JOURNALIST: Julie Bishop is the Foreign Minister. She joins us on RN Drive. Welcome to the program.
JULIE BISHOP: Good afternoon Patricia. Good to be with you.
JOURNALIST: The ASEAN-Australia Special Summit is this weekend. Australia will bring a pro free trade message to ASEAN, but you’re not prepared to back the EU action at the WTO against the US against on these steel tariffs. Is that hypocritical to be talking about free trade but not prepared to be taking action to enforce free trade?
JULIE BISHOP: No, not at all. You see, the Government fought for the jobs of our steel workers here in Australia and we have gained an exemption from the announcement by the US that they would impose tariffs on steel and also on aluminium. This is something that we have achieved. The impact on other nations is still to be determined. Australia has an interest in ensuring that our steel industry, our steel workers are protected, and we’ve achieved that. I don’t want to go into hypotheticals but the fact is, Australia has achieved what we set out to do, and so our interests are protected. We are, of course, a huge advocate for free and open trade and we demonstrate that by example. Australia has an open export oriented market economy. We are pursuing free trade deals around the world and we stick by the rules. If we see unfair competition that acts against Australia’s interest we will take action but we have been able to protect Australia’s interest -
JOURNALIST: But if a trade war does eventuate as a result of these US tariffs, what will the impact on Australia be?
JULIE BISHOP: Australia is advocating very strongly that there not be any reciprocal tit-for-tat over the tariffs. In fact, if there is unfair competition, if people are concerned about unfair trading practices, that they pursue their remedy through the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to ensure that these issues can be remedied according to the rules based order. That’s been Australia’s position many times. We’ve either been taken to the WTO or we have resorted to the WTO to protect our workers and our economy here in Australia.
JOURNALIST: In a speech later this evening you will reaffirm Australia’s approach to the rules based order you just referred to. In our region, is this a message for Beijing when it comes to South China Sea?
JULIE BISHOP: This is a message that was set out in our Foreign Policy White Paper released last year. Australia and our region, in fact, the globe, has been the beneficiary of the rules based order, that is the network of alliances and treaties and conventions and norms, that has grown up since the Second World War, underpinned by international law, that has seen prosperity and relative peace and stability, particularly in our region. Australia is making a quite self-evident case that it is in our interests, in the region’s interest, that we need to stick to the rules. It regulates behaviour between states, it regulates competition and rivalries, and gives opportunities for nations who feel aggrieved to have their grievances aired through international institutions such as the WTO and the UN Security Council and others.
JOURNALIST: ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines, all have claims in the South China Sea. Will there be an official resolution on the South China Sea out of the Summit?
JULIE BISHOP: I expect that the matter will not be raised in that way because ASEAN is in the process of negotiating a code of conduct with China in relation to the South China Sea and I would expect members of ASEAN to want to see the outcome of those negotiations with China. Our position has been consistent throughout. We are not a claimant nation, we have an interest in ensuring we can maintain freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight in relation to the South China Sea and that we urge all parties to negotiate their differences peacefully and in accordance with international law.
JOURNALIST: Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has threatened those who protest him at ASEAN with violence, and I quote, “if they burn my effigy I will pursue them to their houses and beat them up”, how deal with a leader who threatens his own people like that?
JULIE BISHOP: We want to engage all ASEAN members at the Summit because it provides them with the best chance of influencing issues. The Summit, bringing all the leaders together, provides us with an opportunity to raise with the ASEAN Leaders, the value that Australia attaches to protecting and promoting human rights and any other issues that we have. It is in our interests to engage with the member states of ASEAN in wanting to support them, promote the principles that they adhere to. The ASEAN Charter says that it wants to strengthen democracy and the rule of law and protects and promotes human rights and fundamental freedoms, so Australia engages with the ASEAN member states to ensure that it can fulfil its ambition and aspiration.
JOURNALIST: While Hun Sen is in the country will you seek assurances around Australian film maker James Ricketson who is being held in pre-trial detention since June of last year?
JULIE BISHOP: I have been making representations in relation to this matter with my counterpart and when Hun Sen is here of course the matter will be raised. I won’t go into the details of what will be a bilateral discussion, but of course the matter has already been raised with them and I will continue to pursue it.
JOURNALIST: Given the presence of ISIS in the Philippines and the focus of ASEAN will have on anti-terror measures, essentially, how much does Philippines Rodrigo Duterte not coming to the meeting effect those discussions?
JULIE BISHOP: In fact, I’ve met President Duterte on a number of occasions, twice last year in fact, and I didn’t have any expectation that he would be coming to the Summit because of his focus on domestic issues and that was including the siege in Marawi and the presence of insurgents and militants and ISIS inspired fighters in the southern Philippines. The Philippines will be represented by Secretary of Foreign Affairs Cayetano whom I know well. We’ve got an extremely strong relationship with the Philippines and Australia is highly valued for the counter-terrorism assistance we’ve been offering the Philippines in recent times. We were not expecting President Duterte to be here but his delegation will most certainly be taking part in the meeting and engaging fully.
JOURNALIST: If you’re just tuning in, this is RN Drive and my guest is the Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop. Given the atrocities committed against the Rohingya Myannmar, why is it appropriate that Aung San Suu Kyi should be at ASEAN?
JULIE BISHOP: As I said earlier, engaging with all ASEAN members at the Summit provides us with the best opportunity to speak about issues of concern and I would certainly be encouraging Aung San Suu Kyi to attend the Summit so that we can raise directly with her the concerns that we have. I spoke with her in January, we’ve made numerous representations, but this is an opportunity for us to discuss these issues of concern face to face and raise with the ASEAN leaders the value that Australia attaches to protecting and promoting human rights. We have been very active in relation to the Rohingya matter directly with the Myanmar Government and having Aung San Suu Kyi here in Australia gives both the Prime Minister and me and others the opportunity to talk directly with her.
JOURNALIST: So will the Australian Government publically condemn the deaths and expulsion of Rohingya Muslims from Rakhine State in those talks with Aung San Suu Kyi?
JULIE BISHOP: The Australian Government has consistently raising our concerns at the situation in the Rakhine State and the plight of the Rohingyas. We’ve made many representations about it and we have been supporting an independent UN investigation to determine the facts on the ground. We’ve also been providing humanitarian support to the Rohingyas and particularly to those in camps in Bangladesh at Cox’s Bazar.
JOURNALIST: Just on another issue, New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters has been briefed by the UK on the nerve agent attack and says it warrants urgent international investigation, do you agree?
JULIE BISHOP: We are certainly deeply concerned about this matter and I have been receiving security and intelligence briefings ever since UK Prime Minister Theresa May confirmed that a military grade nerve agent of the type originally developed by Russia was used in this attempted assassination within the United Kingdom. It raises the obvious question: who had access to such a nerve agent? The action is horrifying. It shows a callous disregard not only for the absolute international prohibition on the use of chemical weapons but also to the possible lethal effects on others who were in the locality of its use.
We support in the strongest possible terms the British Parliament and the British Government’s commitment to ensure a full investigation and any efforts to bring those responsible to account, to justice.
We are supporting the British calls for an emergency session of the Security Council, and we will also be raising our concerns at the meeting this week, of the Organisation of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Australia is a member and we will certainly be raising our issues there.
Australia condemns the use of chemical weapons by anyone, anywhere, under any circumstance. I believe the international community must demonstrate zero tolerance for, and a firm commitment to deter, any future acts of this nature.
JOURNALIST: There are reports that British diplomats have briefed the New Zealand Government as part of an attempt to spread the condemnation over the attack. Have DFAT or PM&C been approached by the UK on this?
JULIE BISHOP: As I said I am receiving security and intelligence briefings –
JOURNALIST: From the UK?
JULIE BISHOP: … obviously as a result of discussions with our security and intelligence agencies having with the United Kingdom.
JOURNALIST: And do you support sanctions?
JULIE BISHOP: Well at this stage we are supporting the UK calls for an emergency session of the UN Security Council and we’ll obvious consider appropriate responses as the facts come to light in very close coordination with the United Kingdom and other partners.
JOURNALIST: So, just expanding on that, would Australia support the UK on imposing further economic sanctions on Russia?
JULIE BISHOP: As I said, we are supporting the UK calls for an emergency session of the UN Security Council where all of these issues would be debated and made public. We are in close collaboration and discussion with the United Kingdom about this issue. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has made statements about it, now the UK Prime Minister has also made statements. We are closely monitoring this matter, invariably in close coordination with the United Kingdom.
JOURNALIST: There are reports that an accused paedophile accessed, essentially, $500,000 worth of taxpayer-funded legal support for his court case in the Philippines. Is that something that concerns you?
JULIE BISHOP: There is a scheme, it’s called the Serious Overseas Criminal Matters Scheme and this has existed for some time to provide legal support to Australians facing serious criminal matters in jurisdictions overseas. This is particularly where the person is facing more than 20 years in jail or the death penalty. Our legal system assumes that people are innocent until proven guilty and clearly there are circumstances where support is absolutely appropriate but I am advised that our Attorney General Christian Porter is reviewing the Scheme particularly with a view to reviewing this case and the circumstances in which the person was able to gain access to the Scheme.
JOURNALIST: In that review do you think that paedophiles should get access to taxpayer-funding? Is that something that concerns you?
JULIE BISHOP: Of course it concerns me. It would depend very much on what was known about their history, about whether they’ve got a history of convictions or offending. Obviously relevant convictions would be taken into account. I understand that the Attorney General is reviewing the Scheme generally, including this particular case, with a view to considering whether changes are needed. I do point out that this Scheme exists so that if an Australian is facing serious criminal matters in overseas jurisdictions then they can have support, legal support, particularly where they are facing 20 years at least or the death penalty. In this particular case the Attorney General will be looking at the specific circumstances but the Scheme, I believe, should continue to exist because Australians who may be innocent get caught up in serious criminal matters overseas.
JOURNALIST: Just quickly, the Government has also told the ABC a review into the conduct of the Border Force Commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg has recommended he be stood down. Will he be stood down?
JULIE BISHOP: That’s not a matter within my portfolio. I’ve not been involved in a discussion on that matter. That would be a matter for the Home Affairs Minister to advise.
JOURNALIST: And just on another issue that we’ve been pursuing here at the ABC. Last night Four Corners talked about a big Australia and really record migration numbers and how Australia is managing this issue, do you believe in a big Australia?
JULIE BISHOP: I believe in an appropriate level of net-migration and I believe we have the balance about right. Australia has been built on immigrants. We have had waves of immigration over decades, generations that have built Australia to be the country it is today. The challenge for the Government is to ensure that we have the right balance. We’re focusing on skilled labour where there are shortages here in Australia to drive economic growth and drive productivity and prosperity and we’ve seen that happen over many decades of immigrants coming to Australia.
JOURNALIST: But do we need to manage a growing Australia better? Do we need a ‘Population Minister’? Is that something that you think the Government should consider?
JULIE BISHOP: I believe that we have the balance right now. The Government is in control of our immigration system, that’s not something you could say under the Labor Government when they lost control of borders and there were 50,000 people trying to get to Australia via the people smuggling trade. We’ve obviously stopped that egregious abuse of our immigration system and we are now able to determine immigration flows in a way that ensure that we have the appropriate infrastructure and services in place to absorb such an immigrant population. The point is that immigrants have driven economic growth in this country and we have been one of the most successful multicultural nations on earth as a result of waves of immigration. So the question is whether or not we have the balance right. I believe we do in terms of skilled migrants, family reunion, and through humanitarian and refugee intakes.
JOURNALIST: Julie Bishop many thanks for your time tonight.
JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.
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