Interview with David Koch, Sunrise

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australia-China relationship, foreign agreement audit.
27 August 2020

David Koch: The Government wants new powers, giving it the ability to scrap agreements that it believes go against Australia’s national interests. The Foreign Minister could review and terminate agreements made by states, councils and universities with foreign governments. That would include existing arrangements, including for example, Victoria's controversial Belt and Road deal with China. Joining me is Foreign Minister, Marise Payne. Minister, appreciate your time. Look, to do this you obviously have some concerns over existing agreements with overseas countries and governments. Which are going to be the first ones you’re going to overturn?

Marise Payne: Well David, it’s not about immediately overturning things, it’s actually about asking the states and the territories to do a stock take of agreements that they have made or are in prospect of being made so that we can actually review those for one very important fundamental thing; consistency with Australia's foreign policy. I think all Australians would agree that it is very important that we are singing from the same hymn sheet, if you like, that we are making agreements that are consistent with our national foreign policy in our national interests – and that’s a key part of introducing this legislation.

David Koch: Okay. Is Victoria’s Belt and Road agreement with China in the national interest?

Marise Payne: Well, we need to look at those sorts of agreements, and that’s one of the issues that has prompted us to introduce the legislation – a lack of clarity if you like between the states and territories and the Commonwealth.

David Koch: So it’s been kept secret from you? You don’t know what the agreement is?

Marise Payne: Well, there were discussions with the Commonwealth but not to any great detail at the time, David. And we think that it’s very important that for similar sorts of undertakings there should be clear consultation with the Commonwealth, that we do due diligence on these to make sure that they are consistent with our national interests.

David Koch: Okay. Because you’ve spent a lot of time briefing state governments on policy and particularly cyber-attacks from China and the like. Are you finding that universities and state and local governments are ignoring your briefings? Ignoring your warnings?

Marise Payne: No, I don't think that they’re ignoring the warnings and the briefings, I think they take them seriously. But what we did also find in the pursuit of this legislation, just in an open source examination, was over 135 agreements between state and territory governments and foreign entities across 30 countries and over nine or more subjects. So, we know there’s a lot of engagement out there and we do need to do that due diligence to make sure that it’s consistent with Australia’s national interests and Australia’s foreign policy – and not adverse to Australia’s foreign policy.

David Koch: One of China's senior diplomats spoke at the press gallery yesterday, basically describing Australia as Brutus and China as Caesar. Do you think that’s a fair description of the relationship?

Marise Payne: Well, I describe the relationship as one that is mutually beneficial and based on mutual respect, underpinned by the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership – and I understand that the Deputy referred to the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in his remarks yesterday. I also gather that he, of course, enjoyed a very good meal of fine Australian produce.

David Koch: [Laughs] Yes, including barley, beef and wine – all of the things that China’s reviewing at the moment. Minister, appreciate your time. Take care.

Marise Payne: Thanks very much, David.

Media enquiries

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