ABC Insiders, Interview with David Speers

  • Transcript, E&OE

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SPEERS: Let me turn to your portfolio. Australia has been politely asking the Solomon Islands not to sign this Draft Security Agreement with China. Prime Minister Sogavare says he's still planning to go ahead with it. He says it won't involve a military base, do you believe him?

PAYNE: I think they're very important assurances, David, and they're certainly assurances that we have sought, as well as my discussions with Foreign Minister Manele, the Prime Minister's correspondence with Prime Minister Sogavare, and, of course, Minister Seselja’s discussions. We have been engaged in bilateral security work with the Solomon Islands for a long time. It's under the Bilateral Security Treaty between the Solomon Islands and Australia that the assistance force made up of Pacific family countries, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea, went to the Solomon Islands at the end of last year to support them in dealing with the unrest that occurred at that time. Overwhelmingly, we believe that the Pacific family is best placed as responders to security issues in the Pacific region.

SPEERS: You mentioned that security cooperation. Would that continue if the Solomon Islands signed this agreement with China?

PAYNE: Yes, that is absolutely my view, and it is the view of Pacific partners. But there is also a concern that there has been a lack of transparency in relation to this agreement and that it's something that should be discussed in the broader Pacific Island Forum context itself. Australia would support that discussion. Other countries have called for it as well.

SPEERS: On Ukraine, US President Joe Biden has accused Russia of genocide. Ukraine's Parliament has also passed a resolution accusing Russia of genocide. The French President says he's reluctant to use that word. What about you?

PAYNE: From Australia's perspective and we've discussed this in the context of other appalling events. From Australia's perspective, by and large, we operate within decisions by courts in relation to the declaration of a genocide. That's the approach that we have consistently taken and why we are so strongly supporting the work of the International Criminal Court, including through the reference in early March to the International Criminal Court of these appalling events in Ukraine by Russia. That enabled investigations to begin at that time, that enables the preservation of evidence and the taking of evidence and statements in the context of the investigations of the court. We are also providing two officials to work with the court in their investigations. And I think that there is room for us to also provide support, potentially through the Australian Federal Police and their significant experience in a number of these issues, particularly related to MH17.

SPEERS: A final one, there are still about 40 Australian children and their mothers stuck in a refugee camp in northeast Syria since the fall of ISIS. UN agencies have been calling for countries to take them home, the US as well. If you're re-elected, will Australia do more to bring home these Australian citizens?

PAYNE: David, we did everything we could to dissuade and prevent Australians from traveling to that zone in the first place. And, unfortunately, a number still chose to do that, both women and men. And there are, of course, as you say, a number of children who are with, largely their mothers at this stage, still in that zone. What we have to take into account is the safety of all Australians, including here, domestically, and these are matters that we continue to discuss within the government and certainly through my Department and with the Department of Home Affairs.

SPEERS: Right now, they're considered to pose a risk. Is that the issue? Right now they’re considered to pose a risk?

PAYNE: We have to be very clear about these matters for the protection of all Australians and that includes here. I wouldn't go into the specifics of any intelligence, of course, but ultimately, they are Australians who have found themselves in this position because their parents took themselves to those war zones.

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