Interview with Michael Usher, The Latest, Seven

  • Transcript
Subjects: Disinformation during the pandemic; Australia-China Relationship; Karm Gilespie
16 June 2020

Michael Usher: Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, has tonight taken aim at China. In a major speech outlining a stronger, more assertive Australian foreign policy, the Minister targeted our international relationships during COVID-19 and stressed the dangers of disinformation spread by the People's Republic and other nations during the pandemic.

[Excerpt]

Marise Payne: Let's be clear, disinformation during a pandemic will cost lives. It is troubling that some countries are using the pandemic to undermine liberal democracy, to promote their own more authoritarian models. The disinformation we have seen, contributes to a climate of fear and division, when at a time like this, what we need is cooperation and understanding.

[End of Excerpt]

Michael Usher: Foreign Minister Marise Payne, joins me now. Minister, thank you for joining The Latest this evening.

Marise Payne: Good evening, Michael.

Michael Usher: Strong words for China tonight around disinformation. Minister, just how dangerous is China's behaviour in that regard?

Marise Payne: There are a number of players, if you like, in the disinformation space at the moment and we firmly believe that it's very dangerous. And Twitter last week called out 32,000 accounts, manipulated, if you like, by China, by Russia and by Turkey, in fact, which are dangerous in a pandemic. They create this disinformation, can create fear, it can create nervousness about what is actually going on. And most importantly, we see that it is manipulating populations in a way that is completely inappropriate.

So, for Australia, it's very important to shine sunlight on disinformation. We're very glad that Twitter took the steps it took. We're very glad the European Commission has taken the steps it has taken to call this out. We've also seen 131 countries in the UN, just yesterday, join with Latvia, who led the resolution, to condemn this ‘infodemic', as they've called it.

Michael Usher: In your speech tonight, you strongly assert Australia's right to speak up, particularly right now. Saying, quote: ‘There are times to pursue quiet diplomacy behind the scenes, but there are also times to voice our concerns and persuade others of the need for a course of action.' Adding that it's not a time for small thinking - your words - that we can be confident, believe in Australia's role in the world and prioritise Australia's sovereignty, Australia's long term interests. How should China in particular, [audio skip] a very clear message given that this will inevitably increase tensions, I'd imagine?

Marise Payne: I think this is really actually a message for Australia and for Australians. It's a message about who we are, who we can be and about the role that we have been able to play internationally over many, many years. And the last few months have been just one example of our engagement. Participating in the international environment and multilateral institutions is important for Australia. But one of the things that we do know is that if we don't, others will. Others will seek to influence and to shape. And I think it is important for Australia to have that voice and that's one of the reasons why we sought an independent, impartial comprehensive review into the COVID-19 pandemic. It's one of the reasons why we were so supportive of the World Health Assembly resolution, which of course, was ultimately supported by 145 countries.

Michael Usher: [Audio skip] also tonight, you reject as ‘disinformation', quote, the Chinese government's warnings that tourists and students should reconsider coming here because of the risk of racism. I guess, my question to that is how long will China try and use this disinformation as punishment for Australia wanting that inquiry into COVID-19?

Marise Payne: Well, I think that's a matter for other countries and for commentators. What matters to me is what Australians do and what Australia stands for. And where there have been incidents of concern our leaders, particularly the Prime Minister; our law enforcement agencies have called them out and addressed them immediately, because they are unacceptable in Australia. Overwhelmingly, we know that students and tourists find Australia a very open and welcoming place. Everybody wants that to continue after the extraordinary 2020 we've had - bushfires into COVID-19. It is so important that we continue to be seen as that open and welcoming country that we know that we are and that really, the world knows that we are. So, when disinformation is applied to that, then we'll shine sunlight on it.

Michael Usher: Minister, there's a delicate diplomacy, I think it's fair to say, around the planned execution of Australian, Karm Gilespie, in China. You would have weighed that up, no doubt, the impact of your comments tonight on his plight. Is that likely related to recent tensions or what is the update on Karm Gilespie tonight, can you say?

Marise Payne: Australia rejects the application of the death penalty in all instances, in all countries, in any way. We are very, very clear about that and we are consistent about that. It is not a surprise to anyone to know that Australia would be very concerned about the application of the death penalty. So, we are providing consular assistance to Mr Gilespie. We were able to make a visit to the detention centre today and to engage in a video conference to have that consular visit. That's a very important thing and I'm very pleased that that has been conveyed back to his family. We will continue to seek that consular access and continue to seek to support him.

Michael Usher: Are you more or less optimistic tonight then, about his situation?

Marise Payne: Well I am very careful and very considered about his situation, Michael. It is of the utmost seriousness. Deeply concerning as I said and very sad.

Michael Usher: Alright. Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, good to talk to you again. Thanks for joining us.

Marise Payne: Thank you, Michael. Good night.

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