JULIE BISHOP: I am here at the Flame of Remembrance today to take part in the Remembrance Day Commemorative Service. 99 years ago, on the 11th hour, on the 11th day, of the 11th month in 1918, World War One was ended. Today we pay tribute to all those who served Australia for the cause of freedom in the First World War. During the minute’s silence, we also reflect on those who have served in our Armed Forces since the First World War, including those who are serving today overseas in conflict zones and peacekeeping operations. This is a day of great significance in Australia’s history and we join Australians all around the world in paying our respects and honouring those who have served to ensure that Australia can be the free and open society that it is today.
I am Acting Prime Minister until next week and have been since the Prime Minister travelled to Da Nang for the APEC Leaders’ Summit and he will be going on to Manila for the East Asia Summit. The Prime Minister has been able to conclude the Free Trade Agreement with Peru while he was away and this is very good news because Australia depends on our ability to export our goods and services around the world for our standard of living and economic growth and better job opportunities. The Free Trade Agreement with Peru opens up a new market for Australian businesses looking to export their goods and services into Latin America.
This morning the Member for Bennelong, John Alexander resigned from the Parliament due to the uncertainty surrounding his eligibility to remain in Parliament. John Alexander has been a fine representative in the seat of Bennelong and he has done right thing. There was uncertainty about his eligibility, he has made detailed enquiries and based on those enquiries he has done the right thing by standing down. We do have sufficient numbers in the House of Representatives to govern, we have the support of a significant number of crossbench Members in the House of Representatives and so we will continue to get on with the business of passing legislation, governing in the interests of all Australians. Labor has 69 seats in the House of Representatives, but there are a number of Labor Members who have considerable uncertainty surrounding their eligibility to remain in the House of Representatives. I would call on the Leader of the Opposition to do the right thing and stop hiding behind his rhetoric and admit that there are Members on his side of the House who have serious questions to answer about their eligibility.
For example we have now seen an opinion from the former Solicitor General David Bennett QC, who is of the view that Justine Keay and Susan Lamb, the Members for Braddon and Longman are not eligible to sit in the House of Representatives, given the recent High Court ruling. So Mr Shorten cannot apply one standard to the Coalition and then seek to hide from that standard when it comes to his own side. So I call upon Mr Shorten, to do the right thing and admit that he has Members on his side who should answer questions about their eligibility and stand down in the meantime.
I also want to announce today that the Australian Government has responded even further to the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Rakhine State and in Bangladesh in particular. Over 600,000 Rohingyas, an ethnic minority in Myanmar, have sought sanctuary in Bangladesh. I spoke with the Bangladesh Foreign Minister this week and confirmed that Australia will continue to support the humanitarian needs. We’ve provided $30 million in humanitarian support to date. Today together with the ABC, we are launching a public appeal. Australian people are very generous, I know they are concerned about this humanitarian crisis and so the Australian Government has agreed that for every Australian dollar the Australian public contributes to UNHCR and to Red Cross, the Australian Government will match dollar for dollar up to $5 million. I thank the ABC for hosting this appeal.
JOURNALIST: Just back to the citizenship issue, are you confident that the Government can survive the next few weeks of Parliament?
JULIE BISHOP: We have sufficient numbers on the floor of the House of Representatives. We have 74 out of the 148 seats. We are hoping that Barnaby Joyce will succeed in his by-election in New England and that he will return. We have support of sufficient crossbenchers to guarantee confidence and supply and so we will continue to govern.
JOURNALIST: So are you providing stable government?
JULIE BISHOP: I believe so. We are getting on with the job of providing government for the people of Australia. The Prime Minister is overseas securing trade deals so that businesses in Australia can grow their businesses, grow their export opportunities and provide more jobs for hardworking Australians. Over the last 12 months, over 370,000 new jobs have been created and that’s what we want to continue to do. Provide stable government to ensure that the economy keeps growing and that jobs keep being created and being made available for Australian people.
JOURNALIST: Do you think that a general election will be held sooner rather than later?
JULIE BISHOP: No I do not believe so. We have sufficient numbers in the House of Representatives to continue to govern.
JOURNALIST: Do you think this is an outdated aspect of the Constitution?
JULIE BISHOP: There are a number of peculiarities that have arisen as a result of the High Court decision and might I point out for example in John Alexander’s case. His father was born in England and came to Australia as a young boy. His father would have been eligible to be a Federal Member of our Parliament, up until 1949. Yet his son, born in 1951 has found to have sufficient uncertainty around his circumstances that he has stood down. So a number of peculiarities have arisen. That’s because over half the Australian population were born overseas or have a parent born overseas. And the Constitution in 1901 was clearly talking about British citizenship. We’ve had a number of changes to our citizenship laws since that time. However there is a responsibility for all Members of Parliament to make sufficient enquiries to make sure they are eligible, pursuant to Section 44. John Alexander has made those enquiries and now believes that there is sufficient doubt. He’s done the right thing and resigned. Bill Shorten knows that he has a number of members in his party, about who there are serious questions about their eligibility and indeed we have an opinion from a former Solicitor General who was counsel in the recent High Court case, yet he is seeking to hide it from the Australian people.
JOURNALIST: Do you expect more Liberal MPs will be forced to resign?
JULIE BISHOP: No I don’t expect so.
JOURNALIST: Which WA Labor MPs are you most concerned about?
JULIE BISHOP: Bill Shorten knows that he has a list of MPs who have not provided any evidence to prove they are eligible to sit in the Parliament. The onus is on Mr Shorten to ensure the eligibility of each and every one of his MPs. That’s why he should be supporting the Prime Minister’s plan for each member to lodge a declaration in the House of Representatives to confirm their eligibility.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of protests last night targeting Christine Forster?
JULIE BISHOP: That is unacceptable behaviour anywhere, anytime. Of course we respect the right to a peaceful protest but there should not be violence, there should not be personal attacks and people should not have their lives put in this kind of jeopardy, and I think it was a terrible thing to occur, for people to attack those going about their lawful business. I respect their right to a peaceful protest but not when it turns ugly.
JOURNALIST: Are you confident that the Liberal Party can win back Bennelong?
JULIE BISHOP: John Alexander has been a great Member for Bennelong. He’s a magnificent Australian citizen and he has represented our country in tennis on the international stage over many years. He’s worked very hard for the Liberal Party as the Member for Bennelong. In fact I have visited his seat on numerous occasions and I know how popular and well regarded he is. I hope John will stand again for the seat of Bennelong and if he does I am hopeful he will receive the support from the people of Bennelong he has served so well.
JOURNALIST: Do you think Nola Marino is in trouble?
JULIE BISHOP: My understanding of the High Court case is that they have made it quite clear that Italian citizenship is based on registration, not relationship, and Nola Marino is not registered as an Italian citizen.
JOURNALIST: Are you in touch with what is going on, on Manus Island?
JULIE BISHOP: I am in touch with our Department. I am aware of the details, the ongoing details in relation to Manus Island. The point is this. For many, many months, those who were in the detention centre on Manus Island have been advised that alternative accommodation will be provided for them at East Lorengau. Those who were found to be refugees should move to that accommodation, which is where essential services are being provided. Over the last few months they’ve travelled to East Lorengau on many occasions and haven’t raised any concerns. Likewise, those who are found not to be refugees, who are not owed protection, should go home.
JOURNALIST: Should the Governor General get involved in the citizenship issue?
JULIE BISHOP: I see no need for that. The Coalition has sufficient numbers to legislate, to govern, on the floor of the House of Representatives.
JOURNALIST: And what do you think of Richard Di Natale suggesting he should get involved?
JULIE BISHOP: Richard Di Natale should get involved?
JOURNALIST: That the Governor General should get involved?
JULIE BISHOP: Richard Di Natale has enough to answer for in terms of his own hypocrisy on this matter. The fact is we have sufficient numbers to govern. That’s the test. We have the support of the crossbenchers on confidence and supply and we will continue to govern in the House of Representatives. The Australian people want to be assured that their government is working for them. I give them that assurance as Acting Prime Minister that we are working to ensure that the Australian people have peace, have prosperity and the opportunity to make a living here and fend for themselves and their families. That is our concern, that is what we are seeking to do.
JOURNALIST: Just on the ceremony, we heard Governor Sanderson talk about women veterans shunning Remembrance Day events because they are being asked to prove their service by other veterans and being asked to put their medals on the other side, on the right hand side. And she was saying that that was not very respectful really. What did you make of that?
JULIE BISHOP: If men and women have served then they are entitled to wear medals and entitled to respect and entitled to take part in ceremonies in relation to returning service men and women. I’m not aware of this issue, but indeed if it is happening, gender should not come into it. Men and women are serving in our Defence Forces and they should be treated equally. Thank you.
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