DFAT has responded to our FOI request for:
all documents associated with the "numerous representations" made by Minister Bishop to "the North Koreans" on the issue ofAustralian servicemen Missing In Action in North Korea or the DMZ after the Korean War.
The shocking truth:
The Department holds no documents in relation to your request.
DFAT tells us that Bishop allegedly
raised this issue during discussions with the North Korean Foreign Minister in the margins of the 2017 ASEAN Regional Forum
However she thought so little of it, she didn't take a note, didn't send an email and made no record in documentary form of what was said.
As to the remains of our 43 missing men:
Regrettably, no new information has come to light in relation to this matter, but we remain hopeful. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will continue diplomatic efforts in support of the recovery of the remains of Australian service personnel classified as missing in action.
President Trump wasn't just hopeful.
He did something about it.
On Tuesday, 12 June 2018 President Trump and Chairman Kim signed this agreement in Singapore.
It contains only 4 numbered points, the last of which is
4. The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.
Importantly, the Agreement isn't confined to US POW/MIA remains.
It commits the parties to "recovering POW/MIA remains" and "immediately repatriating" them when they're identified.
Forty-three Australian men, allies of the USA remain missing in North Korea or the DMZ. They are covered by the Agreement. And not for return to the USA - repatriation means, "the return of someone to their home country". It's an important point which appears to have eluded the Australian Government.
Shortly after the summit concluded, President Trump was interviewed by Sean Hannity in Singapore. The President spoke of the pre-eminent importance of the MIA/POW repatriation agreement - he spoke with passion and great respect for the dead and their families.
At about the same time on Tuesday afternoon, Australian security and intelligence headsbriefed cabinet ministers at a national security council meeting in Canberra.
Late on Tuesday, Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop published this statement on behalf of the Australian Government - it restates the 4 points of Trump/Kim agreement including number 4 on POW/MIA remains.
That night Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was interviewed on the ABC's 730 program - she appears to have had one issue on her mind long before the interview was broadcast and it wasn't the 43 Australians in North Korea.
The host Leigh Sales opened the interview with a wide open question:
Around the world leaders and diplomats watched every move at today's summit in Singapore.
One of them was Australia's Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, in Canberra.
Foreign Minister, what is the Australian Government's reaction to what's been signed today?
Ms Bishop may have been watching every move at the summit - perhaps for the fashion - because not once in the expansive interview did Ms Bishop mention Australia's 43 men who are missing in North Korea.
She spoke about wanting to involve Australia in verifying North Korea’s progress towards denuclearisation, “The Australian government is currently assessing what we could offer in terms of expertise to assist in that verification process.”
She was more expansive for The Australian newspaper about involving that well-known nuclear power Australia in the nuclear verification role. But nothing on our MIAs.
On Wednesday, 13 June the newspaper published this substantial report, extensively quoting Ms Bishop. There was no mention by Ms Bishop or anyone from the Australian Government of the 43 Australians who remain missing in action after the Korean War.
Our men were forgotten.
IN the early hours of Wednesday morning, I am proud to say that this website paid tribute to our 43 men who remain missing in action in Korea. Until Midday Wednesday, we were the only Australian media outlet to do so.
At Midday Wednesday the ABC's World Today reported on Australia's MIAs, including a brief interview with Julie Bishop.
I'd love to know more about Ms Bishop's “numerous representations” on the issue.
I'll be bringing you the published history of this issue in detail in part two of this post, but I can say those "numerous representations" are curiously absent from the public records.
You may have noticed that Ms Bishop appears to misunderstand the agreement with Kim Jong Un on the MIA/PoW issue.
“The fact that it was raised by President Trump and it has been agreed by North Korea gives us some hope that Australia will also be able to make representations to North Korea for the return of our war dead,” she said.
Why would we need a separate agreement for our MIAs who were allies of the US, fighting alongside them. What does she think the recovery teams will do on encountering an Australian set of dog tags? Stop work?
By Wednesday evening the MIA issue was starting to become of interest to the mainstream media - and of course politicians.
Here's the front page of The West Australian today:
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has flagged a renewed diplomatic push to repatriate the bodies of Australian servicemen lost in the Korean War as veterans’ groups call for help to deliver closure for the families of the lost.
Australia’s war dead have rested in North Korea for more than 65 years since the end of the Korean War, but their families have new hope after “breakthrough” talks between US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un in Singapore this week.
Their agreement included a commitment to “immediately” repatriate the remains of former prisoners of war and fallen soldiers whose identities are known. Five WA-born servicemen are among 43 Australians still listed as missing in action.
While the Federal Government has taken a cautious approach to promises made by North Korea flowing from the talks, Ms Bishop told The West Australian she hoped it would lead to the repatriation of Australia’s war dead.
“We will continue our diplomatic efforts to retrieve the remains of Australian soldiers classified as missing in action in the Korean War,” she said.
“Given that this issue was included in the declaration signed by President Trump and Kim Jong Un, I hope it will present the opportunity for a breakthrough in our efforts to return our war dead to Australia.”
The Australian and other publications are onto the issue today as well, with Ms Bishop pointing to her 'numerous representations' in the past.
We'll pop an FOI application off today to find out how numerous they were and what was represented in them.
In October 2013 Ms Bishop gave this speech to Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul, South Korea.
Given the official visit of Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs had been arranged for some time, it's likely her predecessor's staff had some input into the speech.
Ms Bishop told the South Korean students:
Australia demonstrated the depth of its commitment to South Korea in the Korea War. Over seventeen thousand Australians fought in the Korean War and 340 died. About 280 are buried in the United Nations Memorial Cemetery Korea in Busan and around 40 remain missing in action.
We did indeed.
But in all the published DFAT material quoting Ms Bishop - that's the only time (that I can find) where she mentioned the Australians who went missing in the Korean War.
In part two of this story I will show you details of Ms Bishop's abject disinterest in our Korean MIAs over the past 5 years.
Regular Bishop watchers will be aware of her medium of choice in communicating with her public.
@JulieBishopMP joined Twitter in November 2009.
She's made almost 10,000 Tweets since. I searched every single one for the words "Korea missing in action".