Sunday, August 23, 2009

Bishopwatch: She's reaching new heights (or plumbing new depths)

I reproduce without further comment the transcript of this morning's Sky News Agenda interview:

Sky News, Sunday Agenda

Julie Bishop, Deputy Opposition Leader and Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister

23 August 2009

Helen Dalley: What exactly was bungled about the visa given to Rebiya Kadeer? You said on Thursday that the visa was bungled.

Julie Bishop: I did not say the visa was bungled. I’m talking about the handling of the whole issue. Ms Kadeer has been here before . . .

Helen Dalley: Excuse me, I’ll just read you the quote. You said “the bungling of the handling of the visa to the Uighar leader”.

Julie Bishop: Exactly.

Helen Dalley: So, what exactly was bungled?

Julie Bishop: This has never been about the issuing of a visa. Ms Kadeer has received a visa in the past and there was no controversy, but this time because of the government’s mismanagement of this relationship the issuing of the visa became a controversy. It did not need to be. It should have been handled in a way as it was previously. Now 18 months ago the Rudd Government was able to deal with the issue of Ms Kadeer and the visa in a way that didn’t cause controversy, but this time relationships had so soured that Mr Rudd was not able to deal with the issue of a visa without it causing a great controversy. Now, Mr Rudd must take responsibility for that.

Helen Dalley: But are you saying that the government should have changed its position on the visa and not allowed it?

Julie Bishop: This is not about the Opposition’s position on the visa because we have never criticised it. We didn’t criticise it 18 months ago, we didn’t criticise it now. This is about the fact that 18 months ago this visa was issued without controversy, and then because of the deterioration of the relationship between Mr Rudd and the Chinese Government it became a controversy. Now, Mr Rudd must take responsibility for this.

Helen Dalley: But how can he if you’re saying that the visa was issued 18 months ago, the same visa was also issued now, why should he change the policy from what you’re saying he should have?

Julie Bishop: I am talking about his handling of the whole relationship. As many commentators have stated it’s the culmination of a series of mishandling . . .

Helen Dalley: Sorry, you are basing it on the handling of the visa.

Julie Bishop: . . . about the whole relationship. And so we’ve not criticised the issuing of the visa then, we’re not criticising it now, but we’re saying the whole mishandling of the relationship with China is such that now everything becomes a controversy and Mr Rudd should start focusing on repairing the damage that he has done to this relationship and not trying to deflect it away onto the Opposition. It is far too simplistic for Mr Rudd to try and say this is all about the issue of a visa to Ms Kadeer. There is a whole raft of issues that have gone on between the Rudd Government and the Chinese Government that have led to this deterioration in the relationships. Now, we were able to manage a very mature relationship with China based on mutual respect. We had common interests but we had different values and we understood each other and were able to deal in that way. But under Mr Rudd you have to ask yourself this key question, has the relationship with China improved under Mr Rudd? It’s patently clear that it has not and he needs to repair it and repair it swiftly.

Helen Dalley: Julie Bishop, I just go back to the earlier comment and question about your going hot and cold, your side of politics on this. I mean former Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock, said this week that granting Ms Kadeer a visa was a mistake. Then current Senator, Barnaby Joyce, agreed with the government that it wasn’t a mistake to grant a visa. Do you think Australia . . .

Julie Bishop: Mr Ruddock did not say that.

Helen Dalley: Pardon?

Julie Bishop: Mr Ruddock did not say that. He clarified that position. He said that it was a mistake in the circumstances of the whole handling of the relationship . . .

Helen Dalley: I’m sorry I have the quote in front of me. He said, yes, it was a mistake.

Julie Bishop: I spoke to Mr Philip Ruddock, he said the whole handling of the relationship has been a mistake. No one in the Coalition criticised the issue of the visa, the first time nor the second time. What we criticised, and we will continue to criticise until Mr Rudd rectifies it, is his handling of this relationship. He is sending a confused message to China.

Helen Dalley: All right. You have said that several times. Can I just ask you about your position?

Julie Bishop: And no wonder the Chinese are confused because Mr Rudd has not had a consistent position on China. On the one hand he’s trying to be China’s ambassador overseas; on the other side he needlessly offends them over a whole range of issues. It’s not about one visa and it never has been.

Helen Dalley: It’s also the case, isn’t it, that the Coalition was against the Chinalco deal with Rio. That wasn’t necessarily the government’s position. So when the China Daily talks about the “anti-China chorus” from Canberra and Australian politicians being “sinophobic” they could be talking about you and Malcolm Turnbull, couldn’t they?

Julie Bishop: The Chinese Government is concerned about the government in power. They don’t even have an opposition in China. They are concerned about the government that makes the decisions of the day. And this was another example where the government did not make clear to China the arrangements with the Foreign Investment Review Board. It’s quite clear that the government was sitting on that decision hoping that events would overtake it as events eventually did. But again that sends such a mixed and confused message to China. Why didn’t they tell China that there was a foreign investment review board process that could take some time and could in fact end up with a recommendation not to proceed and it wasn’t just a rubber stamp. But the government wanted to wait and that sent a confused message to China.

Helen Dalley: Ms Bishop, if I could interrupt you please, do you agree that in fact Kevin Rudd’s Government did not cause the problem that arose when Rio reneged on the Chinalco deal. It had nothing to do with the Foreign Investment Review Board in the end. The government had nothing to do with that and that peeved the Chinese when Rio pulled out.

Julie Bishop: Well I’ve never said that the government caused the Chinalco problem, I’ve never said that.

Helen Dalley: But you are saying he’s caused all these problems with China, he has to take responsibility for.

Julie Bishop: I’m talking about the confused messages that the government is sending. And the key issue is: is our relationship with China better now than it was when Mr Rudd came to office and patently the answer is no it is not.

Helen Dalley: Well on many scores in fact some would say that now it is better because in fact right when you are saying this week that the relationship is at a crisis point the big Gorgan LNG deal came about. And even Rio and BHP are saying it was still very much business as usual with iron ore sales to China, which have actually increased in the past few months despite the Stern Hu debacle.

Julie Bishop: Absolutely. There is a complete difference between the political relationship between the Rudd Government and the Chinese Government and the commercial relationships between big companies in Australia and in China. Now, the Gorgon deal is a magnificent deal for Australia. It’s been in the making for some number of years. In fact the development of Gorgan has been underway for decades. And a contract was signed between ExxonMobil and PetroChina for $50 billion. That is a fantastic outcome for Australia, for Western Australia. And so the commercial relations can go on. The political relationship between the Rudd Government and the Chinese Government is in disrepair as evidenced by the fact that Chinese officials are cancelling meetings. And as I said the most humiliating blow for Mr Rudd is that China has withdrawn cooperation from Mr Rudd’s much touted Asia Pacific Community proposal. Now, without China’s backing that is unlikely to proceed.

Helen Dalley: All right. Can I move on? Should Kevin Rudd meet the Dalai Lama on his visit here later in the year?

Julie Bishop: I would hope he would. Prime Minister Howard met the Dalai Lama when he came here. He is the spiritual leader in Tibet and I would hope that Mr Rudd would meet him.

Helen Dalley: All right. Let’s turn very quickly to Afghanistan and there have been reports of some violence during the elections. But I want to ask you about reports that the top US Commander in Afghanistan, General McCrystal, wants our troops to be allowed to be deployed outside the current zones. Should Australia agree to the general’s request?

Julie Bishop: Well, I’m not sure that General McCrystal has actually made that request at this stage and obviously we would hope that the Australian Government would consider it. Our troops are making a fantastic contribution to the outcome in Afghanistan, not only in a military sense but also in a civilian sense, and the recent elections show, not withstanding the violence and the intimidation, that an election could be held and it is a step forward in democracy. And we certainly support the brave and courageous Afghani people who went out to vote in the face of the Taliban violence. But in terms of whether Australia should expand its commitment we would obviously have to consider what the request is and why Australia would be required to do that.

Helen Dalley: He didn’t appear to be . . .

Julie Bishop: But we most certainly . . .

Helen Dalley: Go on.

Julie Bishop: We most certainly give support to the Rudd Government in its commitment to Afghanistan. I made a speech in the House of Representatives last week speaking about the role that Australia is playing as part of the international forces. We need to ensure that Afghanistan doesn’t again become a headquarters for terrorism and we will need to stay the course. It is going to be a long hard road and Australia needs to remain committed. Now, the level of that commitment will depend on our capacity and the international community’s capacity as well.

Helen Dalley: Just an issue that’s come up again that’s been raised before, but this morning there are reports, and it’s more destabilising for the Liberals, with reports that Malcolm Turnbull actually lobbied various ALP figures very hard a decade ago to join them, including lobbying Bob Hawke.

Julie Bishop: Come on, Helen, the Labor Party’s going to have to make up their mind about Malcolm. On the one minute he’s this neo-Liberal capital extremist, and now on the other hand they’re trying to get us to believe that he’s a closet socialist. I mean this is an old Labor Party tactic. They tried it the other week in Western Australia when there was a person nominated as a potential Liberal candidate and they rolled out all the Labor heavies to say that this man had actually tried to join the Labor Party. It’s a familiar tactic. I have known Malcolm Turnbull for 20 years. . . .

Helen Dalley: But Julie Bishop, we have already known that Malcolm said there were you know casual talks. This is now saying that he actually lobbied. Are you saying he did not lobby to join the ALP?

Julie Bishop: I have known Malcolm Turnbull for 20 years. He has always been a Liberal. He has run for preselection, he’s held official positions in our party. He is now the leader of our party. If Malcolm wanted to join the Labor Party I’m sure he could have.

Helen Dalley: It’s nonetheless very destabilising, isn’t it?

Julie Bishop: But he didn’t. And of course there are going to be Labor people who were trying to get Malcolm to join their party. Who wouldn’t’ want somebody of Malcolm’s character and experience and intellect in their party? But Malcolm Turnbull has always been a Liberal. He’s in our party, he’s our leader. He’s a man of great character, great personality. His intellect and his analytical mind are unsurpassed in the parliament and if he were given the opportunity to be prime minister of this country he would bring his capacity for creative thought, his experience and his knowledge to the role.

Helen Dalley: Okay, Julie Bishop, we will leave it there. Thanks so much for your time.

Julie Bishop: Thank you, Helen.