Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Foreign agreement audit; Thousand Talents Plan
27 August 2020

Ben Fordham: Well, back home the Prime Minister is cracking down on foreign interference, he’s introducing new laws aimed at booting Chinese influence out of our governments and our universities. If passed, the laws will allow Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne to tear up any deal that states, territories, councils, or universities do with foreign countries. Marise Payne the Foreign Minister is live on the line. Minister, good morning to you.

Marise Payne: Good morning Ben.

Ben Fordham: There are deals that have already been done, like the one between the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Beijing – is that one in the microscope?

Marise Payne: Well, in fact, we know just from open source searching, Ben, that there are at least 135 deals or arrangements between state and territory governments, and over 30 countries around the world. So, the Victorian one that you refer to is part of those, and they’ll all be included in the stocktake that we’re going to ask state and territory governments to do if the legislation is passed.

Ben Fordham: It’s a bit of a reminder to people in other levels of government and people running universities that they’re not in charge of foreign affairs?

Marise Payne: Well, the Commonwealth does have a responsibility for foreign affairs, as you say, and there's not previously been a requirement for any consultation between the states and territories. But we think it's important to do that due diligence, to make sure that international arrangements are consistent with Australia's national interests, and of course with our values.

Ben Fordham: What about the Thousand Talents Plan we've been talking about this week, where Beijing is recruiting some of Australia's brightest scientists to work for them?

Marise Payne: Well, it will depend on the nature of the engagements, Ben. So, arrangements between state governments and the national government of a foreign country, or a state government department and a foreign government department, and then as you say, arrangements that universities might make, also need to be notified. But the stocktake process will enable us to look at all of these in a constructive way to work with the states and territories, and my department will be responsible for that should the legislation pass.

Ben Fordham: So, Minister, you’ll need the support of the Parliament before introducing these laws. And presuming that happens, when do you expect that you'll be able to review all of these deals?

Marise Payne: Well, if we introduce the legislation next week, which is our intention, then we would hope to see it passed in a timely way. The Parliament will of course consider it across both chambers, and then we will seek a six-month process of asking the states and territories to undertake those stocktakes, bring that material back to us. And then for deals which are or arrangements which are in prospect, we will seek them to consult with the Commonwealth as they're progressed.

Ben Fordham: Foreign Minister, thank you so much. And on behalf of the listeners, I think the general feedback this morning is well done for backing up all of the talk with some action.

Marise Payne: Thanks very much, Ben, I appreciate it.

Ben Fordham: Marise Payne our Foreign Minister.

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