Doorstop interview

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Russian invasion of Ukraine; expansion of ADF; flood crisis.
10 March 2022

Parts of this transcript has been redacted in accordance with Digital Transformation Agency guidelines.

Marise Payne: Good morning and thank you very much for the opportunity to say a few words. I want to start by observing that reports of Russian action in Mariupol in the Ukraine which have reportedly struck a children's hospital and injured numbers in almost 20 and, of course, I'm sure there'll be further investigations into the impact of that attack. But what it shows us is this wholesale breach of international law, this wholesale breach of the UN Charter, Russia's unlawful, unjustified, unprovoked actions are now impacting on the most vulnerable, those least able to defend themselves. And I would again reiterate Australia's absolute condemnation of Russia's actions, our calls for Russia to withdraw their troops and to withdraw and to cease their attacks on Ukraine.

There has been extensive efforts of diplomacy across multiple vectors, and I applaud those who are part of making those efforts. But ultimately this is Russia's actions, and it is Russia who needs to cease these unlawful activities.

I'd also say that the opportunity to be here at Air Affairs again today – and this is perhaps my third visit to Air Affairs in my ministerial roles over the last few years – this is a business here in the Shoalhaven that contributes significantly to the economy here and to the community here. I think the second largest private sector employer the region and a private sector employer that brings high tech jobs, important opportunities for the future to young girls and boys and young women and men across the Shoalhaven community.

I'd strongly encourage anyone who has any interest in STEM particularly – in science, in technology, in engineer, in mathematics – to look at defence industry businesses like Air Affairs in this region, and there are many others. In fact, I'm looking at them literally here today. But to look at these organisations, the career potential here is, in my view, unlimited.

Andrew has spoken about the Prime Minister's announcement this morning about the expansion of the ADF. That will require us to recruit from every corner of the nation and from every enthusiastic young girl and young boy who might think that there's a career ahead for them in the ADF. These are careers of the future, and I strongly endorse the work that Air Affairs is particularly doing here.

I've had an opportunity this morning to also meet with the Shoalhaven Business Chamber Women in Business Group at one of their coffee mornings. Working with Gemma Tribe who has brought together that group of women today, an amazing group of women in small business and businesses as varied as you can possibly imagine – lawyers, retailers, people in training, in industry. So many different areas. But, again, a real affirmation of the incredible human resource that is here in the Shoalhaven. And also our visit to Air Affairs reinforces that.

Always good to be back in Gilmore, and thank you very much for the opportunity, Andrew.

Marise Payne: Happy to answer any questions.

Journalist: Thanks, Senator. Given the gravity of what's happening in Ukraine at the moment, is it appropriate for the Foreign Minister to be here on the campaign trail for the Liberal Party in Gilmore?

Marise Payne: I'm doing my job every day of the week. I applied new sanctions yesterday in relation to senior members of the Russian military, in relation to the purveyors of disinformation who are amongst the most – spreading some of the most egregious stories, falsehoods, untruths. Australia has been a strong campaigner on disinformation, and I think my presence here meeting with you this morning indicates that I am more than available and more than able to speak to the Australian community at the same time.

Journalist: Is there any evidence of Australians fighting in the conflict at this stage?

Marise Payne: None that has been reported to me.

Journalist: Is Australia going to make any further offers of lethal contributions to [indistinct] and what will it be?

Marise Payne: As you know, the Prime Minister spoke to President Zelenskyy a couple of days ago. I spoke actually last night to the Foreign Minister of Latvia, and we are constantly reviewing what contribution we may be able to make working closely with partners, including NATO, including bilaterally the UK and the US in terms of what that need might be and where Australia may be in a position to contribute.

It is something that needs to be coordinated, and so that's the work that is underway. I would also reiterate hour humanitarian contribution. We know that reports today tell us that there are 2.2 million displaced people. Over 50 per cent of those are reported to be children. Many of those children are moving unaccompanied. This is a very, very serious situation. I know through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees the work that we are doing through other UN agencies that our initial contribution of $35 million US will be focused on supporting those people who are being displaced. But, as I said, both that contribution and our military contribution remain under review to see where we can help further.

Journalist: Has Poland asked Australia to provide it with any coal? Will Australia meet that request?

Marise Payne: There have been discussions between Australia and Poland on a number of issues of that nature. I understand they are still ongoing. And, of course, the government itself does not hold those resources, but we are certainly facilitating contacts between the Polish government and businesses in Australia.

Journalist: Anthony Albanese in his latest speech to the Lowy Institute saying that he was ramping up spending for Defence, I think about 2 per cent [indistinct] China. Do you still see any difference between the Coalition and the Labor Party's position and attitude towards China?

Marise Payne: I haven't seen Mr Albanese's speech; I've been engaged in meetings, as I said, here this morning. But I would say that Australia's position - in relation to these matters and this government's position, has been absolutely consistent – consistent and clear. And that is absolutely what is required in terms of protecting our national interests and defending our national security.

Journalist: Could I just take you to the floods in the state’s north. Was it an oversight to exclude some areas of the disaster payments support [indistinct] Ballina, Richmond were not included? I understand Barnaby Joyce indicated that's being reviewed already. [Indistinct]

Marise Payne: I don't understand it to be an oversight. I think those conversations are continuing with the commonwealth agencies and with Minister McKenzie. I've spoken with Minister McKenzie on a number of matters this morning. So those councils will be able to engage through the appropriate representatives from the commonwealth agencies to make their application, if you like –

Journalist: Why wasn't it an oversight?

Marise Payne: Because these things have to be assessed as the damage is assessed and as the impact of the floods are –

Journalist: [Indistinct] like a doubting Thomas moment. Did you need to know that?

Marise Payne: Well, as I understand it, the damage assessments need to – or the impact assessments need to be made. I'm sure that is an ongoing process. In fact, the minister has assured me this morning that it is an ongoing process.

Journalist: Can you understand the anger in the community? I guess this is what we're hearing from our folks in the north, the level of despair [indistinct].

Marise Payne: I heard the Prime Minister yesterday say that you can't appreciate unless you are – unless you have had the experience of being in the community, walking through the community, feeling it, smelling it and seeing it. I think for those of us who have, yes, dealt with significant rain events – I'm from Western Sydney, the Nepean River is peaking, flooding, as we speak. Communities that I support and care for are impacted right now. So I absolutely do understand that trauma and that despair, and it is a perfectly natural reaction in the face of what people have gone through.

Journalist: Can I just ask while you're here, in 2008 you authored a book on housing affordability in Australia. You effectively said basically no citizen should be forced for homelessness, a reasonable standard of housing should be achievable for all, a small number may need assistance but basically people should have the capacity and the finances to be able to do that. Now in this very seat, people with duel incomes can't afford to buy homes. This area of Gilmore is one of the most inexpensive in Australia. Has the federal government failed for the last nine years, given your knowledge of this, to act on this issue to make housing affordable in Australia?

Marise Payne: I think I may have contributed to a book in relation to those matters during a period when I was – when I had some shadow ministerial responsibility. But ultimately, housing in Australia dealt with overwhelmingly at the state level, but with a very significant contribution from the commonwealth government through national partnership arrangements – a very significant contribution.

I've been a strong supporter, for example, of the community housing sector over many years and seen the community housing sector do some extraordinary work. We saw New South Wales government just recently make some announcements in relation to the development of new housing, particularly with some hypothecated for women who may be escaping violence, women who might be older and not in a position to be able to get the finance that's necessary for acquiring housing of their own without that support.

They are all initiatives that governments have made, but there is no doubt that this is a very challenging environment. I was in the Bega Valley with Jim Molan, Senator Jim Molan, just last year. One of the real issues that we were looking at then as well was rental availability as well as affordability. So I'm very conscious of that and work very closely with my counterparts across the government on those issues.

Journalist: But will you accept, given that you were conscious of these issues a long time ago – more than a decade – the government has failed to address any of the mechanisms that could have made housing more affordable?

Marise Payne: No, I don't accept that. I don't accept that. The commonwealth government makes a very significant contribution to the national partnerships agreements, including through commonwealth rent assistance. I'm sure you're aware of the provision of commonwealth rental assistance. And all of those are part of enabling people to be in their own homes.

Journalist: Do you think [indistinct] this election which we haven't yet got a date for [indistinct] I guess we are preparing for it to be a Defence election, a national security election, but housing is still a crisis in Gilmore, and that's going to be one of the issues that people in this community will want an answer for more will the federal government do?

Marise Payne: I understand these are very critical problems, and not just in Gilmore, frankly. These are issues which affect many families across Australia. That's why the commonwealth government makes the contribution that we do through the national partnership agreements. It's why we established the NHFIC as well, which is doing very good work under Assistant Minister Sukkar in this area. And it's why we have worked particularly to support women who are escaping violence with payments to support that, too.

Journalist: Thank you, Senator.

Marise Payne: Thank you.

ENDS.

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