Interview with Chris Smith, 2GB, Breakfast

  • Transcript
Subjects: Troops drawing down in Afghanistan; discussion on reopening the border; dance at Defence event.
16 April 2021

Chris Smith: Well, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, finally. Having been at war for 20 years, our troops are coming home from Afghanistan. The remaining 80 soldiers will be brought home by September 11, two decades after those outrageous attacks in New York City. Marise Payne, Foreign Minister is on the line right now. Good morning to you, Minister.

Marise Payne: Good morning, Chris.

Chris Smith: Just quickly, you went and attended Carla Zampatti’s funeral yesterday, I saw. A heart-warming farewell I'm told.

Marise Payne: Chris, it was. As you would expect, it was beautiful and elegant and passionate and full of love for an amazing Australian icon.

Chris Smith: Yes, sad loss. All too early.

Marise Payne: Very much.

Chris Smith: I want to talk, if I can, about Afghanistan. US President Joe Biden calls this the Forever War. Can you say that once we're out, whenever that will be, whether it's before September 11 or on September 11, that there's no going back in?

Marise Payne: Chris, what I think I can say — and this has obviously been, as you said, a very, very long military engagement for Australia — the first thing I want to acknowledge is those 41 Australians who gave their lives in the cause that we have been pursuing in Afghanistan, and to acknowledge their families. Because really, the pain that they have endured is something which I think is unimaginable for most of us. But the challenges in Afghanistan are well-known. I hope that the peace negotiations lead to a strong and resilient peace for the Afghan people. That's certainly the aim of the international community, the aim of the United States and the work that they have been doing to forge this peace agreement. So, we look forward to that. I spoke overnight to US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. This was one of the issues that we discussed.

Chris Smith: The Prime Minister became quite emotional when reading out a list of 41 Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan. In addition to those, more than 500 veterans have taken their own lives since the war began. Are you on the side of calling a Royal Commission into veteran suicide very soon?

Marise Payne: Chris, we have put in place a process for a standing commission. And I think that that is a very important step. But we're not opposed to a Royal Commission. I know the Prime Minister is continuing to discuss that and I absolutely understand the motivations of those, those many, many Australians who have seen either their former colleagues or family members so impacted by this military service. So that is something which I know is an ongoing discussion.

Chris Smith: The Prime Minister is looking at ways of reopening the national border. Will vaccinated Australians be allowed to skip hotel quarantine? What's the plan here and why?

Marise Payne: Well, Chris, I think this is, as the Prime Minister said last night, this is something which we will work towards. We want to enable Australians who are vaccinated to be able to move and to travel. But that will all rely on medical advice and we're waiting for that. We need to know that vaccination also protects against transmission of COVID-19. So, we're looking at initial stages of this process where perhaps an Australian who's vaccinated under our program could travel overseas for essential purposes, whether that's business or medical reasons, or important family matters such as funerals. And we would ultimately like vaccinated Australians to be able to do that without the need for hotel quarantine of 14 days when they return. Perhaps they could quarantine at home or perhaps there is a different sort of environment. But ultimately, the states and territories will have to work that through in their own systems, with their own health authorities to determine what is possible. It is, though, good to be optimistic about this, and it's certainly a different position from where we were this time a year ago.

Chris Smith: Yeah. You've got to have a plan in place. I agree entirely. What about international travellers or tourists coming here? We've got so many in the United States, in the United Kingdom who are now vaccinated. What about some kind of permission for them, once vaccinated, to be able to come to Australia?

Marise Payne: I think all of these steps go together. I think all of these steps have to be considered together in terms of the effectiveness, as I already said, of the vaccines in relation to transmission. We know that they are about preventing people from the severe effects of COVID-19. What we need to know more about is their capacity to prevent transmission as well. And I am certainly not going to interfere in the health assessment processes that occur in relation to that, that's a matter for those experts. And we are very, very focused on taking their advice.

Chris Smith: I'm confused about who's coming into the country, though. We keep hearing about these 35,000 Australians trying to get back from overseas, that seems to grow as we take more in. But can you just clarify numbers of Australian citizens and those who are foreigners and how does a foreigner get permission to come in?

Marise Payne: So, I think, Chris, the Australian Border Force put out a media statement yesterday …

Chris Smith: [Talks over] Yes. They did. Yeah.

Marise Payne: … or the day before, those statistics showing arrivals into Australia. What their analysis indicates is that on average, over 80 per cent of arrivals that are required to quarantine are our Australian citizens, permanent residents or their immediate family. So, it-

Chris Smith: [Interrupts] And the other 20?

Marise Payne: They would come from a range of different areas, like they may be subject to exemptions if they are from particular professional areas where we need those skills. We may be seeing air crew arrive, of course. But I think what people don't often appreciate - and it's complex; my department deals with this every day — is where we have returning Australians, they are often bringing permanent residents and other immediate family members who are not yet Australian citizens. So, they hold foreign passports, they’re counted as foreign nationals. So, they are part of the incoming process. But absolutely, overwhelmingly, more than 80 per cent coming into Australia are those family units. They are in quarantine and they are working through the processes as we require them to do.

Chris Smith: I want to ask you about the twerking issue. What are your thoughts on people in the Defence Department selecting that particular dance at such a function? And secondly, the performance of the ABC in allegedly making a mistake by editing the Governor-General in as a viewer?

Marise Payne: Chris, I think the way this was represented through that news report is misleading. I think it is most unfortunate and I understand that the ABC has apologised for that. I think the organisers of the ceremony can obviously speak for themselves. But I do know that that group of dancers, performance group, is a Woolloomooloo community organisation. I have not seen them myself, but I have seen many reports of their performances in the local community in Woolloomooloo. And I think it is most unfortunate that they have been subject to the sorts of attacks that they have received as well. I know that it's a very close community in that part of Sydney. And I know Fleet Base East tries hard to work within the community. But I think it is important, given the responses and the concerns that have been raised, that the Defence organisers have a look at this and decide what is appropriate into the future. But I do think, for the dancers’ sake and for performance group’s sake, it's probably time to move on.

Chris Smith: Yeah, just a quick one. Did you come out on top after your day at the races last Saturday?

Marise Payne: I did, actually, Chris. But I'm a very modest, I’m a very modest punter. So, it's all relative, I think.

Chris Smith: You and your husband, you know the gee-gees back to front. I can't stand it. Thank you very much for your time this morning.

Marise Payne: Thanks very much, Chris.

Chris Smith: Alright. Foreign Minister Marise Payne.

Media enquiries

  • Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555