Interview with Kim Landers, ABC AM

  • Transcript, E&OE
31 May 2019

Kim Landers: The Foreign Affairs Minister is Marise Payne and I spoke to her a short time ago. Minister, good morning.

Foreign Minister: Good morning, Kim.

Kim Landers: PNG's new Prime Minister James Marape is talking about changing policies to try to pull people out of poverty. Do you think Australia needs to reassess how it's conducting its aid work in the country given the levels of poverty that still exist despite decades of work and billions of dollars?

Foreign Minister: Well our relationship with Papua New Guinea Kim is one which is built on those very strong historical ties. Australians have recognised the importance of those over many years and I welcome the appointment and the election of James Marape. He and the Prime Minister spoke yesterday. We're always focused on ensuring that we deliver development support and assistance that is targeted, that is effective, and is sustainable. We will work with the Papua New Guinea Government in any of these areas to make sure it achieves those goals and it is a very, very important focus of our aid program of course.

Kim Landers: During the recent leadership turmoil in PNG some politicians were calling for an end to the deal to house refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island. Are you concerned about the potential impact that this deal is having on our relationship?

Foreign Minister: Our relationship is very, very strong. It's built on the strongest base and I have worked closely with my counterparts in Papua New Guinea over the last few years both in defence and more recently in Foreign Affairs. The Prime Minister has personal strong relationships and in fact they exist across both cabinets and…

Kim Landers: So you're expecting no change to the Manus policies then?

Foreign Minister: …Not as far as we're aware, but I will always talk to new governments about their policy priorities. They're sovereign decisions for governments of course, and we make the same point about our own frankly.

Kim Landers: Earlier this week it was revealed that Australian Navy helicopter pilots were targeted by lasers during night flights over international waters in the South China Sea. Were Chinese flagged vessels, fishing boats perhaps, responsible?

Foreign Minister: I'm not going to speculate on that, Kim. It's a matter for our Defence personnel to engage on…

Kim Landers: Well who else has a track record of doing this sort of thing?

Foreign Minister: Well, I think the most important thing is we would always emphasise that it doesn't matter where we operate, whether it's in our region or further afield, that absolute primacy must be given to safety of operations, safety of vessels and of personnel, and that is the approach Australia takes in all of our work and we encourage those with whom we are engaging, those with whom we work, to do exactly the same and I'm sure that is the message that has been sent on this matter.

Kim Landers: Well have you or any of our diplomatic or Defence representatives formally objected or complained or signalled that those sort of aggressive tactics are unacceptable?

Foreign Minister: This is not a matter which has engaged me, Kim. But it is certainly the case that we have well-established communication systems and relationships between us and our counterparts regionally and as I said more broadly, when there are issues of concern particularly of safety concern that we are able to employ to communicate any issues.

Kim Landers: Well whose interest does it serve to hide who's responsible for this incident?

Foreign Minister: I'm not suggesting that there is any hiding of responsibility whatsoever. These are processes which are well-established for communicating matters of concern. And I'm sure that they're being followed.

Kim Landers: Australian Yang Hengjun has been detained in China since January. His supporters say that Australia's quiet diplomatic approach isn't working. Are you now prepared to publicly put pressure on China to release him or has the government resigned itself to the fact that it just can't do anything?

Foreign Minister: Well Kim I think it's important to recognise first of all that Australia is not able to interfere in the legal systems of other countries, just as we would not expect other countries to interfere in our legal systems. We have though in our communications with our counterparts in China made it very clear both through consular visits and through our engagement that we expect due process to be afforded to Yang Hengjun and we are very clear in that. We had consular visits relatively recently with this Mr Yang and I continue to speak both to our ambassador in China and to officials on this matter.

Kim Landers: But are you clear about what is actually happening to him?

Foreign Minister: Well the processes that are underway, the legal processes that are underway in China, are based of course on their system. They're not based on the Australian system but within those constraints and within observation of the fact that we don't interfere in other countries legal systems we continue to encourage that that Mr Yang receive access to legal representation and that the charges on which he is being held are made clear.

Kim Landers: After the re-election of the Morrison Government the editorial in The China Daily accused the Federal Government of treating China with bias and suspicion and it called for the government to show more respect. Does Australia trust China?

Foreign Minister: We have a deeply important relationship with China and one which we value very much. We have a relationship which is founded on mutual benefit, on shared interests, on decades and decades and decades of engagement. Obviously it has a very strong economic basis and we work closely within the region as well. There will always be issues on which we don't agree. And I think you know media in Australia, media in China, report those in different ways. There'll always be issues on which we don't agree. There's no country in the world on which we agree with absolutely everything but we endeavour to manage those on a basis of mutual respect and I think it's very important for both, for commentators and for governments frankly to work to work within that paradigm. It's a constructive paradigm and it's one which serves us well.

Kim Landers: Alright, Minister, thank you very much for joining AM.

Foreign Minister: Thanks very much, Kim.

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