A Transcript of Interview with Julie Bishop, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition
Subjects: Syria conflict, Sri Lankan human rights issues, Australia’s relationship with China, foreign policy objectives
8 May 2013 - THE WORLD, ABC NEWS 24
JANE HUTCHEON What are your thoughts on bringing the warring parties in the Syrian conflict together?
JULIE BISHOP This is a welcome breakthrough. There had been a stalemate, particularly between the west and Russia and China over the best way to end the bloodshed in Syria. In fact I met with Sergei Lavrov the Russian Foreign Minister just before Anzac Day, and he was determined to ensure that there was not a repeat of what went on in Libya and Russia was going to continue to use its veto to prevent there being any military intervention.
JANE HUTCHEON So you oppose military intervention?
JULIE BISHOP I welcome the fact that we are looking for a political solution and I think the meeting today between President Putin, Sergei Lavrov and Secretary of State John Kerry from the United States will find a road map based on the Geneva Communique from last year, but what it will mean is that the Assad regime and the opposition will have to come together with a view to forming a transitional government for elections next year. This is a good thing. Now there will have to be a ceasefire, there will have to be a securing of the chemical weapons that we know the regime holds. There will have to be a guarantee that this doesn't spread beyond Syria and that it ends up as some sort of regional conflict particularly between the Sunnis and the Shias. So this is a step in the right direction. I'm not claiming that it's going to resolve everything, but it shows that Russia and the United States can work together for a better outcome.
JANE HUTCHEON Let's go to Sri Lanka now , and I wonder, do you support the return of Sri Lankan asylum seekers to their country of origin?
JULIE BISHOP Yes, I do. Based on what I saw and have learned from a visit to Sri Lanka in January of this year, I'm convinced that the Sinhalese in particular have no reason to fear persecution in Sri Lanka.
JANE HUTCHEON What about the Tamils?
JULIE BISHOP Indeed the Tamils likewise are receiving much better treatment under the Sri Lankan government and if they were to fear persecution in any form, then paying a people smuggler and getting on a rickety boat and travelling thousands of kilometres across the sea is not the right thing to do.
If they do want to claim asylum, if they do claim a fear of persecution, which I would dispute, then they can go 30km into India, where they would be welcome and provided with health and medical support.
JANE HUTCHEON You dispute the many reports by human rights organisations that say people who go back, Tamils, are tortured by security agents?
JULIE BISHOP There's absolutely no evidence to support those claims. Even the Human Rights Watch report claims that they have evidence but when they're called upon to produce it, they can't. And indeed, I was in Sri Lanka with the Tamils, not with the government, I spent three days with Scott Morrison and Michael Keenan in the former Tamil territory in the north around Jaffna and Kilinochchi. We went where the Tamils wanted us to go, we met with the people they wanted us to meet and when I asked specifically for evidence of torture, names, details...
JANE HUTCHEON It was a government sponsored trip though wasn't it?
JULIE BISHOP No, it wasn't. We went and we paid our own way with Australian Government funding, but the government did not take any part, that is the government of Sri Lanka took absolutely no part in the organisation of our trip to the north. That was done through the TNA, the Tamil Parliamentary Party. They organised it, we didn’t have government people with us.
JANE HUTCHEON So you don't believe torture exists for anyone?
JULIE BISHOP I saw no evidence of it yet I called for evidence time and time again and none was forthcoming. I asked for names, dates, instances. Now it was a very brutal civil war and it finished in 2009, a very brutal civil war.....
JANE HUTCHEON And the government has had no investigation?
JULIE BISHOP But now there has been a lot of progress in terms of reconstruction, reconciliation, resettlements. Reconciliation has a way to go but what I believe we should be doing is engaging with the Sri Lankan government and seeking to influence the Sri Lankan government and I believe that progress will be made.
JANE HUTCHEON Let's move on to the bigger picture. If the Coalition wins government in September, what would be the centre-piece of your foreign policy?
JULIE BISHOP Should we be honoured to win the next election, there will be differences in our approach to foreign policy than the current government. For a start, we will adopt a level of quiet diplomacy to ensure that our relations with particularly countries in our region is based on mutual respect. None of the megaphone diplomacy, the surprise announcements, we'll quietly work behind the scenes as opposed to through the media.
JANE HUTCHEON What about China?
JULIE BISHOP Secondly, a focus of our foreign policy will be un unambiguously focused on the Indian Ocean Asia Pacific. All our foreign policy assets whether they be military and defence capability or economic and trade capacity, diplomacy or aid, will be focused on our region.
Third, we will have a focus on what I call economic diplomacy. Our trade policy will be a centre of our foreign policy so that Australia's national interests, that is, being a prosperous, stable country, will be served through our foreign policy.
And finally, we will be pragmatic about our approach, not driven by ideology.
JANE HUTCHEON Will you go forward, will you keep pushing this relationship that was set up by Julia Gillard in terms of China, the deeper engagement, will you take that to another level?
JULIE BISHOP First it wasn't set up by Julia Gillard.
JANE HUTCHEON Yes, it was. She won the deeper engage minute with China, John Howard obviously built on the previous Labor Government?
JULIE BISHOP No, what happened is that the Howard Government had such an informal arrangement with China whereby ...
JANE HUTCHEON It didn't formalise it though.
JULIE BISHOP I'm coming to that point. John Howard had this arrangement with the Chinese leaders where he would visit often and did, and the Chinese would visits Australia often and they did.
What Julia Gillard did is formalise what was already happening under the Howard Government and the reason she had to formalise it is because she was not giving the relationship the attention that it deserved. She wasn't visiting regularly. She sent no ministers to their important economic forum the Boao Forum in 2012. Not one Labor minister attended, I was, there were no Labor ministers there.
JANE HUTCHEON What do you think made her suddenly see the light with China?
JULIE BISHOP I think Bob Hawke had a lot to do with it. He was very vocal at the 2012 Boao Forum over the fact there was no-one from the Labor Government present there, and I believe he had quite some influence in ensuring that Julia Gillard paid more attention to the relationship with China because it is after all our major trading partner.
JANE HUTCHEON Do you think Australia needs to choose between the US and China as our key ally?
JULIE BISHOP No, I do not believe we need to choose and neither would the United States expect us to choose, nor China expect us to choose. The United States and China are working very closely together. They might have all sorts of differences but they're working very closely together on economic issues and even strategic issues.
And so Australia will not be asked to choose, and nor should we debate some sort of false assumption that we’ll need to.
JANE HUTCHEON But do you see the language that was in last week's White Paper, removing the provocative, I suppose, ideas about China's ascendancy particularly military ascendancy?
JULIE BISHOP Four years too late. That 2009 White Paper of the Rudd Government was disgraceful in the way that it identified China as the most likely military threat that Australia would face. We didn't believe that, Beijing was appalled by it, and Washington didn't believe it. So it's taken them four years to right that wrong.
JANE HUTCHEON The Malaysian election took place over the weekend, we're hoping to cross there during an opposition rally shortly. There were widespread reports of rorting. Is it Australia's business to point out to the Malaysian government when we see quote unquote flawed democracy in progress?
JULIE BISHOP Australia should be very careful not to interfere in another country's elections unless we have a factual basis for it. At this stage its claim and counter claim. The long-serving BN Party has been returned and are claiming an election mandate. The Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim says that there's been widespread electoral fraud and he's calling for peaceful protests. But until such time as the Australian Government has facts to base a complaint, we should respect the process.
JANE HUTCHEON I hear that you meet regularly with ambassadors from different countries. You have them speak to senior members of the Liberal Party. Do you think your role as you are, I suppose, in the wings, is to speak openly about some of the problems that you see? Or is it to just watch and wait until if and when the Coalition takes power in September?
JULIE BISHOP As a senior person in the opposition and as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, of course I speak out on a whole range of issues. I do in Foreign Affairs, I do in trade and also more generally across portfolios in my capacity as Deputy Leader.
In relation to the preparation for government, should we be elected, of course I have confidential briefings and discussions with ambassadors and with government officials, both here in Australia and overseas because I want to ensure that we have relationships in place so that should I become the next Foreign Minister, I will be able to commence discussions, commence negotiations immediately, having met the various players as Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
So a lot of what we're doing is quiet work behind the scenes, a lot of hard work. And we hope that that will bear fruit for Australia so that there's a seamless transition to a new Foreign Minister should the Australian people so decide.
JANE HUTCHEON Now, I've looked at the list of countries that you’ve visited since becoming the shadow Foreign Affairs spokesperson. It's pretty - a pretty good schedule for the time that you've been there. Is there a particular country or interest that you feel you'd like to sort of add a special touch to?
JULIE BISHOP Very much to the India/Indonesia/Australia relationship. I believe that the Indian Ocean is one of our most important strategic areas, and I think with India and Indonesia, Australia can play a very strong part in improving the lives of people who live on the Indian Ocean rim.
And also Papua New Guinea. I have a particular and special interest in ensuring that our dear friends and closest neighbour in Papua New Guinea has a mature economic relationship with Australia, that we move away from the aid-donor, aid-recipient relationship that currently exists, and I look forward to embracing a much more mature and sophisticated relationship with PNG.
JANE HUTCHEON Julie Bishop thank you so much for coming in and speaking to 'The World’.
JULIE BISHOP It’s been my pleasure.