JULIE BISHOP: I have just concluded two very productive meetings here in Washington. The Counter ISIS Group met as a large Coalition of 68 member countries this morning and this afternoon the smaller group of 22 countries. During my intervention I stressed the need for there to be a focus on the drivers of extremism - that is the lack of economic opportunity and the alienation from the political situation in countries, particularly Syria. The countries reaffirmed their commitment to defeating ISIS both within Iraq and Syria and outside. And we committed to ensuring that ISIS can no longer inspire attacks, that it can no longer gain the resources or attract the financing and the foreign terrorist fighters that had been supporting its efforts in the past. So it was very reassuring that all nations recommitted to defeating ISIS, to assisting the Iraqi government find political reconciliation and in Syria a political solution because the military solution would not be the end of the matter.
During the course of the meeting there was also a reference to the attacks in Britain and I extend the Australian government’s deepest sympathies to the people of the United Kingdom over this latest incident. I understand the British police are treating it as a terrorist incident, until other information comes to hand. I can assure Australians that to this point no Australians have been identified as being involved. I’ve spoken to Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and passed on our concerns and our condolences. I’ve also made contact with Australia’s High Commissioner in London and confirmed that at this point there’s been no reference to any Australians being involved in the incident.
JOURNALIST: Minister, Secretary Tillerson in his opening remarks and Secretary Mattis on the Hill today spoke about a disbursement effect or strategy by ISIS stemming from the military pressure that’s being applied there. Have you any reason to suspect that the London attack was ISIS related?
JULIE BISHOP: It’s too early to say. The British police are looking into the matter. They are treating it as a terrorist incident until such time as they can discount that. It certainly has the hallmarks of some of the recent ISIS inspired terrorists attacks that we have seen elsewhere but it’s too early for any conclusion to be made on that point.
During my intervention I also focused on the fact that ISIS inspired attacks have taken place in South East Asia and that the Australian government was working very closely with counterpart nations in our region, in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines to ensure that we can defeat, disrupt these ISIS networks or claimed ISIS networks that are seeking or planning to carry out attacks in our part of the world as well.
JOURNALIST: The big emphasis here has been on lone wolf attacks like this one in London. Is there any suggestion these might be on the rise in places like Australia?
JULIE BISHOP: There’s no doubt that as we continue to pressure ISIS militarily in Iraq and Syria then the foreign terrorists fighters will seek to leave, if they’re able to leave, and they may well seek to carry out attacks elsewhere. We’ve seen examples of that in the past but this is a focus of the Coalition not only ISIS within Syria and Iraq but ISIS inspired attacks outside the Middle East.
JOURNALIST: This man had posted a lot of material online about threats and we heard Rex Tillerson again say today that the internet is being used as a recruitment ground for ISIS. What is the Australian Government doing to stop lone wolfs like this one in London happening in our country?
JULIE BISHOP: We’re doing all we can to work with our law enforcement agencies, our intelligence agencies and share information with other countries. We are focusing on ensuring that those who pose a threat to our national security are monitored, are deterred from their actions. And that’s why the Australian Government has invested so heavily in our law enforcement, our intelligence agencies and our defence force to ensure that we can track these people, that we can monitor their activities.
Now clearly when it’s a lone wolf attack, that is a person is not brought to the attention of authorities prior to taking action, it’s very difficult but we’re doing all we can to ensure Australia is safe from this kind of attack. But as we’ve seen in the United Kingdom today, these events can occur. What we have to do is ensure that we take every step, including providing the resources and the legislative power to our law enforcement agencies and authorities in Australia.
JOURNALIST: Minister, there are some thousand Australian military personnel involved in air strikes in Syria. Are there any plans to change the position and perhaps put boots on the ground in Syria or will it remain that this is done from the sky?
JULIE BISHOP: There are a thousand Australian Defence personnel involved in both Iraq and Syria. We are taking part in air strikes – in fact Australia has taken part in about two thousand sorties over Syria, and we have Australian Defence personnel, training and advising and assisting the Iraqi Security Forces who are making gains, particularly in Mosul. There has been no request and there hasn’t been any offer to increase the number. We are already one of the largest contributors to the effort to defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq and we will continue to work within the Coalition, as I reaffirmed today.
JOURNALIST: Minister, in your statement today you said that you called on regional neighbours of Syria to do more to assist the battle against ISIS rather than pursue their own geopolitical ends within Syria. What did you mean by that and what countries were you referring to?
JULIE BISHOP: Well clearly the focus has to be on defeating ISIS in Syria. That's why Australia is taking part in air strikes to protect Iraq from ISIS moving back and forth across the Syria/Iraq border. What I'm referring to is other proxy battles that are going on within Syria, whereby the focus is not on defeating ISIS, but other countries and other stakeholders are involved in other conflicts in Syria. My point is that we have to focus on defeating this terrorist organisation that has carried out such shocking attacks in Syria, Iraq, elsewhere, and has the potential to inspire attacks in our part of the world and elsewhere.
JOURNALIST: Secretary Tillerson looks forward to what he calls a stabilisation phase and he also foreshadowed delivery on President Trump's promise of these safe havens in Syria. Can they be made to work militarily?
JULIE BISHOP: We didn't go into that much of a specific detailed plan but we certainly spoke about options that are available and we'll continue to do so. As the Coalition forces - and supported by Australia - and as the Iraqi security forces are able to take control of Mosul, then we'll see an opportunity for those who've been displaced to come back home. So we're seeking to ensure that only do we defeat ISIS, but we're also able to maintain peace in areas that have been taken back by ISIS. So that's in Iraq and Syria. There are numerous different options as to how that could be achieved and all those options are on the table.
JOURNALIST: Secretary Tillerson spoke of a need to accelerate the fight against ISIS. Is there anything new and firm put on the table today?
JULIE BISHOP: The Iraqi Government certainly gave a very robust outline of what the Iraqi security forces are doing to retake Mosul and they are making significant gains and we want to maintain that momentum, whereby the Iraqi security forces that have been supported by Australia and other countries in advising, assisting and training them, are able to maintain that momentum. Likewise in Syria where gains have been made against ISIS, we must maintain the momentum and not be distracted by other conflicts that are going on within Syria.
JOURNALIST: You've stressed the need in the past for the Trump administration to define what victory would look like against ISIS. Have they communicated that to you yet and if so what have they said?
JULIE BISHOP: We certainly had a very positive discussion today both in the broader Coalition meeting of 68 foreign ministers and also in the smaller group of some 22 foreign ministers. Clearly we have to retake the territory that has been claimed by ISIS, in other words deny them the caliphate that they claimed and ensure that the territorial integrity and the sovereignty of both Iraq and Syria is returned and maintained, that we also have to ensure that ISIS is not able to inspire attacks or inspire trained foreign terrorist fighters to carry out attacks elsewhere in the world and that was obviously a focus of the discussions today. But also we focused on the key drivers, that is; lack of economic opportunity and an alienation from the political systems of the respective countries. Young people, in particular, have to feel that there is an opportunity for them that their state is providing an environment for economic growth and job opportunity, that their state is protecting them and providing security for them. And so there was a discussion about how we can help create economic environments that would attract private sector investment that would provide jobs for young people who are otherwise attracted to the magnet that is ISIS.
JOURNALIST: The proxy forces you speak of presumably in Syria, that includes Russia does it?
JULIE BISHOP: There are a number of countries that are currently operating in Syria and our point is that we need to all focus on defeating ISIS and not look for other geopolitical gains. That the first and foremost priority of all must be to defeat ISIS so that we can defeat it at its root and therefore ensure that it doesn’t have the capacity to inspire attacks elsewhere in the world – particularly from Australia’s perspective in Southeast Asia.
JOURNALIST: Did it come as any surprise to you that Russia wasn’t represented at this meeting?
JULIE BISHOP: Russia has not been part of this Coalition. This Coalition was formed in late September 2014. And my understanding is that countries opted in to the Coalition and those who did are represented here today.
JOURNALIST: As Islamic State loses ground in Syria and Iraq, Rex Tillerson spoke about the need to stop the seeds of hate from being planted elsewhere. Are you confident that Australia is doing enough to stop the threat of returning foreign fighters?
JULIE BISHOP: We are doing all we can in terms of cooperating with partner countries in the Middle East, throughout Europe, throughout South East Asia, in East Asia. We are cooperating with other countries, sharing real time intelligence and information, tracking those who we believe would pose a threat to our security, working exceedingly closely with Indonesia, with Malaysia, with the Philippines to make sure that those who are returning, or are able to return to South East Asia, are being monitored. So we’re doing all we can to work with other countries and support them in their fight against terrorism. And most certainly within Australia we have invested heavily in ensuring that our law enforcement agencies, our intelligence agencies, our authorities are in a position to thwart attacks. But I can’t give any guarantees, no country can. We must continue to be vigilant and ensure that our resources, our investment is able to do the best that we can to keep Australia safe.
JOURNALIST: Boris Johnson appeared absent from the family photo. Is it your understanding that he did have to scurry off to deal with the London attacks in the middle of this conference?
JULIE BISHOP: I understand that he has been in contact with authorities in Britain. I have spoken to him about the matter. He was present at the afternoon meeting. And of course the British police and authorities are carrying out investigations now, but I certainly passed on Australia’s condolences and our concerns to him and, as I’ve said, I’ve made contact with our High Commissioner to confirm whether any Australians were involved and at this stage no Australians were involved in this.
JOURNALIST: He must have been upset considering he was the mayor of London as well and it struck his home city?
JULIE BISHOP: I’m sure it’s been deeply concerning to him and yes he was to be in the photograph but he was off attending to what is obviously a very grave situation in London and we clearly send the British people and the British government our condolences and our support for whatever they might need to get to the bottom of this recent attack.
JOURNALIST: Does it worry you seeing these attacks using vehicles that may be replicated in Australia one day?
JULIE BISHOP: We are certainly aware of this possibility – we’ve seen it elsewhere in the world. And we learn lessons from every attack and Australia has certainly taken on board the examples that we’ve seen in other countries. And we’re working closely with state police and with our law enforcement agencies across the country to ensure that we are as well prepared as we can be to thwart any such attack.
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