Interview with Natalie Barr and Michael Usher, Sunrise, Channel 7

  • Transcript E&OE
Subjects: AUKUS alliance; relationship with China.
17 September 2021

Natalie Barr: Now more on our top story, Australia and the US have hit back at China after it blasted our historic new security alliance overnight.

Michael Usher: The Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, is in Washington, DC, with us now. Minister, good morning to you. Incredibly busy couple of days. China, as you know, has labelled the new AUKUS Alliance as quote "extremely irresponsible". I guess when you make these decisions, you're aware of the repercussions, but are you worried about them?

Marise Payne: Good morning, Michael and thank you very much for the opportunity to join you from Washington. I think the important thing to remember about this decision is it is a decision that Australia makes in our national interests. It's based on protecting our security and our prosperity, and frankly, is in no way aimed at any one other country. It is about the focus that we have on advancing Australia's interests.

Natalie Barr: Have you spoken to your Chinese counterpart either in the lead up to this or since yesterday?

Marise Payne: We've engaged with Chinese representatives both in Canberra and in Beijing, as we have in multiple other posts around the world to inform them of the details of the decision. So no, I have not engaged directly with my counterpart, but certainly endeavoured to reach out through those processes, as we would normally do in a situation such as this.

Michael Usher: Minister, I imagine, in any deal like this, it's a two-way street. We get something from America here significantly in the nuclear contract. But what does America receive as well? Is there a return agreement here for the submarine technology?

Marise Payne: Not in the way you describe it, no, Michael. And in fact, that question was asked of Secretary of State Antony Blinken today in Washington at the conclusion of our 2 + 2 or AUSMIN meeting. It's not about return obligations from the perspective of the United States, and he made that very clear. This is about allies and partners working together on shared interests and shared priorities, and certainly the regional security and stability of the Indo Pacific is a deeply held shared priority between our two nations, and very pleased that the United Kingdom, of course, is part of the AUKUS arrangement as well.

Natalie Barr: The Greens say we will have floating Chernobyl's in Australian citizens, obviously inflammatory language. But do you, are you worried this will make us more of a target?

Marise Payne: No, I don't think of it in those terms. And I think that Mr Bandt is seeking a headline. I presume he got one, at least on social media. But the reality is that this is a very carefully considered decision about technology with which the United States and the United Kingdom are very familiar. And it's not a decision Australia would have taken if that was a prospective outcome. It's about making sure that we have the most up to date, the most contemporary technology available to us to, as I said in response to an earlier question, to be protecting Australia's national interests and to be advancing both stability and security in the Indo Pacific. And doing that in a tripartite partnership with the United States and the United Kingdom, I think speaks volumes about the importance that they as leading nations on these issues, also place on those priorities.

Michael Usher: Foreign Minister, when you're on the world stage as you are right now, it's always important to get the protocol right. Do you settle for the elbow bump or the fist bump? At the end of these meetings, we saw the Defence Minister struggle a little with his with his greetings.

Marise Payne: Well, in the defence of the Defence Minister, we have been in meetings in Indonesia, in India, in Korea, and now in the United States. It's fair to say that there's a nuance in every country. So I'll ask some DFAT officials to provide the Defence Minister with some diplomatic guidance on those approaches.

Michael Usher: You don't want to create an international incident, so we need to get the protocol right about the fist bump or the elbow bump.

Natalie Barr: Exactly, Minister I think the easy thing is to just call everyone pal like someone did yesterday.

Michael Usher: Exactly. Thank you.

Natalie Barr: Thank you so much.

Marise Payne: Well, well, I find that mate is obviously the most popular on the Australian side, but I think the terms of friendship are very positive ones.

Natalie Barr: Yeah, exactly. Thank you very much for taking time out of your day and joining us.

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