JOURNALIST: Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop joins us on the line. Good afternoon, good morning to you in Brisbane, Julie.
JULIE BISHOP: Good afternoon Deborah, how are you?
JOURNALIST: I am well. Look, we want to talk spies in a second because there’s plenty of detail we want to go through there, but first up, Sam Dastyari. He’s finally gone, it’s been a saga. How damaging is this for Labor?
JULIE BISHOP: Well Sam Dastyari has finally acknowledged that he’s unfit to represent the Australian people, but Bill Shorten should have sacked him weeks ago. His resignation today should take effect immediately; he shouldn’t be receiving a salary, not another cent from the Australian taxpayer. I think tellingly, Sam Dastyari expressed no regret for letting down Australia, his only regret was letting down the Labor Party, and he didn’t put Australia’s interests first. For weeks Bill Shorten has tried to protect him and today he’s thought to resign but he wasn’t sacked. Why? Because Bill Shorten refused to sack his numbers man, so I think it has been very damaging for Bill Shorten’s credibility as a leader. Interestingly Deborah, he now needs to say who is going to replace Sam Dastyari in the Senate, and be honest with us. He has to confirm whether he’s had discussions with Kristina Keneally replacing Sam Dastyari in the Senate, yes or no.
But look, in terms of the issue of China and Chinese donors, the Prime Minister has been very strong in rejecting Chinese influence in Australia. Is that doing damage to our relations with China?
JULIE BISHOP: I don’t believe so. Australia and China have a very robust and mutually beneficial relationship. We have a free trade agreement with China, one of the highest quality and most comprehensive free trade agreements. We have what is called a ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partner’ with China, where there is huge and broad cooperation in many other forums. Inevitably there are differences of opinion from time-to-time on a range of matters, as that regularly occurs between nations, between partners. However the Coalition Government always strives to manage the disagreements through open and respectful and constructive dialogue, and that is what has been happening with China and with other countries. We can have disagreements but as long as we are consistent and principled in our approach, then these relationships flourish.
JOURNALIST: The Chinese Government though and Chinese diplomats have been very strong coming out in their criticism of Australia in the wake of these comments by the Prime Minister, and we know that in the Chinese media as well, there’s been lots of criticism of Australia and its stance on the issues of Chinese influence. Is it going to make your job harder?
JULIE BISHOP: The whole issue of foreign interference isn’t directed at one country, one nation. It is an issue that each country has as a priority and…
JOURNALIST: How big of a problem is it?
JULIE BISHOP: It is a significant issue in terms of the foreign interference legislation. What we have now is the most significant overhaul of foreign interference and political donations laws in decades. Foreign powers are making unprecedented and increasingly sophisticated attempts to influence the political process, both here and overseas. So what we are doing is ensuring that Australia’s national interest is our priority, we’ve got to ensure that our parliament is strong enough to withstand attempts by foreign powers to interfere or influence. That’s why we are acting to improve transparency in our political system and strengthen penalties for any breaches of our national interest.
JOURNALIST: So attempts, you say they are attempts. Have there been actually cases of countries like China or other countries – Russia being one singled out – influencing our affairs here in Australia?
JULIE BISHOP: Well Sam Dastyari is the case in point. He was asking for a foreign benefactor to pay his personal bills and then he was standing up and reading talking points that could have been prepared by that government, because it contradicted Labor’s foreign policy on the South China Sea, it contradicted the Australian Government policy on the South China Sea. So what you had with Sam Dastyari is someone who is actually being bought to peddle the lines of another government, which was totally contradictory to Australia’s national interests. That’s why he had to go, he should have been sacked weeks ago but Bill Shorten didn’t have the courage to do it.
JULIE BISHOP: The issue isn’t about the Chinese people in Bennelong. They are in the main Australian citizens who are dedicated to focussing on life here in Australia and acting in Australia’s national interests. What we are talking about in the Sam Dastyari matter is about his personal behaviour and his inability to put Australia’s interests first, and the fact that he utterly compromised his position as a senator.
JOURNALIST: He’s got a tough fight on his hands though, doesn’t he?
I am out there this afternoon, we’re visiting a local exporter that has huge opportunities to grow business, employ more people in Bennelong because of the relationship we have with China. The free trade agreement that we negotiated with China provides enormous opportunities for Australian exporters, particularly small businesses, to get into one of the largest markets in the world.
JOURNALIST: Alright, well let’s talk about this issue of spies, and I guess most people have never heard of ASIS for obvious reasons because it’s secret for good reason.
JULIE BISHOP: That’s right. Not a lot of people know about the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, but in fact it is one of the most important agencies in the government. Our intelligence officers gather intelligence and information to advise the government on our national interest, and it was established about 65 years ago – it’s the equivalent of Britain’s MI6 or the US’s CIA – and because it is secret it is not always easy to recruit. So we’ve come up with a rather creative recruitment campaign to attract the right people. We obviously want people who are intelligent and resilient and curious, but they have to be able to develop relationships, be prepared to be deployed overseas and utterly loyal and devoted to serving Australia’s national interests.
JOURNALIST: Sam Dastyari probably wouldn’t be on your top list of people to apply then, I imagine?
JULIE BISHOP: No, he has failed that test, he failed that weeks ago. But it is probably the most interesting job interview people will ever undertake. It starts with an online application, you take this test at morehumanintelligence.com.au – if people log on to that they can go to this rather interesting test to see if they have got the qualities to be an ASIS officer…
JOURNALIST: It’s pretty tough though, only one in every 100 applicant actually gets through and gets hired.
JULIE BISHOP: Well that’s right, it’s a very challenging job, it’s not a desk job. It requires people to be overseas, deployed overseas gathering intelligence and information to advise government. Some of their work involved – I can’t go into detail of operations – but they work in the area of counter-terrorism, in countering people smuggling, tracking people who are a threat to Australia. They work with other intelligence agencies overseas on some of the biggest challenges that Australia faces. So we are looking for special people, but I think the point is that people might be in a whole range of jobs and not appreciate that they have the skills or the background or the aptitude to be an ASIS intelligence officer…
JOURNALIST: Well it would be an interesting role, adding ‘spook’ to your name, to your job title. Julie Bishop, it is always good to talk and good to get your insights in the wake of the Sam Dastyari resignation as well. Thank you so much for your time.
JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure, Deborah. Cheers.
JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop there.
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