Interview with Jim Wilson, 2GB Drive

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Quarantine for overseas arrivals, French Ambassador’s return to Australia, AUKUS, passing of former US Secretary of State Colin Powell.
19 October 2021

Jim Wilson: Well quarantine free travel in and out of Australia is getting closer and closer. It all got of a bit of a kick along on Friday when new Premier Dominic Perrottet announced the scrapping of quarantine requirements for overseas arrivals from 1 November.

Now whether it's 14- or seven-days quarantine was always going to be the biggest hurdle to getting our international tourism economy, you know, back on its feet.

Now the Prime Minister was quick to welcome the move with the clarification that getting Australians home first is the priority. Now Queensland is following suit but that's not until 90 per cent vaccination. Pretty soon Australia will be open to the world.

I want to bring in a very good friend of this program, Foreign Minister Marise Payne who joins me on the line. Minister, welcome back to Drive.

Marise Payne: Good afternoon, Jim, how are you? 

Jim Wilson: I'm very well, thank you. Thank you for your time as always. Now the pathway for Aussies still stuck overseas to come home is becoming clearer. Commercial flights will ramp up on November 1. How many Australians do you hope to have home by Christmas? 

Marise Payne: I think it's difficult to put a number on it, Jim. We obviously welcome the airlines, including Qantas, readjusting their schedules into Sydney to allow more Australians to return. But that is an important first step. So our fully vaccinated Australian citizens, permanent residents and family members are able to come back.

Jim Wilson: Okay. The Prime Minister's made it very clear that getting Australians home is the priority right now. How long will that be the case before we start to bring in people like tourists and international students? 

Marise Payne: I think we have to make sure that that is a successful process and then we can move to welcome others. I really think it's important not to lose sight of the fact that we have been dealing with a global pandemic that has resulted in so many deaths and so much impact and injury to families right around the world.

Australia has been careful in the approach that we've taken, and we'll continue to do that. When we're confident we have that side of the system working in terms of the reopening to fully vaccinated Australians and permanent residents and their family members, then we can take the next steps.

Jim Wilson: Okay. So when can we expect seasonal workers, for example, to come back here to fill job shortages?  I had the New South Wales Agricultural Minister Adam Marshall on the program earlier saying farmers are crying out for these seasonal workers. Is there a time frame on that? 

Marise Payne: Well, interestingly the head of the Office of the Pacific in my Department briefed Deputy Premier Paul Toole just days after he was sworn in as the new Deputy Premier and leader of the Nationals. We've been working together very closely on this, and 12,000 workers have arrived in Australia since late last year, but of course that has been with the quarantine process in place.

So the change in certain jurisdictions, New South Wales and the ACT for example, is going to enable us to bring Pacific workers from low-risk countries here quarantine free from 1 November.

The Prime Minister has written to the States and Territories proposing a Pacific partnership pathway and we are waiting for confirmation from the States and Territories that they wish to participate in that from 31 October.

But can I just say we've got 55,000 workers in work‑ready pools in places, in countries like Tonga and Samoa and Vanuatu. Over 25,000 of those are double vaccinated with Australian made AstraZeneca and ready to come. So we've been doing a lot of work from my department and my teams, and certainly the labour spending units in those countries are immensely keen to restart this process. I'm really looking forward to it.

There's been some great scenes of Pacific workers leaving quarantine singing their gratitude, workers from Samoa. The Kaiviti Silktails, the rugby league team, amazing singing from them when they left quarantine to come here. We know how much it means to them and to their families and to their countries, so I really look forward to welcoming more.

Jim Wilson: The new Premier in this State Dominic Perrottet made it seem like the decision to do away with quarantine requirements for overseas arrivals would include tourists to Australia. Was the Federal Government surprised by the announcement to scrap quarantine in New South Wales, were you blind sided? 

Marise Payne: Well we're working together on these consistently, as we have been through both the National Cabinet process and between the Commonwealth and each of the States and Territories. We very much welcome the announcement from New South Wales. It's in line with our plan and the phases of the National Plan in terms of when we reach 70 per cent and when we reach 80 per cent.

I'm thrilled to see so many Australians, but particularly so many women and men in New South Wales, taking up the opportunity to ensure that they're part of that opening up process by being vaccinated, and I look forward to working with the New South Wales Government and its ministers on making sure that we make this the most effective opening up we can.

Jim Wilson: Okay. When our borders finally re‑open will your department be basing its travel advice to Australians on the COVID risk of other countries, or will that be irrelevant for fully vaccinated travellers? 

Marise Payne: I don't think these things are ever irrelevant and we certainly would take advice from the health professionals, again, as to how we should calibrate that and the discussion on travel advice is an ongoing one. Of course, it's been an extremely important component of our advice to Australians in the last 18 months or so and we know how important it will be into the future and so country by country, it's a very intensive process, country by country we will start that process again once we are able to travel.

Jim Wilson: Okay. The French Ambassador is now back in the country after he was pulled over the cancelled submarine contract. He's in isolation in Canberra and says he's on a mission to repair the relationship between us and France. Have you had dialogue with him? 

Marise Payne: No, not as yet. He arrived of course on Sunday. He spoke to the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Secretary Kathryn Campbell, this afternoon and that is the first step, as you say, in this process.

I've said, I think on your program before if I recall correctly, that we certainly understand the deep concerns that France have had given the Australian decision not to proceed with the submarine contract. But France is a key partner for Australia, a key partner in an economic sense, in a regional sense. We have a long‑standing commitment to cooperate across a whole range of issues and I look forward to working in partnership with the Ambassador, with my counterparts in France, to make sure that we are able to move ahead.

Jim Wilson: Okay. Has French President Emmanuel Macron spoken to Scott Morrison? 

Marise Payne: Not that I'm aware of and wouldn't necessarily expect that to have happened. There are serious concerns that we are addressing and I'm sure that they will speak in due course.

Jim Wilson: Okay. It's been reported that China has tested a nuclear capable hypersonic missile which circled the globe before speeding towards its target.

Now I remember mouth pieces for the Chinese Government, Minister, calling Australia's involvement in the AUKUS alliance irresponsible. Would you describe China as irresponsible in light of these reports? 

Marise Payne: I've seen those reports and the point that I would make is our commitment is to developing a more capable military force that's going to allow us to help shape the future security of the region, the stability of the region in ways that do support prosperity and security for all of us. But importantly from Australia's perspective we do that in a completely transparent way.

Last year we published our defence strategic update and our force structure plan. We made a very public and clear statement about our intent to acquire nuclear powered submarines. So, we clearly outline our capability plans and our intentions, which frankly are why AUKUS is so critical given the sorts of advanced technologies and challenges that you've referred to and the challenges those technologies pose to Australia.

But I would note that countries like China, like Russia, not only have nuclear submarines, to use this example, but also nuclear weapons. That is not a capability that Australia has any intention of acquiring. We've been absolutely explicit about that. So, it is important I think to be very transparent about these things.

Jim Wilson: Okay, so with that in mind though should we be concerned China is testing technology like this? 

Marise Payne: Well we would always be concerned at any actions that increase tensions and that add to a lack of security in our region or a lack of stability. We are absolutely consistent in our approach on those issues, and we will continue to be so.

Jim Wilson: Before I let you go, I wanted to mention the pass of former US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who sadly passed away at the age of 84 earlier today. He's been remembered for his distinguished military career and an honourable diplomat and I'm sure you'd like to pay tribute to Colin Powell.

Marise Payne: I appreciate you raising that, Jim, because one of the most important things to remember about Secretary Powell is his strong appreciation of the value of alliances, and particularly the US alliance with Australia.

I think we all recall that he came to Australia in 2001, joining then Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and Defence counterparts for AUSMIN, which I've also spoken about on your program. It was in 2001 that we stood so closely together with the United States after the September 11 attacks.

I think at this time our thoughts are with his family and with those who have watched and admired his career over so many years.

Jim Wilson: Yeah, an extraordinary career and an extraordinary life. Thank you for your time this afternoon, Minister.

Marise Payne: Thanks very much, Jim.

Jim Wilson: That's Foreign Minister and Minister for Women Marise Payne.

Media enquiries