Interview with Jim Wilson, 2GB Drive

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Tamil family; G7 Summit; COVID-19 origin; vaccination rollout; Tokyo Olympics; Operation Ironside.

Jim Wilson: Joining us on the line now is the Foreign Minister, Marise Payne. Minister, welcome back to Drive.

Marise Payne: Good afternoon, Jim.

Jim Wilson: Thank you for your time, as always. I have to start by asking about this Biloela family and the news that three-year-old Tharnicaa has been medically evacuated from Christmas Island to Perth for suspected sepsis. There are reports mum Priya’s request for antibiotics and hospital treatment were initially denied. What’s your response to that?

Marise Payne: Jim, I’m not aware of those reports, but importantly, the health care services on Christmas Island are broadly comparable with those that are available within the Australian community, as you'd expect under the Australian public health system, and what the Australian Border Force does is to facilitate access to nurses, to doctors and specialists for all detainees. So I think, in terms of those details, I would have to seek further advice, but our first priority in terms of her health care and her health support has been in transporting her to Perth to that higher level of support now, and certainly our thoughts and best wishes are with her and with her family.

Jim Wilson: I know it's not your department, but you're a very senior member of Cabinet. You have a lot of political influence. The Home Affairs Minister, Karen Andrews, has indicated that she's looking at resettlement options for this family. Do you know how that's progressing?

Marise Payne: I understand that there are two options that are being looked at. I understand the United States is the first of those and that New Zealand is also an option. And as you say, Minister Andrews and her department are working through the details of those. There is also a court process underway which has been initiated. And, of course, we absolutely respect that court process.

Jim Wilson: So, right at this point of time though, the family, it's unlikely they'll be resettled in Australia. Is New Zealand looking like a possible option?

Marise Payne: I wouldn't like to speculate, Jim. I don't think that's appropriate in another minister's portfolio. But I do know that the Minister for Home Affairs, Ms Andrews, has indicated that there are two options there and the United States and New Zealand are both in the frame.

Jim Wilson: Let's talk about some other matters. The Prime Minister is about to head overseas for the G7 Summit in the UK. Just how vital are these meetings for Australia to attend?

Marise Payne: Well, I know from personal experience last month, having been to the G7+ Foreign Ministers meetings myself, how important they are. We certainly are living in a time of unprecedented global challenges and obviously geostrategic uncertainty as well, and COVID-19 adds to all of those challenges. So participating is vital for us. I think we can make a strong contribution to the United Kingdom's very ambitious G7 agenda, and we can contribute on our response to COVID and strengthening pandemic preparedness on how we see the importance of promoting our future prosperity, and, of course, the championing of free trade – and I know there'll be a few conversations about the Australia-UK FTA – how we are tackling emissions and protecting our planet from climate change, and of course, leading global action to support our democratic values, which we share with the members of the G7. So, it is a very important opportunity as well also to visit with other leaders in Europe and of course, to meet with Prime Minister Lee in Singapore.

Jim Wilson: No doubt the origins of COVID will be discussed. I mean, there’s widespread and bipartisan support in the US for pushing ahead with the next phase of the investigation into the origins of and response to COVID-19? Do you feel vindicated in your call more than a year ago for an independent enquiry?

Marise Payne: Jim, I'm not sure it's about feeling vindicated. I do think that Australia has been very consistent in seeking a transparent and scientific review into the origin of COVID-19. And more than a year after we began to deal with these very significant challenges, we have seen the damage that it has wrought, the lives lost, the economies shattered, and the difficulties that the recovery presents for so many countries and particularly in our region. So, having seen the WHO-convened global study into the origins, which took place earlier in the year in China, being delayed, we were concerned about some of the access issues. That does reinforce the importance of our suggestion in April last year that there should be an independent, international and objective review into COVID-19. What we need to be doing now is maintaining that momentum and prioritising further comprehensive studies. So I welcome the interest of the United States, and I particularly welcome the Independent Panel on Pandemic Preparedness and Response report, which of course, former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and her colleague, former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, led.

Jim Wilson: Do you think the Prime Minister will be asking the UK and the US counterparts about the vaccine rollout? I mean, we've been first class when it came to handling the pandemic, and its full credit to the Federal and State Governments, in particular in New South Wales, but our vaccine rollout is falling way behind other countries. That is- it remains a bit concern.

Marise Payne: Well, Jim, we hit a particular milestone today, which is that more than 40 per cent of over 50s in Australia are now protected. And as of midnight last night, we have some strong figures – total vaccines distributed over 5,200,000 - a daily increase in the vaccines of over 125,000. And importantly, in aged care, we have 99.8 per cent of residential aged care facilities having received that first dose and 85.5 per cent having received a second dose. So these are important steps, and we will continue with our rollout, working closely with our partners on that.

Jim Wilson: Do you concede though that the rollout has been slow? States have been frustrated about supplies. You can understand their frustrations.

Marise Payne: Well, I've heard frustrations expressed, Jim, but at the same time, this is a job that we are all facing together. And I do think it is very important that where we can see an opportunity to promote people seeking the vaccine, that we make the most of that. And so, for all of our friends who are over 50, and I've got one or two, making sure that they are seeking the opportunity to be vaccinated. So we're increasing that level of protection in Australia. I think that's vital.

Jim Wilson: Talking about vaccinations and the rollout, we're getting closer to Tokyo Olympics. Our athletes have been getting the Pfizer vaccine. Now, I know the Government, along with the AOC, the Australian Olympic Committee, has partnered to support over 170 Olympic and Paralympic athletes from 11 Pacific nations to attend the games in Tokyo. Can you tell us more about that?

Marise Payne: This is an absolutely fabulous opportunity, Jim, to support our partners in the Pacific. So, where there are Olympic and Paralympic athletes across the Pacific who are really finding it much harder than even the enormous challenges associated with being an Olympic athlete at the best of times, particularly through the challenges that COVID-19 has delivered. We are using our PacificAus Sports program, which has as one of its aims, building the profile of high performance sports engagement between Australia and the Pacific. We’re using that to support, as you say, 170 athletes across the board - subject to their qualifications, obviously – in pre-games training, in qualifying events, particularly a number of female athletes. 45 per cent of our participants in this 170 are women, and that also reflects a core principle of PacificAus Sports.

But today I met Inosi from Fiji, who is an amputee athlete, a Paralympian, who taught himself to throw the javelin from YouTube, and he’s aiming to throw over 50 metres. I met Rellie from Papua New Guinea, who is a long jumper and holds multiple other outcomes in Papua New Guinea in terms of her jumping expertise. And Peter from Tonga, who's well known to many as the flag bearer for the Tongan Olympics in Rio and again in the Winter Olympics. He is participating in taekwondo on this occasion. So they are amazing Pacific athletes. And I'm so proud to be able to work with them and to partner with their many countries. And the AOC is doing a great job on delivering this.

Jim Wilson: Yeah. Some great stories and some great back stories to them as well. I want to ask about this major meeting tomorrow between yourself and Defence Minister Peter Dutton and your respective Japanese counterparts. How important is this meeting, especially ahead of the Olympics? And how concerned are you about the safety and well-being of our athletes and support staff who'll be going to Tokyo?

Marise Payne: Well, a couple of things. This is a really important meeting tomorrow. A virtual Two-Plus-Two is not our normal approach. We would usually visit with each other in our own countries and hold those meetings in person. But in the context of travel restrictions and COVID, we're not doing that. There's a number of priority areas that we'll be focussing on: our support for South East Asia and the Pacific, and in particular in response to COVID-19, the work that we're doing with the United States and other partners in the Quad would be a very good example of that. The work that we are doing both bilaterally and regionally in defence capacity building and, of course, economic security. I think this is my fourth or fifth Japan Two-Plus-Two as both Defence and Foreign Minister, and with one of our closest partners. It is a very, very important engagement.

And of course, it does, as you say, immediately proceed the Tokyo Olympics. I know that from speaking to the AOC today and CEO Matt Carroll, from speaking to our ambassador, Jan Adams, in Tokyo also today, that a great deal of work has been put into the approaches being taken to protect athletes. Of course, we all have to operate under COVID protocols and respect those requirements. And I know that the Australian athletes will be very, very careful. It’s in their interest, it’s in the Olympics interests that they do that. I understand that our women's softball team has been very, very warmly welcomed as one of the first, if not the first international team to arrive in Tokyo. They have thanked Tokyo and Japan for the effort that they've gone to. And I would certainly reiterate those thanks.

Jim Wilson: Now, before I let you go, it's been described as a watershed moment with the AFP striking a heavy blow against organised crime today after smashing Australia's underworld by a genius police sting, Operation Ironside. 224 people charged, 21 murder plots foiled, more than 3000 kilos of drugs seized. And this is just a small part of a massive global operation, but well done to our local authorities, the AFP, New South Wales police and law enforcement authorities around the country- around the world.

Marise Payne: This is an extraordinary outcome, Jim. This is a great effort on behalf of our law enforcement agencies, and particularly in this case, the AFP, and the work they've done with the FBI. If you think about the numbers of arrests we've seen here in Australia, 224 offenders on over 500 charges in every Australian state - mainland state - and more expected domestically under this coordinated global response. What it says is that cooperation is absolutely the key to stopping transnational crime, and the cooperation between our agencies and the US agencies has really struck a major blow here.

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

Marise Payne: Thanks so much, Jim.

Jim Wilson: Good on you. That’s Foreign Minister and Minister for Women, Marise Payne.

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