Interview with ABC, New Delhi

  • Transcript
Indo-Pacific relations; Australian bushfire crisis; Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert’s imprisonment; Bridget McKenzie allegations.
17 January 2020

Journalist:

What are the main issues you’ve been raising here in India?

Marise Payne:

I think reinforcing that India is such a key partner for Australia in the Indo-Pacific, and particularly in the imagining of our respective visions for the Indo-Pacific. We're very focused on working closely with strong democracies like India in what we are doing in the region to ensure that the region we see is open and inclusive and prosperous, and that is a key focus for us. I've had the opportunity to meet today with the Minister for External Affairs, Dr Jaishankar. And I think that is our third or fourth meeting, pursued the discussions that are the foundation of the visit of Australian Prime Minister Morrison, which will occur in the coming months. And obviously there is some disappointment that the Prime Minister was unable to be here for the Raisina Dialogue and associated activities, but most importantly, I've been very reassured by the strong support from India and from Indian leaders with which I've met today that this is a very welcome visit and they look forward to enabling it to occur as soon as possible, as indeed do we.

Journalist:

I notice you use the phrase Indo-Pacific. The Russian Prime Minister, for instance, says that's a clear jab at China saying that they're not part of that kind of phrase. Why do you use the phrase Indo-Pacific? Why is not Asia-Pacific good enough?

Marise Payne:

Well, I think if you stand in Australia with one foot in the Indian Ocean and one foot in the Pacific Ocean, then it is an entirely appropriate acknowledgement of the world in which we live. But it's also one of the most dynamic parts of the world in terms of growth, in terms of the numbers lifted out of poverty in recent years, in terms of the developing relations that we have across the countries of the Indo-Pacific, and it's an entirely apt description. But it's not exclusive, and I think that that's important. What you see at a dialogue like this or similar dialogues around the region is an enthusiasm for engagement from partners from around the world. I met this afternoon with the EU High-Level Representative, Minister Josep Borrell, who’s recently taken on that role. I've met with senior representatives of the United States administration. So this is the part of the world where so much is happening, and Australia is very keen to lead the way.

Journalist:

In terms of deepening relations with India, one of the areas has obviously been security. There's the naval exercise, Malabar. Correct me if I'm wrong but I think we've tried to make efforts to be part of that in the past and it’s been unsuccessful. Is that something Australia hopes to join this year?

Marise Payne:

Well, these are matters between our two defence forces of course. But Australia's defence engagement with India has literally increased exponentially in the past few years across all three services, but most particularly navy. So they’re matters that will be resolved ultimately between defence forces. But I'd note that Vice Admiral David Johnston, the Vice Chief of the Defence Force, was here yesterday speaking on one of the key panels at Raisina. Those relationships are very strong, very enduring, and we look forward to them growing even further in the future.

Journalist:

We’ve had some other international affairs, obviously the bushfires in Australia. It's been a big issue; we've now got aircraft coming in from Japan, America, Canada. Considering the criticisms that have been levelled at the government that it's taken a while to take on extra help from overseas, do you think in future bushfire seasons will have to get these aircraft earlier, even at the very start of the bushfire season before any fire even breaks out?

Marise Payne:

Well, the first thing I would say, James, is that we are absolutely grateful for the level of support that has been provided to us from the international community, and through my department and through Emergency Management Australia we are working through all of those offers and there are more arriving every day. I think what the Prime Minister envisages in terms of potential reviews of these last few months will incorporate consideration of those issues. Most importantly, of course, we have the states and territories as the authorities ultimately responsible for that emergency management response, for that firefighting response. We work closely with them to address their needs and their demands. That's part of the normal process. But what we have seen, as many have said, have used the word unprecedented. What we've seen is unprecedented. So as we hopefully move out of what has been a very, very difficult season, we will be able to examine all of those issues.

Journalist:

So that’s something that will be actively looked at this year, whether or not we have international aircraft stationed in Australia at the start of the bushfire season?

Marise Payne:

Well, I think we're very focused on recovery at the moment, and if like me you have spent recent days in key parts of Australia which have been directly impacted — parts of the Hawkesbury and the Blue Mountains in western Sydney, the Eurobodalla and Bega Valley on the New South Wales south coast where I've been in the last week, that recovery focus is absolutely imperative. But in terms of preparation for the next season — and that is inevitable — we will always work closely with the states and territories, take advice from those who have had the experiences of recent months, and prepare for that next season.

Journalist:

Just looking at Iran, there's the media reporting now about the Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert in a letter she wrote to the Prime Minister, to — seeking help last year. The letter was written last year, but it's only been leaked now to the media. Do you think the recent issues with Iran, with obviously the killing of Qasem Soleimani, and the downing of the aircraft — will that make it harder for the Australian academic — to get her released from prison now? Has it changed the dynamics at all?

Marise Payne:

I think the first thing I would say is that we have been very, very focused on Dr Moore-Gilbert and the circumstances of her imprisonment in everything that we have done. We have been seeking a number of things. First of all, her appropriate treatment in terms of her detention. This is not a detention that we support. We don't accept the charges upon which she is convicted and now held. We've made that case to Iranian authorities and we continue to do so, and certainly we seek consular access to her and having very recent visits in that regard, and endeavour to provide her with the support that we can. The larger strategic issues and the larger issues in the Middle East are ones which we deal with separately from the consular matter of Dr Moore-Gilbert's position. We have encouraged, as I have said before on the record, de-escalation in activities in the Middle East. We are very, very disturbed by the events which led to the shooting down of the Ukrainian International Airlines flight. And of course, our condolences, our sympathies go out with so many of these families who are experiencing the awful, awful challenge of dealing with this terrible loss. I've spoken with my counterpart, Foreign Minister Zarif, here in New Delhi this week — indicated to him that we would like to see a full and transparent investigation of that incident, and I'm sure those countries involved would share that same view.

Journalist:

And did you bring up the academic as well with the Iranian Foreign Minister?

Marise Payne:

I have raised Dr Moore-Gilbert with Foreign Minister Zarif today, yes.

Journalist:

And any further developments on that?

Marise Payne:

I don’t think it's appropriate to talk about the details of that conversation, but to assure Australians and to assure Dr Moore-Gilbert's family that I raised that matter again.

Journalist:

Last quick question, just looking at home. Obviously there’s been a lot of heat on Senator McKenzie. Why should she keep her portfolio? Why she should remain a frontbencher, I should say, given the criticisms about her use of approval of grant spending for, you know, sports- sorry, sport grant spending?

Marise Payne:

Well, those matters will be dealt with through appropriate processes. But as I understand it, the guidelines, as they exist, are appropriately observed in that process. It's not an area in which I have any involvement and I don't think I'll make any further comment on that.

Journalist:

No worries. Anything else?

Marise Payne:

Thanks James.

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