Interview with Kim Landers, ABC AM

  • Transcript E&OE
Subjects: Review of the coronavirus pandemic, Australia’s relationship with China.

Kim Landers: The Foreign Minister is Marise Payne and she joined me earlier.


Kim Landers: Minister, good morning.

Marise Payne: Good morning, Kim.

Kim Landers: Does Australia agree with the conclusion from US intelligence agencies that coronavirus was not man-made or genetically modified?

Marise Payne: I've seen the reports of that overnight, Kim, and we'll have a close look at those in the coming days. Obviously, we want to work very closely with the whole international community and that's why we have initiated calls for an independent and transparent review of the coronavirus and of responses to it.

Kim Landers: The US has backed Australia's push for an inquiry into the origins of this pandemic. How many other countries though are on board?

Marise Payne: I think there is a very broad range of understanding that there is definitely a need for an independent and transparent review. And we have been very gratified by the engagement we've had in recent days and in the last week with the Prime Minister's calls and my own.

What is important though — and I mentioned this when I first talked about the review — is the timing. Many countries in the world are literally going into the challenges of the first wave for them of dealing with coronavirus. So we absolutely understand, and have said from the beginning, that the timing of this is important, but what we do need to do is to put that stake in the ground to say we need to have an independent, transparent review and that's the process that we’re in at the moment.

Kim Landers: When you talk about timing, Andrew Forrest told AM earlier this week that maybe it's going to be put off until after the US election, given the state of relations between the US and China. Is that a good idea?

Marise Payne: I don't think that the timing of elections around the world is particularly relevant, to be frank. The World Health Organisation, the World Health Assembly, for example, is meeting on 18 May. That assembly will have before it a resolution from the European Union which, in part, refers to the need for an appropriate review. And those things will be considered during the course of the coming months and that is as I would expect it to be.

Kim Landers: The relationship between Australia and China has been pretty dicey over the last couple of weeks — the Chinese Ambassador's suggestion that Australia might face a consumer boycott for pushing this inquiry idea. A former Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, says the diplomat’s gone rogue. Your fellow Liberal MP, Trent Zimmerman, says that that boycott threat is downright despicable and menacing. Do you agree with those characterisations?

Marise Payne: I think I said earlier this week that we reject any suggestion that economic coercion would be an appropriate response to calls for an independent and transparent review, when what we actually need right now is global cooperation and that is endorsed by many around the world. I even saw the UN's Secretary-General for example committing to looking back fully to understand how such a disease emerged …

Kim Landers: [Interrupts] But my question was the characterisations by some people here in Australia — gone rogue, despicable, menacing. Do you agree with those characterisations by Australian politicians?

Marise Payne: Well they are characterisations for them, Kim, they’re not my characterisations. I've said that we work closely with the diplomatic community in Australia, but we do reject the approach that the Ambassador took which may be construed as economic coercion. That's not appropriate and I've been very clear about that.

Kim Landers: You're getting plenty of free advice. The media mogul, Kerry Stokes, reckons that if Beijing's anger isn't quelled it could have catastrophic consequences for the economy. Are you risking Australia's biggest export market?

Marise Payne: What we're actually guaranteeing is working in Australia's national interests and I think Australians expect that of their government and that's what this government is absolutely focused on. I don't think the business community in this country has a single, monolithic view about these issues. Most people appreciate the need for a reasonable balance. And in protecting our national interests we protect both our national security and our economy — that's the focus for the Government.

We will work with business, of course we will, and we will need to be pulling together internationally to ensure that we can come out of the other side of this with the economy going in the right direction and in the long-term interests of our nation.

Kim Landers: Well talking about working with business, do you regard the Chinese Consul-General's appearance with Andrew Forrest at that event with the Health Minister, Greg Hunt, this week as a bit of an ambush?

Marise Payne: Well, I understand that Mr Forrest invited the Consul-General to attend the media conference.

Kim Landers: [Interrupts] The government didn’t know anything about it?

Marise Payne: Well, Mr Hunt has made his own comments about that and of course I was not there —

Kim Landers: [Interrupts] Did you know about it?

Marise Payne: No, I was not aware and I would not expect to be aware of every colleague's media conference arrangements [indistinct]…

Kim Landers: [Interrupts] But does the Government feel a bit blindsided by it?

Marise Payne: No, I don't think so. The proper and courteous thing to do was to accept the gentlemen's presence as a representative of the Government, invited by Mr Forrest. But most importantly though, I think the achievements that the Government has been making in relation to ensuring we have the equipment and the supplies that we need. And I have to say that Mr Hunt has been doing an exceptional job in ensuring that the PPE and the medical equipment that we need is here in Australia for Australians.

Kim Landers: The US President Donald Trump says he is considering several mechanisms to hold China accountable. Has the US shared with Australia what they might be?

Marise Payne: Well, we speak regularly with our counterparts in the United States. As you know, the Prime Minister has spoken with the President recently. And this is the beginning of the conversation, Kim, I would say, not the end. There are a lot of discussions around …

Kim Landers: [Interrupts] But specifically, do you know what he’s talking about?

Marise Payne: Not in specifics. I understand the President and his administration will be examining the steps they think that they should take and that is a matter for them. For Australia's part I think the focus that we have on the need for an independent and transparent view at the international level, with members of the WHO pulling together and the international community working together is very, very important to us.

Kim Landers: Finally, this this pandemic is a pretty extraordinary situation. How are you personally coping with it all?

Marise Payne: A lot of video conferencing would be the mechanism that is primarily assisting us to do our jobs. We're also taking our own advice, adhering to the to the health advice led by the CMO, Dr Brendan Murphy, in his team of chief medical officers around the country. But it is a very different way of working and of living and I'm very conscious of that for all Australians. I'm also very conscious for Australians who are a big travelling community that will be constrained going forward as to what that looks like and that's going to be our new normal.

Kim Landers: Alright. Marise Payne, thank you very much for joining me here this morning.

Marise Payne: Thanks very much, Kim.

Kim Landers: And that is the Foreign Minister, Marise Payne.

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