BARRIE CASSIDY: Minister, welcome.
JULIE BISHOP: Thank you, Barrie. Good to be with you.
CASSIDY: When it comes to North Korea and when President Trump uses tweets in the way that he does, and he uses provocative language, is that more of a hindrance than a help?
BISHOP: Barrie, we have to put this in perspective. North Korea has been carrying out illegal ballistic tests and illegal nuclear missile tests long before President Trump was inaugurated. And the focus has to be on North Korea's behaviour and our focus and our efforts are in trying to work with our international partners to compel North Korea back to the negotiating table and to give up these illegal tests, which have the potential to threaten millions of people.
CASSIDY: But even the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said that the conversation has become a little overheated and it's time for things to calm down a bit?
BISHOP: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is working very hard to find a way to bring North Korea to the negotiating table. He's been in China meeting with the Chinese to ensure that he can count on their support to exert maximum diplomatic, political and economic pressure on North Korea, and we need the Chinese to do that. So that's his focus and I think that he made that clear.
CASSIDY: So clearly the Chinese now are more engaged than they were.
BISHOP: Very much so.
CASSIDY: And is that all coming down to Rex Tillerson? What is Donald Trump doing? What is he bringing to the table?
BISHOP: I actually believe that the Chinese recalculated their risk when President Trump upped the ante in terms of rhetoric and what he said that the United States would do, should they be threatened by North Korea. And then, instead of it just being, as China had said in the past, a Washington-Pyongyang issue, China now sees that it must play a role and I've been pleased to see that China has backed the two UN Security Council resolutions imposing the toughest and most comprehensive set of sanctions on North Korea yet and China has been playing a much more central role. For example, China's central bank has confirmed that it will uphold the financial sanctions and that is the way to get North Korea to the negotiating table.
CASSIDY: So are you giving Donald Trump the credit for that?
BISHOP: Well I think Trump certainly changed the rhetoric, because prior to that, President Obama had a policy of ‘strategic patience’. Clearly, that didn't work because during that period, North Korea tested more missiles, developed its nuclear weapons program to a point where we fear that North Korea has the capability to attach a miniaturised nuclear weapon to an intercontinental ballistic missile that may have the capacity to reach the United States. So it's a changed debate. But I have spoken to Secretary Tillerson on a number of occasions about what he's doing to open lines of communication with North Korea.
CASSIDY: What does he actually mean by that. He says that there are lines of communication open to them. What are they?
BISHOP: I spoke to him prior to going over to New York for the UN General Assembly leaders' week and he indicated to me that part of his efforts to bring China into the collective strategy to impose economic sanctions on North Korea, he was also back-channelling, his word, "back-channelling" North Korea to make it clear that the United States was prepared to talk to them, because the messages so far have been through the media. You know, Pyongyang news puts out a statement and the President responds, but according to Secretary Tillerson, as he said to me privately and again during a meeting with him at the UN, he is back-channelling North Korea, meaning he's having communications or getting communications to the North Korean regime.
CASSIDY: So they've had the sense of crisis now for a while, but it's just sounding now like there's a more positive feeling around it?
BISHOP: I believe that China's involvement is a positive. China has made it quite clear to North Korea through its imposition of sanctions that it finds its nuclear weapons programs unacceptable. China's support of the UN Security Council resolutions imposing these tough sanctions is to be applauded. In fact, when you look at the sanctions that have been imposed, most of them would apply to China. For example, all joint ventures with North Korean entities and individuals are prohibited that would apply to China. The export of North Korean textiles is prohibited, China would have been the recipient nation. The prohibition of LNG applies to China. So they are playing a pretty active role and I think it's changed the calculation in the minds of the North Koreans as well.
CASSIDY: When you say that sanctions take time to work - how long, and how do you know that they're working? What needs to happen?
BISHOP: You'll know that they're working when North Korea make it clear that they're prepared to come back to the negotiating table, and we've seen this pattern in the past. They need time to work because some of them, for example the prohibition on North Korean workers being able to work in China and send remittances back to North Korea which the regime then use to fund these illegal programs, the sanctions will allow existing contracts to be completed. So clearly, there might be contracts for a few months or maybe a year and then those workers will not be allowed to work overseas again. Sanctions will allow existing contracts to be completed. So clearly there might be contracts for a few months or maybe a year and then those workers will not be allowed to work overseas again. Also oil. The reduction of oil imports into North Korea will take some time. I'm talking months, in some instances, it might be years. But we'll know they're working when North Korea is deterred from carrying out any more nuclear tests. I mean, the last one was said to be a thermonuclear device. That's pretty serious. And we'll also know when North Korea give an indication, hopefully through these back channels that Secretary Tillerson is talking about, that they will sit down and negotiate presumably with the United States and China, Japan, South Korea and Russia.
CASSIDY: I want to ask you about the Rohingya refugees. The United States ambassador to the UN has called the sanctions of the Myanmar authorities a "brutal and sustained campaign of ethnic cleansing." Is that how we see it as well?
BISHOP: We are deeply disturbed by what's going on in Rakhine state in Myanmar and at the last analysis, we believe about 500,000 Rohingyas have been displaced from Rakhine state. They are seeking sanctuary in Bangladesh. We are providing support to Bangladesh to help maintain and provide humanitarian support for these displaced people. But I made it clear to the Myanmar National Security Advisor when I saw him at the United Nations, that this security operation that is going on in Rakhine state between the Myanmar army and a Rohingya army must stop, that humanitarian support must be allowed in and that the Rohingya must be allowed to return to Rakhine state. Now, we're working closely with Indonesia, who has taken a pretty strong leadership role on the humanitarian front, and actually, some of our specialists are embedded with the Indonesian humanitarian team in Bangladesh now.
CASSIDY: And if it is ethnic cleansing or something like that, then surely that would just lead to radicalisation in such a large Muslim area?
BISHOP: First, Australia has supported an independent investigation to verify the facts on the ground, a UN-led investigation. And state councillor Aung San Suu Kyi has confirmed that she will invite UN representatives and international diplomats into Rakhine state this Monday. Australia's Ambassador to Myanmar will attend that visit. But secondly, you're absolutely right - we are deeply concerned that the persecution of a significant group of Muslim Rohingyas will be used by ISIS and other terrorist groups as part of their narrative to take up arms and to fight against the West. And that's why this Myanmar situation must be resolved. There's got to be a political resolution,but in the meantime, the humanitarian disaster needs our full attention.
CASSIDY: Now to the refugees closer to home and Peter Dutton said on 2GB - and he's talking here about refugees on Manus Island - he said that a lot of the people have not come from war-ravaged areas at all, they're economic refugees. Given that President Trump already said that he doesn't like the deal, how is that helpful if the United States picks up on this and they hear that he's describing them as economic refugees?
BISHOP: The United States agreed to take a number of refugees and that means that they have been assessed by the UN High Commissioner for refugees and found to be genuine refugees. That group is then assessed by the United States and they have very stringent vetting processes, as we know.
CASSIDY: Which contradicts what Peter Dutton was saying.
BISHOP: Peter Dutton, I believe, is referring to those who have been found not to be owed protection and there are a number, a significant number from Iran, in particular, who have been found by the UNHCR to be not owed protection. They should go home.
CASSIDY: Well, he also said, though, that some of the people on Nauru he was talking about here, he said, "They leave behind these huge piles of Armani jeans and hand-bags." Surely that builds resentment and not sympathy, and what you want to build in the United States is sympathy for these people?
BISHOP: Our focus is very much is on assisting the United States in any way that we can to keep to their side of the agreement that the Prime Minister reached with President Obama and has been reaffirmed by President Trump.
CASSIDY: This can't helpful?
BISHOP: Well, our focus is on ensuring that the United States can vet as many as we hope that they will, and 54 have already left and are part of this agreement with the United States. So we are continuing to look for resettlement options. But Barrie, the point is this. Under Labor's policies, the people smuggling regime flourished and these people were put on Manus and Nauru by the Labor Party. We now have to resolve this problem and we're looking for third countries for resettlement. The United States is one of them.
CASSIDY: The United States has not had an ambassador in Australia for a year now. Is that starting to become an embarrassment?
BISHOP: There have been periods in the past where it has taken quite some time for a new administration to appoint ambassadors. We're not the only country that is waiting for a US ambassador. In the meantime, the Charge (d'affaires) Jim Caruso is doing a great job, but we do look forward to a US ambassador as soon as possible, but we're not the only country waiting for a new ambassador under the Trump Administration.
CASSIDY: Just a couple of other issues. There's the threat of volcanic eruptions in Bali and Vanuatu. What will the Australian Government do in the event of that happening?
BISHOP: In the case of Vanuatu, we are assisting in the evacuation of 11,000 residents from Ambae Island and working closely with the Government of Vanuatu and the Governments of New Zealand and France. The three of us are working closely with the Government of Vanuatu. We've sent HMAS Choules, one of our a Navy ships, over to Vanuatu to help with the evacuation of 11,000 residents and helping with supplies of food and shelter and water to assist them. Vanuatu is part of a group of Pacific island nations that are prone to natural disasters, whether it is earthquakes, cyclones, volcanic activity. So Australia is always standing ready to assist in the event that this volcano does actually erupt. In the case of Bali, we are updating our travel advice to advise people that there is volcanic activity.
CASSIDY: There's no travel ban at this stage though?
BISHOP: No, not at this stage. The Indonesian Government has made it quite clear that all outdoor activity is being ceased, so we're suggesting that people might want to holiday in Australia at present.
CASSIDY: And just finally, you're being criticised, not for the first time, for going to sporting events as taxpayer expense. What's your response to that?
BISHOP: That article is wrong in a number of fundamental respects. It makes a lot of assertions but no facts.
CASSIDY: Where is it wrong?
BISHOP: Well, I'll go into detail. I didn't fly to Melbourne for the AFL. All of my travel is within parliamentary entitlements. The AFL is a significant international event and I support political leaders, the Prime Minister, Bill Shorten and others, attending the AFL Grand Final to show our support for this game and for the organisation. And as Foreign Minister, I work very closely with the AFL in our aid program, bringing AFL sport to the Asia-Pacific. It is part of our aid program in the Pacific island nations. I was invited in my official capacity as a partner of the AFL and I was pleased to attend.
CASSIDY: Well, thanks for being here in the studio this morning.
BISHOP: Thank you for having me.
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