Interview with Luke Grant, 2GB Drive

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australia’s relationship with US President-Elect Joe Biden; Australia-China relationship; Paris Agreement; Australian Sports Medal.
18 December 2020

Luke Grant: Now, plenty of news about, no surprises there. China has really dominated though, hasn’t it, our discussion on this show through the week, from blacklisting Australian coal to Australia taking China to the WTO over tariffs placed on our barley. Tensions likely have never been higher. It’s almost diplomacy by the media. China’s not taking the calls from our ministers, we hear, and they don’t wants to be at the negotiating table. It’s a tough time. Frankly, I am of the view, as you know because I’ve said it all week, that China is just a bully and perhaps we should return serve. That’s why I’m not foreign minister, and it probably is why Senator Marise Payne is Foreign Minister, and she’s got a few minutes for us this afternoon. I wanted to talk to the Senator not just about China but about Fiji. Our friends in Fiji have had that horrible cyclone event in the last 24 hours. And maybe some of the other news around, including travel bubbles.

I’m delighted to say that the Foreign Minister is on the line. How are you, Senator?

Marise Payne: Well, thank you, Luke. How are you?

Luke Grant: I’m well, lovely to talk to you again.

Marise Payne: You too.

Luke Grant: This cyclone that’s hit Fiji and all the other news going about, we shouldn’t forget our friends there, should we?

Marise Payne: Absolutely not. And I think that all Australians will be extending our thoughts and wishes to Fiji at this very difficult time. This is a very serious category-five cyclone, Cyclone Yasa, and we know that the Fijian National Disaster Management Office reports that over 23,000 people are sheltering in their more than 450 evacuation centres around Fiji. Sadly, we hear reports of casualties, but they are yet to be confirmed. But as I said, our thoughts are with them, and of course we stand ready to assist in whatever way we can.

Luke Grant: Wonderful. There’s a new President in the US. I think the opposition and others have tried to make the case that we’ve been very close to former President Trump- or, he’s still President Trump. Are we able to get on with Joe Biden the way we got on with Donald Trump, and obviously Obama before that, and others?

Marise Payne: Well, I think you’ve perhaps answered the question Luke. We’ve known President-Elect Biden for a very long time, including as part of the Obama administration. But importantly, the close and strong friendship with the United States endures regardless of who is in office in either country, and we look forward to working with the new administration. I’m familiar with a number of senior officials, as are other members of our government who will be appointed to key roles in the Biden administration. But when your relationship is built on shared values, when we both know how critical the alliance is to the security and the prosperity of our region in the Indo-Pacific, then I think that underpins all the work that we do together, and I will certainly be looking forward to that.

Luke Grant: There’ll be obviously a greater focus on climate change, and the Paris Agreement. And of course, your opponents tried to point out that Australia hasn’t stepped up to the plate. I disagree with that, I’m sure you would too. But that’ll be an area where the international politics of all of this will get greater focus, no doubt.

Marise Payne: Yes, I expect that’s a reasonable prediction because we’ve seen that change in recent months of course. But our strong record and our achievements, including our meeting and beating our international climate emissions reduction targets, are what is important to us. We’ve seen our emissions decline by over 16.5 per cent since 2005. And we are very confident that we’ll achieve that 2030 target from the Paris Agreement without the need to draw on our carryover credits. We’ve stayed in the Paris Agreement, and we are absolutely committed to achieving net zero emissions as soon as possible consistent with that. We’ll launch our long-term emissions reduction strategy ahead of next year’s key meeting in Glasgow, which is known as COP26. And Australians have seen our low emissions technology roadmap which is about investing, and both government investment but also leveraging private sector investment in renewables. Our renewables record – and you just have to look around the cities and towns that we live in – sees us deploying new renewables ten times faster per capita than the global average, four times faster than in Europe, in China, in Japan, or the US.

So, we will be part of that conversation. I look forward to it, as does the Prime Minister and my Cabinet colleagues. We’ll be part of that conversation, but importantly, we’ll work with Australians to explain to Australians how we will continue to lower our emissions, and we’ll do it through technology, not taxes.

Luke Grant: Great stuff. I don’t think many people would realise that we were ten times the speed- renewable implementation in Australia than the average. I think that figure really sits on its backside some of the claims made about the way our government does business.

Marise Payne: That’s a good way to put it, Luke.

Luke Grant: Thank you. Now, China. If they won’t answer the telephone, how do you, Senator, get to a place where we can be happy families again and continue trading with each other?

Marise Payne: Well, we obviously stand absolutely ready for open dialogue at any time. But they’re decisions that are made by senior leadership in China itself. But, whether it is me, or the Prime Minister or the Trade Minister, we have been very clear that that would be welcome. We have been also very clear that we’ve always welcomed and acknowledged China’s economic rise. This is a very important relationship to both of our countries, and I work closely with my senior officials, diplomats in Beijing and in our consulates around China, officials who work closely with the Embassy here in Canberra - the Chinese Embassy in Canberra. Those relationships are very important, and there is a lot of work being done, it’s not necessarily work that comes to the front pages, but it continues. And it is very important, as part of our bilateral relationship underpinned by that comprehensive strategic partnership. But there’s no question, that particularly on trade issues at the moment, there are significant difficulties. We have said, if the reports in relation to coal are correct, then that is very likely to constitute discriminatory practices against Australia. That is not within the spirit of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement. And in fact, it’s not consistent with international trade obligations. That is one of the reasons why, on barely, as the Trade Minister announced this week, we will seek to take that matter to the international arbiter, to the World Trade Organisation, because we do believe that that is not a correct process.

Luke Grant: And we are right, are we not? I mean, it’s our- it’s what we do in a democracy like that. We are right to question to what happens around the world, we’re right to question what happened with the- where the virus began, COVID-19 began. And we are right to, at least, ask the question, why would the International Criminal Court not investigate China’s alleged detention of Uyghurs? These are fair questions; these are fair questions. Surely we can have a relationship and put these fair questions?

Marise Payne: Well, we engage, I think, in respectful debate in appropriate international fora. That includes the United Nations, that includes the Human’s Rights Council, and some of the issues that you have just mentioned there. But importantly, for Australians, I think that they want to know that their government makes decisions in our national interest.

Luke Grant: Yes.

Marise Payne: Decisions that preserve and protect our sovereignty. That includes decisions we've made in recent years. And no country would take a backward step on those decisions. So we'll continue to work constructively within the rules based system, including on trade, to resolve issues that exist between our two countries. And as I said, we stand ready for open dialogue. We would welcome open dialogue at any time.

Luke Grant: I'm speaking with our Foreign Minister, Senator Marise Payne. Look, the feedback I get, Senator, from listeners is that they are just fed up with the bullying. Now it’s easy to say that on an email, I know. But- and there are bigger prices to pay by way of trade. But, you know, the idea that we just bend is just abhorrent for many people that listen to this show. You'd know that, wouldn’t you? That you'd get some great confidence in Australians who want you to stand your dig and say, no, we won’t be pushed around here.

Marise Payne: Australians are very clear to me on these matters. They want us to ensure that we set out our interests clearly, consistently and respectfully on anything that impacts our interests or our sovereignty. And that is what we have consistently done. We also acknowledge that, of course, we're very different countries. We have different systems, different values. We don't agree on everything, but we've got no intention of injuring our relationship. We’ll continue to treat each issue on its merits and prosecute our national interest.

Luke Grant: Now, before I let you go, I know you've had a role to play in this and have been asking, as this programme has been. We had Jim on earlier, and you wouldn’t have heard that. But the Australian Sports Medal in the way it's now been extended to involve the athletes at the Invictus Games. That's a pretty good victory.

Marise Payne: It is a superb Christmas present, if I may say, Luke. It is absolutely an appropriate way to recognise those inspirational men and women who represented us in the 2018 Invictus Games, not just for the Invictus Games, but of course, every single one of them was or is a serving member of the Australian Defence Forces. I could not be more thrilled, I am just over the moon that this has happened and I really want to pay tribute, particularly to one of the co-captains, Pete Rudland, and his co-captain, Emma, who has been campaigning for this since 2018.

Luke Grant: Fantastic. If you don't mind me asking, do you enjoy the role of Foreign Minister? I don't know what you expected it to be when you entered politics, but it's a very senior position. You handle it very well. Is this what you thought you might be doing?

Marise Payne: Thank you Luke. I think it's a very brave person who makes those predictions about what they might be doing when they enter politics. But for me, it is an honour and a privilege. And I am very, very grateful to have the responsibility that I do. And my role serving the Australian people and our country is one which brings me great personal, but most importantly as well, I think professional satisfaction. And I'm pleased to be part of Prime Minister Morrison’s team.

Luke Grant: Well said. Have a Merry Christmas, thank you for your time as always, we’ll talk to you again.

Marise Payne: Thank you Luke, and best wishes and Merry Christmas and to all of your listeners and everybody there at 2GB.

Luke Grant: There you are, Australia’s Foreign Minister, Senator Marise Payne.

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