JOURNALIST: I spoke earlier to the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.
JULIE BISHOP: Good morning Neil.
JOURNALIST: Are we are step closer to war now?
JULIE BISHOP: Almost certainly this latest test appears to be exponentially more powerful than previous tests by North Korea and so it is a very dangerous and serious escalation but there are still many other avenues. In particular the sanctions regime will only start to bite at the beginning of September and already the United Nations Security Council is likely to be asked to consider even tougher sanctions so we have to block North Korea’s access to the finance that it’s getting to fund these illegal ballistic missile and nuclear tests.
JOURNALIST: I guess by any definition it’s a less safe place today – the world – than it was on Friday?
JULIE BISHOP: Most certainly North Korea is a serious threat to regional and global peace and security and that’s why it’s vital all nations enforce the penalties and isolation as mandated by the Security Council.
JOURNALIST: Where’s the money coming from? How do we cut off the money? I mean the Prime Minister and you have both said you want stronger sanctions, what do we do?
JULIE BISHOP: Well first most of its foreign investment comes from China and China is now at one with the United States and Russia and Britain and other permanent members of the Security Council in imposing the toughest and most comprehensive set of sanctions ever and they are now sector-wide sanctions. Up until now the sanctions against North Korea have been against individuals or entities involved in the nuclear testing programs but now they are across entire sections of their economy, so banning the export of coal, of lead, of iron ore, of seafood, these are all significant exports for North Korea and that will be worth millions of dollars to them over time. We’re also targeting their foreign trading bank which is a primary source of their foreign exchange and also imposing a ban on North Korean workers going overseas particularly to China and sending remittances back to North Korea which are being used by the regime to fund their missile programs.
JOURNALIST: So what’s next, you want more, what’s next? Oil?
JULIE BISHOP: Well that’s something that China is considering and that would have a dramatic impact. That would reflect the gravity of the situation of course with winter coming to cut off North Korea’s oil supplies would be a very grave step…
JOURNALIST: It would cause a lot of suffering for a lot of people.
JULIE BISHOP: Well, indeed, that’s the problem. You’ve got millions of people in North Korea who are already suffering and this is why we’ve continually urged North Korea to direct its precious resources to the benefit and wellbeing of its impoverished people rather than illegal nuclear and ballistic missile tests.
JOURNALIST: What is the context of this, the historic context of this? Are we standing as a General, one of the former Generals said to me the other day, at the most dangerous time since World War II, do you think that’s accurate?
JULIE BISHOP: North Korea’s been down this path before. They have conducted about 80 ballistic missile tests and this is now the sixth nuclear test but the difference is the scale and pace and tempo of these has increased dramatically and three or four of the tests have taken place under Kim Jong Un so we’re dealing with a different leader from North Korea. It’s been a rogue state for decades but now with a leader that seems determined to gain as much leverage as possible and advance its illegal capabilities to test regional and global resolve. Now at the end of the day North Korea will want something in return but it wants to put itself in the most advantageous position in terms of leverage against both the United States, China, and indeed perhaps Russia.
JOURNALIST: So what is that historic context?
JULIE BISHOP: Well historically North Korea has tested global resolve and then brought it to the brink and then sat down and had dialogue about what it wants and whether it’s more aid from the United States or recognition of its stature, it depends. We don’t know what its particular agenda is now but the pattern of behaviour has been to push global resolve and then join talks. So we’ve seen breakthroughs in the past. In the year 2000 there were the first North-South Leaders’ talks when the Leaders of North and South Korea came together. You might recall the Sydney Olympics in the year 2000 when the two teams from North and South Korea marched as one team under one flag with the same uniform. I recall being at the opening ceremony and the crowd went wild with cheering and support but then shortly thereafter North Korea refused to have independent inspectors verify that it was ceasing its ballistic missile testing. So it’s this game of cat and mouse and continually pushing the resolve of the United States and others.
JOURNALIST: It hasn’t been quite this bad before though, has it? I mean, for no other reason the bomb over the weekend is a significant step.
JULIE BISHOP: Well that’s right. It is much more capable, we understand, than previous tests. We can’t verify whether or not it was a test of a hydrogen bomb, nevertheless it was a much more powerful weapon than in past tests and that of course is of great concern and these nuclear weapons programs have been banned by the United Nations Security Council. This test is the latest of so many of these direct challenges to the Security Council. So the permanent five must enforce the authority of the UN Security Council otherwise we have havoc, chaos.
JOURNALIST: If this bomb is as suspected and claimed, a hydrogen bomb and successful test, how powerful is it, how dangerous is it?
JULIE BISHOP: Very dangerous. It’s –
JOURNALIST: Does it wipe out cities? Is it that size?
JULIE BISHOP: It would have catastrophic effects, particularly on South Korea which is as you know only kilometres away from the North Korean border. We understand it was a 6.1 seismic event in North Korea, that’s consistent with a nuclear device of significantly higher yield than previously tested, and it did take place in an area where previous nuclear tests have occurred so we are assuming this is its sixth illegal nuclear test. Now they’ve said it was a test of a hydrogen bomb but we’re working with our regional partners to determine the precise nature of that test.
JOURNALIST: The US Defense Secretary said this morning that there will be a massive military response to any attack on the US or its allies including Australia obviously and says we’re not looking for total annihilation of a country like North Korea but we have many options to do so. Now that’s pretty strong stuff, do you support that?
JULIE BISHOP: It’s very strong language and of course you have to support countries who want to defend themselves against a catastrophic event like a miniaturised nuclear device attached to an intercontinental ballistic missile. I mean that could have terrible consequences but the United States is right to seek to defend itself against such illegal and provocative acts. But we’ve got a long way to go in terms of diplomatic and economic pressure and we certainly urge all countries to place unprecedented pressure on North Korea. It has to pay a significant price for this defiance.
JOURNALIST: Part of the problem is, I read, is the tipping point. We don’t know what North Korea’s tipping point is, perhaps we don’t even know what Donald Trump’s tipping point is, whereas previous experiences we had a fair idea how far individual countries could be pushed. Is that a fair comment?
JULIE BISHOP: Previous administrations of the US have had the all options on the table policy and that includes the Trump Administration. All options on the table includes military action but that would have to be a last resort but because we’re talking about a rogue state that has, in the case of North Korea, nuclear capability it would seem so it we’re dealing with a different creature than previous US administrations, but we have to take this very seriously. North Korea is defiant but I believe it can be deterred, and restraining North Korea and persuading the regime to change its calculations must be a collective global enterprise.
JOURNALIST: If this goes wrong is Australia at risk?
JULIE BISHOP: When you say “if this goes wrong”, you mean –
JOURNALIST: If it escalates, if it turns into war, if it escalates in the way we all hope it won’t.
JULIE BISHOP: Well it’s currently a regional threat and currently North Korea is a serious threat to regional peace and stability and this is our part of the world. A war in North Korea is unthinkable given that the humanitarian toll would be catastrophic but also our major trading partners are China, Japan, South Korea and the United States and this would have an incredible impact on Australia economically speaking even if we were not in the direct line of fire.
JOURNALIST: We’re talking to the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. If I may, a couple of things which are trivial in comparison, but you’ve been reported to be present on a VIP aircraft when Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull were engaged in vitriolic discussions whether Malcolm Turnbull swearing and abusing at Tony Abbott, but did you hear it?
JULIE BISHOP: No I didn’t and yes, I was on a flight back from Sydney. There were a number of Cabinet Ministers on it. I don’t recall any such conversation in my presence and therefore I’ve got to conclude that it didn’t happen and had the journalist contacted me or my office I would’ve told her so.
JOURNALIST: Have you known Malcolm Turnbull to be given to that sort of language?
JULIE BISHOP: I’ve never heard him use the ‘c word’ in my presence, I’ve known Malcolm for 30 years and I’ve never known him to use that word in my presence.
JOURNALIST: What about Tony Abbott?
JULIE BISHOP: I don’t recall him using it either but you know people use bad language, I’ve been known to swear once or twice.
JOURNALIST: I hope you didn’t use that word.
JULIE BISHOP: Not my favourite word but no, I don’t recall this conversation at all and had the journalist contacted me I would’ve told her that.
JOURNALIST: And the other one, the suggestion that members who continually play up in the Parliament could be fined – what do you reckon?
JULIE BISHOP: Well that’s an interesting one. I hadn’t heard that until I saw the reports about it this morning. I’m wondering, do you get a bonus if you’re well behaved?
JOURNALIST: Who would be first to be fined do you think?
JULIE BISHOP: There’s a few on the other side who are consistently thrown out so I’m sure there’s a list, I’m sure the speaker has a list.
JOURNALIST: Thank you very much for your time.
JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.
- Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555