Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australia-China relations; case of Karm Gilespie; investigation into the origins of coronavirus.

Ben Fordham: Well, Foreign Minister Marise Payne is taking a tough stance on China and now Beijing is firing back. In a speech this week, the Minister dismissed claims of racist attacks being on the rise against Chinese-Australians. Now the Chinese Embassy in Canberra has responded, calling the speech rubbish and accusing the Minister of lying.

Marise Payne is on the line. Good morning to you Minister.

Marise Payne: Good morning Ben.

Ben Fordham: The Chinese Foreign Ministry says disinformation is Australia's expertise, not China's. This seems to be heating up, which is not a good sign.

Marise Payne: Well Ben, I think there have been a number of international engagements on the issue of disinformation in the last couple of weeks. Importantly, the European Union issued a very significant report raising their concerns in relation to disinformation. Twitter's disclosure of over 32,000 accounts identified as state-linked information operations attributed to Russia, to China, and in this case as well, to Turkey. We've seen a UN statement led by Latvia with 131 other countries raising similar concerns, condemning disinformation, fake news, and doctored videos in the context of COVID-19 in particular.

So, I think this is a widespread concern and it's a concern not only held by Australia but all of those other countries that I've raised. And it's a concern that we hold because it's dangerous — it's unacceptable. We are in the midst of an international health crisis.

Ben Fordham: China doesn't have a great record on human rights but they're saying that there's been a rise in attacks against Chinese-Australians. Do you say that's fake news?

Marise Payne: I say, Ben, that Australia is a safe and welcoming place for people to come, particularly for students and for tourists. And where there are issues, we have addressed them and we address them very quickly and swiftly. The Prime Minister himself has called out issues of racism where they have appeared. Our law enforcement agencies address them, our states and territories take them very seriously as well.

So in terms of the questions around Australia, we deal with those matters and we deal with them in a transparent and open way. And that is, of course, one of the values that we prize as a democracy and one of the values that we will always continue to support.

Ben Fordham: Where's the breakthrough in our stand-off at the moment with China? Because as we know the Trade Minister, Simon Birmingham, has been trying to organise a conversation with his counterpart for well over a month now. They won't even pick up the phone.

Marise Payne: Ben, I think it's very important for us all to realise that this is, of course, a very important relationship and it's important to both countries. We advance our interests based on our values and that's what Australians expect us to do. We base the relationship — and I hope that China does as well — on mutual benefit and mutual respect.

But where there are differences, and there will be — we have very different systems — those differences need to be addressed constructively between us. And what we are doing, and have done, is to advance our case of issues of difference in a very calm, and consistent, and considered way. Australians expect their government to act in our national interests and that's what we do.

Ben Fordham: The Australian man, Karm Gilespie, has been given a death sentence by China for allegedly drug smuggling. His friends say he was set up. The penalty has been described by some lawyers in China as politically motivated. Have you got any update on our efforts to stop his execution?

Marise Payne: Well, Ben, we are very saddened and deeply concerned that Mr Gilespie has received his sentence in China. Our consular staff attended a Chinese detention centre this week and were able to speak with Mr Gilespie via video link — which is a COVID-19 control measure — and we are providing him consular assistance and support, both to him and to his family. We are engaging very closely with China. We are available to speak with his legal representatives as and when we need to.

We've made our views on this matter clear. We respect China's sovereign judicial process but we absolutely oppose the application of the death penalty. And our opposition is long-held, it's principled, it's consistent. It will come as no surprise and that is the case that we will continue to advocate.

Ben Fordham: Minister, before you go, this global independent investigation into the origins of coronavirus — has it started?

Marise Payne: Ben, it's underway in terms of the fact that the World Health Assembly has finalised that resolution, of course, in May. But we have said, and many others have said, that there is still a long way to go in the experience of the pandemic. There are countries right now which are still in the middle of the most critical aspects of the pandemic.

We will continue to work with the international community to take our commitments forward, we'll work with those member states in the WHO. But what's important is we want to see an independent review, where the review is guided by professional health and medical experts drawing on evidence — not constrained by the politics of this process.

So, the International Health Regulations, the Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee at the WHO are vehicles, and we'll continue to have those discussions with counterparts. But I really feel for many countries who are still very much in the middle of the most difficult aspects of dealing with COVID-19.

Ben Fordham: Foreign Minister Marise Payne, before I let you go, I know that you pass your horse racing tips on to Alan Jones. I do expect them to be passed on to me from now on. Okay?

Marise Payne: I'll take that on notice Ben.

Ben Fordham: Thank you very much Minister.

Marise Payne: Thank you.

Ben Fordham: Marise Payne, the Foreign Minister, joining us.

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