Interview with Jim Wilson, 2GB Drive

  • Transcript
Subjects: Escalating situation in Myanmar and detainment of Professor Sean Turnell; COVID-19 vaccine and international travel; sexual assault allegations in Parliament.
01 March 2021

Jim Wilson: Joining me now as she does regularly, it’s a good friend of this program, it’s the Foreign Minister Marise Payne. Minister, welcome back to Drive.

Marise Payne: Good afternoon Jim.

Jim Wilson: Let’s begin with what’s happening in our region. How concerned are you with what’s happening in Myanmar, and in particular, what’s happened over the weekend?

Marise Payne: Jim, we are deeply concerned about what is happening in Myanmar. It’s volatility and unpredictability, and of course as we have seen and as you have described so well, we are very concerned at the use of armed force against unarmed civilian protestors. The use of lethal force or violence against civilians is unacceptable wherever it happens. And that has resulted in a significant number of deaths, as you have outlined. We have strongly urged and consistently done so, the Myanmar security forces, to exercise restraint in response to those peaceful protests. And we are joined by many countries around the world in expressing those concerns.

Jim Wilson: The country's UN Ambassador, Minister, is pleading for international action to overturn the military coup by any means necessary. Will Australia be considering sanctions on Myanmar?

Marise Payne: Jim, we have existing sanctions on a number of Myanmar officials which stem from the events in the Rakhine, particularly on Rohingya civilians from two or so years ago now. We are reviewing all of our engagement with Myanmar, and that will include what sanction options are available to us, but also our military engagement and our development assistance. And I am receiving advice on that. We are, though, as you also pointed out, extremely concerned about the position of an Australian citizen, well known economist and academic Professor Sean Turnell, who has spent many years in the service of the people of Myanmar with the government that had the leading election result in November of 2020. Professor Turnell worked closely in his role there, but also, most importantly, has given so much of his life to the wellbeing of the people of Myanmar. We have called for his release. We have been very consistent in doing that. We have called at the highest levels for his release in Myanmar, and I continue to do that through every opportunity available to me.

Jim Wilson: What's the latest on his condition, Minister?

Marise Payne: He was able to speak with his wife last week in a telephone call. We were very pleased that that was able to take place. As you can only begin to imagine, she has been very distressed about his detention and their lack of communication, and understand that he was able to assure her that he is well. But at the same time, he continues to be detained. He's been detained since the 6th of February. And so we are working tirelessly to secure his release.

Jim Wilson: Do you think China has anything to do with what's happening in Myanmar right now? It borders Myanmar to the west. I mean, do you- are you concerned that the Chinese might be in the ears of this- of these military personnel?

Marise Payne: I think these are matters for Myanmar itself. They have had a long and difficult history with the path to democracy. And many of us here in Australia have been very familiar with the extraordinary work that had been done over many years to support that transition to democracy, and the leadership it took within Myanmar to achieve the steps that we had seen thus far, including the election in November of 2020. However, it was a bifurcated government between civilian and military leadership and the outcomes we've seen in recent weeks clearly show the military seeking to assert their priority over the civilian government. It is deeply disappointing for Australia. For those of us who have been to Myanmar and who love Myanmar, and who have really a strong focus on ASEAN centrality in our region — and Myanmar as a key member of ASEAN — it is deeply disappointing. We're working closely with our ASEAN colleagues on this and we'll continue to do that anywhere we can.

Jim Wilson: Let's talk about the vaccine rollout now. I mean, I saw you had your COVID jab over the weekend. How was the experience?

Marise Payne: It was extremely efficient and extremely well done. It was a last minute opportunity for me before I left Canberra late on Thursday. And equips me, should the travel schedule allow, to be able to move around the world, engage with other foreign ministers in my work. But importantly also to say that I am confident in the vaccine rollout and the vaccine process, and we welcomed, of course, 300,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine yesterday in Australia, the beginning of that delivery, which will move to manufacture here by CSL on behalf of AstraZeneca.

It's all about the safety, the efficacy, the quality of the vaccines that we have available to us, and that is where Australia is basing our support and our engagement on the vaccine rollout.

Jim Wilson: Just as Foreign Minister, when do you intend to travel for the first time internationally?

Marise Payne: Well, I did travel twice last year after the most significant aspects of the lockdown. There are a number of upcoming events, particularly in April, a key dialogue in India, for example, where a number of counterparts will be meeting. And all things being equal, I would be looking forward to attending that.

Jim Wilson: You're also the Minister for Women. The ABC has a story accusing an unnamed cabinet Minister of rape. The Prime Minister has confirmed this afternoon in that media conference at Kirribilli House, that he's spoken to the Minister who's at the centre of these allegations, who strongly denied the claims. Should the Minister step aside?

Marise Payne: Jim, this is, I think, a very, very difficult set of circumstances. We know that reports have been forwarded to the Australian Federal Police. I understand there to be coronial enquiries underway in South Australia due to the tragic death of the young woman concerned. And that investigation or any police investigation is something which we should not prejudice. Absolutely, we should operate according to the rule of law in this country because the alternative doesn't, frankly, bear thinking about, and that is one of the tenets of our democratic principles upon which we must and do rely. I understand that the decision to go to police in such circumstances is a very difficult one for anyone to make. That is not actually the end of the story, it's often the beginning of another very traumatic process. So, bearing all of that in mind, I want to let those processes take their course. I think that's the appropriate thing to do.

Jim Wilson: South Australian Liberal MP Nicolle Flint announced her decision to quit politics at the next election, citing, quote, bullying and harassment. What was your reaction to that?

Marise Payne: One of disappointment and of concern for Nicolle, who's obviously made a very difficult decision. But the bottom line, frankly, Jim, is that there is no place for abuse and hatred and vitriol in civilised social and political discourse, and there should not be. And that goes for all of us. Frankly, we try very hard to have obviously a highly competitive, often combative political system in Australia, but we try hard to make sure that we are engaged in the democratic process in a way which by and large adds to it, does not detract from it. Those who would seek to hound people, to vilify people, to harass them and to intimidate them. That's not the sort of thing I think Australians want to see in their democratic political process. And if they think that that is a positive and a constructive outcome, then I'd be very disappointed.

Jim Wilson: Nicolle Flint’s also saying that women from the right of politics don't seem to be as supportive from the left of politics, almost as if conservative women deserve to be bullied and harassed compared to women on the left. What do you say to that?

Marise Payne: I have seen examples, awful examples on both sides. I'm not sure that can be simply delineate along philosophical or political lines in that way. It doesn't belong anywhere. I don't care where you come from. I don't care what your politics are. It doesn't belong anywhere. None of this is a conscript. We’re all volunteers who stand up in politics, and we do that on the basis that we know it’s one of the more robust jobs going around, and we do that, expecting that we can have respectful engagement and have a positive democratic process in this country. I want to see more women in politics, not fewer. I’ve been working in that context for my whole political life, as frankly have women on the other side of politics. And that should be our ultimate aim, that we do have a workplace into which we can encourage many more Australian women.

Jim Wilson: Okay. I asked you about the Prime Minister with the Minister in question about whether he should stand aside. How about the Sky News report that the AFP has been made aware of a historic sexual assault allegation towards a Federal Labor frontbencher? So what should Anthony Albanese do about this frontbencher?

Marise Payne: I’m not aware of the details of that, Jim, it’s one which I’ve seen reported on and I don’t think it’s necessarily helpful to speculate. I know Mr Albanese commented on these matters yesterday and he will make his own decisions about his own team.

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

Marise Payne: Thanks Jim.

Jim Wilson: That’s Foreign Affairs Minister and Minister for Women, Marise Payne.

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