Interview with Laura Jayes, Sky News
Laura Jayes: Joining me live now is the Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne. Thank you for your time. First of all, that was Petro Poroshenko asking that question to the West, which I'll ask to you: are you ready to supply weapons, more weapons, to Ukraine. Are you ready to step up sanctions?
Marise Payne: Certainly, Laura, that has been Australia's response to date, and the response of so many of our international partners led through the United States, the European Union the United Kingdom. And we are participating strongly in those actions. We have announced further sanctions in the last day, including in relation to the Russian armed forces, previous to that the central bank, and also in relation to individuals, in particular, and organisations who are perpetrating disinformation and propaganda about Russian actions in Ukraine.
But there's no question, Laura that the report that we have just heard and the reports that we hear out of Ukraine are devastatingly sad, deeply concerning, and I would note given we are here, you and I, speaking on International Women's Day that the overwhelming burden particularly for people trying to leave Ukraine is falling on women and their children. The circumstances are dire. And so we have also, as you know, made an initial contribution in relation to humanitarian support for trusted UN partners who are able to deliver that on the ground in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries.
Laura Jayes: And women and children that are not only being caught up as collateral damage, but they seem to be targeted by Putin's regime. From what you can see, are we seeing war crimes?
Marise Payne: There's no question that there is targeting occurring. We've seen reports of the targeting of the civilian populations. And that's why Australia strongly supported the reference to the International Criminal Court with many other countries. We're very pleased to see that reference progress, and I hope that it does act very quickly to make those assessments. And I'm confident that it will.
Laura Jayes: Returning to what you said at the beginning of this interview – that Australia is stepping up sanctions today – as I understand it, it is targeting disinformation propagandists. What exactly are these sanctions?
Marise Payne: These are sanctions on individuals particularly who have engaged in the dissemination of disinformation and propaganda. The assertion that there is genocidal action happening in Ukraine against Russians; that there is de-Nazification required in Ukraine, which is an obscene suggestion; that there is – that Donetsk and Luhansk are independent states. Unfortunately, in Russia we know that communications have been locked down to such an extent that Russians will no longer be receiving to the extent that they were any free and open commentary on these matters. But putting a stop with partners to those who are perpetrating this disinformation, this propaganda, is something Australia can do and a step that we have taken.
Laura Jayes: And does that mean you're working with the major social media companies here in Australia as well?
Marise Payne: Certainly we are. And we have seen them, the major social media companies, and also media outlets remove Russian propaganda and Russian disinformation from their platforms and from their broadcasts. We welcome that and we thank those platforms and media out let's who have done that, because it is essential to stop the dissemination of that disinformation and propaganda. I've said before in relation to disinformation that it is deadly and it is dangerous, and this is another very good example of that.
Laura Jayes: We are now on Moscow's list of unfriendly countries. What does that mean?
Marise Payne: Well, ultimately that will be determined by Russian responses. But, importantly for Australia, we have determined that we will take the strongest possible steps within our remit to respond to Russian actions in Ukraine. We are very clear that this is a totally unlawful, egregious breach of international law, a wholesale breach of the UN Charter. And we will take and continue to take every step that we can. These sanctions today in relation to the armed forces, in relation to disinformation, our previous sanctions in relation to Russian banks, including the Russian central bank, are part of working with international partners. And I think that unity of partners around the world is very important to remark on, to observe. Because that coming together of so many countries and so many leaders in opposition and strong opposition to the actions of Russia is integral to these responses.
Laura Jayes: On that unity, is part of that joining the boycott on Russian oil?
Marise Payne: Well, in terms of Russian oil, Australia does not have a great deal of reliance on Russian oil. But we certainly support the efforts of the International Energy Agency in terms of their work in attempting to calm the markets and stabilise prices. To the extent that we can contribute, we will do that through our US-held strategic petroleum reserves, and that is something which I understand Minister Taylor has referred to today as well. But ultimately these steps are essential – essential – for ensuring that Russia pays the strongest cost for their actions in Ukraine.
Laura Jayes: Indeed. And it also really highlights the fuel security issues not just facing Russia but right here in Australia. You mentioned our fuel reserves. They are in the United States, though. And there's only one and a half days' worth. That seems like a problem. Is it?
Marise Payne: Well, we are confident that we have appropriate plans and mechanisms in place to deal with these issues. And certainly, this is something that the Prime Minister and senior ministers have been focused on in recent weeks as we've seen the unfolding of events in Ukraine. I've been part of those discussions, as you would expect. And we are working closely with partners around the world on these matters.
But, importantly – and to go back to that question of unity and partnerships – keeping the leadership of the world together that is focused on opposing the actions of Russia in Ukraine has been so important in these last weeks. I had a meeting last night with 18 other female foreign ministers. And, of course, we touched on the question of Ukraine. And the overwhelming unity from, frankly, Andorra to Tonga in terms of the geographic spread was very compelling, including, of course, in relation to the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding.
Laura Jayes: But what's next? Because I can see in the United States there is a few things being discussed, including a no-fly zone and the US supplying aircraft to Poland so Poland can then supply Ukraine. What is Australia's position on both of those things?
Marise Payne: Well, we have made a contribution of both non-lethal and lethal military support. Those deliveries have been made in this – in the last few days. And we will continue to look at what we can contribute further and, again, working partners. We are trying to ensure, as I think are all participants in this challenging time, that our contributions are complementary, that they are useful. That is important and something that the Defence Minister, the Prime Minister and I are very focused on.
Laura Jayes: A no-fly zone is a serious contemplation. Where do you sit at the moment? Would it be a provocation that the world couldn't walk back from?
Marise Payne: Well, ultimately, Laura, these are matters for discussion amongst the leading partners, and Australia will take part in those discussions as appropriate. But for the European Union, for the United States, for the United Kingdom, they are obviously working very closely together. There are very vulnerable countries on the border of Russia as well, particularly our friends in Estonia and Lithuania and Latvia. All of their interests have to be taken into account. We are working closely with Poland. Both the Prime Minister and I have been in contact with our Polish counterparts in the last days. And we know that countries like Poland and those other countries that I've mentioned are taking a huge load at the moment, and willingly so, in terms of supporting those who are endeavouring to go to safety from Ukraine, particularly women and children. But we'll continue those discussions and work on those decisions as they come forward.
Laura Jayes: For all that's going on in the world, this is International Women's Day. You are the longest serving female senator. What is your assessment from where you sit on where women are at?
Marise Payne: I think International Women's Day gives us an opportunity to celebrate what we have achieved, both women in Australia and globally. And there are many achievements to celebrate and to mark. But it also is a reminder of what more there is to do, whether that is in gender equality itself but also the various facets of that that we as governments have an opportunity to impact and to influence. The work that we are doing on women's safety, and I would note the announcement that was made on Sunday by Minister Ruston and Minister Robert and me in relation to consent, in particular consent education, a national survey on those issues, which campaigners and advocates like Chanel Contos have worked on so hard.
So women's safety, women's economic security. Today I've announced an extension of our Women's Leadership and Development Program, further grant funding open under that. And, in fact, I'm here in Bankstown in Western Sydney right now launching a program run by Flightdeck, which is about encouraging women into aviation with an eye to the new Western Sydney Airport, of course, opening in 2026. Women into non-traditional occupations, particularly with a STEM component also assists in driving down the gender pay gap. We know that that continues to be a challenge, although we've made significant progress since we were elected in 2013 and the gap has reduced by four points. But more work to do, Laura, and I think every member of government across Australia, whatever their political colour, would acknowledge that.
Laura Jayes: Yes, always more work to do. Marise Payne, thanks so much for your time.
Marise Payne: Thank you, Laura.