Interview with Jim Wilson, 2GB Drive
Jim Wilson: Well today marks the 70th anniversary of signing the ANZUS Treaty, but something tells me this current US administration doesn't view us quite so fondly as perhaps previous ones. Marise Payne is our Foreign Minister, she's a good friend of this program and she's live on the line. Minister, welcome back to Drive.
Marise Payne: Good afternoon, Jim.
Jim Wilson: Look I know you're in a tough position being the Foreign Minister, but were you disappointed that Secretary Blinken didn't publicly thank us yesterday? I mean he mentioned a lot of countries but just not us.
Marise Payne: I didn't see it that way actually, Jim. I thought the Secretary was referring to a telephone call that he had or a teleconference he had that morning with a number of the G7 countries, and particularly, in addition to them, Turkey and Qatar, largely to talk about the security of Hamid Karzai International Airport. And given that as soon as he finished speaking in giving his remarks yesterday, 30 seconds later he picked up the phone and he and I were having another conversation about matters in Afghanistan, that's certainly the description he provided to me. We've been working extremely closely and to be completely frank with you we would not have been able to take one single person out of Afghanistan without the work of the United States in the last two weeks to secure that airport and its perimeter and to enable us to do that safely.
Jim Wilson: Okay, so you're satisfied that there's been an acknowledgement of our contributions over 20 years in Afghanistan from the US?
Marise Payne: I'm satisfied, yes, and I have heard it in multiple incarnations myself, including in my discussion with the Secretary of State at the beginning of this evacuation process in Afghanistan. I spoke to him in the preceding week as well and certainly received that acknowledgement. It's been received frankly by me, as I just said to the Senate chamber this afternoon in discussing the 70th anniversary of the signing of the ANZUS Treaty, it's been reinforced to me now across three US administrations. I've worked with three administrations as Minister for Defence and Minister for Foreign Affairs and I am in absolutely no doubt.
Jim Wilson: You mentioned the 70th anniversary of the ANZUS Treaty, what's the future of the alliance, Minister?
Marise Payne: I think the alliance is in a very strong position. And one of the things that I have talked about this afternoon in the Senate chamber is not just how it has served us over the last seven decades but how it has evolved and the focus it has now for the immediate present and for the future. That includes the challenges that we're experiencing now, whether that is the supply of COVID‑19 vaccines across the region, the challenges of great power and strategic competition, the issues that we are dealing with on a daily basis in terms of what is happening in cyber security, those sorts of things, and then how we look at the next 70 years, if you like. And it's somewhat exciting, although challenging, to be in the position where you can begin to have that discussion about the next 70 years.
Jim Wilson: I'm speaking with the Foreign Minister Marise Payne. Let's turn our attention to Afghanistan. I mean our rescue mission has come to an end. How many Australian citizens, Minister, are still in Afghanistan?
Marise Payne: Jim, it's a job that we are continuing to work on because our registered number of Australians, of people in Afghanistan includes a range of people. It doesn't just include Australian citizens. It includes family members, permanent residents, may include some foreign nationals, and they are fluctuating. They're fluctuating as we identify more family members that [unclear] help to move, about whom they are of course extremely worried and we're working closely through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade process and with Home Affairs, who are of course doing the work with those who have been evacuated in that group of 4,100 people that came out on those ADF flights.
Jim Wilson: It's extremely concerning to see the images coming out of Afghanistan since the US withdrawal. It's only been, what, 24 hours or so. Mock funerals in the streets with coffins draped in the flags of the USA, Britain and more; Taliban soldiers brandishing US military equipment. I mean this is a very, very dangerous situation for those who are still stuck there.
Marise Payne: There's absolutely no doubt about its danger and the challenge that is presented to those who remain. And I do very much feel deeply for the Australians, their family members and those that they would very much like to support who remain in Afghanistan. I know that the next steps are without doubt going to be very difficult. I spoke this morning with the Foreign Minister of Canada as well about the sorts of shared challenges that we are all facing, and the pictures that you've referred to are deeply distressing. They're deeply distressing to us as a country but also, and I know that you're someone who has taken great notice of this over many years, deeply distressing for those men and women who have served in Afghanistan in Australia's name, both as members of the ADF and as civilian officers.
Jim Wilson: We owe them so much. I mean 9News has done this interview with a Taliban spokesman for tonight, Jonathan Kearsley, and he has said, this Taliban spokesman, that our 41 heroes who died in Afghanistan "died in vain". I mean what's your reaction to those comments?
Marise Payne: Well I find that repugnant and I find those sorts of statements which are dismissive of the contribution that Australia in this case and the international community has endeavoured to make in Afghanistan over so many years deeply disappointing. I think the Prime Minister has said that we will ultimately judge the Taliban, the regime it establishes, on their actions, not just their words. There's a requirement for them to deliver in terms of the future of Afghanistan. He has also said he is very familiar with their form and form would tell us that some of our realistic views may in fact be very accurate.
Jim Wilson: Okay. Before I let you go, and we appreciate your time, I'm interested to hear your opinion on this, the New South Wales vaccine roll-out is absolutely powering along. Our Premier Gladys Berejiklian is supporting the idea that we should be able to go it alone and travel overseas once we reach 80 per cent vaccinations rather than being held back by slower states like WA and Queensland. As a New South Wales Senator and as a New South Wales resident do you agree with the Premier?
Marise Payne: Well, I can hear a degree of optimism in your voice there, Jim. And of course, that is why we are very focused on the national plan. It is about transitioning Australia's national COVID‑19 response and the states and the territories have been integral to those discussions through the National Cabinet process. That gives us the framework, the framework for reopening international borders and through [unclear] phase depending on vaccination thresholds. I agree, I look forward very much to those opportunities. But I do think it is a collaborative and a cooperative process. I know that's very much the focus of the Prime Minister. But as Foreign Minister, if I may say, having done the odd spot of quarantine in the last couple of years, in terms of doing my job for Australia in that role, I understand the impetus that may be behind the Premier's words.
Jim Wilson: Especially if WA and Queensland are dragging the chain. Why should those who have been fully vaccinated in this state be held back?
Marise Payne: Well what I would rather say, Jim, is that I would encourage WA and Queensland to increase their vaccination rates and to make sure that they are part of this huge national commitment where we are encouraging and asking all Australians to come forward for the vaccines for which they are eligible, and to come forward as we are rolling out the different stages and make sure that we can implement these phases of the national plan that will see us returning to, as many would say, the sorts of lives that we were used to here in Australia.
Jim Wilson: Do you think they will commit to the plan though? They've certainly agreed to it at National Cabinet but when push comes to shove do you think they will commit, WA and Queensland?
Marise Payne: I think that their focus ultimately as well as being in the state's interests would hopefully be in the national interest as well. That is why we have gone to such great lengths to have the modelling work done by Doherty, which is so rigorous and so comprehensive, that underpins these decisions. It's why we have really carefully set out the four different phases. Phase A, our current phase. Then phase B. Phase C. And ultimately, I think the one we all want to look forward to, phase D, the post‑vaccination phase.
Jim Wilson: Yes, we're certainly looking forward to that. Minister, always good to chat. Thank you for your time.
Marise Payne: Thanks very much Jim.
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