Press Conference Lake Macquarie, NSW

Minister for Women, Minister for Foreign Affairs

Nell McGill:

We welcome the Minister for Women and Minister for Foreign Affairs. The Minister is in Shortland today to have a roundtable discussion with women across Shortland and Paterson to discuss women’s economic and financial security. We’re very delighted to have her here today. It’s a real treat, and I’ll now pass over to the minister. Thanks.

Marise Payne:

Thank you very much, Nell. And can I thank both Nell and Brooke, as our candidates for Shortland and Paterson respectively, for bringing together a great group of people for a roundtable here at Lake Macquarie, literally on the edges of Lake Macquarie, to discuss matters of women’s security, both economic security, women’s leadership and development and women’s safety. Our focus on the Hunter is because it’s an opportunity for me to hear the voices of the women of the Hunter, from Maitland to this part of the world, on these key issues that are of concern to them. We’ve had representatives of councils, of business chambers, of business, of the media and a range of other perspectives, including victim-survivors who have shared insights with us today that have been immensely powerful, and I’m extremely grateful for that.

As a government, following our Women’s Budget Statement in 2021, we’ve worked very hard with the states and territories in particular to address women’s safety issues, and Nell and Brooke have both raised with me in recent times the release of the next draft national plan for the elimination of violence against women and their children. That release is the culmination of 18 months of consultation across the country, through all the states and territories, through the Women’s Safety Taskforce to ensure that we, as a country, continue the work that we’ve done to address violence against women and their children.

It is not just an issue for governments though, and that is why it is important to sit down at round tables such as this with local representatives to ensure that we hear from them and get regional perspectives in particular, and that’s why the Hunter’s regional perspective is so important.

I’m very happy to take some questions.

Journalist:

[Indistinct] spearhead of candidates in the area?

Marise Payne:

We have a great spearhead of candidates in the area, and I’m very proud of both Nell and Brooke for putting themselves forward and look forward to working with them in the coming months, hopefully, to ensure that Shortland and Paterson become Government seats, but particularly that we have two such experienced and capable women as candidates. And as Australia’s Minister for Women and someone who has worked on the participation of women in the Liberal Party for a very long time, it’s very good news for me.

Journalist:

What kind of stakeholders are in today’s gathering?

Marise Payne:

As I said, representatives of business chambers, of Local Government, of training, of small business, of health professionals, and also survivors who have experienced issues of domestic violence themselves. That gives you, me, and those of us who are around the table very important insights.

Journalist:

Minister, obviously there’s been a spike in domestic violence issues, particularly here in the Hunter. I guess that’s one of the reasons why you’re here.

Marise Payne:

This is an ongoing challenge for us all and for those who have been lost through the horrors of domestic and family violence our thoughts are with their families in particular who have had to deal with these horrors. We have worked very hard through COVID, particularly with the states and territories, including in a funding sense, to support them in the delivery of frontline services. What the National Plan will enable us to do, and the work that we have done in the consultation process, is ensuring that the perspective of as many Australians as possible who have wanted to have input to the plan, including through the summit held in September last year, is part of that process. That includes for Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander women. It includes women with disability. It includes the impact on children in particular. It includes technology‑facilitated violence and abuse.

We know that coercive control was raised in our discussion today. It includes also the challenge for older women who find themselves often as victims of violence later in life in a very challenging environment where they may also experience relationship breakdown and homelessness. So, there is a range of issues that we have been dealing with, and we would not have the draft national plan that we do without the input of so many people across Australia, including from this part of the world, and I want to acknowledge and thank them all.

Journalist:

What do you believe the solution is for some of the rates of domestic violence, especially in Lake Macquarie? Is it more services? Will there be more money from the government for services come to Lake Macquarie and the Hunter?

Marise Payne:

I think there are a combination of solutions and through the state and Commonwealth governments the funding that we have supplied or have provided, particularly during COVID, has been to address some of those challenges exacerbated by COVID, working closely with the police and the court systems as well. Ultimately, though, and what I constantly reinforce, this issue, this problem, this scourge, will not only be addressed by government. This is an issue for whole communities, for families and for individuals. And that is why it is so important for us as representatives of Government, in the case of Brooke and Nell as candidates, to hear from across the community, and I really thank both Brooke and Nell for the voices that they have brought to me.

Journalist:

[Indistinct]. Is the Federal Government planning to evacuate Australian diplomats from Ukraine considering families are already being evacuated?

Marise Payne:

At this point in time, our diplomat support is a very small post and will remain in Kyiv, and I want to acknowledge the job that they are doing in difficult circumstances given the uncertainty. We have taken the cautious and prudent decision to return dependants to Australia. And that is understandable, I think, in the circumstances. It’s one which we have discussed with our like‑mindeds, particularly the United States, Canada the UK, many European representatives who also have diplomatic posts in Ukraine. I spoke to the Foreign Minister last week and spoke to our Ambassador in Kyiv at length on Friday evening. This is an important step, and it is about protecting Australians and protecting the families of our diplomatic staff.

Journalist:

And why is the Australian assistance with cybersecurity so significant for Ukraine, given the country has had 70 cyber-attacks on Government systems recently?

Marise Payne:

Well, that really does answer the question in and of itself. Because they have been victims of significant cyberattacks, many of them reportedly sourced to Russian actors of various sorts. In that context, we have previously worked with Ukraine in cyber affairs and cybersecurity including some training last year. My Ambassador for Cyber Affairs and Critical Technology, Dr Toby Feakin, is engaging with the Ukrainian system to discuss these issues now. Australia has worked very hard on our international engagement strategy on cyber, and this is the time. This is the challenge. And we will be working with our partners where we can.

Journalist:

On Ukraine, can you detail any other assistance that’s being offered at this stage?

Marise Payne:

We are working closely with Australians in Ukraine and our Embassy is in contact with all of the Australians for whom we have details in Ukraine. As you know from the change to the travel advice, our advice to those people is to leave Ukraine now via commercial means. It is possible to do that. There is, basically, regular services continuing out of Kyiv. And this is as I said, out of caution and out of prudence to protect the interests and the safety of Australians. We have not been asked for further assistance from Ukraine, but we will continue those discussions not just with Ukraine, but with our partners – with the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, the members of the European Union, the members of NATO, who are very closely engaged on these issues.

Journalist:

Is military involvement or advisers on the table?

Marise Payne:

Military involvement is not something that Australia would be involved in offering, and both the Prime Minister and I have mentioned that in the last week.

Journalist:

There’s some criticism from Ukraine about Australians being taken out. Is it premature?

Marise Payne:

I have heard those comments this morning and I have said clearly that this in no way changes whatsoever our absolute commitment to Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. That is paramount in our public statements and will continue to be. We have called on Russia to de‑escalate. We have called on Russia to continue engagement in those diplomatic discussions which have been occurring, and we will continue to do that. This is a matter of prudence and caution to protect the safety of Australians and particularly the dependants of diplomatic staff, but it in no way detracts from our absolute commitment to Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Journalist:

UK officials have raised the spectre of both Russia and China creating aggression in the Pacific sphere. Have you got any comment on that?

Marise Payne:

As I said in the discussion this morning with Patricia Karvelas on Radio National, we have been working closely with counterparts in relation to aggressive actions of authoritarian states and that includes these sorts of steps, which have been undertaken most recently by Russia to mass troops on the Ukrainian border. They are matters which liberal democracies like Australia and any countries, frankly, who wish to protect their own sovereignty rightfully have concerns about and rightfully observe that we have for many decades now worked in the context of a rules-based international order. We encourage de‑escalation of such aggressive actions and we encourage a continuation of discussions at the diplomatic level to avoid any potential conflict.

Journalist:

Being close to an election domestically, is it important that the two parties stand shoulder to shoulder on this event?

Marise Payne:

Well, we work closely with counterparts around the world. The positions of the opposition are ultimately a matter for them, but on these key issues, we advise and provide information to the opposition as they request and as necessary.

Journalist:

I’ve got a couple of other questions that move away from the Ukraine issue. Does anybody else still – thank you for your patience. What’s your response to Save the Children and others about the Australian Government not doing enough for children in Syria, including a young teenager now stuck in prison?

Marise Payne:

I have heard reports overnight of that matter and seeking further advice. Australia does not have diplomatic representation in Syria, and we have been very clear about the challenges of Australian citizens who have found themselves in that part of the world, having either gone there or being the children of parents who chose to go there, but I am seeking further advice on that matter.

Journalist:

Thank you. Tonga – all naval personnel onboard the HMAS Adelaide, are they vaccinated and what contingencies are being drawn given the COVID outbreak?

Marise Payne:

We’re working very closely with the Government of Tonga in our support to them post the volcanic eruption and tsunami. As Australians have seen in the considerable reporting, which has been made, there has been very significant damage – infrastructure damage in particular – across both the main island and outer islands. Our P-8 surveillance flights, along with surveillance flights of New Zealand, have assisted Tonga in the analysis of that damage in the early days after the eruption, which is now just over a week old. We have landed at least two C-17, if not more C-17 flights with humanitarian support and aid since that, and we have done that in a contactless way.

One thing which COVID has taught us in the Pacific, as many of our friends in the Pacific have endeavoured to keep themselves COVID‑free nations, we have worked closely with the Pacific Islands Forum, with the leadership of the Pacific Islands Forum, to ensure that there has been an ability to move both goods and, when necessary, people around the Pacific in a COVID‑free and for goods at least contactless way. We have done that successfully over the last two years and I want to thank all of our Pacific workers who have engaged with us and worked so closely through the Pacific Islands Forum to establish that Pacific humanitarian pathway. That is key to us supporting Tonga to continue to be COVID‑free.

And we will comply with and observe all of their requirements in terms of quarantine, and in terms of protection of their population in the arrival of HMAS Adelaide and determine how best we can deploy both the personnel and also the equipment that HMAS Adelaide is carrying in response to the tsunami and the volcanic eruption. We will do that all in consultation with the Tongan Government. I spoke to the Foreign Minister last week. As I was speaking to her, the first C-17 hit the tarmac with the first load of humanitarian assistance with from Australia. We will continue those conversations.

And I do particularly want to thank Australia’s High Commissioner and her team on the ground in Nuku’alofa and also the Defence teams who are providing the humanitarian support, delivery and engagement.

Journalist:

Given those restrictions, is it likely that helicopters will be used to drop more direct –

Marise Payne:

I’m not going to speculate on the operational activities of the Australian Defence Force. That has been my job in the past – but it is not my job now. I’m confident that Australian officials will make appropriate plans with the Tongan Government officials and His Majesty’s Armed Forces with whom we’ve worked over many years in terms of the most appropriate way to distribute humanitarian support and the most appropriate methods of COVID‑19 protection that we need to implement.

Journalist:

I’ve got one more. It’s tennis. What do you think about how Tennis Australia is handling concerns about Peng Shuai by fans in the Australian Open?

Marise Payne:

I understand that there are wide international concerns about the situation of Ms Shuai, and as a woman who has made disclosures in relation to her experience, I respect her strength in making those disclosures and I would hope that it is handled appropriately by Chinese authorities.

For Australians who wish to message their support for her, as long as it is done in an appropriate way, it does not disturb the courts themselves, then I can understand why they would be perturbed if they were prevented in a country that values freedom of speech and freedom of expression, if they were prevented from wearing, for example, in this case, T‑shirts seeking to support her position.

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