Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: US election, foreign interference, Australians detained overseas, NRL Grand Final.
21 October 2020

Ben Fordham:

Now get ready, we're just two weeks out from the US election – Donald Trump versus Joe Biden. The polls have “Smokin’ Joe” out in front, but the polls have been wrong before. Millions of Americans have voted already and, whatever you think of the candidates, it has not been boring.

I wanted to catch up this morning with the Foreign Minister, Marise Payne. While she won't get involved in the politics of the election, I'm sure she'll have some interesting observations.

Marise Payne, Australia's Foreign Minister, good morning to you.

Marise Payne:

Good morning, Ben.

Ben Fordham:

Minister, I won't ask for any election tips or analysis because I know you won't head far down that path, but I'm sure you can reflect on the key candidates. You've worked closely with the Trump administration. I know you get along well with the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo. So what's your take on Donald Trump?

Marise Payne:

Ben, we've had a very productive couple of years working closely with the Trump administration, as you say, particularly on the security and the stability of the Indo-Pacific. I would expect that focus to occur no matter who is elected by the United States people. And, of course, as you say, we will ultimately respect that decision and I'm not going to get into the prediction game.

Ben Fordham:

You were Defence Minister during Barack Obama's time in office. So Joe Biden was his Vice President. Have you got some idea of what it'll be like if Joe Biden gets up?

Marise Payne:

Well, I think Vice President Biden knows Australia well and has had a good relationship historically with Australia. And as I say, the depth and the breadth of the relationship is much bigger than any one individual. The democracy in the United States is a very robust one. We've seen that in recent months, and we will always work with the US Government of the day.

Ben Fordham:

There's significant news out of ASIO today. The boss, Mike Burgess, is warning foreign intelligence agencies are trying to cultivate Australian politicians. He's writing to MPs, giving them high level advice on what to look out for and how they should handle it. So, how vulnerable are Australian MPs to this kind of foreign interference?

Marise Payne:

I very much welcome the leadership of the Director-General of ASIO in this context. We are very conscious that foreign interference is happening right around the world. This is not just about Australia and there's certainly nothing new about it. But we are in a time of rising strategic tension, at a time when technology, particularly, gives new pathways for malicious actors or foreign spies to target people.

So the threat is as high or higher than it's ever been before. That's what the intelligence agencies are clear in telling us. So, we addressed this with foreign interference laws starting in 2018, with a Foreign Influence Transparency scheme, the work we've announced in the bill we've introduced on the foreign relations to ensure that even our state and territory governments are consistent with respect to how they deal with foreign governments. So it's been a priority for us for some time now, and I think it's a timely warning to parliamentary members.

Ben Fordham:

In dealing with these foreign powers, we have two Aussies detained in China at the moment. Reporter Cheng Lei, academic Yang Hengjun. We also have this Melbourne academic still locked up after two years in Iran, Kylie Moore-Gilbert. Do we have any news on securing the release of these people?

Marise Payne:

Ben, we have raised, and continue to raise, these issues with our counterparts in both, as you’ve nominated there, Iran and China. We made a statement last week in relation to the progress of the case against Dr Yang Hengjun. We've said clearly that we don't accept the charges upon which he is said to have been held and now will be prosecuted.

We're trying to endeavour to ensure he has consular access and easy access to lawyers that he needs and importantly, to be dealt with in an open and transparent way. We are speaking and working regularly with authorities in Iran and in China and in a number of other places around the world, where we, unfortunately, like other countries, see our citizens detained, to ensure that they are treated according to international standards and where appropriate, we seek their release.

Ben Fordham:

Yeah, Marise Payne, I know that you are a big fan of the Penrith Panthers.

Marise Payne:

[Laughs]

Ben Fordham:

Well, I expect that you are, because I spoke to your other half yesterday, Stuart Ayres, who’s certainly a major cheerleader. I never thought I'd find myself saying this, but Foreign Minister, do you have a tip for the NRL Grand Final?

Marise Payne:

Ben, I don't have a choice.

[Laughter]

I'm actually a Dragons tragic, but I would love to see my community backing their Panthers in, and the Panthers bring it home. Apart from anything else, as a New South Wales Senator, I'd be backing the Panthers 100 per cent. But there are two grand finals this weekend. And in that context, I'm also a Geelong Cats fan. So go Cats.

Ben Fordham:

[Laughs] Good to catch up with you as always and we appreciate everything you do for us.

Marise Payne

Thank you very much, Ben. Good to talk.

Ben Fordham:

Marise Payne, our Foreign Minister, who does a stellar job. And yes, she's a Dragons fan. I always presumed she was a Panthers fan because her right-hand man, Stuart Ayres, is a major cheerleader for Penrith and, well, she's supporting Penrith this weekend. No surprises there.

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