Interview with Luke Grant, 2GB Drive

  • Transcript
Subjects: NATO Foreign Ministers’ Meeting; Ukraine; Russia; Solomon Islands.

Luke Grant: Now, I'm delighted to tell you here on 2GB Drive we've got the Foreign Minister, Minister for Women, Senator Marise Payne, on the line from Brussels in Belgium. Minister, I know it's morning there. Good morning. I hope you're well.

Marise Payne: Good afternoon, Luke, and yes, I think the weather here is reflecting the weather in Sydney. Plenty of rain here as well.

Luke Grant: Uh‑huh. You're about to head into NATO headquarters, as I understand it. I assume very much on the agenda will be Russia and what's been happening, of course, in Ukraine.

Marise Payne: Absolutely, that is the complete focus of the agenda of the NATO Foreign Ministers' meeting, and Australia is very pleased to be able to participate as a close partner of NATO and so many of the countries sitting around the table today.

Luke Grant: You know, most of my listeners who call – we feel so helpless, we see the atrocities and people want to get involved as best they can. We know that sanctions are probably the safest way of dealing with Putin. Do you think they've worked?

Marise Payne: I think the sanctions are having a real effect, and one of the reasons for that, Luke, is the extensive amount of global coordination amongst partners in relation to those sanctions. Through my department and I, myself, we're talking to counterparts every day in terms of the sanctioning processing, whether that's in relation to entities or individuals, the oligarchs, the financial institutions, the members of the leading families across Russia and across Belarus, where - many countries are also applying sanctions to Belarus in terms of their facilitation of Russia's illegal and unlawful invasion of Ukraine.

The horror is, as you say, almost unspeakable, and we see it every day. But I do think Australians can be proud of the effort that our country is making to support Ukraine and to work so closely with our partners, whether that support to Ukraine is the humanitarian support we are delivering, the military support we are delivering or, as you say, those very important strong-as-possible coordinated sanctions.

Luke Grant: It was wonderful to see President Zelenskyy address our Parliament last week. I thought that was such an important moment in history, and I think for many Australians, on that occasion, we realised how important our contribution was in this effort. Lots of people have probably gone off a little early in making a conclusion about what this has done to the world, but it's done two things. It's, I reckon, reinforced the strength, the courage, of the Ukrainian people and their leader and, to a large extent, it has united the Free World, hasn't it?

Marise Payne: Well, over the world there is total overwhelming admiration for the Ukrainian people and for the strength, the courage, the fortitude they're showing in protecting their democratic nation, which is democratic by their choice. I think whether it is in Australia or many other countries in the world where President Zelenskyy has spoken in the Parliaments and the elected halls of the people, it has been immensely powerful. I must say, for someone who's been in the Australian Parliament for a long time, it was one of the most compelling and moving presentations that I have had the honour to witness.

And, of course, there is also an opportunity for Australians to provide support to a number of Australian aid organisations, Luke. There is a portal for that. I'll make sure that my office gives you the details of that number because humanitarian support is extremely important. But your comment in relation to international coordination and bringing the world together is so right. I have met just in the last day with the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, with the Foreign Minister of Finland, the Foreign Minister of Sweden, the Secretary General of NATO, and today I have a raft of other meetings lined up, as well as all the NATO Ministers. That level of coordination is what gives us the strength to push back, to contend against these extraordinary acts of authoritarian states like Russia, and to say that we will not accept this sort of action.

Luke Grant: What about the Russian diplomats here in Australia? Do you communicate those strong words to them? I mean, they wouldn't have to be geniuses to realise our complete and utter displeasure at all this. Do you communicate with them? And supplementary question, if I might, should they even be in the country?

Marise Payne: We absolutely do communicate with them. The Russian Ambassador was démarche again in Canberra last week by the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. She and I have consistently conveyed our views and we will continue to do so. I know this is a point of some interest to your listeners and more broadly, and I think it is important to realise that, for my part, having a diplomatic pass to discuss these issues can be very important. I'm also cautious that there are hundreds and hundreds of Australians in Russia, many of whom will potentially in time reach out to our embassy for consular support. We have given clear travel advice about leaving Russia at this time, but, ultimately, they are Australian citizens and, if they are still there, then they may seek our support. So, I'm conscious of balancing these things.

Countries who have expelled diplomats have overwhelmingly not expelled ambassadors, but many of them have been expelled for behaviour that does not conform with the Vienna Convention, i.e., not the behaviour of diplomats, frankly.

Luke Grant: I don't want to play tricky stuff with the language because, frankly, it's above my pay grade, if I can put it like that, but the idea that Putin is a war criminal or would be tried as a war criminal, is that a live option for the world?

Marise Payne: It certainly is in terms of the reference we have made – Australia and a number of partners made very early in March – to the International Criminal Court. The reason that that reference is so important early in March was to enable the immediate investigation of events as they were occurring. That includes things like the attacks on Mariupol on clearly civilian shelters and on schools and on hospitals, and that horrific list goes on. It includes the discoveries of the most – what would appear to be the most appalling crimes in Bucha this week, including a mass grave, including execution-style murders, including rape as a weapon of war as well. That International Criminal Court reference enables those investigations to be underway. We have offered two specialised Australian personnel to assist the court with those investigations and there will be many who are participating in that process: European partners, Ukrainian authorities themselves and the court.

That is part of holding Russia to account. And under the court's statute, political and military leaders, and that includes, clearly, President Putin, are able to be held responsible for war crimes committed under their authority or their command. It is important that we prosecute this case as strongly as possible. Australia is a very clear and determined supporter of that.

Luke Grant: I couldn't believe what I was seeing and hearing when I saw some Russian foreign officials suggest that the abomination in Bucha was set up by the Ukrainians. I don't know how they do that with even a straight face. I mean, you just can't imagine that they would imagine that someone on planet earth would accept that's indeed what happened.

Marise Payne: But it's not surprising, Luke. That sort of disinformation and denials are part of the playbook. We've seen those happening in the last month. But, frankly, for Australia and the countries who are affected by the downing of MH-17, we've seen those things happen for many years. The important thing is that for countries like Australia we call those out for the fabrications that they are, for the lies that they are, and we will continue to do that wherever we see it occur, and we'll also continue to do it for other countries that perpetuate those falsehoods as well. Because disinformation is beyond dangerous in this circumstance. Disinformation is the sort of thing that, frankly, is as offensive as some of the actions themselves.

Luke Grant: Indeed. Just quickly before I let you go, I was speaking to your Senate colleague yesterday, Senator Canavan, who made, I thought, the astonishing point in relation to the Solomon Islands where we've seen the Opposition Leader suggest that the Solomons have done a deal with China because we're not doing enough about the climate and Matt pointed out to me that because we're not doing enough about the climate, the Solomon Islands have done a deal with the world's largest coal producer. It doesn't quite work like that. How comfortable are you with that Chinese deal and do we still have an avenue to assist the Solomons should they need it or should we simply, you know, help other people now?

Marise Payne: I think, Luke, it's very important that the Pacific family stays together, and Australia is the strongest advocate for that, and that includes a very firm partnership with the Solomon Islands across many areas of engagement. But that does not take away from the fact that we are certainly concerned about the progression of a security agreement of this nature. We have been in close contact with senior levels of the Solomon Islands Government, the head of the Office of the Pacific is there again this week. He has been there in January and February of this year and those conversations are ongoing.

We firmly believe and, in fact, we know that we showed this at the end of last year in response to the unrest in Honiara that the Pacific family – in that case it was Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Papua New Guinea – is absolutely best placed to respond to these sorts of security challenges. But one thing I think is very important to be clear about is that we have been an extremely strong contributor to support in the Solomon Islands. That includes the construction of the Coral Sea Cable, which was completed in 2020, which gave connectivity to Honiara and, at the time, Port Moresby. That was a significant advance for them in their communications. And, of course, our overseas development assistance. We will always keep talking with and engaging with our members of the Pacific family. That's what we have to do. It's what we want to do and it's what we will do. But we also have a position which enables us to make clear Australia's concerns, and we have certainly been doing that I can assure you.

Luke Grant: Terrific. Senator, thanks for what you're doing. Safe travels. Thank you for your time.

Marise Payne: Thank you very much, Luke.

Luke Grant: That's Foreign Minister Senator Marise Payne.

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