Interview with Jim Wilson, 2GB Drive

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Repatriation flights from India; trade relations with China; Australia’s climate change policy.
07 May 2021

Jim Wilson:

But right now, I want to head to Geneva because the Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, joins me live on the line. Minister, welcome back to Drive.

Marise Payne:

Hi Jim. How are you?

Jim Wilson:

We appreciate your time. I know you’re very, very busy and you’ve got meetings ahead in Geneva today. Let’s start with these repatriation flights from India, which will resume tomorrow week on May 15. Firstly, exactly who will be on the flights and how many Australians from India will be helped home?

Marise Payne:

Jim, we will start the flights from next week, with the first one scheduled to arrive into Darwin on the 15th of May, and that will see three flights coming in this month into Darwin. What we will do is work closely with our team in New Delhi and in our posts in Chennai and Calcutta and Mumbai, focusing on bringing those Australian citizens and residents and families who've been registered with our consular processes within India, and most definitely targeting those who have registered as vulnerable in that cohort. We're also going to work through the registrations to make further contact with those families and individuals to ensure that they’re current.

Jim Wilson:

So what's changed in India, Minister, for the Government to announce the repatriation flights? Was it a case of actually getting our quarantine systems and facilities ready here for those that will be arriving from tomorrow week?

Marise Payne:

Jim, I think, as the Prime Minister has said today and following the discussion in the National Cabinet, it has been about making sure that we were managing the return flights from India at this point, given the extremely significant surge in cases there, so that we were responsibly bringing home those from what is currently the most significant hotspot for anyone travelling right now, but also responsibly managing the safety of Australians in Australia. So, if we can now work through that process to ensure that these flights, as they come in, are preceded by the appropriate testing – and that is important – then that will enable us to also resume them. I really do want to thank the community, the Australian-Indian community and the Australians in India, for their patience and for their understanding and the opportunity we have had to talk directly with them over the last week.

Jim Wilson:

There's been some confusion. A lot of our listeners have asked this question as well this afternoon around who's paying for these repatriation flights and quarantine? Is it the passengers, Minister, or the taxpayer?

Marise Payne:

So, the cost is offset by passengers. They are charged reasonable commercial rates. And of course, there is also financial assistance available for some Australians in certain circumstances. So we underwrite the facilitated flights, but the passengers pay a commercial rate as a passenger.

Jim Wilson:

Right. So, they pay for the flights and also quarantine once they’re home?

Marise Payne:

Yes, that's correct.

Jim Wilson:

Okay. Let's move to China. Major developments this week, with Beijing announcing all diplomatic relations have been cut. Have you- have they given you a reason why?

Marise Payne:

Well, Jim, in terms of the particular dialogue itself that there has been, it's disappointing for us. The Strategic Economic Dialogue has been useful for that engagement at the finance and the treasury level. It last was held though in September of 2017, so it has not been meeting since then. And it has been important because it has been relevant to our mutually beneficial economic relationship. And so we strongly encourage our counterparts in China and officials in China to maintain dialogue with Australia and to engage with us, both here in Canberra, as indeed they do, and of course, in China itself.

Jim Wilson:

Will this influence your decision, in any way, as far as possibly ending the lease of the Port of Darwin?

Marise Payne:

That is not a decision for me, certainly in my role as Foreign Minister for the Government. The Government will make any decisions on matters such as that, and not specifically the Port of Darwin, but more broadly on the advice that we receive from our security agencies, and of course, most importantly, taking Australia's national interests into account.

Jim Wilson:

Okay. Just one final one and we appreciate your time. Reports today that Australia is been pressured to step up action on climate change, and apparently, it was one of the only reasons we were invited to the G7 summit that you're attending. What do you say to these reports?

Marise Payne:

Well, I have very constructive engagements in London with my G7 colleagues and the group of outreach partners who were included in those meetings, so South Africa, Australia, Korea, India, and ASEAN, on this occasion. Certainly, round the broad discussions, climate was part of those, and we've been very clear that we will ensure that our long-term emissions strategy is clear before COP26, the key conference at the end of this year in Glasgow. But I must say, our discussions were very much focused on open markets, on political freedoms, on human rights, and very importantly, for so many of our neighbours in the Pacific, global recovery from COVID-19, which we know is very important in the context of those countries being able to move out of what was a very difficult 2020.

Jim Wilson:

I know DFAT, late this afternoon, is providing consular assistance in India to the family of this Australian permanent resident who's passed away. Local authorities have not confirmed the circumstances of the person's death, of this Australian permanent resident in India, and whether it's COVID related. Have you got any updates on this, Minister?

Marise Payne:

Jim, I don't think it's helpful to speculate and particularly out of respect for the family. I will receive further advice from our posts in India in relation to that. But most importantly, let me extend my sympathy, and that of the Government, to the family of this person and to so many families that we know are dealing with what is an extraordinary challenge, with infection rates surging – over 400,000 infections a day at the moment in India. There are very many families dealing with this challenge.

Jim Wilson:

Minister, I know you have a very busy schedule. Thank you for joining us live from Geneva.

Marise Payne:

Thank you very much, Jim.

Jim Wilson:

That's the Foreign Minister, Marise Payne.

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