JOURNALIST: Julie Bishop is Australia’s Foreign Minister and she’s currently Acting Prime Minister. She joins up very early from Perth. Julie Bishop thank you very much for joining us.
JULIE BISHOP: Good morning Fran.
JOURNALIST: Before we go to the issue of citizenship can we ask you first about the unfolding events in Manhattan in New York. Police have confirmed several fatalities after a truck rammed pedestrians and cyclists and they’re labelling it a terrorist event. Is that the advice you’ve received?
JULIE BISHOP: The situation is still unfolding and at this stage the New York Police Department haven’t verified the detail of these reports but clearly there’s been a tragedy in New York. I have spoken to our Consul General Alistair Walton who was in the vicinity when the shooting occurred. He has been making urgent enquiries to see if any Australians have been affected, our Embassy and Consulate staff have been accounted for. The State Department has informed us that at this stage they do not believe that any Australians are affected but the situation is still unfolding. We are deeply concerned because it’s Halloween - Alistair Walton told me that there were children everywhere, in fact there was a parade for Halloween planned down Sixth Avenue shortly. So obviously it’s a very difficult and complex situation that the local authorities are dealing with. My advice to any Australians who are in New York is to follow the direction of local authorities and if you are back here in Australia and worried about any family or friends or loved ones in New York then please try to make contact with them or ring our Consular Hotline on 1300 555 135.
JOURNALIST: 1300 555 135. And I’m not sure if you know this, the reports I’ve seen say that at least six people have been killed, others injured in lower Manhattan – is that the advice you’ve received? Any more specifically, the location?
JULIE BISHOP: No, that’s precisely what we’ve been informed although the New York Police Department is still to verify the number of deaths and the number injured, but our Consul General was in the vicinity when the shooting occurred and his concern was for the number of children. He said there were children everywhere in New York because of course its Halloween and it’s an enormous celebration. So we think of those who have been affected by this, particularly those who have been killed, their families and friends must be devastated, but as the situation is still unfolding we’ll almost certainly keep the media up-to-date and any people affected will be contacted as soon as possible.
JOURNALIST: We’ll bring you some more news on this throughout the program but the latest news is the Police say that they have one person in custody. Julie Bishop if I can go to other issues now here in Australia, Richard Di Natale says we’re in a constitutional crisis territory. Why should Australians continue to respect our Parliament and its ability to function if a person no less than the President of the Senate might not even be entitled to be there?
JULIE BISHOP: Fran, obviously the Government didn’t plan to be in this situation and we’d prefer not to be, but it’s important to note that the Government retains 75 of the 149 seats in the House of Representatives. The cross bench members, particularly Cathy McGowan and Rebekha Sharkie have committed to supporting the Government on supply and confidence. So the work of the Parliament goes on. Barnaby Joyce is seeking to be returned to Parliament through by-election and we’re hopeful he’ll receive strong support from the people of New England, so the composition of the Parliament will be back with what we won at the last election.
JOURNALIST: But for how long Minister? I mean it was only on Sunday the Attorney General said he had absolutely no reason to believe there were any other Government MPs who’d be caught out by Section 44 of the Constitution – well he was wrong on that. For a start, shouldn’t the Government have taken steps to check all Members, if there is any chance there are others? And the thing is we just don’t know how many more there might be.
JULIE BISHOP: Every member of the House of Representatives and every Senator has a responsibility to ensure that they are eligible. In the case of Stephen Parry, I spoke to him, it was not until the High Court decision was handed down on Friday clarifying Section 44 that he sought advice which he did at the earliest opportunity on Monday.
JOURNALIST: Should he have done that earlier?
JULIE BISHOP: He believed he was an Australian citizen and believed his father was an Australian citizen. He told the Attorney General about his concerns on Monday and then informed me on Tuesday. There have been numerous changes to our citizenship laws since the Constitution was adopted in 1901 and the matters are far more complex today including our dual citizenship. Section 44 has now been clarified and Members and Senators current and prospect must comply with them.
JOURNALIST: Well one unnamed Nationalist quoted in the Fairfax press saying “There’s more coming mark my words” another is quoted in the Fin Review saying “so much for their bullshit about rigorous checking procedures” – he’s referring to the Liberal Party there. Can you be sure there aren’t more Liberals who’ll be revealed as dual nationals?
JULIE BISHOP: Fran I’m not aware of any. They haven’t raised it with me, but each one of them in the House of Representatives and the Senate, whether they’re Liberal, Labor, National, Greens, Independent, they all have a personal responsibility to ensure they are eligible.
JOURNALIST: But that hasn’t worked, that’s where it’s fallen down. Isn’t it time now for an audit so we do know and get it dealt with once and for all?
JULIE BISHOP: Well those Senators who are found to be ineligible will be replaced through an established mechanism. It doesn’t require another vote, it’s through a casual vacancy or through recounts of votes at the last election. Senator Parry understood he was an Australian citizen as was his father. When he read the High Court decision he sought advice to clarify his position and he’s still waiting for that advice.
JOURNALIST: I don’t want to be unduly alarmist here but what if there are others and they come out? They may be in the lower house, we may be in the situation where we’re having by-election after by-election. Should we just have an audit and sort this out?
JULIE BISHOP: It’s important to remember we retain a majority in the House of Representatives and the work of the Parliament goes on. We retain 75 of the 149 seats, we have sufficient crossbench support to guarantee supply, and that’s the funds that support the functioning of government, and we have sufficient support for confidence. We deal with these issues on a case-by-case basis. I’m not aware of any other concerns. No one has raised it with me.
JOURNALIST: Is it time for the Government and the Labor Party, for all parties really, to support a referendum to address Section 44 of the Constitution which seems to leave us at the mercy of other government’s decisions about the sovereignty about a citizenship of people. Can we only fix that through the constitutional change? What is there, is there a possible legislative fix that might head this off? Have you heard of one?
JULIE BISHOP: There have been numerous changes to our citizenship laws since 1901. Section 44 has now been clarified by the High Court and we have referred the High Court’s decision, the judgement, to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. They will consider the implications of the judgement, the implications of the clarification around Section 44 and will make recommendations to the Government.
JOURNALIST: But do you think there’s something that can be done in a legislative way less than a referendum to change the Constitution?
JULIE BISHOP: I can understand people’s concerns about a referendum. The vast majority of proposals for constitutional change have been rejected by the Australian people over the years, but I’ll await the outcome of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Affairs, they will go into this matter in detail. They will consider the implications of the High Court judgment, it’s about a 67 page judgment. Section 44 has now been clarified in the context of all of the changes to our citizenship laws that have occurred since 1901 and the Standing Committee will make recommendations to the Government.
JOURNALIST: You’re listening to RN Breakfast. It’s quarter-past eight. Our guest is the Acting Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Julie Bishop on Manus Island there are 600 refugees and asylum seekers refusing to leave a detention centre which has now been abandoned by staff. There’s no food, there’s no water, the power is off in part of the compound, it’s been described as a humanitarian disgrace and it’s all of our making. How long will the Government allow this to drag on?
JULIE BISHOP: The regional processing centre was closed yesterday. There was a great deal of information about that, the fact that the PNG Government was closing it down on the 31st of October. The PNG Government provided alternative accommodation, some have already moved to this alternative accommodation. There are two alternatives, one for refugees and one for those who are not refugees and are not owed protection. The essential services are available at the alternative accommodation – food, water, electricity and medical support, so the people who are still on Manus have had months of notice that it would be closed and that alternative accommodation is available with all of the essential services. It makes no sense for them to stay where they are and they will not be resettled in Australia, so they have a number of options available to them.
JOURNALIST: The people inside those detention centres have been telling the Australian Government for months that they do not feel safe outside of the detention centre, they do not feel safe moving to the other side of the Island because as we’ve heard repeatedly again as just this morning the people do not want them and they do not feel safe there. Can I just play you a little of an interview earlier this morning with Imran Mohammad who is a 22 year old Rohingya on Manus Island who says he will not leave the centre because he fears for his safety, he’s been repeatedly harassed and attacked by locals. Let’s listen.
Imran Mohammad: We left (inaudible) we want a safe country and we want our freedoms. We spoke to them we told them that if they can guarantee our safety and if they can guarantee our future, we would move immediately. If you can’t guarantee our safety we can’t move. The Australians are trying to say that they are not responsible for this man but they are the ones who brought us here and they are the ones who are responsible for our safety.
[End of Excerpt]
JOURNALIST: That’s Imran Mohammad who we spoke to earlier. He’s saying if you can’t guarantee our safety we can’t move. Can you guarantee their safety?
JULIE BISHOP: Papua New Guinea is a sovereign government of a population of over eight million people. They’re responsible for law and order and for security. We inherited this case load of people claiming asylum status. Some of them have been found to not be refugees and some have been found to be genuine refugees. We’re working on resettlement options for those who are found to be genuine refugees and that includes resettlement on Papua New Guinea but there’s also other alternatives like the United States. Those who have been found not to be refugees should go home. There are resettlement options available. Fran this is a tough policy and we’re sending a very strong message that we will not tolerate people smugglers trying to get people into Australia illegally.
JOURNALIST: This is not about people smugglers. This is about people who have been stuck on Manus Island for four years or more now and who are fearful of their safety. Now you say this is a law and order issue for Papua New Guinea, the Papua New Guinean Government says asylum seekers and refugees are Australia’s responsibility, says PNG has no obligation to deal with them.
JULIE BISHOP: Fran, there are alternatives available for them. They will not be resettled in Australia and we will send a message to the people smuggling trade that they can’t get back into business. We have stopped –
JOURNALIST: Can you guarantee these men’s safety?
JULIE BISHOP: We have stopped 1200 deaths at sea from occurring as occurred under the previous government. We have stopped the thousands and thousands of people coming by boat, putting their lives at risk by coming by boat. So they will not be resettled in Australia but there are options available for them. They can be resettled in Papua New Guinea or they can be resettled in a third country.
JOURNALIST: Can you guarantee these men’s safety?
JULIE BISHOP: The Papua New Guinea Government is a sovereign government and it is responsible for law and order and security on their Island, in their nation.
JOURNALIST: The detention centre where these men remain now is actually military installation, it’s a naval base – will Australia support the forced removal of these men?
JULIE BISHOP: It makes no sense for these people to remain on Manus Island because the essential services have been transferred to alternative accommodation, so I urge them to go to the alternative accommodation where there will be food, water, electricity and medical services.
JOURNALIST: Julie Bishop thank you very much for joining us.
JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.
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