number of Australians have been in Afghanistan defending the local people and working with the Government to try to establish order in a very troubled part of the world. We will continue to remain in Afghanistan; we will continue to commit to building a better place for the Afghan people to live and the Australian Defence Force will remain. It will be a subject of considerable discussion today with our United Kingdom counterparts.
JOURNALIST: Minister, can I also ask about Boris Johnson, who has been a very strong advocate of Australians being in London, have there been any discussions on the side about visa issues and whether that has been eased at all?
JULIE BISHOP: I have also had the opportunity to have a long meeting with Home Secretary Amber Rudd; she is responsible for visas. We had a very positive and constructive discussion about the opportunity to see more young Australians living and working in London and, likewise, young Brits coming to Australia under various visas. There is a very positive discussion about it. Last evening Boris Johnson related stories about his time as a young man in Australia and he hoped that those opportunities for young Australians and young Britons would continue. I feel sure that our High Commissioner will continue to have very constructive discussions with Britain about visas and about the opportunities for young Australians to continue to visit and live and work here.
JOURNALIST: You also spoke about opportunities that Brexit might pose or present for Australia. Can you elaborate on what those opportunities might be?
JULIE BISHOP: It is apparent that when Britain ultimately leaves the European Union there will be trade and economic opportunities for us, building on an already strong bilateral trade and investment relationship, but there will be opportunities for us to expand that as I believe there will be with countries of the European Union. We are focusing on economic issues but also in security and intelligence sharing. In defence terms we see many opportunities to broaden and deepen this already close relationship.
JOURNALIST: You have now had the chance to compare and contrast the mood in Europe and in the UK. Would you say people are calm and collected over Brexit or not so much?
JULIE BISHOP: I think after the initial reaction the Europeans are seeing this as an opportunity to reconsider the European Union, to refresh and reenergise the Union. I have sensed a feeling of growing optimism in the EU that post-Brexit they would be a stronger and more dynamic union. I think that is an approach that is highly appropriate. Likewise, here in Britain I think that they are looking forward to the opportunities that Brexit will present. They will obviously continue to be a very close partner of the European Union, the details of which are still to be worked out and the timing of which is still to be worked out. I think there is also a sense of optimism here that there can be a better relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union and that there will be greater opportunities. From Australia’s perspective, we certainly see great opportunities with our relationship with Britain but also with the European Union and I am quite buoyed by the feedback that I received from my counterpart ministers in Germany, in Belgium and in the European Union. We had a very positive discussion with High Representative Federica Mogherini about Australia and the EU becoming closer. We launched an Australia-EU leadership forum that will be held in Australia next year; this is being funded by the European Union and underscores the focus that they intend to put on a relationship with Australia.
JOURNALIST: Minister, yesterday there was a peacekeeping forum here in London and I know that your counterpart Marise Payne attended that. She also spoke briefly about increasing the numbers of females in the Australian Defence Force. Would you support that?
JULIE BISHOP: Absolutely. Marise Payne is a champion of ensuring that we have the most efficient and effective Defence Force. That includes our ability to take part in peacekeeping operations and I know that she sees many opportunities for women to take a greater role in our Defence Force. I would certainly support that. I believe that peacekeeping will also be the subject of discussions today as both Australia and the United Kingdom play a significant role in United Nations peacekeeping operations. I am expecting that we will also focus on how we can cooperate in consular matters and in sharing diplomatic premises overseas. There are a whole range of areas where Australia and the United Kingdom will continue to cooperate and broaden our relationship.
JOURNALIST: Is there a chance that we might increase the numbers in our peacekeeping force?
JULIE BISHOP: That would be a matter for the Defence Minister to comment upon, but Australia has been a longstanding committed contributor to United Nations peacekeeping operations around the world.
JOURNALIST: Finally, there has been a bit of surprise at Boris Johnson’s style as Foreign Minister; he said he told you a few interesting stories last night. How do you think he is fitting into the role?
JULIE BISHOP: We had a very constructive discussion both at Number 10 last night and also over dinner. He is a very entertaining, charming person, but he also takes his role very seriously and we had some very constructive and positive discussions about how Australia and the United Kingdom can work together in regional challenges but also as partners globally. I believe that he is a great friend of Australia; he has a particular attachment to our country. He has lived in Australia and that augurs well for a very strong bilateral relationship. He is very good company but he also takes this relationship very seriously. I think it would be to Australia’s benefit that we have someone of the calibre of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom.
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