Interview with Jim Wilson 2GB Drive

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Independent Review into Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces; Omicron and border arrangements; AUKUS.
30 November 2021

Jim Wilson: Well, Marise Payne is the Minister for Foreign Affairs. She's also the Minister for Women and she joins me live on the line.

Minister, welcome back to Drive.

Marise Payne: Hi Jim, how are you?

Jim Wilson: Good thank you. Let's start with your portfolio. You're Minister for Women so I want to start by asking about the Parliament Culture Review. That report has been released this afternoon. It says 37 per cent of Parliament staffers have experienced bullying, 33 per cent have experienced sexual harassment. I mean, the statistics are shocking. What was your reaction?

Marise Payne: There are many disturbing findings in the report, Jim, no question of that. I want to particularly acknowledge those who have made really important contributions to the work of the Sex Discrimination Commissioner. I think the report has the right title. It's called ‘Set the Standard’, and that is what we should be looking to do here. I particularly want to acknowledge Brittany Higgins, who of course had the enormous courage to speak up after the appalling experience that she had. Her voice has been very important, as have the voices of many others. Frankly, I wish it was not necessary but, in fact, it is essential. Every single Australian has a right to feel and to be safe at work.

We want to make sure that this report and its set of 28 recommendations we will now consider as a Parliament. And again, it’s so important that we are doing this as a Parliament – that is how we have approached this from the development of the Stephanie Foster report which has given us some of the support systems we now have in place for people who work here. And important that this is not partisan nor political.

Jim Wilson: There are a number of recommendations that you mention, including gender targets for political parties and the new alcohol policy as far as Parliament goes. Do you think they'll make a difference?

Marise Payne: There are a set of recommendations that try to pursue five particular changes in the cultural environment here and in the management of the Parliament, and I am sure that broadly taken together and adopted – they're not all directed to the Parliament itself, some are directed at the political parties, multiple political parties of course – then they're going to be part of our efforts to, as I've said before, to own this problem, to address this problem and to own the solutions.

Jim Wilson: The formation of an independent HR department, do you wish that had happened a long time ago?

Marise Payne: It's interesting that you ask me that. I have worked here in two capacities for a very long time. I was an adviser as a much younger person, and I've worked here as a senator as well. Because of the micro employment environments, you know, the more than 200 members and senators who employ directly in their own offices, it has been something that has not been - I'll use the phrase - gripped up in this way, and I do think these are important recommendations by the Commissioner and her team for how we should do this better and how we could do this better.

Jim Wilson: Let's move our attention to the Omicron variant. The Government's responded quickly with borders already closed to eight African countries. Skilled workers and international students were set to return to Australia from tomorrow but last night you announced that's been pushed back until December 15. Talk me through this. How and why was that decision made?

Marise Payne: Jim, this is a decision from a long discussion of the National Security Committee of the Cabinet, and it is a temporary pause. We don't know a lot about Omicron, and we are immensely grateful to South Africa for their transparency and their engagement internationally on identifying this variant to work with the rest of the world community on the issues that Omicron, as a new variant poses, to us all.

So, it's a pause, as I said, and a temporary pause because we had earmarked the 1st of December for a new cohort of visa holders. Our international skilled and student cohorts, humanitarian visas, provisional family visa holders, working holiday-makers. But we've taken the advice of our Chief Medical Officer and the Department of Health Secretary on these issues. We've also paused the reopening to travellers from Japan and the Republic of Korea. You know, I would note that Japan, which had not opened up as much as Australia has, has also closed its borders again temporarily in response to Omicron.

I am hoping that, as I said, and planning that this is a temporary pause. We have to congratulate Australians. We're in a very different position from where we were dealing with a new variant on the last occasion. We now have 92 – over 92 – per cent of Australians having a first dose of the vaccine, and almost 87 per cent double vaccinated, which is an outstanding effort on behalf of Australians, particularly the effort in New South Wales, which is over 90 per cent for both. I would encourage anyone who has not taken that step, particularly given what we are seeing with new variants and how unpredictable this is, to make an appointment to get a vaccine. You can do it today, you can do it tomorrow, you can protect yourself, your family and your community.

Jim Wilson: Okay. Switzerland this afternoon has officially named Australia as a country of concern and if you're entering Switzerland from Australia you have to quarantine for 10 days. Now, we're hearing some reports, unconfirmed, Minister, that Hong Kong is implementing similar measures. What can you tell us on that front?

Marise Payne: I have been in question time this afternoon, so I don't have the details on Hong Kong in particular, but Switzerland and a number of countries in Europe are identifying changes in their own entry and exit regimes, as we have all been doing throughout the pandemic, and I think it is important we've within very clear, very transparent, about the fact that there are a number of cases which have occurred now here in Australia from incoming flights.

I have to say, the pre‑flight COVID test, PCR test, is essential. That is absolutely required. But very importantly, Jim, Australians who are returning must take a PCR test within 24 hours of their return to Australia and that is also essential to protect ourselves, to protect our communities.

Jim Wilson: I'm speaking to Foreign Minister and Minister for Women Marise Payne. Well, holidays, Minister, are just around the corner, there's already been a slump in new bookings because people are worried about the risk of cancellation. What's your message this afternoon to people listening to the program who are planning on travelling overseas or interstate in a few weeks?

Marise Payne: I think the message is that your Government – and we'll work closely with the states and territories – your Government will address this very carefully and very calmly, as we have done. This is a temporary pause to enable us to learn more about Omicron. I mean, our senior medical advisors have said that they know very little about it at this point. And it's essential, of course, that we make these decisions armed with the best possible information.

But we very much hope, and I think the Prime Minister was pretty clear today, he very much hopes that – and have every intention of ensuring that – we're open for business for Christmas and that people are able to join with their families, to move around Australia and to do the sorts of things that Australians love to do at this time of year.

Jim Wilson: National Cabinet is meeting in an hour’s time to discuss the response to Omicron. People will be obviously on the edge of their seats to hear what will happen, in particular in some states, being Queensland, WA with their borders that they shut with the blink of an eye, what do you think we can expect out of that meeting this afternoon?

Marise Payne: I don't think I should pre‑empt a meeting between the Prime Minister and the Premiers, but as you say those states and territories have determined their quarantine arrangements. I think the approach of New South Wales and Victoria, which has been to initiate that testing and 72 hours of isolation requirements for those who are returning – those Australian citizens and permanent residents and their family members – I think that is a proportionate and cautious response to do exactly what we're doing: wait until we can inform ourselves about the implications of Omicron, what that looks like. And of course we are constantly sharing globally with our counterparts on that, including as I said earlier, those in South Africa who have been so helpful in identifying it and discussing the immediate health risks.

Jim Wilson: I had my say earlier about former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and she's made comments about the AUKUS deal and the relations with France and she's had a crack at your Government, Minister. She's joined Malcolm Turnbull in slamming the Government on this front. You must be very, very frustrated that both Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop have felt the need to weigh into this.

Marise Payne: Well, I haven't heard the podcast itself. I suspect I was focused on matters of government at the time that it was aired. But I am absolutely confident that this Government's focus, our resolute focus on strengthening our international partnerships, our international engagement in what is the most complex and dynamic strategic environment that we have faced in a very long time, is the right focus. It's a focus in terms of protecting Australia's national security, protecting Australia's national interests, and of course Australia's sovereignty. And no member of this Government is ever going to step away from that.

Jim Wilson: Julie Bishop says we've gone missing on the diplomatic front with France, what do you say to that?

Marise Payne: Well, I say that we have been working extremely hard, not just of course with France but with multiple partners in relation to an extremely significant and important decision. Those conversations with France in the first instance and with those partners have been key to doing that. But what we've been able to do in the last couple of years through the COVID experience, which has not been your BAU diplomatic period I might say, is to ensure a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with India, a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with Malaysia, and just last month, just a matter of weeks ago, we were the first country to secure a similar relationship, a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with our neighbours in an ASEAN.

We have worked extremely hard with our partners in the Quad, four leading democracies in the Indo‑Pacific: Australia, Japan, India and the United States. We are really focused on the things that matter in this region right now: in terms of vaccine delivery, in terms of climate change, in terms of cyber and critical technologies – and what we have also done as a nation to support the region, particularly the Pacific and Southeast Asia, on vaccine delivery and support and making sure that we provide that end‑to‑end, particularly in the Pacific where we are working with the health systems, the health workers, providing fridges to make sure that vaccines are safely stored in the most remote parts of Vietnam. Those sorts of initiatives, that's about delivering and that's what Australia's commitment is.

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

Marise Payne: Thanks very much, Jim.

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