JOURNALIST: The Foreign Minister is Julie Bishop. Minister good morning.
JULIE BISHOP: Good morning Kim, good to be with you.
JOURNALIST: Let’s start with the London terrorist attack. Have any Australians been caught up in this?
JULIE BISHOP: I have been in contact with our High Commissioner in London and I understand that no Australians have been reported as being involved. Most certainly all our Embassy staff in London are safe and I’m waiting to hear further but at this stage, my understanding is no Australians are involved.
JOURNALIST: Have you got any information about who is responsible for this attack?
JULIE BISHOP: I understand that the British police are treating it as a terrorist incident unless other information comes to light. I have spoken with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, here in Washington because he is present at this meeting, but he wasn’t able to give any further indication other than that the attack had happened and at this point, the British police were treating it as a terrorist incident until further information came to light.
JOURNALIST: You are in Washington for a high level meeting about the next phase of the fight against the Islamic State group. The Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is publically pleading with America’s allies to commit more money and military power. So will Australia do that?
JULIE BISHOP: Australia is already one of the largest contributors to the military effort to defeat ISIS. We have about 1,000 personnel involved in the air strikes over Syria and training and assisting and advising the Iraqi security forces. Indeed, we have trained about 20,000 of the Iraqi security forces who are involved in operations including the retaking of Mosul from ISIS at present. We have also contributed about $500 million to both Syria, Iraq and also the nations that are hosting a number of the refugees that are leaving Syria and Iraq. So we are already a significant contributor. We haven’t been specifically asked to do more but of course we would consider that, should we be. But I think the request was also directed to the countries that will benefit the most from the defeat of ISIS and that is countries in the Middle East and the Gulf.
JOURNALIST: You say that Australia hasn’t specifically been asked to more but would consider that. The Secretary of State is specifically saying that more military and financial resources are needed though. So what is it that Australia could consider doing?
JULIE BISHOP: We haven’t been asked to provide anything specifically, that’s my point. But if there were requests to provide something specific, we would of course consider it. There have been requests for further funding and I will certainly take that into account in the context of our Budget. But the point I’m making is that Australian has already contributed $500 million, committed and provided $500 million to the effort, particularly the humanitarian effort – in Syria and Iraq and the countries surrounding Syria and Iraq, who are hosting most of the bulk of the refugees. In addition Australia has taken 12,000 Syrian refugees over and above our annual intake of humanitarian and refugee visa holders. So we’re already making a great contribution, but of course, should there be a specific request for us to do more, we would consider it. I understand specific requests have been made of countries, particularly in the Middle East and the Gulf countries.
JOURNALIST: The Secretary of State also announced that the US wants to set up interim zones of stability to help refugees return home. Do you have any understanding how that would work?
JULIE BISHOP: We didn’t go into that kind of specific detail, but all options were on the table. The first meeting was a meeting of about 68 foreign ministers, the larger Coalition, and then this afternoon’s meeting was the smaller group of about 22 foreign ministers. Of course, I represented Australia in both meetings, but these ideas of safe zones for refugees are being discussed across –
JOURNALIST: Could it require for example, could it require some increased air power from Australia, to help enforce a no-fly zone? Or indeed some troops to help protect these areas?
JULIE BISHOP: That was not a specific proposition. These matters are being discussed at officials’ level and we will continue our discussions with the United States. This meeting was to gather all those who committed to the Coalition together, to reaffirm their commitment to defeating ISIS, to ensuring that we destroy the caliphate that is being claimed in Syria and Iraq, and to work on the humanitarian crisis, and also the need for political reconciliation in Iraq and a political solution in Syria. Otherwise there won’t be any peace in either country.
JOURNALIST: As you mentioned, Australia has now issued the 12,000 visas promised to Syrian and Iraqi refugees, fleeing Islamic State. There are reports this morning that 500 people were refused entry to Australia after a security red flag. Can you confirm that?
JULIE BISHOP: I’m not in a position to do so, but that would certainly be consistent with the very tough approach that we take to security checks. We have to ensure that the people we bring into Australia are not going to pose a national security threat to our country. So I wouldn’t be surprised if some people had been refused on these grounds.
JOURNALIST: Now that Australia has issued those 12,000 visas that were promised, now that that’s been done, could Australia once again look at another special intake for example?
JULIE BISHOP: That’s a matter for the Immigration Minister to consider and a matter for our National Security Committee to consider. It’s not a matter that we have been discussing. We have been working very hard on ensuring that we could process 12,000 visas for those who are seeking to flee the conflict in Syria, particularly those from minority groups who would not be able to return to Syria however and whenever the conflict is able to be resolved.
JOURNALIST: Minister thank you very much for speaking to AM.
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