KIERAN GILBERT: Returning to our top story now, the Thai rescue. With me, the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. An amazing feat of human endeavour, isn’t it?
JULIE BISHOP: An extraordinary ordeal and it is now over- 17 days since the boys were trapped in the cave and now each one of them and the coach has been rescued safely. It’s been a remarkable international effort, coordinated brilliantly by the Thai authorities, particularly the Thai Royal Navy SEALs, and then experts from all over the world, including 20 personnel from Australia and our six AFP divers and the Navy clearance divers.
KIERAN GILBERT: What about Dr Harris from Adelaide? Extraordinary. His set of skills, just perfect for this rescue scenario.
JULIE BISHOP: Indeed. He’s a renowned expert in cave rescue. He’s well known to us in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade because he’s part of our Australian Medical Assistance Team that is sent into the Pacific to respond to natural disasters. He worked under the aid program in Vanuatu in Port Vila Hospital for a number of years. So he is known to us and he does have a remarkable set of skills. The British diving team identified him as someone who they needed as part of this rescue team and he was requested at the highest levels of the Thai Government.
KIERAN GILBERT: Amazing they got them out.
JULIE BISHOP: He’s proven to be a remarkable asset, and his dive partner, Craig Challen, is a vet from Perth, and between the two of them they worked very hard to ensure this outcome.
KIERAN GILBERT: Yeah, nice to have some happy news to report. Let’s turn our attention to the big picture and Donald Trump’s heading to Europe and then to Russia. You can see why the Europeans are nervous because he has a crack at them for not spending enough on defence and then talks about how he’s optimistic about Putin.
JULIE BISHOP: The message to NATO has been consistent from the Trump Administration and that is that they must contribute more to the defence of Europe, their own defence, and it is a message they have been responding to. In relation to Russia, I am very much of the view that Russia should not be rewarded for its bad behaviour. Russia have questions to answer over MH17. We are coming up to the fourth anniversary. Russia must take State responsibility for the downing of a plane that killed 298 passengers and crew, including 38 Australians. The presence of this nerve agent, Novichok, in Britain - this is a Russian manufactured military grade nerve agent. A person has now died as a result of coming into contact with it. Russia must account for its stockpiles.
KIERAN GILBERT: Mr Trump seems to like strong authoritarian leaders. It seems to be his message.
JULIE BISHOP: He clearly practices diplomacy on a one-to-one level. He develops a rapport with a particular leader, and if that leads to positive outcomes, well that is a very effective form of diplomacy.
KIERAN GILBERT: One area where there’s quite a bit of volatility at the moment is the UK. How do you manage that as a Foreign Minister? Boris gone, Jeremy Hunt in and plus Theresa May’s leadership precarious.
JULIE BISHOP: Jeremy Hunt has been announced as the Foreign Secretary - I assume that there’ll be a process before he’s actually appointed - but I am looking forward to meeting him and speaking with him as soon as possible. We obviously have a very deep and close relationship with the United Kingdom and that will continue. I will miss Boris. I got along very well with him. He’s a good mate and he’s a wonderful friend of Australia, but I’m sure that Jeremy Hunt will be somebody with whom we’ll be able to have a very effective relationship and work closely with him. Of course, the whole Brexit issue is still very complex. It’s very complicated and I think it will take some time.
KIERAN GILBERT: You mightn’t have to miss Boris for long. He might be taking another job soon, but anyway let us just wrap up with President Xi Jinping – he has invited Pacific leaders to PNG before the APEC Summit. Is this another attempt by China to assert themselves in the Pacific?
JULIE BISHOP: Well, I understand that President Xi Jinping would be undertaking a guest of government visit to Port Moresby prior to APEC - that is not unusual to have the leaders who are attending an event like this actually have a bilateral meeting to start off with. Inviting the Pacific leaders is a sensible thing to do. I think that China’s presence in the Pacific must be seen in a positive light and I think the more engagement that we and other countries can have with China over their involvement in the Pacific, the better outcomes we’ll see.
KIERAN GILBERT: Minister, as always, appreciate your time.
JULIE BISHOP: Thank you.
- Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555