Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Response to Respect@Work Report; Chinese Embassy press conference; vaccine roll-out; COVID-19 outbreak in PNG.
08 April 2021

Kieran Gilbert:

I was joined a short time ago by the Minister for Women, Marise Payne, and I began by asking her why the delay in responding to the report? And does she accept the criticism from some lobby groups and political opponents that Australia is lagging many other nations when it comes to preventing workplace harassment?

Marise Payne:

Well, first of all, Kieran, let me say that this report, which this Government commissioned through the former Minister for Women, Kelly O'Dwyer, is certainly a landmark report in terms of addressing sexual harassment in the workplace. Its 55 recommendations are comprehensive and go across not just Commonwealth Government, but state and territory governments, business, employer and employee organisations, a range of other areas. So we have produced today, I think, a comprehensive government response. And I think the respect focus that the response brings and that the report also had is very important in this context. I understand that there are those who would wish that these things happened immediately, but they don't actually happen that way. It is a process that it goes through Government, as you would expect, across multiple agencies. The Attorney-General, the Prime Minister, have made very important announcements today, and I'm very proud of the Government response.

Kieran Gilbert:

Given the nature of the problem at the heart of all of this and given the different definitions of harassment, workplace harassment, sexual harassment and so on around the nation, how important is it that we get uniform definitions of what we're all talking about and then improve community and cultural awareness about those?

Marise Payne:

Well, it's vital to improve community and cultural awareness, and both the report and the response, I think, are very important contributions to that. The consistency of definitions, the consistency of approaches is a theme that runs through our response. Our response is focused on prevention, is focused on having a system that is simple to access – simple to access for victims of harassment, simple to access for employers who want to address harassment in their own workplaces – that is evidence-based and also that is in conformity with the legal system, the principles of justice as we know them. So they will be very important conversations to be had between the Commonwealth, states and territories and the relevant agencies. It's why the Respect@Work Council has key organisations like Safe Work Australia, which is essentially a federated organisation, as part of its makeup.

Kieran Gilbert:

This obviously has a human dividend, but there is a massive economic dividend as well to get this right isn't there?

Marise Payne:

Yes. We know that when women and men feel safe in their workplaces, that that adds to productivity, is a very important economic dividend, but it also has, as you say, that human dividend of feeling safer in your workplace. We understand the importance of that and have been very focused on that in the development of the response. I think to have a report of this comprehensive nature in which Government accepts and notes all of the recommendations, is a testament to how seriously this is being taken across the country and how seriously this Government is addressing this report.

Kieran Gilbert:

You held and convened a meeting with various other women's ministers, women's safety ministers earlier in the week and discussing the next national blueprint to reduce violence against women. How important is it, Minister, that we have concrete targets that can be set and met?

Marise Payne:

Well, the work that we have been doing through the women's safety ministers and importantly the meeting that you referred to yesterday, which brings together Minister Anne Ruston, the Minister for Women's Safety, and I, as co-chairs of that, with all of our state and territory colleagues, is about developing the next national plan. At this point in time, the current plan expires in 2022. And the clear message out of our discussions is that we must be working towards zero. There is no acceptance, no tolerance for violence against women and their children, no acceptance for violence at all, and that message is a very clear and a very powerful one that I think we are all articulating right across the states and territories, no matter our political differences. And that should assist us strongly in backing in a very effective next national plan. There will be a national summit held in July of this year. That is something which we agreed to when we formed the Women's Safety Taskforce under the National Federation Reform Council and both Minister Ruston and I look forward to bringing that together with our colleagues.

Kieran Gilbert:

And on that Women's Taskforce that the Prime Minister set up within Cabinet – you said when that was announced, this will help women thrive in the budget process as well, that they will be considered essential in terms of the budget deliberations. In that context, is it fair to assume that the elevated funding for frontline services dealing with domestic violence through COVID will remain at that funding level that they've had over the last 12 months or so? Because those groups have been telling me and others that they need that funding, that their demands upon them, sadly, has never been higher.

Marise Payne:

We recognise that that has been a very significant contribution. It was $150 million in 2020 in response to the challenges that COVID-19 presented across the country - $20 million of that to support Commonwealth Government focus on primary prevention, but $130 million distributed between the states and territories for their purposes. And that response has been, I think, well received. But I'm not going to speculate on the budget process and Kieran, you wouldn't expect me to. But we do recognise the importance that that played in 2020, and I know that Minister Ruston and I are very well informed by our conversation with the women's safety ministers yesterday on all of these matters. They are front of mind for the Government. Women's safety is our absolute priority. And the meeting of the Cabinet Taskforce on Monday, which I co-chair with the Prime Minister, also reinforced that that very matter, the priority of women's safety in the work that we are doing.

[Break]

Kieran Gilbert:

The Foreign Minister Marise Payne has responded to that bizarre press conference at the Chinese Embassy yesterday, where Beijing officials denied abuse of the Uyghurs in the Xinjiang province. Journalists were invited to the Embassy yesterday in an apparent attempt to downplay concerns through a highly staged presentation, traditional propaganda approach really. Here’s my interview earlier in the day with the Foreign Affairs Minister, Marise Payne, where she tells me what she made of yesterday’s event.

Marise Payne:

Well, the first thing that I would reinforce, Kieran, is the value of a free media, a free press, and free speech, which of course is a democratic value that underpins our system here in Australia. So that opportunity is available to diplomats in Canberra and elsewhere in Australia to avail themselves of. I think that speaks volumes about the principles that do underpin our democratic system. But we have been very clear, and as you say, I have mentioned this with you before, we've been very clear about our deeply held concerns about the human rights situation in Xinjiang, particularly as it relates to forced labour, to re-education, to restrictions on freedom of religion, potential restrictions on reproductive rights including forced sterilisations, and also very credible reports of the systematic abuse and torture of women. These are matters which we have raised at the highest levels. I made a statement with my New Zealand counterpart, Nanaia Mahuta, at the end of last month about these issues, and we work closely with our international counterparts who share our concerns.

Kieran Gilbert:

The news conference yesterday sought to discredit a number of those reports of repression that you mentioned there from the, well, internment camps that Chinese call voluntary vocational training centres. They rejected the claims of sterilisation. They rejected the claims and reports of destructions of mosques. On all of those though, you remain, and the intelligence suggests, that we should be looking at this with great concern about that province and the treatment of minority there.

Marise Payne:

We do continue to hold those concerns, and we have also advocated for and would support appropriate opportunities to visit Xinjiang by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, for example, Michelle Bachelet and her UN team, to avail themselves of an opportunity to see these matters themselves. Now, that would mean an opportunity that was open and free for them to do that. And we have pressed before through a Human Rights Council processes and others for that to occur. And I know it is a matter of interest to the commissioner herself. So those matters are – I understand, have been rejected by the authorities in China. If that is the case, then we would encourage the opportunity for such visits.

Kieran Gilbert:

A number of our allies, the United States, EU, and others, have implemented sanctions against individuals in China in relation to these human rights abuses. Will we follow suit?

Marise Payne:

We don't have the same sorts of sanctions regimes as a number of those countries that you have referred to, Kieran, and we don't have an autonomous human rights- autonomous sanctions regime in place in relation to China. But we have been very consistent and very clear in raising our concerns and in using the mechanisms available to us through the United Nations and other bodies to address these matters.

Kieran Gilbert:

The Ambassador said China will not swallow the bitter pill of sanctions. Was that a bit of a warning, a threat, to Australia, don’t follow suit in any way?

Marise Payne:

It may be a statement made by the Ambassador, I didn't have the opportunity to watch the entire press conference yesterday, but I would say that Australia has always been very clear, not just in relation to this matter, but in relation to matters of human rights more broadly, that where they are of concern to us, we'll make clear our views no matter where they occur. We have done that in relation to, for example, arbitrary detention in working with Canada, with Sweden, with other countries to support the declaration on arbitrary detention that was made recently. We have done that through our role in the Human Rights Council over some time. We've done that in relation to the circumstances and the treatment of the Rohingya in Myanmar over a number of years now. These are not issues from which Australia shies away or resiles. We have a strong and proud record of engaging on human rights matters, and whether countries who are concerned about these issues make statements in relation to Australia's behaviour is a matter for them.

Kieran Gilbert:

On the European vaccine debate, will you be making further diplomatic efforts to try and gain the 3 million plus vaccines that have not been provided despite the contracts being signed?

Marise Payne:

We are working very hard with our counterparts in Europe, including writing again to my colleague Josep Borrell in relation to these matters. We're also working very closely in regard to the request we have made for the release of 1 million vaccines for Papua New Guinea. Papua New Guinea is clearly at a point of crisis, and Australia is providing a range of support and has begun significant support in terms of the initial vaccine rollout, particularly for frontline health workers. But we acknowledge and recognise that more is needed. In that context, we have indicated to the European Union that we would be grateful to see a million of those vaccines made available for Papua New Guinea at this crisis time. We're also working through my department and through my office with a number of our NGO colleagues who are very keen to see the vaccines made available as well. They are also lobbying in Europe for the release of those vaccines for that purpose.

It is a very difficult time internationally. There is no question of that. We see peaking infections and transmissions, hundreds and hundreds of thousands of deaths around the world every day. We know how difficult it is in so many countries. But we also know that in our immediate region, Papua New Guinea needs our support, and frankly now needs this international support as well so that we can endeavour to help them in addressing these issues. We've made a strong commitment in our region of over $500 million on these matters, and we encourage the European Union to assist with the release of those vaccines.

Kieran Gilbert:

Almost out of time, but just quickly, should we have done deals with more companies to cover our bases in terms of vaccine supply?

Marise Payne:

Well, I think obviously the Health Minister and the senior health agency officials have been dealing with these matters. We have made a number of agreements across at least three vaccine companies that I'm aware of. We've worked very hard through the COVAX Facility as well to make sure that Australia is a good citizen in this context. And we are – supporting the COVAX Facility, the advance market commitment under the COVAX Facility, and I think the honouring of those contracts and the opportunities that we have for our own production here have been very, very important steps for this country to take. Importantly, though, we are working as hard as we can to deliver the vaccine here too.

Kieran Gilbert:

Foreign Minister and Minister for Women, Marise Payne, I appreciate your time as always. Thanks.

Marise Payne:

Thank you.

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