Interview with David Speers, ABC Radio National

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: French Ambassador returning, Taiwan Strait, Glasgow climate summit.
07 October 2021

David Speers: Well there's hope of some thawing in the relationship between Australia and France, the French Ambassador returning to Canberra after being recalled in protest over the Morrison Government's decision to ditch a $90 billion submarine contract. The Prime Minister has welcomed the move. He says the relationship is bigger than any contract. 

Scott Morrison: I welcome the fact that the Ambassador will be returning to Australia. I think that's a good thing and I think that was always going to happen after the consultations that were had and look forward to taking the relationship forward. It's not a matter, frankly, of what additional things we're putting on our cooperation. We already have cooperation. See, the Australia‑France relationship is bigger than a contract. 

David Speers: But it's clear more work will still be needed to fix the damage done. Foreign Minister Marise Payne has acknowledged as much and joins me now. 

Marise Payne: Good afternoon, David. 

David Speers: You've described the return of the French Ambassador as a positive step. What further steps though are you prepared to take now to mend this relationship? 

Marise Payne: David, we are pleased that the Ambassador will return to Canberra and I've acknowledged and welcomed the statements of my colleague Minister Le Drian in that regard. But I'm also very conscious that working with France to move forward with our relationship will take time and ongoing engagement following our submarine decision. 

They are a critical partner for Australia, and I hope very much that we are able to continue to work together and to our ongoing cooperation in the Indo‑Pacific. I view that very, very, very positively. It has been important in the past and will continue to be so in the future. 

David Speers: You mentioned your French counterpart, he accused Australia of stabbing his country in the back over this. Have you spoken to him yet? 

Marise Payne: I spoke to him of course in relation to the decision itself and have indicated that I absolutely understand the very deep disappointment with which France has viewed the decision not to proceed with the submarine contract. 

I've known Minister Le Drian for a long time. We worked together as Defence Ministers and continue to do so as Foreign Ministers and I'm sure that I will talk to him again in due course to discuss these issues, but in the current environment I look forward to welcoming the Ambassador back. 

David Speers: The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said in relation to all this that "we could, we should have done better in terms of communication". Do you agree with that? Is that a concession you're at least willing to make, that the communication could have been better? 

Marise Payne: David, I think that's an observation for the United States. From Australia's position I know that, as we have said publicly, there has been a number of conversations at the highest levels of our governments and between ministers, that we spoke separately to the Defence Minister of France, the Foreign Minister of France and certainly the Prime Minister sought to speak directly with the President in relation to the decision itself, and that was certainly something that we were very committed to doing. But I don't underestimate for a moment the depth of the concern and the disappointment in France. 

This has been a very big decision for Australia to take and one which I will work on with my colleagues, the Prime Minister and other colleagues and counterparts, to continue to engage and continue to work and encourage France to do that with us. 

David Speers: A couple of other things. Tony Abbott's been in Taiwan this week. He says Australia needs to stand by the democratic island. Australia does not formally recognise Taiwan as a sovereign state. Should it? 

Marise Payne: Well we are committed to our One‑China policy and that has been a bipartisan position in Australia for a very long time. That does not mean to say however that we have not recognised our opportunity to strengthen ties with Taiwan. They're a leading democracy. They're a critical partner, and we continue to engage with them in practical ways that advance our interests. I think the status of Taiwan in the World Health Assembly is a very good example of that. 

But at the same time let me also say that we have been concerned by tensions across the Taiwan Strait sharpening in recent months. It is clear that conflict is in no one's interests here and we are concerned by increased air incursions by China into Taiwan's air defence zone in the past week. 

So our very strong position is that resolution of differences over Taiwan must be achieved peacefully, through dialogue and without the threat or the use of force or coercion. 

David Speers: So what's your message to Beijing then about those air incursions? You've expressed some concern.  Are you saying China should stop it? 

Marise Payne: Well, I would repeat what I had just said, that if there are differences in relation to Taiwan, or any other regional issues, they're differences that need to be addressed peacefully, through dialogue and not with the threat or the use of force or coercion. 

Ultimately, I think that we all want to maintain an Indo‑Pacific region that is secure and prosperous and based on the rule of law. Conflict is in nobody's interests and it's very important that we maintain that approach. 

David Speers: Are you concerned this is heading towards conflict? 

Marise Payne: No, I've said that the increased air incursions are I think not assisting in terms of addressing a resolution of differences peacefully, and it's important to recognise that and to be clear about our views. 

David Speers: Finally, do you know yet whether you or the PM will be representing Australia at the Glasgow climate summit in a few weeks? 

Marise Payne: Well I know that Australia will be represented strongly at COP26. 

David Speers: Yes, but by who, Minister? 

Marise Payne: A final decision has not yet been made. 

David Speers: All right. Have you packed your bags just in case? 

Marise Payne: My bags are constantly packed, David, as you'd expect. 

David Speers: Look, some of your National Party colleagues on climate change want taxpayers to fork out hundreds of billions of dollars underwriting mining projects and the like that markets won't touch.  Does that sound like a good idea to you? 

Marise Payne: I haven't seen those particular comments, David, but most importantly what we are working on, what the whole government is focused on, particularly the Prime Minister and Minister Taylor and the Deputy Prime Minister, is making sure that we are dealing with this with a focus on technology, not on taxes, and a focus on technology that is both low emissions and low cost to ensure that developing nations are also able to take advantage of it. 

David Speers: Bottom line, whether it's you or the Prime Minister at Glasgow, you can't show up without a commitment to the net‑zero by 2050 goal, can you? 

Marise Payne: Well we said very clearly that we will lay out our plan for our long‑term emissions strategy before we get to the COP and that is our commitment. 

David Speers: And that will include a commitment to net‑zero by 2050? 

Marise Payne: I'm not going to pre‑empt that, David. These are discussions which as the Prime Minister has acknowledged are ongoing, but we know the importance of these issues and the Prime Minister has said very clearly that our desire is to reach net‑zero and preferably by 2050, and as we develop the ultimate statement in relation to our long‑term emissions strategy that is very front of mind. 

David Speers: All right. Foreign Minister Marise Payne, thanks for joining us. 

Marise Payne: Thanks very much, David.

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