Interview with Jim Wilson
Jim Wilson: Well, joining me now is the Federal Minister for Women, the Foreign Minister, the acting Defence Minister, Marise Payne. Minister, welcome back to Drive.
Marise Payne: Good afternoon, Jim.
Jim Wilson: Okay you've copped plenty of criticism about your decision not to attend this protest yesterday in Canberra. Why didn't you attend the Women's March yesterday?
Marise Payne: And that criticism is one of the fundamental aspects of this robust democracy, the robust democracy that enables petitions and protests and peaceful demonstrations like we saw yesterday. But Jim, we meet hundreds and hundreds of people every year in the parliament. And, of course, it's the responsibility of any elected government to take positions on important issues by working through those issues carefully as a government and through the parliament. It's not been my habit to join protests. In fact, I don't recall ever in my parliamentary career, joining a protest of that nature. Because what we’re elected to do, is to work through these issues, as I said, as a government and as a parliament. But we did, the Prime Minister and I both did make very clear our absolute willingness to meet with the organisers and the leaders of the rally to listen to them directly to receive the petition. The petition has been tabled in the parliament. We will give full consideration to that. And there is, of course, a number of issues they’ve raised which are already work underway in the context of the government's approach, but importantly, a number of other issues that we'll closely examine.
Jim Wilson: I've been told this afternoon, Minister, that your door was open all morning yesterday to the rally organisers, but they basically came back and said, no, we can't do that because it clashes with our media commitments. Is that correct?
Marise Payne: We did say that at any time yesterday morning, I was available to meet with the organisers at any time that that suited them. And they very politely declined and that is absolutely their right. But any suggestion that we were not available to - by anybody - would be incorrect.
Jim Wilson: As the Minister for Women, can you understand why some people were disappointed and angry not to see you there at the march yesterday?
Marise Payne: I understand that these are very, very difficult and complex issues. And there's a strong, strong feeling that generated the march itself, the rally itself and has generated a significant amount of discussion in this country. But as I said, we are elected to take positions on important issues by working through those issues, doing that carefully as a government and through the parliament. And it's our responsibility to listen to the concerns of all Australians, the Australians who have contacted you on both sides of this subject, the many Australians who contact my offices regularly, very, very regularly. And, of course, the mechanisms of many forms of social media and the meetings that I have, the hundreds of meetings that we have every year, a part of that process.
Jim Wilson: How does it make you feel as the Minister for Women, that women still believe they have to march in public for something as simple as the right not to be harassed or assaulted in the workplace?
Marise Payne: I'm deeply concerned about the reports that we have had and the allegations that have been made in relation to sexual assault, in particular, in the workplace here. Issues of harassment and other matters which have been raised. I've been working in this place for a very long time, and I would hope that in 2021, we can take a very mature approach to this, that we can use the independent review, which has been established with multi-party support, led by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, to address these issues, to address the cultural issues, the social issues, the workplace issues that have meant that these things have happened. I can't even begin to imagine the devastation, the distress, the deep, deep damage that has been caused to the women who have come forward. I have heard myself directly from a woman like Grace Tame in the last week when she spoke in Sydney at the UN Women Australia International Women's Day event. We know that this is absolutely wrong behaviour by perpetrators, and that it must stop. Every mechanism that can be put in place and every prevention tool that we can use, we must use. And I've said before, as a Parliament, we have to own these problems. We have to own the failings that have led to these events. But most importantly, we have to own the solutions and we are absolutely committed to doing that as a Government.
Jim Wilson: I said yesterday on the programme this is not about politics. Do you feel like Labor has turned this into a political football and an issue?
Marise Payne: I don't think it should be about politics. I agree with you. I think there are some people who have taken the issues and politicised them in their own ways. That's a matter for them. It is not something that I seek to do. One thing I do know, Jim, one thing I absolutely know is that these issues, sadly, are not restricted to any one group in our political process in Australia. And I don't say that with any level of comfort. I say that with the same level of distress that I have about my own political and parliamentary party. But it is not restricted to any one side of politics in this country. And it is deeply disturbing, as I said, that we are having to deal with this in 2021. But most importantly, we need to own those solutions and we need to continue to work towards those. I'm very pleased the Sex Discrimination Commissioner is taking on this role of the independent review, as has been called for, including in the petition yesterday.
Jim Wilson: Let's move to your work load. You’re across some fairly big portfolios. You’re the Foreign Minister, also the Minister for Women, and now the acting Defence Minister. Are you expecting your colleague, Linda Reynolds, to be back from medical leave just after Easter?
Marise Payne: Yes, I understand that the minister looks forward to resuming her duties as Minister as soon as possible. Certainly, she has taken appropriate medical advice to take a further period of leave. And I absolutely respect the right of anybody in this workplace and in other workplaces where people hold senior roles to take appropriate health and medical advice on these matters. Where I have seen that questioned and called into question, I find quite strange, because I think in any reasonable workplace, it is the case.
Jim Wilson: Okay. I want to ask you about PNG and this crisis, this COVID crisis there. At least one in every three or four people may have contracted COVID-19. Latest batch of history shows 40 per cent have tested positive. Are you close to declaring the situation in PNG a national emergency?
Marise Payne: Well, we are deeply concerned about this sustained increase in COVID-19 cases. We've seen a surge of a thousand cases since late February, and that has included 26 deaths. And we know in Australia that every single one of those deaths touches a community or a family somewhere and our hearts go out to those people. We're concerned about the capacity of health facilities, both in Port Moresby in particular, where we have a very crowded isolation ward. But we have been working closely with our Papua New Guinea partners to ensure that we are working with them on support and on what they need. We are deploying what are known as our AUSMAT resources, our Australian Medical Assistance Teams. We're sending an AUSMAT advisory team with two clinicians and an infection control specialist who are going to assist the Papua New Guinea system with the immediate public health assessments with epidemiological medical supply and equipment needs. We have also been helping them with scaling up surveillance testing and their critical care capacity in Port Moresby and in provinces which have known outbreaks. We've been partnering with the Papua New Guinea authorities to reopen testing and isolation facilities, and funded, with our support, patient transport and of course, the supply of PPE. I think we delivered 200,000 masks to Papua New Guinea for the very, very serious period of mourning for former Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare, where there have been a lot of very significant events and the provision of masks was very important for that. So we will continue to work very closely with them. In fact, I spoke to the Health Minister, Jelta Wong, by message today and personally on the weekend. We're in very regular touch with our senior counterparts as well.
Jim Wilson: Okay. Before I let you go, just a quick one. I do appreciate your time on a very busy day. If the offer- going back to the marches yesterday. If the offer of a meeting with those protest organisers, is that still on the table if they want to meet with you and the Prime Minister?
Marise Payne: Yes, it is, Jim.
Jim Wilson: Okay. So the door is open. Thank you, Minister. So we clarify.
Marise Payne: Indeed. Thank you very much, Jim.
Jim Wilson: Thank you for your time this afternoon, Minister.