ABC Insiders, Sunday 20 June 2021

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

David Speers: Marise Payne, welcome to the program.

Marise Payne: Good morning.

David Speers: So, how important are these statements from some of the G7 leaders that we saw over the past week? Do they embolden the Australian government to take an even firmer line when it comes to China?

Marise Payne: Well, the Australian government will maintain our very clear and consistent line on these issues broadly. But importantly, I think what the G7 Plus meeting has shown, and a number of our other engagements, is a realisation that the issues’ strategic competition, the issues that we are facing in the Indo-Pacific are very real. The opportunity to meet in person, notwithstanding the challenges of COVID, does make a substantial difference. I found that myself at the Foreign Ministers meetings in May, and the Prime Minister’s just had the same experience as well. Not just, of course, in London and Cornwall, but through his visit to Singapore and his meetings in France.

So whether it is the United Kingdom, whether it is the G7 itself, whether it’s the United States and France as well, in recent comments, these acknowledgements of the challenges of the geostrategic environment, and particularly the position in which Australia finds itself, I certainly welcome.

David Speers: We saw the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, just in that clip there, refer to sending a British carrier strike group to the South China Sea, and Australia’s agreed to join in with some Navy vessels as well. What can you tell us here? What will they be doing and what’s the significance of this?

Marise Payne: Well, we engage actually quite regularly with partners across the region and those who visit. So, a month ago the French sent the Jeanne D’Arc task group to the region. We had Australia, France, the United States, Japan, working together, enhancing interoperability, enhancing that development of familiarity, but also being very clear in our support of the application of international law, whether that’s through the UNCLOS, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or more broadly. And certainly, we welcome the engagement of Her Majesty’s ship, Queen Elizabeth, and the vessels that will travel with her, and we look forward to doing that. We have had our own task groups, Indo-Pacific Endeavour, travelling throughout the region annually since 2017 now, in the Pacific, in north Asia, in South-East Asia and across to south Asia as well, affirming those bilateral defence relationships and those multilateral engagements.

David Speers: It’s just that Boris Johnson said about this particular exercise that it’s because, quote: People are worried about what’s happening to the Uighurs, about the general repression of liberties in Hong Kong and some of the ways China behaves in the region, particularly towards Australia. Is that why we’re joining this one, or is it more routine, as you suggest?

Marise Payne: Well, it is routine. But we’re not denying the challenges of strategic uncertainty, and I think that the G7 meeting affirming that, NATO’s observations in the last week, have been very important in demonstrating that there is a broad realisation across many partners of the challenges that the strategic uncertainty poses for Australia and more broadly. We’ve engaged previously with the UK when they’ve sent vessels to the region. This, of course, is their new carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth. It’s a very significant undertaking on their part, but we welcome it. We think that it adds to interoperability, it adds to familiarity, and is something that the Australian Defence Force and the Australian government is very happy to support.

David Speers: But we’re not doing this because of the way that China treats its people, as Boris Johnson suggested?

Marise Payne: Well, I think there’s a range of issues at play. And certainly, Australia has been very clear in our views on the human rights issues in China, including, as you’ve mentioned in passing, in relation to Xinjiang.

David Speers: A couple of other things. The push for a fresh inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus. Dong Jingwei, China’s Vice Minister of State Security, is reported to have defected to the United States and may have passed on intelligence relating to the origins of COVID. Are you aware of any of this? Or any new information that may suggest how the pandemic began?

Marise Payne: Well, I wouldn’t normally comment on intelligence matters of that nature. But what is very important here is that we do maintain the momentum of this inquiry process. We know that the phase 1 inquiry had significant limitations in terms of the delay in deploying it, access to information, access to appropriate scientific and medical evidence. So, we are very determined to work with our partners to ensure that the phase 2 investigation is able to access the material that it needs, including within China. That is strongly supported by the G7 itself, who has canvassed this issue in their meetings. It’s strongly supported by many of our other partners, and I note that Helen Clark and her colleague Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in their most recent report, the Independent Panel on Pandemic Preparedness and Response, has also focused really importantly on the need for timely access and timely engagement. The most important thing here, David, absolutely is that this never, ever happens again. It doesn’t matter whether it’s from Australia’s perspective, from the United States’ perspective or the smallest developing nation, we all share that view.

David Speers: But clearly, if any inquiry is going to get to the bottom of this, China needs to provide information, and there’s no indication they’re going to give any more than they have. If they don’t, will Beijing be hiding the truth?

Marise Payne: Well, I’m not going to speculate about whether they will or they won’t, because they are strongly encouraged by many, many parties, and those who sit’ the World Health Assembly table are included in that, to do so, to enable this to be a very clear and comprehensive process. That’s something which we have been advocating for, as you well know, and will continue to do so.

David Speers: On trade, Australia’s now going to lodge a second case at the World Trade Organisation against China, this one over wine tariffs. What’s the point of doing this if the WTO is seen as a toothless tiger? The Prime Minister has been talking about the need to reform the organisation. What’s the point of lodging a case at the moment?

Marise Payne: Well, there’s a number of factors here. Certainly, we believe that the World Trade Organisation needs a number of key reforms. Both Dan Tehan and I have met with the new Director-General, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, in Geneva ourselves in person recently. But what lodging the dispute enables us to do is to begin dispute settlement consultations. That actually is a bilateral discussion with China about the issues. We’ve seen duties of over 200 per cent applied to Australian wine. We don’t believe that that is consistent with China’s obligations under the WTO. So that part of the process enables us to have that direct conversation. And then, secondly, in relation to the reform question, as I said, we have been calling for some time for the reform of the appellate mechanism, a dispute settlement system reform as well, to ensure that there are processes of transparency in place. All of those sorts of aspects, which the Prime Minister canvassed, in fact, in his speech in Perth before he travelled to Europe, have been reinforced by his conversations and reinforced by my conversations with the Director-General, and those of Minister Tehan.

David Speers: The G7, in their communique, committed again to net zero emissions by 2050, and achieving an overwhelming decarbonised power system in the 2030s. Why can’t Australia make either of those commitments?

Marise Payne: Well, we’re very focused, as we have been clear, on low-cost, low emissions technology. We signed three new partnerships during the Prime Minister’s travel with Germany, with Japan and with Singapore. And the Prime Minister has been very consistent in saying that we absolutely want to aim to achieve net zero emissions, preferably by 2050, and that remains our position. All of our achievements so far have over-achieved on our targets, and we intend to keep doing that. But what we have seen, what we saw’ the G7 table, what I saw in my travels in the United Kingdom and in the United States, and the meetings that took place there, was a significant interest in Australia’s focus on low emissions technology and the work that we are doing.

David Speers: Alright. Just on the preferably by 2050 position that you’ve used there as well, is that a government position? Is it something Cabinet has agreed to?

Marise Payne: Well, I don’t usually discuss Cabinet matters, as you know…

David Speers: But is it a government position?

Marise Payne: … but it is the clear position that the Prime Minister has articulated…

David Speers: Is it the Government’s position?

Marise Payne: … that we want to make sure that we are protecting Australia’s industry, Australia’s businesses, Australia’s farmers and not doing this by taxes, but by technology…

David Speers: [Talks over] No, I know that line.

Marise Payne: … and preferably by 2050.

David Speers: Sorry, Minister, and I know this is the Prime Minister’s language, but is it the Government’s position?

Marise Payne: It is the broad position of the Australian Government that we want to achieve net zero emissions as soon as possible and preferably by 2050. It is a sensible position, and we need to make sure that we do it – not by penalising our businesses, our farmers and producers through taxes, but an absolute focus on low emissions technology. And that’s what we’re doing.

David Speers: [Talks over] Okay. Sorry. Just to be clear on this- I just want to be clear for the viewers on this: broadly the position of the Government. Does that mean it’s the Government’s position?

Marise Payne:The Prime Minister’s been very clear, David, that it is an objective of achieving net zero emissions as soon as possible and preferably by 2050.

David Speers: And that’s the Government’s position?

Marise Payne: That is absolutely what the Prime Minister has said, David.

David Speers: Okay. Well, just on emissions, we know the Nationals have a somewhat different view. Some openly oppose any sort of target of net zero by 2050. What do you say to them as Foreign Minister about where that might leave Australia internationally, whether it’s in relation to our Pacific neighbours, with Europe, with the Biden Administration?

Marise Payne: Well, I would advocate and repeat what I’ve said in the past, which is that we are forming a pathway, building a pathway, that takes us to a technology-driven, not tax-driven, a technology-driven solution in emissions reduction. We’ve seen it benefit us in trade terms, or in partnership terms, I should say, with Germany, with Singapore, with Japan, just in the Prime Minister’s visits now. That’s obviously a positive reinforcement across those relationships.

David Speers: [Talks over] No- and we’ve heard that position. I’m sorry to interrupt, but- I guess what I’m asking is, does it matter for Australia internationally in your role if we don’t sign up to this target? How significant is it?

Marise Payne: Well, these discussions always matter, and that’s why the Prime Minister took his views and our views to the G7+. It’s why I have engaged in the United States, in the United Kingdom and across the region, including, as you said, with the Pacific, where these issues through the Boe Declaration, through the Kainaki II Declaration, are recognised as key security challenges in the Pacific. We understand and have supported both of those declarations and work closely with our partners in the Pacific to address these issues.

David Speers: Okay, but what I’m asking is, would it matter- if Australia does not sign up to this target, would it matter to our relations internationally?

Marise Payne: Well, Australia has been very clear in our approach internationally, and that is-

David Speers: [Interrupts] Not on this target, with respect. Not about the net zero by 2050 target.

Marise Payne: Well, that is the question that you asked me.

David Speers: Yeah, and I’m just saying, does it matter if we don’t sign up to that target?

David Speers: [Talks over] Okay. Sorry. Just to be clear on this- I just want to be clear for the viewers on this: broadly the position of the Government. Does that mean it’s the Government’s position?

Marise Payne: The Prime Minister’s been very clear, David, that it is an objective of achieving net zero emissions as soon as possible and preferably by 2050.

David Speers: And that’s the Government’s position?

Marise Payne: That is absolutely what the Prime Minister has said, David.

David Speers: Okay. Well, just on emissions, we know the Nationals have a somewhat different view. Some openly oppose any sort of target of net zero by 2050. What do you say to them as Foreign Minister about where that might leave Australia internationally, whether it’s in relation to our Pacific neighbours, with Europe, with the Biden Administration?

Marise Payne: Well, I would advocate and repeat what I’ve said in the past, which is that we are forming a pathway, building a pathway, that takes us to a technology-driven, not tax-driven, a technology-driven solution in emissions reduction. We’ve seen it benefit us in trade terms, or in partnership terms, I should say, with Germany, with Singapore, with Japan, just in the Prime Minister’s visits now. That’s obviously a positive reinforcement across those relationships.

David Speers: [Talks over] No- and we’ve heard that position. I’m sorry to interrupt, but- I guess what I’m asking is, does it matter for Australia internationally in your role if we don’t sign up to this target? How significant is it?

Marise Payne: Well, these discussions always matter, and that’s why the Prime Minister took his views and our views to the G7+. It’s why I have engaged in the United States, in the United Kingdom and across the region, including, as you said, with the Pacific, where these issues through the Boe Declaration, through the Kainaki II Declaration, are recognised as key security challenges in the Pacific. We understand and have supported both of those declarations and work closely with our partners in the Pacific to address these issues.

David Speers: Okay, but what I’m asking is, would it matter- if Australia does not sign up to this target, would it matter to our relations internationally?

Marise Payne: Well, Australia has been very clear in our approach internationally, and that is-

David Speers: [Interrupts] Not on this target, with respect. Not about the net zero by 2050 target.

Marise Payne: Well, that is the question that you asked me.

David Speers: Yeah, and I’m just saying, does it matter if we don’t sign up to

Marise Payne: Well, we are absolutely on a path to doing that in terms of the work that we are doing through low-emissions technologies, through the work that we are doing across the region in supporting the development of climate-resilient and climate-adapted infrastructure, particularly in the Pacific, but also a focus in Southeast Asia. [Indistinct]…

David Speers: [Talks over] So we will sign up to the target?

Marise Payne: … oceans and land. Well, David, we’ve said clearly what the Prime Minister’s undertaking is, and that is what we are committed to.

David Speers: Okay. Look, are you nervous at all about the prospect of the Nationals changing leaders back to Barnaby Joyce?

Marise Payne: Well, these are matters for the National Party, David. I heard you say earlier in your remarks as the program started that Liberals, and frankly, any other party speculating on the leadership processes of a Coalition colleague or another party in the Parliament is never helpful, and I don’t intend to contribute to that.

David Speers: That’s probably wise, but you’ve sat around the Cabinet table with both Barnaby Joyce and Michael McCormack. How do they differ?

Marise Payne: I’m not going to make personal comments or observations on my parliamentary colleagues, and I’m not going to inject myself into the National Party’s processes.

David Speers: One thing the Nationals were pretty excited about this week was the Prime Minister shifting on the idea of an agricultural visa. Our Pacific neighbours, though, may not be as excited about the prospect of this. How will this work? Will it mean Pacific workers are left out of jobs in Australia in favour of those from the Philippines, from Vietnam and so on?

Marise Payne: Well, the first thing I can say is it absolutely will not mean that Pacific workers are left out. In fact, we only last week announced a streamlining process to bring the Pacific Labour Scheme and the Seasonal Worker Program into greater alignment, both for our Pacific sending countries and for producers and farmers here. So that renews our strong commitment to the Pacific Labour Scheme and the seasonal worker programs which draw from those Pacific neighbours. The agricultural visa, more broadly, is something that the Government has committed to and will enable us to make sure that in terms of COVID recovery we have the workers that we need, and it particularly reflects the change in the structure of the working holiday-maker visa as it was with the UK.

David Speers: Will there be the same conditions, though, for this new agricultural visa, for the Southeast Asian workers as the Pacific workers? Or will it undercut the conditions that the Pacific workers have to get?

Marise Payne: Well, the Immigration Minister Alex Hawke will lead that work as the visa process is developed, but it will comply with all of the appropriate requirements for protection of workers and protection of employers as is currently the sorts of structures that you would expect to see.

David Speers: The same conditions? Same conditions as the Pacific workers?

Marise Payne: Well, Minister Hawke will lead that work, as I said. And that is yet to be done.

David Speers: Because David Littleproud, your minister, is saying there will be different conditions, that there are special protections for Pacific workers. So, this new visa for the Southeast Asian countries might be different?

Marise Payne: Well, we would absolutely ensure that the appropriate legal requirements which need to be in place to protect workers, to support employers, are in place, no matter what the sort of visa it is. But the Pacific Labour Scheme, we have over 12,000 workers here now and a ready worker pool of 27,000 in the Pacific, and I look forward to welcoming them to Australia as soon as conditions allow. They’ve been coming for some time now, and we know that that will continue.

David Speers: Just a final one: Sean Turnell, the Australian economist and former advisor to Aung San Suu Kyi, is expected to face trial this week. This is some four months after he was arrested in Myanmar in the days after the coup there. Do you know what’s happening with this trial? And have you spoken- been able to speak to your counterpart in Myanmar?

Marise Payne: The trial is said to be occurring this week. Our consular officials, our post, has been able to communicate with Professor Turnell, as has his family, and that is important consular access. I hope that the process is a fair and open trial. However, we do believe that Professor Turnell is arbitrarily detained, and we have been consistently seeking his release since he was detained some months ago now. That is part of the advocacy that we have been supporting in relation to Myanmar more broadly. The Vice Chief of the Defence Force Vice-Admiral David Johnston spoke with the Deputy Commander-in-Chief to reinforce these points last week, and we’ve been very consistent in seeking his release.

David Speers: Foreign Minister Marise Payne, thanks for joining us this morning.

Marise Payne: Thank you very much, David.

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