ZOE DANIEL: Minister, thank you very much for your time.
JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.
ZOE DANIEL: You said that you planned to raise concerns over the Trump Administrations relationship with Russia, specifically the chance that Russia could escape responsibility for past behaviour, did you and what reassurance did you get?
JULIE BISHOP: Yes, I most certainly did raise it during a bilateral discussion with Secretary Pompeo and also in the broader discussion. And as Secretary Pompeo has said at the press conference just a short while ago, the United States stands with Australia in seeking to hold Russia to account for its role in the downing of MH17 and we had an extensive discussion about the support that the United States has already provided, particularly in the UN Security Council and the fact that Secretary Pompeo joined in the G7 statement condemning the tragedy, the atrocity and also holding Russia to account. And again, in the communique from this Australia-US Ministerial meeting there is a reference to holding Russia to account.
ZOE DANIEL: Donald Trump has a very – this is my word – unorthodox approach to international relations. Is there something to be said for that? What benefit is there from him, sort of, changing up the system, if you like?
JULIE BISHOP: From my observation he focusses very much on personal relationships and that has been to our benefit as well. President Trump and Prime Minister Turnbull get along very well and that has assisted us in getting unprecedented access to the White House and to the US Government. But I think the US President also focuses on what hasn’t worked in the past and comes up with new and innovative ways of doing things differently so that we get a better outcome. While six months ago people would have been astounded that there were to be a summit between North Korea and the President of the United States, what has happened is that we are now talking about stability on the Korean Peninsula rather than military conflict.
ZOE DANIEL: And yet, it also creates substantial volatility having Donald Trump involved. Does that create a reason for Australia to be a little more cautious in its relationship with the US?
JULIE BISHOP: Australia has a strong and enduring partnership and alliance with the United States and that will not change. In fact, in this meeting we committed a new to our alliance and our levels of cooperation across a broad range of issues but most notably our support for an open and free, inclusive and prosperous Indo Pacific. The United States view of the world continues to align with ours in regard to the key national interests that Australia has.
ZOE DANIEL: Did you get any undertaking on a new Ambassador to Australia or Donald Trump visiting Australia later this year?
JULIE BISHOP: We certainly talked about a whole range of issues, but the choice of the Ambassador is a matter for the United States. We are working closely with Jim Caruso, the Charge, but I don’t think it is any reflection on the depth of our relationship.
ZOE DANIEL: How much discussion was there about Chinese influence not only in the South China Sea but in the South Pacific? How big a concern is that for the US and how could the two countries work collaboratively on that front?
JULIE BISHOP: We talked a great deal about the Indo-Pacific and within that discussion we also talked about Australia’s role in the Pacific, particularly the South Pacific, and the US role in the North Pacific. We welcome more investment in the Pacific, no one country alone can provide all of the support that the Pacific needs and we discussed ways where we could work constructively with China to ensure that the investment from China and indeed from other nations drives sustainable growth in the Pacific.
ZOE DANIEL: And what about the so-called ‘debt trap’ situation that Tonga is now in, I mean, is that sort-of a red flag for other Pacific nations but also something for countries like Australia and the US to be aware of in terms of the regional dynamic?
JULIE BISHOP: We are working with Tonga to ensure that it can manage its finances in a way that leads to a sustainable budget and economic growth. We work with a number of Pacific nations in that regard, providing our expertise and advice. We also want to be a partner of choice with the Pacific. A natural partner for the Pacific Island nations in providing support to them so that they can realise their aspirations for a better standard of living and more economic growth in their country.
ZOE DANIEL: So, might Australia help Tonga pay that in some way?
JULIE BISHOP : What Australia is doing is supporting Pacific Island countries with advice and expertise on how they can manage their budgets. We are also offering alternatives. You will have seen in Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands we are supporting the financing of an undersea telecommunications cable because that directly leads to increased economic growth and prosperity in those countries.
ZOE DANIEL: What about freedom of navigation controls, has the US made a request for Australia to actively participate in those in the South China Sea and will we?
JULIE BISHOP: We already participate in upholding the rights of freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight. Australia sends our ships and our planes through the South China Sea in accordance with international law and we’ve been doing that for a very long time. The United States has a freedom of navigation, a global FONOPS program, that it conducts in accordance with its capacity and abilities, but we conduct our own freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight exercise.
ZOE DANIEL: And we don’t want to extend that at this point?
JULIE BISHOP: We are already doing it. We are already taking part in exercises in the South China Sea.
ZOE DANIEL: Final question. Over all the talks with Mike Pompeo and Jim Mattis, how would you characterise those particularly at a time where the Administration has put various allies on notice in regards to their relationship?
JULIE BISHOP: It was an extremely productive and fruitful meeting. It was timely because Secretary Pompeo has just been appointed Secretary of State in recent months. We had the opportunity to discuss a very wide range of issues that affect our national interest and how we can work together. It reaffirmed our joint commitment to the alliance and our partnership and our aligned view of the world in so many areas. It has been a very productive meeting and again underscores the level of access we have to important figures in the Trump Administration.
ZOE DANIEL: Minister, thank you.
JULIE BISHOP: Thank you.
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