Interview with Jim Wilson, 2GB

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: MH17; Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
15 March 2022

Jim Wilson:

Minister, welcome back to Drive and thank you for your time as always.

Marise Payne:

Good afternoon Jim, how are you?

Jim Wilson:

I’m good thank you. So big news overnight, the Australian and the Dutch have initiated legal proceedings against Russia for the downing of Flight MH17 in 2014. Minister, I applaud you for this. The families of those who have been impacted in this terrible tragedy have also applauded it. Realistically, though, do you think we'll ever get a resolution here?

Marise Payne:

In the International Civil Aviation Organisation, I think this is a very important step, and it's a step about accountability, ultimately, because the International Civil Aviation Organisation obviously is the multilateral body that has control of civil aviation, the standards on safety, on airport processes. And suspending Russia from that organisation, which is one potential outcome, is a possibility in this process.

But as you said, it's important to families, and to families to know that this is not an issue which Australia and the Netherlands have let go. It is something which we continue to pursue.

Jim Wilson:

OK. 298 innocent people died when this plane was shot down, including 38 Australians. Russia continues to deny any involvement in this horrific attack. I mean, it's absolute... I mean, I cannot believe how despicable this is, as far as the Russians go.

Marise Payne:

It is appalling. I mean, we are relying on evidence and the findings of a very thorough criminal investigation, which was conducted by a Joint Investigation Team. A team from investigative agencies from Australia, from Belgium, from Malaysia, from the Netherlands, and from Ukraine. That was underpinned by the findings of a technical investigation that the Dutch Safety Board conducted. And the findings and the evidence clearly show that the conduct leading up to, and including, the firing of the missile that brought down Flight MH17 is attributable to Russia. We went through that again with Australians, in a way, last night when we made this announcement, just as a reminder to all of us that Russia's behaviour ‑ even long before now ‑ is not that of a responsible international citizen.

Jim Wilson:

OK. I mean, I suppose we shouldn't expect anything less, considering the very same administration of Russia is currently invading Ukraine. I mean, Vladimir Putin is just a disgrace, Minister. Are we any closer to kicking the Russian Ambassador out of Australia?

Marise Payne:

Well, Jim, I think these issues have to be dealt with in terms of what we are able to ‑ what we are able to achieve by doing that. And I do think it is important ‑ and it has been the case historically during periods of conflict on other occasions ‑ where diplomats have remained in place to enable those engagements to occur. But as I've said to you before, and as I've said to others, I absolutely do not exclude the option of seeking for diplomats to leave. That remains a matter under consideration by Government, as you would expect it to be. But I am aware that, from time to time, there is the need for those communications to happen. We will monitor this. We are monitoring it every week. We are talking regularly about it in terms of the approach of Government. And it is not something that has been chosen by other counterparts as a step either.

Jim Wilson:

So, you're still seriously considering it? It's still on the radar, as far as kicking the Russian Ambassador out of Canberra?

Marise Payne:

Well, all options are on the radar and that includes whether we would sustain a continued diplomatic presence, yes.

Jim Wilson:

Granted this Ukrainian conflict is not one close to Australia, but we're still strongly sanctioning Russia for their invasion and providing lethal aid to Ukraine, tell me something ‑ what does the West plan if Russia takes the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv?

Marise Payne:

I don't think I can really safely speculate about those sorts of things, Jim. But what is very clear from the actions that have been taken is that Australia and, importantly, all of the partners that are showing such unity in response to Russia's actions maintain this approach of continuing to impose costs on Russia. That's why we are continuing to increase sanctions, it's why we've provided military assistance to Ukraine, it's why we're supporting the people of Ukraine through our humanitarian assistance. These are steps which many partners are also taking. I know that our friends in Poland, for example, are taking a significant number of Ukrainians and displaced people from the Ukrainian population into their country, and there are many countries who have also had to extract their citizens as well. So, this is a unity of purpose, which we have not seen in a long time, on an important issue to continue to maintain the strongest possible cost on Russia for these actions.

Jim Wilson:

How many Australians remain in Ukraine right now during this conflict and are there any reports of casualties?

Marise Payne:

Jim, I can say at this point I have not been provided with reports of casualties and I certainly hope that that continues to be the case because this is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be right now. And that's why we did advise Australians to leave in January, in fact. What we have now advised Australians is to shelter in place until it is judged to be safe to depart, but that is a very difficult statement to make because, of course, it is so diabolically dangerous. That security situation is beyond volatile and it is deteriorating. So, we are continuing to support those Australians who are registered through our online mechanism. That's about 330 Australians and that includes permanent residents and immediate family members as well. We have also got consular officers in Poland, in Romania and Moldova, who are there, placed to support Australian citizens and family and permanent residents who have sought to depart Ukraine as well.

Jim Wilson:

Do we know if there are children? You mentioned the 330 Australians that remain in Ukraine, you've mentioned family members. Are we talking children?

Marise Payne:

There are certainly children within family constructs but of varying ages and backgrounds. And, of course, Jim, as I think I've said to you before, many are dual citizens, many have been in Ukraine for a long time, many have relatives in neighbouring countries like Poland and, of course, have sought support there. But it is very dangerous. We've been very clear about that and we hope that those people and their families are able to stay as safe as possible.

Jim Wilson:

I'm speaking to Foreign Minister and Minister for Women Marise Payne. Minister, there are reports that China is providing military aid to Russia to help them kill more innocent Ukrainians. Can you confirm this?

Marise Payne:

Well, I'm not going to speculate on those ‑ the accuracy of those reports until I have further information. But I would say that countries that directly support Russia in this unlawful invasion would face consequences. And certainly in a country, in the example of a country like Belarus, we have already taken steps in relation to that, in terms of sanctions. I know that the United States has said that there would be coordination with partners and allies on any such response and Australia would be part of that coordination.

But I'm not going to speculate, again, on how those consultations would unfold. The media reports have been made. It would be highly concerning if this is true. We cannot possibly be in a position where we are providing support ‑ material support, economic support ‑ to Russia at this point in time. I have made our views clear on support to Russia and the role that needs to be played by countries who do have a voice with Russia, like China, the role that can be played by them.

Jim Wilson:

You met with the new Chinese Ambassador here last week. Did you express your concerns about their ties with Russia?

Marise Payne:

I certainly expressed our expectation that China does have influence, does have agency, to encourage and to advise Russia on ending this illegal invasion of Ukraine, yes. Because it is important that we say to all countries who do have that voice that this is a complete breach of international law, it is a complete breach, a wholesale breach, of the UN Charter. And these are opportunities that Australia takes when we are engaged with countries who, as I say, have voice, to encourage them to make their views, and the views of the international community, explicitly clear to Russia.

Jim Wilson:

Who initiated that meeting with the Chinese Ambassador? Was it them or us?

Marise Payne:

That would be a normal meeting with a new ambassador and I'm sure that the embassy, in the normal course of events, sought that engagement. It's an important meeting. We're very committed to a constructive relationship with China in which we can pursue areas of cooperation. We have always said, though, that we will be remaining consistent with our own national sovereign interests and focused on stability.

I did take the opportunity to set out, frankly, Australia's positions on a range of issues. That includes the importance of appropriate ministerial dialogue between Australia and China, and other high‑level dialogue and engagement. The focus on stability in the Indo‑Pacific on free and open trade, on the importance of human rights, and also on the welfare of Australians who are detained in China. So, I welcomed the meeting and it is an important opportunity for both the Ambassador and for me to make those points.

Jim Wilson:

You mentioned trade. Do you think their Trade Minister will ever sit down with our Trade Minister? Could we ever see the Chinese end their trade war with us?

Marise Payne:

Well, we are open to that conversation. And it is important to reinforce that Australia has never said that we would not take such a conversation. We have consistently said ‑ whether it is in my case, in the Trade Minister's case, in other ministers' cases ‑ that we would welcome such conversations. And ultimately that ministerial dialogue is a pathway to address differences and issues of concern.

Jim Wilson:

Minister, as always, thank you for your time this afternoon.

Marise Payne:

Thanks very much, Jim.

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