Interview with Karl Stefanovic, Channel 9 Today

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Foreign agreement audit, Kylie Moore-Gilbert.
27 August 2020

Karl Stefanovic: Well Scott Morrison is flexing his constitutional powers this morning. Deals with China and other foreign governments now in the firing line with plans for unprecedented new laws to cancel agreements which don't put Australia first. Foreign Affairs Minister, Marise Payne, joins us now from Canberra. Minister, thank you so much for your time this morning, appreciate it.

Marise Payne: Morning, Karl.

Karl Stefanovic: Well, a bad marriage just got worse?

Marise Payne: Well I wouldn't actually agree with that. I think what Australia is doing is ensuring that arrangements that are entered into by state and territory governments are in Australia's national interests – most importantly that we do our due diligence on those agreements and we ensure that they are consistent with our foreign policy approach. We determined in an open-sourced review that there are over 135 agreements that we could identify, without any asking of the states and territories for the material, from across 30 different countries. So there is a lot of activity out there and I think most Australians would agree that it's important that those engagements are consistent with Australia's national interests and with our foreign policy.

Karl Stefanovic: So will you tear up Victoria's Belt and Road initiative?

Marise Payne: Well all of these things will be part of a stocktake process, Karl, that we'll ask the states and territories to undertake. They will return to the Commonwealth with the material that identifies the agreements they have made – I'm sure that particular agreement will be part of that. But as I said, over 30 countries, over 135 agreements that we know of, so there is a lot of work to do.

Karl Stefanovic: It's got nothing to do with the payback to state leaders over the coronavirus border lockdowns has it?

Marise Payne: Absolutely not. This is part of determining Australia's national interests in relation to foreign policy, and part of the important business of government.

Karl Stefanovic: Are you sure?

Marise Payne: Absolutely.

Karl Stefanovic: Sister city agreements, memorandums of understanding, legally and non-binding agreements, university agreements – they could go all go. Where does it leave students?

Marise Payne: Well I think it won't have an impact on students in that way, but, importantly it will enable us to determine that the agreements are not having an adverse effect on Australia's foreign relations, that they are not likely to harm Australia's foreign interests, and that is, I think, what Australians would expect. Now, we have a very complex strategic environment to navigate globally and making sure that we are engaging with our state and territory governments who have been provided with appropriate security briefings to ensure that they do understand where the priorities are, and what our national interests are in this context is an important part of that.

Karl Stefanovic: Marise, this is incredibly provocative.

Marise Payne: I don't agree, Karl. I think it’s consistent with protecting Australia's national interests and determining what is important for us to pursue. There are a lot of agreements, as we said – as I said – over 135 – that we’ve just identified through an open source examination, across 30 different countries. Many of them will be consistent with Australia's foreign policy and Australia's national interests, some of them may not be. But doing that due diligence, that's what the job of the Commonwealth is in terms of Australia's foreign engagement, and working close closely with the states and territories to determine that is the purpose of this legislation.

Karl Stefanovic: Okay. What about business and trade? I mean, already doing it pretty tough. It's already hard enough for some businesses getting anything out of China right now.

Marise Payne: Well, I know the Trade Minister has been out and about this morning talking about just that as well, and we’re very focused on ensuring that Australian business is able to make its way in the world at very difficult times – that's part of a lot of the work that the Trade Minister has been doing in ensuring open trading routes and supply chains and we’re absolutely committed to continuing to support Australian business in that context.

Karl Stefanovic: This is just a bun fight with China, isn’t it? I mean, just level with us.

Marise Payne: No. Absolutely not, and I think it would be very inappropriate to reduce it to that point – it is about much more than that. As I said, if you're talking about 30 different countries literally from one side of the globe to the other with which states and territories already have agreements, that we know there's a lot of activity. And we think that's important – we want our country to be outward-facing, we want our country to be internationally engaged. But we do think it's important that they are consistent with Australia's foreign policy approach, Australia's foreign relations approach, and in our national interests. And I think doing a stock take, doing that due diligence and then going forward, making sure that future agreements are also in Australia's national interest is something that all Australians would expect us to pursue.

Karl Stefanovic: Foreign Minister, come on. I mean, everyone knows this is about China, everyone.

Marise Payne: Well Karl, I would be very happy to sit down with you and go through some of those 135 plus agreements…

Karl Stefanovic: [Talks over] I can't imagine anything better.

Marise Payne: … across 30 countries. I'm sure you can't. Across 30 countries. And you can have a look, you can try to determine which ones are in Australia's national interests or not – but that's my job.

Karl Stefanovic: Okay. And I'm not going to say anything about that. Let’s finish with this, Kylie Moore-Gilbert – can you give us an update on that? An Aussie scholar has been detained in Iran, jailed in one of the worst prisons. What’s her condition? Is she getting sufficient food and water? Can diplomacy get her home?

Marise Payne: This is a matter of great concern for Australia, and for me personally, Karl. She has had recent contact with her family, our Ambassador is in contact as well assuring us that she does have access to the food and the water, as you have asked, and that conditions in the prison are as good as they can be in these very adverse circumstances. We know that she has been, in our view, imprisoned on charges that we don't accept, and we continue to seek her release from Iranian authorities.

Karl Stefanovic: Foreign Minister, thank you so much for your time. Appreciate it.

Marise Payne: Thanks, Karl.

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