Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: AFP and ADF deployment to Solomon Islands; Chinese spy ship in Australian waters; Centre of Excellence project Campbelltown.
26 November 2021

Ben Fordham:

Well, there's lots to talk to the Foreign Minister about, Marise Payne, because we're making a big statement in the Indo‑Pacific.

Australian troops are on their way to the Solomon Islands to help bring peace back to the nation's capital. Have you seen the images out of Honiara? It's been gripped by violent protests and riots triggered by disputes over the country's leadership. The public is angry that the Solomon Islands have made a diplomatic shift away from Taiwan and towards China. That's one of the problems apparently, but there are many. Protesters are demanding the Prime Minister resign. They've set fire to huts near the Parliament building. A police station has been targeted. A bank. A number of Chinese owned shops. And as the violence escalates Australia is stepping in.

Marise Payne is our Foreign Minister. She's on the line. Minister, good morning to you.

Marise Payne:

Good morning Ben.

Ben Fordham:

When are the Aussies arriving?

Marise Payne:

They have already arrived, and I think they have been a very welcome presence in Honiara as they have come into town. They'll be working closely with the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force, and this is about Australia contributing to stability in our region and specifically here in the Solomon Islands at the direct request of the Solomon Islands Government under our Bilateral Security Treaty.

Ben Fordham:

Minister, some of the locals are saying they're fed up with the growing influence of Beijing in their backyard.

Marise Payne:

Ben, these are matters for the Solomon Islands themselves. We're not going to comment on those or engage in those. They are matters that are being dealt with domestically there. Importantly, though, we recognise that stability in our region is key.

I've spoken with other leaders around the Pacific overnight, as has my colleague Zed Seselja, the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, and the Prime Minister, to indicate that Australia's engagement is at the request of the Solomon Islands Government and clearly focused on stability in our region.

I particularly want to thank the personnel, the Australian Federal Police and those members of the ADF who are supporting them for taking on this task at this time of year as well.

Ben Fordham:

Now just on China, we're being told this morning that one of their spy ships spent three weeks off the coast of Australia collecting sensitive electronic information. And this is a pretty bold move. They were in Australian waters, weren't they?

Marise Payne:

Well, as I understand it, they were in the EEZ but did not enter our territorial waters. And we of course, Ben, monitor all vessels who operate in our maritime approaches. We're aware that the vessel was there but we support and respect the rights of states to exercise what is known as lawful freedom of navigation and overflight in international waters and airspace. We expect that right in fact of our own to be respected as well.

But if vessels are entering our maritime zones they are expected to abide by international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. So, the Defence Minister has commented previously on these issues. You would have heard Peter Dutton do that back in July. But ultimately, we all benefit from open waters, we all benefit from abiding by the Rule of Law and that's what we have been emphasising.

Ben Fordham:

I know that Paul Keating, Bob Carr and Penny Wong from the Labor Party have all been saying that the Australian Government has got its approach wrong to China, we should be backing off. I'm guessing you're not taking lectures or advice from Paul Keating or Bob Carr or Penny Wong?

Marise Payne:

Well, you'd be correct in thinking that the Australian Government is making our own decisions in Australia's national interests, because that's what the Australian people expect. They expect us to make decisions in our national interest and to protect our national security. Frankly, we're coming through one of the most significant global challenges we've seen in generations in the COVID‑19 pandemic, and what we would like to pursue is a constructive relationship. And we have had those, made those, comments on a regular basis – but a constructive relationship in which our sovereignty and interests are respected, in which parties aren't coerced or subjected to pressures that breach international rules or norms.

We have a fabulous strong, diverse Chinese diaspora community here in Australia. They make a great contribution to our modern nation. We have a National Foundation for Australia‑China Relations that seeks to reinforce and support that.

So we will seek engagement and we'll seek a constructive approach, but we'll never compromise on our national interests or our national security.

Ben Fordham:

In a word, is it helpful when you have former foreign ministers and former Prime Ministers making public commentary suggesting that Australia's got its approach to China wrong?

Marise Payne:

Well, I'm not going to give you a word, Ben, because comments are matters for those people. I'm more focused on what the Government is doing and what the Government is delivering for Australia in our national interests.

Ben Fordham:

Our guest is the Foreign Minister Marise Payne. Now, Minister, your name came up this week in a different kind of setting to what we're used to. We've been contacted by people around Campbelltown saying, "Look, back in 2016 the Federal Government pledged $7 million to build a Centre of Excellence for Campbelltown" and in 2016 there was a photo opportunity with the then Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Three years after that you were there, I think photographed in October of 2019 with a shovel in the ground. Fast‑forward to the end of 2021 they say there's no Centre of Excellence. Do you know what's going on here?

Marise Payne:

I understand it's been delayed. A number of reasons for that – scope change in particular and, frankly, COVID hasn't helped. But there is $7 million of Federal funding locked in. It's available as soon as it's required. I understand the final planning work's being completed by Campbelltown Council.

But most importantly, Ben, let me say, I have been a senator in Western Sydney now for two decades and I will never apologise for supporting the communities of Western Sydney in providing facilities and upgrades and development that they need. We have a fabulous cities deal right across Western Sydney. Campbelltown Council is a member of that deal.

I've also turned a sod at the Billabong Parklands in Campbelltown. Since we did that, they've moved 80,000 tonnes of earth to create the installation of the water features that are going to be there at the Billabong Parklands.

So there are some delays in the Centre of Excellence project, but I know that the University of Western Sydney and the council and the Macarthur Bulls are all ultimately going to be beneficiaries of that, and importantly so will the communities of Western Sydney and I will never walk away from that.

Ben Fordham:

And as we've pointed out it seems like Campbelltown Council has been slow to move because the money has been sitting there in the bank and they're yet to get a wriggle on. We'll talk to them next week and we appreciate you jumping on the line this morning.

Marise Payne:

Thanks Ben.

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