JOURNALIST: Julie Bishop thank you very much for your time. Let me start with your portfolio and what must surely be the biggest challenge in foreign affairs around the world right now: working out what the Trump Administration is going to mean for the world. We are almost a month in, what do you think about how it is starting in these early days of the Trump Administration?
JULIE BISHOP: It is a new administration and so we are reaching out to engage at the highest levels possible with our counterparts. I have had three very constructive conversations, two with Vice President Pence and one with Secretary of State Tillerson, and planning is underway for me to visit Washington to meet with the Vice President, the Secretary of State and others in the intelligence community.
JOURNALIST: So you will make a visit fairly soon?
JULIE BISHOP: I am planning to do so. Secretary of State Tillerson has invited me to come to Washington as soon as I was able because there are so many issues that we want to discuss with the United States. Our interests and our perspectives, I hope, will be of interest to them and we also want to gauge the Administration’s views and insights on a whole range of issues that are in our interests.
JOURNALIST: I want to touch on some of those. We have also seen in the space of a month, intelligence leaks, resignation of the National Security Adviser, a terse phone call with Malcolm Turnbull, an immigration ban that’s wound up in the Supreme Court. I mean, we have had John McCain describe what is going on as “dysfunctional”, we have had the head of the US Operations Command say the government is in unbelievable turmoil. As an ally are you concerned by any of this?
JULIE BISHOP: I think a certain amount has to do with the fact that they need to employ brand new staff. I understand the Secretary of State himself has to appoint 250 new staffers into the State Department. I think there are about 4,000 appointments to be made. It is a different system to Australia where the public service remains.
JOURNALIST: That’s fair enough, but with all this leaking going on, we share a lot of intelligence with the US.
JULIE BISHOP: That is obviously a concern to any government. Unauthorised leaks particularly about sensitive or confidential or classified information…
JOURNALIST: Is it a concern to an ally, like Australia?
JULIE BISHOP: We work very closely with the United States on intelligence matters so of course we will work very closely with them on any aspect with them that might involve Australia.
JOURNALIST: But do you worry that anything we share with them might end up being leaked?
JULIE BISHOP: We clearly do not want that to occur and I am sure they United States Administration does not want that to occur. I understand the President is having an investigation into it.
JOURNALIST: Let me ask you about some of the positions being taken. The US for, what is it, 20 years has supported a two-state solution in the Middle East, as has Australia. Donald Trump overnight though is no longer insisting on a two-state solution, he says he supports either a two-state or a one-state solution. What do you make of that?
JULIE BISHOP: He did not indicate a preferred solution but what he did say, which is entirely consistent with the Australian Government’s position, is that the two sides need to sit down and negotiate a resolution. It can’t be imposed from outside, it can’t be imposed top down, it has to be a negotiated settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and we completely agree with that. We have consistently said that a two-state solution would have to be negotiated by the parties, but if the parties came up with another solution that they were prepared to live with, that ensured the Israelis and Palestinians could live side by side, live together behind internationally recognised boundaries, then of course the world should support that. The key is…
JOURNALIST: But surely the Palestinians do not want a one-state solution?
JULIE BISHOP: What we need for the Palestinians to recognise that the State of Israeli exists and will continue to exist.
JOURNALIST: But does that mean you still are… Australia’s position is still for a two-state solution, or is it as Donald Trump says if somehow they can agree on a one-state solution that is ok?
JULIE BISHOP: Our position has been consistent. Australia prefers a two-state solution. That is what we have supported for many years on a bipartisan basis. The point President Trump has made is that it is up to the parties to determine however they want to describe it, however they want to resolve their differences, it has got to be negotiated between the parties.
JOURNALIST: Your meetings when you do go to Washington no doubt will inform some other positions. But can I ask, you have been speaking with Mike Pence and Rex Tillerson on the phone already, are you any clearer on the plans in terms of the war in Iraq and Syria? Donald Trump said he wanted to wipe ISIS of the face of the earth, we are part of this US led operation, are you aware of any chance in a tactic?
JULIE BISHOP: As we speak our Defence Minister Marise Payne is in Brussels and she will be meeting with the Secretary of Defence Mattis. These will be the issues on her agenda to discuss with him. They are also the sorts of issues I want to discuss face to face with counter parts in the United States…
JOURNALIST: So you are not aware of any changes yet?
JULIE BISHOP: We are not aware of any changes. We need to be cautious of accepting pre-inauguration statements as reflecting policy. We will judge the Administration and assess the Administration on the actions it takes as opposed to rhetoric.
JOURNALIST: Fair enough. Does the same apply to something like the Paris Climate Agreement? You were there and signed Australia up to significant commitments we have made. He has talked about getting out of that, are you any clearer on whether he will?
JULIE BISHOP: I have not yet had a conversation with Secretary of State Tillerson about their approach to the Paris Agreement. But I think that we can take some assurance from President Trump’s agreement with Prime Minister Turnbull that they would honour the agreement they entered into by the Obama Administration over the refugee resettlement. So honouring the commitments of previous governments is not unprecedented, so that may mean the new Administration would continue to honour commitments made previously. Now they ratified the treaty, it has gone beyond just a handshake, this is ratification by the United States. My understanding is that the United States can meet the targets that they signed up to for the Paris Agreement. They have embraced shale – oil and gas – which is a lower emissions technology. They are the home of innovation and technology. So my understanding is that the United States would be able to meet its targets, as Australia would be able to meet its targets without driving up the price of energy and we encourage the greater use of high efficiency, low emissions technology in deriving our power needs.
JOURNALIST: You are off to South Korea tonight. But before I get to South Korea, North Korea, of course, they’ve tested another missile just days ago, it was an intermediate range missile, it was lobbed into the Sea of Japan. There was no condemnation from President Trump. Do you believe we might see a new approach from the US in dealing with North Korea?
JULIE BISHOP: The provocative and reckless behaviour of North Korea not only presents not only a regional threat to South Korea, Japan and the United States, I see it as a direct threat to Australia and the globe. It is destabilising behaviour, it is in beach of United Nations Security Council resolutions, and it has the capacity to threaten regional and global stability and security. So Australia joins with the international condemnation of North Korea’s actions, we in fact co-authored a resolution to enhance the sanctions that are already being imposed.
JOURNALIST: But Donald Trump has refused to join that condemnation. We know China has long argued that the US should end its 16 years of not talking to North Korea and actually engage them. Do you think that would help?
JULIE BISHOP: I think two things are required. China has a very unique relationship with North Korea and during my conversations with Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Canberra last week, I stressed upon him that China has a significant role to play, a key role to play. I also recognise that US leadership is needed because North Korea has consistently said that it will only deal with the United States. If the Trump Administration is able to bring a fresh perspective, new ideas, into dealing with North Korea, of course we would welcome it because efforts to date have not curbed North Korea’s provocative behaviour, dangerous behaviour.
JOURNALIST: What about South Korea, you go there in a time of real political turmoil there with the President having been impeached and the Constitutional Court now considering that impeachment. What will you be aiming to do while you’re there at this time?
JULIE BISHOP: It is a very sensitive time, I will still be meeting with their national security community, we will be talking about the latest North Korean behaviour. I am also meeting with the US military chiefs who are in South Korea to talk about what more we can do to curb North Korea’s behaviour. It is a very real concern that North Korea is directing its limited resources into ballistic missile and nuclear testing programs while their people are impoverished. So I want to talk to officials in South Korea about what more can be done to support the people of North Korea while urging the regime to cease its reckless and dangerous behaviour. I am also meeting with Australian businesses and talking about investment in Australia and the South Korean-Australian Free Trade Agreement and enhancing our engagement with South Korea.
JOURNALIST: Let me ask you finally about some domestic matters, the big battle this week the Turnbull Government is facing is over the budget once again. Would you really be willing to put up taxes? Or make changes to something like the capital gains tax? Is that within your philosophy?
JULIE BISHOP: We are not a party of high taxes and our preferred option is to curb spending and grow the revenue. This is condemnation of Labor. They should be embracing savings, they should be embracing opportunities for us to put the budget back into surplus. We are determined to do that, we are not a party that naturally reflexes to increasing spending, increasing taxes, that is the Labor Party – higher taxes, higher debt, higher deficits.
JOURNALIST: If you cannot get spending cuts through, it is either put up taxes or let the budget get worse.
JULIE BISHOP: I am an optimist; we have got to continue to negotiate with sensible minded people who know that we need to get the budget back into surplus, and the way to do that is to decrease spending and live within our means.
JOURNALIST: Just keep on trying with the Senate. Let me ask you about WA. As the senior WA Liberal are you comfortable with the WA Liberals doing a preference deal with One Nation?
JULIE BISHOP: I think we need to understand that the West Australian Liberal Party is not in coalition with the West Australian National Party. It is different situation and so it is up to the West Australian Liberal Party to determine where it wants to put its preferences. What I don’t understand is putting the Greens above Liberal Upper House Members, for example, as I understand the National Party has. I don’t understand that. I have a greater understanding of a preference deal that involves One Nation than one that involves the Greens.
JOURNALIST: Even if it includes preferencing this candidate Richard Eldridge who we learned today is advocating killing Indonesian journalists, he has attacked homosexuals, Muslims and black people?
JULIE BISHOP: These are matters for the State Liberal Party, I do not have a say in preference flows, but what I do know is that Western Australia would be best served by a return of the Barnett Government. Only Colin Barnett has got a vision for Western Australia that includes the infrastructure and investment, the diversification of the economy that will drive jobs and growth. So I want to see Colin Barnett re-elected Premier of Western Australia.
JOURNALIST: If your party is putting preferences towards someone like this, it does not sound like someone who is ‘sophisticated’, to use Arthur Sinodinos’ word.
JULIE BISHOP: I suspect that Arthur was referring to the Leader of the One Nation party here in Canberra, with whom we have been able to negotiate quite successfully…
JOURNALIST: When the rubber hits the road, it is helping someone like this get into Parliament.
JULIE BISHOP: My view is that people should vote Liberal one, and the question of preferences won’t arise.
JOURNALIST: What chances do you give to Colin Barnett, the Barnett Government, of winning on March 11?
JULIE BISHOP: It is tough to be re-elected for a third term when they are four year terms. I know Colin has a battle ahead of him but I believe that in policy areas that really count for Western Australians, energy policy, there you have Mark McGowan essentially saying he is going to lie to the Western Australian people by saying there will not be a 50 per cent renewable energy target.
JOURNALIST: Why is that a lie?
JULIE BISHOP: Echoing what Julia Gillard said, ‘there will be no carbon tax under a government I lead’. He said, ‘there will be no 50 per cent renewable energy target under the government I lead’.
JOURNALIST: I thought you’d welcome him ruling out such a target?
JULIE BISHOP: He has not ruled it out; he has just reflected Julia Gillard’s code: we will do it after the election and will not tell you before. Energy policy is an important issue, infrastructure investment and the investment that Colin Barnett’s Government has already made in schools, in hospitals, in the City of Perth. He wants to make it a much more attractive destination to live, study, work, a great place to be.
JOURNALIST: Alright Julie Bishop we had better leave it there, thank you very much for joining us.
JULIE BISHOP: Thank you.
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