ABC24, Afternoon Briefing with Patricia Karvelas

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: North Korea, Syria, Afghanistan, Hakeem Alaraibi, climate change, Huang Xiangmo.

JOURNALIST: The US President, Donald Trump, has just given his State of Union address this afternoon Australian time. He will meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un later this month. What would Australia like to see coming from that meeting?

MINISTER PAYNE: Well Patricia, from here in Honiara I have also just heard that update through the State of the Union address. I think it is an important step in a focus that we share with the United States, which is about achieving complete, verifiable, irreversible, denuclearisation on the Korean Peninsula. The President, the administration in the United States, has obviously been very focused on this for some time. I met with Secretary Pompeo in Washington last week and this was one of the subjects we canvassed and agreed that we are continuing on our focus for that level of denuclearisation.

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that Pyongyang hasn't take the necessary steps towards that denuclearisation that you talk about. I mean this meeting is coming pretty close to the first and we haven't seen much action have we?

MINISTER PAYNE: I think we are very focused on working on with the United States, working with other partners including Japan, including China, on enforcing the sanctions which are very important in assuring the DPRK that the world is equally to that denuclearisation. It's not an overnight process. It is a very significant process. It will require extensive negotiation with the regime. We know that. So as that progresses and we hear, as you said, today of a new meeting. I think that is an important next step and I look forward to continuing to work with like-minded allies and partners on ensuring that what we are able to achieve is that complete, verifiable, irreversible, denuclearisation on the Korean Peninsula.

JOURNALIST: So would you like that to be an outcome of the meeting in a much more tangible way? There were criticisms that after the first there was a lot more theatre and not as much tangible action. Do you expect this one really put some meet on the bones on this because the first one, well it lacked that detail?

MINISTER PAYNE: Well, as you have indicated and as I've said, I've just heard here in Honiara, this is an announcement of a meeting. There's some way to go, I expect, in terms of a formulation of an agenda per se of that meeting. We are continuing to work with our partners and that includes those that I've already mentioned in the pursuit of both the sanctions and the denuclearisation process that I have outlined. In terms of the substantive steps, the agenda is important for that and I look forward to hearing more about that.

JOURNALIST: How involved will Australia be in providing input on what we think should happen at this meeting? What is the process for that diplomatically?

MINISTER PAYNE: Well, we are always talking to those counterparts at a number of levels. Obviously through my relationships, through the relationships of my Department, through Defence itself, through the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Those communications amongst partners are regular and very focused on both sanctions enforcement and the denuclearisation process. We will have the opportunity to express our views and our interests in due course as the meeting comes closer.

JOURNALIST: What does the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and Syria mean for Australia's military commitments in those countries?

MINISTER PAYNE: Part of my visit last week was talking with our allies in the United States about some of their more recent announcements and we continue to work at all levels of the US Government of the implementation of those announcements. They are still being worked through the US system and we will continue those discussions.

JOURNALIST: President Trump confirmed the US is withdrawing from the Cold War-era Intermediate range Nuclear Forces treaty. He's threatened to out spend and out innovate Russia in developing new weapons. Is that alarming? What do you make of that?

MINISTER PAYNE: Most importantly, we would expect those who have been parties to this treaty - and in this case Russia not complying with the provisions and expectations established under that treaty - we would expect and encourage them to return to a compliance stance. That said, the United States in some frustration given the one-way street that it had become has expressed their views by removing themselves or announcing their removal from that treaty arrangement.

The US has also indicated that they are also prepared to look at other treaty relationships with different partners and with Russia of course to pursue the same level of disarmament and we will follow that with interest.

JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister has publicly appealed to the Thai Government not to extradite Hakeem Alaraibi to Bahrain. Is this a sign that you are worried that the extradition request may be successful?

MINISTER PAYNE: Well we are very concerned about Mr Alaraibi's situation and I have made that very clear. I went to Bangkok myself to say directly to the Foreign Minister and separately the Deputy Prime Minister that Australia had very significant concerns about Mr Alaraibi's detention. I know that many levels of government around the world have expressed concerns, obviously the international football community is also very, very concerned and we have asked the Thai government to consider, given the status of Mr Alaraibi as a refugee, as a holder of a protection visa in Australia, as a permanent resident of Australia on the path to citizenship, to enable him to be return to Australia as soon as possible and I very much encourage our counterparts in Thailand to consider our request in that regard.

JOURNALIST: Will there be diplomatic consequences for Thailand if it does go ahead with the extradition at the end of this court process?

MINISTER PAYNE: Well, it remains to be seen what the outcome of the court process is. We know from the Thai Attorney-General's observations that within the extradition Act as it stands in Thailand there is an opportunity for discretion to be exercised and we have also sought through this processes for that opportunity to be taken up.

The new Ambassador-designate to Thailand, Mr McKinnon, made some comments outside the court yesterday when Mr Alaraibi appeared and I would endorse those comments.

JOURNALIST: Have you raised your concerns about the potential for him to be tortured in Bahrain with the government there specifically around those issues?

MINISTER PAYNE: With the government in Thailand or the government in Bahrain?

JOURNALIST: Yes, with the government in Bahrain.

MINISTER PAYNE: I'm not in the habit into going into the details of my bilateral conversations with counterparts, but most certainly I have said to the Bahraini government, and Australia has reiterated our concerns, that given Mr Alaraibi's status as a refugee, given his protection visa position in Australian, given he is a permanent resident of our country on the path to citizenship, we have encouraged the Bahraini Government not to proceed with the extradition application and most certainly encouraged the Thai Government to exercise the discretion it has available to it under its Extradition Act.

JOURNALIST: Minister you are in the Solomon Islands, which is why we are talking to you on a bit of a crackly Skype line. In the last fortnight a stream of Ministers and senior bureaucrats have visited the Pacific. What feedback are you getting about the best way Australia can help its Pacific neighbours?

MINISTER PAYNE: I think it is a very positive process for Australia both at Ministerial level and through senior officials. The feedback that I have had here today, and that I am looking forward to engaging in with other counterparts as I make this visit, is a very positive one about the Pacific Step Up. A number of issues that we have had the opportunity to discuss in terms of education, in terms of church relationships, the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility and others are of great interests to our counterparts around the region.

JOURNALIST: Climate change is obviously a major issue in the Pacific and Australia is not on target to meet its emissions reduction targets despite claims to the contrary. Has this issue been raised with you during this trip?

MINISTER PAYNE: Well I would disagree with you in relation to the question of whether we are on track to meet our targets or not. In terms of the Kyoto targets as they are set out, we are. But this visit so far, no, it has not been raised.

But that does not detract from the fact that we are a party to the Boe Declaration which was adopted at the Pacific Islands Forum, which I attended in Narau last year, which has a significant focus on security and had as its number one item a statement in relation in to the security implications of the impact climate change in the region.

We are acutely aware of the concerns of our Pacific family on this issue. It is discussed in multiple fora and I am sure it will be raised with me in due course. It is something we work very hard at with our colleagues in terms of development assistance having a focus on climate adaptation and on developing resilience. That is part of a lot of our initiatives and one of the things the Pacific Step Up enables us to do is to really expand those relationships in a way that set both Australia and our counterparts in the region in a good position to be able to discuss those things further.

JOURNALIST: Minister, finally the Department of Home Affairs has stripped Chinese billionaire Huang Xiangmo of his permanent residency and barred him from returning. Why was that decision made?

MINISTER PAYNE: I do understand there has been the cancellation of citizenship of a high profile individual, but these things are constrained by privacy obligations and I'm not going to make any more comment on that.

JOURNALIST: Ok, but has the Chinese government or officials raised this with you? Do you expect this decision to be raised?

MINISTER PAYNE: It has not been raised with me. I do not expect it to be a subject of a bilateral discussion. These are matters which occur from time to time and I am sure that given where we have been working closely with China in recent times - my own visit late last year, that of the Trade Minister, Senator Birmingham to the Shanghai Import Expo, Minister Pyne's recent visit as Defence Minister – we have good and constructive relationships based on a relationship based on mutual respect and engagement and if there were issues to be raised I'm sure we can address those.

JOURNALIST: Minister, many thanks for your time.

MINISTER PAYNE: Thanks very much, Patricia.

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