Interview with Jim Wilson, 2GB

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australia-China relations; ADF special forces report; Australian Sports Medal recipients at the 2018 Invictus Games.
20 November 2020

Jim Wilson: I want to bring in the Foreign Minister, Marise Payne who’s on the line this afternoon. Minister, welcome back to Drive.

Marise Payne: Good afternoon Jim. Sounds like I should be there after 4:30 so I can catch up with Craig Laundy.

Jim Wilson: We have a bit of fun on the old pub test. It’s either the-

Marise Payne: Do you?

Jim Wilson: He’s never short of a word, Craig, as you know, and he’s- whether it fails or passes the pub test, Craig is always forthright in his opinion, Minister.

Marise Payne: Well, we’re looking very much to seeing a Laundy development in beautiful western Sydney on the banks of the Nepean River very soon, so ask him how that’s going too.

Jim Wilson: I will do that. Just on China, it doesn't appear that they'll be backing down. In fact, their language increasingly sounds threatening, to say the very least, saying that we may get poked the eye, and if you make China the enemy, China will be the enemy. Are you concerned about this language and also the relationship?

Marise Payne: Well, let me be very clear. China is absolutely not the enemy. Very far from it. We have a very important relationship with China, but it is a relationship in which Australia is guided, as you would expect, by our national interest and by Australia's democratic values. I know that there was a list issued yesterday through the Embassy in Canberra, and I think that that is premised on actions that Australia should think about changing. And if you operate on the basis that we make our decisions in our national interest, then that makes us a sovereign country. We make all of our decisions in that context. And that's Australia being Australia. We would not be changing any of those decisions.

Jim Wilson: What did you make of those demands in the list? it was excessive, to say the very least.

Marise Payne: Well, I think the important thing to emphasise is our liberal democratic society and, I'd say to you, with a free media, I would say with a parliamentary democracy where elected members and media are absolutely entitled to freely express their views. And again, that is what Australians would expect. And that's the approach that we will consistently take.

Jim Wilson: Officials have also widened the list of Australian goods banned or subject to go-slows, Minister, with about 10 per cent of Australia's $140 billion of annual exports now impacted. Is there a possibility all of our experts - exports should I say - would be stopped? What's the Government's contingency plan for that?

Marise Payne: Well, I think the trade issues are of concern to us. And they are areas in which the Trade Minister, Simon Birmingham, is working closely with industry, with agencies and authorities, both in Beijing and in Canberra to clarify the sorts of restrictions and possible bans that are being raised. We think there are legitimate questions in relation to such actions about compliance with trade rules.

We think they’d be inconsistent with statements that we've seen very recently from the Chinese leadership. So we'll give the businesses and exporters of Australia every possible support that we can. And importantly, we will also continue to focus on agreements like the one we signed just last weekend. The Trade Minister Simon Birmingham, with the Prime Minister present, signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. That is the world's largest free trade agreement – brings together nine of our top 15 trading partners into a single economic framework. And what it means in terms of the world – those countries that are members of the RCEP, as it's known, account for almost a third of the world's population and GDP. Fifty-eight per cent of our trade, 67 per cent of our exports. So those actions by the Government are absolutely focussed on providing certainty and confidence to Australian suppliers.

Jim Wilson: China's playing down its role in the South China Sea. But is China still the biggest security threat to our country at the moment? And what are we doing to get some stability in the region?

Marise Payne: We're working very hard across the region, both in Southeast Asia and in the Pacific. The RCEP is a good example of that. Good, open trade relationships contribute to security and to stability. And importantly, we are also making the sorts of commitments that we should make to our neighbours in times of great challenge. And COVID-19 is presenting – an overworked word, perhaps – but an unprecedented challenge in 2020.

So, in the context of the ASEAN-Australia Summit and the East Asia Summit held last weekend, the Prime Minister announced a new package of measures in economic terms, development terms and security terms to support the region's recovery from COVID-19. They are in line with the priorities of the countries of ASEAN, maritime connectivity, sustainable development, economic cooperation, all of those things contribute to security and stability. Similarly, in the Pacific, where we have really reshaped our support in our Partnerships for Recovery, to both assist with health security, which is extremely important for many of the countries in the Pacific, which are very vulnerable to COVID-19, but also in terms of economic recovery there. They are all part of adding to security and stability.

Jim Wilson: Yeah. Foreign Minister, now, just a couple of things I want to touch on before we let you go. You're also a former defence minister. No doubt you would have been impacted by the release of the war crimes report yesterday. I understand you wrote to your counterpart in Afghanistan and extended apologies.

Marise Payne: Yes, I've been in touch with my Afghan counterpart. We speak also from time to time on a number of matters, but, yes, I have written recently. And we do keep the Afghan Government informed on this matter in particular. I am as appalled as so many Australians are after yesterday's news. It is deeply distressing. The first thing that I would say, as a former defence minister, is to record my extraordinary appreciation for the work, the loyalty, the sacrifice of so many Australians who wear the uniform of the Australian Army, the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force.

The actions of a few have had a distressing impact on so many people in this country in the last day. I've seen it myself. It's been raised with me consistently since yesterday's statement by the Chief of the Defence Force. And these are the actions of a few of a very large number of men and women who serve this country with distinction. I'm pleased that we have taken these steps. The inquiry was initiated while I was Defence Minister and General Campbell was Chief of Army. It has taken some time, but it's been a very important inquiry and it's one we must take heed of.

Jim Wilson: Yeah. Well said. I think the majority have served our country with great distinction and the minority, well, they face serious, serious allegations and will be dealt with. I know you were very supportive, as Defence Minister at the time, of our veterans being awarded Australian Sports Medals as a result of those inspiring Invictus Games in 2018 here in Sydney. Can you update us on those medals getting to the athletes who were promised them in 2018? I know that there was bipartisan support. There were promises made they would get the medals, but they're still waiting.

Marise Payne: I'm a big supporter of the Invictus Games themselves and also of our co-captains, particularly Pete Rudland, who has led the campaign for the award of these medals. I continue to strongly support it. I understand that it's under consideration, and I’ll encourage my colleagues to bring that to fruition. I can't begin to describe the feelings, and I know any Australian who was present in Sydney at the Invictus Games can't begin to describe the feelings, of seeing Australians, certainly, win medals at the Invictus Games, but every single competitor's story about their life in uniform and either the injury or illness which had affected their service was profoundly moving, and I would love to see that recognised.

Jim Wilson: Well, certainly, in 2018, there was bipartisan support. As I mentioned, Bill Shorten and the Opposition, yourself as Defence Minister, I know the Prime Minister’s on board. The Governor-General's on board. Former Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove is on board. So, everyone seems to be on board, it’s just the case of actually physically getting these medals that were promised to our veterans to them sooner rather than later.

Marise Payne: Well, you've given me a good prompt, Jim, so that gives me a project for next week.

Jim Wilson: I know you've got plenty on your plate, but I just think, as you say, they are inspiring and I think it means so much to them, and they've done so much for adaptive sports. And for these veterans who sacrifice so much, I think an Australian Sports Medal – it’s not a military medal, an Australian Sports Medal – would be a fitting recognition.

Marise Payne: So many amazing stories out of Invictus. It brings a tear to everybody’s eye, I think, but also a great swelling of pride.

Jim Wilson: Thank you for your time this afternoon and have a good weekend. I know you're very, very busy and there's plenty going on. And as I said, I do appreciate you joining me on Drive.

Marise Payne: Great to talk to you, Jim. Thank you very much and you have a good weekend too.

Jim Wilson: Good on you. Thank you. That’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne.

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