Interview with Leon Compton, ABC Radio Hobart Statewide Mornings

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Women in public life; US decision to pull out of north-eastern Syria; Australians in Syria, Tasmanian baby formula company Bellamy's.
09 October 2019

LEON COMPTON: Marise Payne, Senator, is the Foreign Minister in the Morrison Government and also is the Minister for Women. Marise Payne, good morning to you. 

MARISE PAYNE: Good morning, Leon. How are you?

LEON COMPTON: I’m well. Thank you for talking with us this morning. Minister, we’ve been talking for a week now about the difficulties of being present in public life, particularly in local government and we’ve heard some harrowing stories from women who have decided to step away or Bridget Archer, your now colleague, who reflected on how difficult things had got because of the targeting of her; in some cases, people being targeted because of their gender. What are you hearing about this? 

MARISE PAYNE: Leon, I think this is increasingly an issue and it has certainly changed enormously in the time that I've been in Parliament. I think people do feel unconstrained about what they want to say and opinions they want to express about other individuals, all of whom, after all, are human beings like the rest of us. I think that the lack of boundaries and the lack of constraints around the use of social media plays into this very significantly and it most certainly concerns me.

LEON COMPTON: How do you encourage women to go into public life if that is the price that they're going to have to pay?

MARISE PAYNE: Well I'd rather make sure that’s not the price they have to pay and to encourage them to come into public life and into the public arena. So that means working with communities and then working with individuals, I suppose to some degree, to say how is it that you think that that is appropriate? How is it that you think that that is a polite and courteous way to treat another human being?

LEON COMPTON: What about the argument that much of this starts from the top that the debate that people see unfolding at a federal level and its tone influences the way people, you know, the disenfranchised or disaffected feel they can behave towards representatives in local government?

MARISE PAYNE: Well it's not just local governments, if I could say, Leon, it occurs across all facets of public life as far as I can tell and I think there's no denying that federal politics, I suspect politics at the state level here in Tasmania and certainly in my own state of New South Wales is absolutely robust and you want it to be. You want there to be a contest of ideas and you want there to be, you know, strong engagement between the varying philosophies that are competing for the support of the Australian people because they believe that their philosophies and their policies are the best. 

What is most different though I think for the sort of abuse that takes place online is that it is so highly personalised; it is vile in many cases; it's vitriolic; it's beyond aggressive and that is very, very, very different from a robust political environment in a House of Parliament.

LEON COMPTON: Senator Marise Payne’s our guest this morning - Foreign Minister and Minister for Women. Minister, it's hard not to look around the world at the moment and think you must have some interesting challenges in front of you. Can we start by asking you this morning about Donald Trump's decision to pull out of north eastern Syria? The criticism, and you will have heard this, is that he's effectively abandoned his allies, the Kurds, who helped defeat Islamic State there. Do you see his decision as an abandonment of his allies to their fate at the hands of the Turks?

MARISE PAYNE: Well I think importantly, the President has been foreshadowing this for some time. He has been making very clear that he believes the United States shoulders a very significant burden in the interests of international security and to be frank, the US presence has been a very stabilising one in Iraq and Syria since the rise of Daesh in 2014; it's been vital to curbing that threat of international terrorism. So our challenge is to keep working with the United States where they are present and with our other international partners and our allies to help to prevent the further spread of Daesh, the resurgence of any pockets of Daesh or any other extremist groups for that matter.

LEON COMPTON: Senator, sorry. I'm listening though for the answer to that question. Do you see his decision as an abandonment of his allies that have fought beside American troops to defeat Islamic State, the Kurds, there?

MARISE PAYNE: Well Leon, countries are able to make decisions in their own national interests, and that is what the President has obviously done in this case, and it’s the premise upon which Australia makes our decisions, of course. But may I say about the Syrian democratic forces, and in that context the Kurds, they have been very steadfast and reliable partners to the international coalition, and we should never forget that they’ve suffered significant casualties during their counter-terrorism operations and I really want to acknowledge that.

LEON COMPTON: And now they are effectively going to be alone.

MARISE PAYNE: Well, they are going to be in a very difficult situation if the Turks do as they are threatening to do, and as reports of actions overnight would indicate. We are very concerned by those reports of the conducting of strikes along the Syria-Iraq border, and even more concerned about suggestions that there may be an operation launched into northern Syria. They would have very, very significant consequences for the region. 

LEON COMPTON: And for the Kurds that chose to fight with the US in defeating Islamic State there. 

MARISE PAYNE: The US and other international partners.

LEON COMPTON: Australians are in camps in that region at the moment, women and children. What will happen to them?

MARISE PAYNE: Well, it's something that we are, of course, talking to international partners about and humanitarian agencies. It's not immediately clear what the status of the camps are, and we have said all along that it is very, very difficult and we are very limited in the consular assistance that we can provide to Australians in Syria and in other conflict zones. And our priority of course – although we are concerned for the welfare of those people – our priority is the protection of Australia and the Australian community here as well. So what we are able to do, we will do, and we do do, but we won't put further Australian officials or forces or the public in danger in doing so.

LEON COMPTON: Minister, is that not another way of saying it's simple but really difficult? I mean, what should happen on many assessments is hard to embrace, which is going, getting those Australian women and children, many of them may have been- or the women may have been radicalised, bringing them back to Australia, and then dealing with the difficulty of processing that, of accepting people back into Australian life and the risks that might come with it.

MARISE PAYNE: So there's one point in your question that I disagree with, it’s actually not simple at all. It is very, very complex. I, of course, have some knowledge of the efforts that went into returning a number of orphaned children to Australia. And it is very, very dangerous. It is very complex. It's very, very, very time-consuming, and we are working with- and we have to work with not just humanitarian agencies but non-state forces and groups in the communities that assist countries who are trying to repatriate their citizens. So it is very, very complex. In fact, Leon, I'd say there's nothing simple about it.

LEON COMPTON: So what do you think will happen to those women and children?

MARISE PAYNE: Well, as I said it is a highly dangerous situation, it's highly unpredictable. So we are talking to our international partners. We are talking to humanitarian agencies about the environment on the ground. And each of those individual families has to be assessed on a case by case basis. They all have different experiences. No one family group is the same as another. And they have all been engaged in different ways in the environment in the Middle East, and so that is a case by case assessment. Because our job is to ensure we're protecting the Australian community as well.

LEON COMPTON: On Mornings around Tasmania, Senator Marise Payne’s our guest this morning, Foreign Minister and Minister for Women in the Morrison Government, and in Tasmania not just for one but for a couple of days, I think. Minister, finally, a do you see any risks if a Chinese-owned company takes over Tasmanian baby formula company Bellamy's?

MARISE PAYNE: I understand that is a matter which is under consideration by the Foreign Investment Review Board, and one of the important things that we are able to do in that process is to review community concerns. And I've seen some of the commentary in recent weeks about that, including the remarks made by the Deputy Prime Minister when he was here some short time ago. So that framework that we have established allows us to consider those concerns, because our job is to assess Australia's national interests. At the same time, we have to ensure Australia is an attractive place to invest. If we didn't have foreign investment, I think the impacts on production, on employment, on income, would be very significant. But it's a case by case basis, and of course, it's not appropriate to go into specific cases, but that is the broad job that we have to do. And I know that we take that very seriously, and the Treasurer certainly takes that seriously.

LEON COMPTON: I appreciate you talking with us this morning. 

MARISE PAYNE: Thanks very much, Leon.

LEON COMPTON: Senator Marise Payne, Foreign Minister, Minister for Women in the Morrison Government.

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