Interview with Lisa Millar, ABC News Breakfast

  • Transcript E&OE
Subjects: US election, Australia-China trade.

Lisa Millar: At the moment, we have got our Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, standing by and I do want to talk to Ms Payne. Minister, good morning, and welcome to Breakfast. Great to have you on the program on such a significant day for the US and for Australia. What are your thoughts about what you're seeing?

Marise Payne: Good morning. Well, it's a process which is part of the core democratic history of the United States, and we will await a result, as you would expect us to. I'm not going to, in fact, provide a running commentary, of course, but it is gripping our nation, and I'm sure gripping the United States.

Lisa Millar: Yes and your counterpart on the other side of politics has said that the democratic process must be respected. Are you worried that Donald Trump may be undermining the faith in the process with his, sort of, tweeting by the hour suggesting fraud has taken place when there's no signs of it?

Marise Payne: I'm confident that the US systems and processes that have stood the test of time will deliver an outcome, and it is important that we wait for that. It's important that we respect that process, that every vote is counted, and I'm sure that they will be.

Lisa Millar: Is there- Does it come to a point where you may have to speak up? I know Kevin Rudd, the former prime minister, has said that Australia might have to act, that this is a very important moment - not just for the US. Could you envisage that moment coming for you?

Marise Payne: I'm not sure it's a question of the moment coming. We will work with whoever is elected in this process in the US, as you would expect, and indeed as we have always done. There have been contentious elections in the United States in the past, contentious elections here, frankly. And the person who is in the Lodge, the person who is in the White House, is not the be-all and the end-all of this. The strength of the Alliance, the depth of the Alliance, its breadth, its history, is what brings the United States and Australia together – what always has – and I'm sure that that strength will remain.

Lisa Millar: Yes. We might have contentious elections, but I'm not sure we've ever had a prime minister suggesting elections are being stolen?

Marise Payne: Well, that is a matter for the US. There is a lot of claims and counterclaims being made. And one thing that we have been very careful to avoid, as we should, is providing a running commentary on each candidate, no matter who it is. And the process of this election has been a long and testing one for the United States. It's different because of COVID restrictions. We can see that in the process of the vote and, of course, it's not the only place where elections are different. But we'll await the outcome and, of course, we will work, as we always have, with the President that is elected and with the administration that is appointed.

Lisa Millar: Can I also just ask you, because other commentators have suggested that a crisis, as we're seeing in the US at the moment, would only help strategic rivals like China and Russia. Do you hold those similar concerns?

Marise Payne: Well, I would be backing a robust democracy that, from time to time, has to deal with issues like this and crises like every day. And that is what we're seeing. There's no question that it’s a difficult moment, but I would always back a robust democracy in that context. As strategic issues arise, Australia will deal with those on their facts and on the circumstances that pertain at the time. But most importantly, we will continue to work in Australia's national interests – domestically and internationally – and that's what this Government is focused on.

Lisa Millar: But, Minister, if vote-counting is being undermined, and there is a suggestion that that is the intent of some of the comments that are coming out, doesn't that mean democracy is under threat, in the home of democracy?

Marise Payne: Well, as I said, Lisa, I think that the US systems and processes, which have been in place for a very long time now, which underpin that democratic process, they will deliver an outcome. What is important is that every vote is counted, and I'm sure that they will be. I'm absolutely confident that they will be. In terms of the next days, the coming days, that counting process will continue. But those systems and processes that many of the commentators that you've referred to, I'm sure, are talking about, are the foundation of this election, and of this democratic exercise, and they'll deliver an outcome. We should wait for that outcome. And I don't think Australia should be providing a running commentary.

Lisa Millar: Minister, could I turn to the China issue, which seems to have another turn over the last 24 hours? What do we actually know about the latest threats, the possible tariffs, the concerns that are coming from customs officials in China about our exports?

Marise Payne: Well, these are issues of deep concern for Australia. We're working closely with industries that may be impacted, and with Chinese authorities, to determine what those concerns might be. But Chinese authorities have consistently said that they expect that the obligations of the World Trade Organisation, and normal trading relationships, to be observed. We would encourage that and encourage them to work with industry and to enable those goods to enter China in an appropriate way. There's a number of obligations in that context, whether they are WTO obligations, ChAFTA obligations and market principles, and they're certainly the principles to which we would adhere, and we expect our Chinese partners to do the same.

Lisa Millar: When you say you're working with Chinese authorities, that would suggest that there are channels of communication that are open, although the indication is, certainly on the government level, that that has not been the case?

Marise Payne: Well, there are certainly channels of communication, as you put it, open with authorities in China with which the industries deal, with which our embassy and consulates deal right across China. We have said, on many occasions, that we are more than willing to engage with our Chinese counterparts and have made multiple offers in that regard. Those offers stand, and it is a matter for the Chinese Government whether they wish to take those up. But we would hope that they do.

Lisa Millar: Foreign Minister Payne, great to have you on the program on a very busy day. Thank you.

Marise Payne: Thank you very much.

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