Call to sack Bishop as foreign minister

Lisa Martin

A former Australian ambassador to China believes Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has made a mess of Canberra's relationship with Beijing and should be sacked.

Ties with China have soured in the past year and Beijing is especially cranky about Australia's foreign interference laws.

No Australian government ministers have visited the Chinese mainland this year and none were invited to the Boao Forum, a major conference in April held on the island of Hainan.

Former envoy Geoff Raby said Ms Bishop has angered China by making "the most strident public comments on the South China Sea of any foreign minister" and delivering a "bizarre" speech that claimed China was unfit for regional leadership.

"If the role China is now playing to resolve tensions on the Korean Peninsula and possibly removing North Korea's nuclear capability is not leadership, it is difficult to find another word to describe it," Dr Raby wrote in an opinion piece published in The Australian Financial Review.

He argued the prime minister needed to replace the foreign minister with someone better equipped for the demands of the job, adding Ms Bishop had not visited China in more than two years.

"Australia ... needs a foreign minister who is steeped in history and geopolitics, who lives and breathes the issues and who has a grasp of the profound challenges Australia faces in the rapidly evolving new world order being shaped, in large measure by China," he said.

Dr Raby pointed to Ms Bishop's cabinet colleagues Josh Frydenberg and Greg Hunt as alternatives because they both previously worked in former foreign minister Alexander Downer's office.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull defended Ms Bishop, saying he was disappointed by the commentary.

"It's utterly wrong. Julie Bishop is doing an outstanding job," he told reporters in Melbourne.

"Every time she goes out on the world stage, she makes Australians proud. She's a formidable foreign minister, a great diplomat, and a great colleague."

Labor's foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong was also sympathetic to Ms Bishop's plight saying Mr Turnbull had failed to sufficiently support her.

"I think we've seen a lengthy period where she has been openly undermined by colleagues," Senator Wong told Sky News, singling out Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton.

Senator Wong said Ms Bishop needed to focus on Australia's challenging relations with China.

"The commentary today reflects a building concern about the relationship," she said.