Interview with Neil Breen, 4BC

  • Transcript
Subjects: Queensland and New South Wales floods; Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Neil Breen: While we've been knee deep in mud and water, or head deep in water in some cases over the last seven days or so the world has continued to turn. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has gotten worse and worse. There's been peace talks here and there, there's been damage done left, right and centre to main cities and main towns and the Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne has been dealing with a lot of it and Australia's response to it. She's on the line.

Thanks very much for your time this morning, Minister.

Marise Payne: Good morning, Neil. My thoughts are certainly with the people of Queensland. I live and work in Western Sydney, so we are feeling the same challenges in many ways. I am very much cognisant of the challenges you've been dealing with.

Neil Breen: Yeah, well we are neighbours. We are neighbours, Marise Payne, and we sent the weather your way, and Western Sydney, you know what I mean, Western Sydney copped it yesterday. But we wish you all the best as well.

Minister, look, Ukraine, the situation this week. I've been reading reports from around the world that the economic sanctions are working, it's put a real squeeze on Russia, and it's really hurt them. It looks to us like the Russian invasion isn't going well for Russia. We thought they would storm straight through the joint. They haven't done that and the pressure on the oligarchs is continuing. So take us through and set the scene for us where we're at.

Marise Payne: Neil, I think we have to acknowledge the extraordinary effort that Ukraine, its government and its people are making right now assert their own sovereignty, their territorial integrity and to protect their freedom and their democracy.

In some ways I think you're right. I think there was an expectation that this would play out quite differently for President Putin and his system. But indeed it has not. The coming together of the international community, the unity that has been shown in the sanctions process, in humanitarian support and in military support has been extremely important to that.

I'll just let you know in terms of Australia's engagement. We have committed lethal and nonlethal defensive support to Ukraine, military support. We've coordinated that with partners, including through NATO, and indeed a C17 Royal Australian Air Force aircraft left Australia for Eastern Europe on Wednesday carrying a load of defensive military assistance.

We have also made a strong commitment, an initial package of humanitarian funding. We think that there are, based on the UN's assessment, probably right now a million Ukrainians who are displaced. Their needs are very urgent for shelter, for food, for medical care and water.

That immediate package of $35 million will be distributed through reliable partners on the ground in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries like Poland. So through the UN High Commission for refugees, through the UN Office of Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs where that emergency response is very focused.

But there is no question this is devastating for the people of Ukraine and for the country and we must continue to apply that pressure that you spoke about. The UN vote in the General Assembly where 141 countries voted in support of Ukraine, the referral to the International Criminal Court and all of the sanctions in position from around the world are essential to continue applying that pressure.

Neil Breen: Yeah, and it does appear as though they are having an effect. I have to ask this question though: so will the Western world just allow Russia to take Ukraine if this is all not enough, would we send troops in if that looks likely? Or are we going to sit back and defend NATO aligned nations if Russia decides to go further if they take Ukraine?

Marise Payne: I think that is a complex proposition and it's obviously something which is being considered around the world but at this point in time there is not an intention of joining the military action on the ground. The intention is to provide that support to Ukraine, including with military assets, including the sorts of sanctions, strangulation if you like, that's the word that is being used, that we can.

A good example of the effect of the sanctions is a bank account here in Australia belonging to a sanctioned Russian entity which has been holding $45 million in Australia has been frozen. So we know that we can have an effect and we'll continue to do that.

Neil Breen: Marise Payne, China's relationship with Russia appears to be quite close. There's reports around the world in the last 24 hours that yes, there seems to be some deal between China and Russia about delaying the invasion until after the Olympics, the Winter Olympics. Are we concerned about China and Russia as a block?

Marise Payne: I am aware of those reports and of course they are ultimately for China to respond to. But to be very clear, any collaboration on this illegal, unjustified and unprovoked Russian invasion would be deeply concerning.

Similarly, we are concerned by apparent increasing cooperation between authoritarian regimes around the world and that is one example that you have just given in terms of China and Russia. We've been quite clear also that as a member, permanent member of the UN Security Council that it is our view that permanent members of the UN Security Council should be loudly and clearly saying that this invasion is not lawful, that this invasion should be condemned.

Neil Breen: And they haven't said anything. Marise Payne, the Foreign Affairs Minister, thanks for your time this morning.

Marise Payne: Thanks very much, Neil.

Neil Breen: There she is, the Foreign Affairs Minister, and it was important she updated us because, you know, the other news is still going while we are, as I said, knee deep in mud.


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