Interview with Jim Wilson, 2GB Drive
Jim Wilson: Nice to be back in the chair. And thank you for phoning in. As we go to air, let's just get the very latest. What's the situation for Australians on the ground in Ukraine?
Marise Payne: We've been clear in updating our travel advice, Jim, that Australians who are currently in Ukraine should leave now via commercial means, which is possible for them. Australia, the Government is asking our dependants of both Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials and other government agencies, asking those dependants to leave Ukraine. And this is essentially out of an abundance of caution and a prudent decision. There are great uncertainties in the region at the moment and for the safety of Australians, we think this is the correct decision to make. I would be really very clear, though, that as I've said earlier today, on a number of occasions, this does not detract in any way, shape or form from our strong commitment to Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty, both of which are hard-fought and which Australia strongly supports, along with like-minded counterparts.
Jim Wilson: Okay. Can you just give us a number of how many Australians are in Ukraine?
Marise Payne: Jim, there are about, as I understand it, from advice from my agency, about 1400 Australians with whom we are in contact. Now that is, individual Australians, permanent residents and their families. So the group totals around 1400. Many have been there for a very long period of time and, in fact, essentially make their home in Ukraine. And we have endeavoured through the post in Kyiv and through my department to engage in contact with them.
Jim Wilson: Okay. So if they don't want to leave Ukraine, what assistance can the Australian government provide them if the situation on the ground worsens?
Marise Payne: Ultimately, Jim, our advice is to leave Ukraine now, and that is fairly clear – in fact, very clear – in our travel advice, and that is the decision we have made in relation to the dependants of our officials. Ultimately, all Australians will make their own decisions. And we have added to that travel advice in terms of areas which they should not travel to, the care that they should take to avoid any unsafe zones and so on. They should always, no matter who they are and where they are, they should always be continuing to review our Smartraveller travel advice as well.
Jim Wilson: Okay. It would seem to me, with countries like the USA and us telling citizens to leave Ukraine, is it fair to say, Minister, that a Russian invasion is imminent?
Marise Payne: I'm not going to speculate in terms of those issues. There have been huge efforts made in the diplomatic sense across the European Union, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and others in engaging with Russia in urging – strongly urging – de-escalation by Russia and urging a continuation of their engagement at the diplomatic table, senior meetings across the systems of all of the countries that I've mentioned before and including, of course, NATO as well. Ultimately, it is overwhelmingly preferable that no such issues would occur. But we are clear-eyed about the challenges and, in terms of the uncertainty, have indicated that Australians who are in Ukraine should leave now.
Jim Wilson: Speaking to Foreign Minister Marie Payne. If the United States changed tack, Minister, and offered direct military assistance and not just arms to Ukraine, would we follow suit?
Marise Payne: Australia would not be involved in direct military assistance, and both the Prime Minister and I have been clear about that. And that is not something which has been sought or requested.
Jim Wilson: Okay. Are you worried that if Russia invades Ukraine, could China use this as a distraction of sorts to make a move on Taiwan?
Marise Payne: I don't think we can make those equations. What is concerning and what the international community is being very clear about is the aggression and the assertion of authoritarian regimes who are, in fact, testing if you like, the approach of liberal democracies like Australia and of all countries who want to preserve and protect their sovereignty. And that goes for many countries in our own region. And it is important that Australia works together with other like-minded countries to deter that sort of aggression, to raise the costs of that sort of behaviour. And we do that by supporting those countries who face threats of coercion, who face cyber attacks, which can be so debilitating or, in fact, literal incursions. Now that might be, as I said, by supporting Ukraine in this case in terms of their sovereignty and territorial integrity, or calling out economic coercion where we see it, giving voice and shining a light on the behaviour of authoritarian regimes by countries like Australia and our partners is extremely important.
Jim Wilson: Just on the situation in Taiwan and the situation there on the ground, is it safe for Australians?
Marise Payne: The travel advice for Taiwan does not mirror in any way the sort of travel advice we have been talking about today. I have many - and I think we all have across Australia, we have a strong diaspora. Many of us know people who live and work in Taiwan. I've spoken in recent years, particularly during the challenges of COVID to the families of people who have been based in Taiwan. And Australia supports Taiwan where we are able to, particularly in terms of their participation in international groupings, where statehood is not a requirement of participation, for observer status in others. And that is something which we have consistently done and will continue to do.
Jim Wilson I've had a number of listeners ask the question of Sean Turnell and his welfare in Myanmar. Have you got any updates on Sean Turnell?
Marise Payne: Jim, we have been working very hard and certainly seeking very emphatically from Myanmar's regime, the release of Professor Turnell. We continue to do that. We are clear that we regard this as a case of arbitrary detention. There are a number of legal processes which are ongoing, and we've seen those continue in relation, of course, also to former State Councillor Aung San Suu Kyi and other officials from the NLD Government. But our concerns in relation to Professor Turnell go to his ongoing detention and to his conditions of detention and we continue to press those in the regime in Myanmar in relation to that, and to seek contact for him appropriately with his legal representatives, with his family and with my consular officials.
Jim Wilson: We've seen Tennis Australia this afternoon back down on the “Where is Peng Shuai?” t-shirts. How concerned are you about Peng Shuai's whereabouts and also are you relieved that Tennis Australia has reversed this decision to ban these t-shirts?
Marise Payne: I certainly welcome Tennis Australia's changes of position on that matter. This is a country which values freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and it would have been concerning, to say the least, for individuals to be prevented from wearing a simple message on a t-shirt – in this case which is not profane or offensive or in any way in that character, that simply seeks to convey a message. I certainly have noted the disclosures that Ms Peng Shuai has made in relation to her experience and I deeply respect her own resolve in coming forward and making those disclosures. I think the Women's Tennis Association has made some extremely important comments in relation to her circumstances and I have been pleased to see those as well.
Jim Wilson: Were you disappointed that Tennis Australia banned those t-shirts initially?
Marise Payne: I thought it was a confused and, as you say, disappointing set of circumstances. I did not understand the logic that was being applied in this case and I'm glad, as I said, that they have changed their position.
Jim Wilson: Minister, always good to chat. Thank you for your time this afternoon.
Marise Payne: Thanks very much, Jim.