Interview with Neil Breen, 4BC

  • Transcript
Subjects: Address to Australian Parliament by President Zelenskyy; Cheng Lei; Solomon Islands draft agreement with China; domestic violence and women's safety.

Neil Breen: President Volodomyr Zelenskyy, he spoke to Australian Parliament yesterday. It was a rousing speech. He's given them all over the world, but it was an absolute beauty. Have a little bit of a listen to him yesterday.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy: Whatever is happening in our region because of the Russian aggression, what is destroying the lives of people, has become a real threat to your country and to your people as well. Because this is the nature of the evil. It can instantly cross any distance, any barriers, destroy lives.

Neil Breen: So, a couple of key things yesterday, and the Foreign Minister Marise Payne has been generous with her time this morning. She joins me on the line this morning. Good morning to you, Minister.

Marise Payne: Good morning, Neil.

Neil Breen: So he asked us to send armoured vehicles, and he also gave a little bit of a threat – he didn't mention China, he didn't mention Taiwan, but he said if stuff's happening here it can happen where you are as well.

Marise Payne: Neil, it was a very, very important address to the Australian Parliament, and I was very honoured and be proud to be with my colleagues in the chamber. I think the President has made clear what we here already know – and that is that authoritarian states – and I don't just mean Russia in this case – authoritarian states pose a threat to countries like Australia, freedom-loving democracies, countries that protect, want and are focused on protecting their own sovereignty. And I think that's why – in fact I know that's why – we are seeing such unity in the global response to Russia's actions.

Neil Breen: Yeah, it was incredible. And getting to speak to Australian Parliament, it just goes to show what's happened in the world in the last several years with technology and everything, that they can be in the middle of a war and a foreign leader could just talk directly to you all, Marise Payne.

Marise Payne: That is absolutely true. I've been in the parliament obviously as international visitors have come to address the chamber, but to have a technology-facilitated address like that from a leader who is literally dealing every minute of every day with a war and invasion of his own country is a very powerful message to the world of how we are able to stand together and how we are able to unite in support of countries who are being attacked and who are victims of that coercion and aggression and, in this case, of an illegal and unprovoked invasion.

Neil Breen: Being the Foreign Minister you've got to juggle about a thousand balls at any one time because there's a million things going on on the planet, but Kylie Moore-Gilbert, she joined me on the show earlier this week, about being in an Iranian prison for two years. Now we're looking at Australian journalist Cheng Lei. She's been locked up in China for quite a while. The Ambassador – I watched it live on Sky yesterday – couldn't get in the trial. They're breaking a consular agreement. What's happening there with that?

Marise Payne: You're right on both counts, Neil. And I'd like to acknowledge Kylie Moore-Gilbert. Her strength given her ordeal is extraordinary. In the case of Cheng Lei, we have seen her yesterday facing a closed trial on charges in relation to supplying state secrets overseas. We respect the sovereignty of China's legal system, but we have been very clear that this case has lacked transparency from the beginning. The Australian government has never been provided with details of the charges, and, as you say, the Ambassador was denied entry to Cheng Lei's trial.

I do think that lack of transparency is very concerning. What we have consistently said is fundamentally the important aspects of this are procedural fairness, basic standards of justice and, of course, China's international legal obligations. And we would renew calls for those to be upheld.

We are providing consular support to Ms Cheng, as you also say, under the terms of our bilateral consular relations agreement. But there are certain concerns, including access to her children. We have been advocating for that. She has not been able to speak to her own two young children since her detention in 2020, which is devastating for her and for her children.

Neil Breen: Two years, wow.

Marise Payne: I raised that with the Ambassador, the new Ambassador, when I met him in February.

Neil Breen: That's a terrible situation, not talking to your kids. Any repercussions for them, for this behaviour? Like, what can we do? How can we retaliate?

Marise Payne: Well, I don't think it's a question of retaliation, Neil, because Australia observes our international obligations, and we observe our commitments in terms of the Vienna Convention and access to international citizens who may be detained in Australia from time to time. But what we must do is continue to work with counterparts and continue to raise with China our concerns about circumstances like this.

In relation to other matters, we have previously joined strongly with Canada in their work on arbitrary detention, and we know that they had two people detained themselves. And we have raised those issues of arbitrary detention in the case of Mr Yang Hengjun who is also detained in China.

Neil Breen: Just before I let you go, Foreign Minister, Solomon Islands, is that a lost cause for us? China's going to end up dominating there.

Marise Payne: Neil, I would never describe any of our friends in the Pacific family as a lost cause. That is what family is all about. But we are concerned that a security agreement of this nature would actually undermine stability in our whole region. There is clear – it is clear on the facts that the Pacific family – Australia, New Zealand and others – have over time always been able to provide the support, the humanitarian assistance, the security support that in this case the Solomon Islands has needed. That was demonstrated again just in the end of last year when there was unrest in the streets of the Solomon Islands and four countries from the Pacific – Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea – worked with the Solomon Islands police force to restore order in that case.

So, we are concerned. We don't believe that there is a need for countries outside the Pacific family to have a security role, and we will continue to work closely with the Solomons. Of course, we will.

Neil Breen: Just in an hour's time I'm going to talk to Hannah Clarke's parents, and Queenslanders are familiar with this story. It's been a shocking situation, so many things have gone wrong in south east Queensland with domestic violence. People say you throw more money at it. Honestly, Marise Payne, I don't know the answer.

Marise Payne: Well, Neil, I think just not the people of Queensland are familiar with this tragedy – tragic situation; the whole nation and more broadly is. And I want to say to Hannah's parents, Sue and Lloyd, and to her family and her many, many friends that our thoughts are certainly with them and have been all this time.

I'm glad that the inquest is underway. We have seen similar important inquests in New South Wales frankly identify where there have been areas that responses can be improved, can be better joined up. Ultimately my focus and the federal government's focus, including with the Minister for Women's Safety Anne Ruston is early intervention and prevention, working with partnerships with the states and territories, with stakeholders, with community organisations to ensure that terrible situations like this do not occur.

I know prevention is a long-term solution, but we're very focused on that. You will have seen, and I hope your listeners have seen, the very powerful Stop it at the Start campaign. We've just launched the fourth phase of that. And it is important that families discuss these issues, that communities are discussing these issues, that we are aware of the need to prevent – the imperative to prevent these actions.

I feel deeply for Hannah Clarke's parents at this time. I can't begin to imagine what they are going through. But what we are doing, including through our women's budget launched just this week with the Budget, is significantly increasing, as you say, our spending. But, again, we can support so much activity through that process and we have contributed an additional $1.3 billion in this Budget on women's safety. And that brings that to over an over two-and-a-half-billion-dollar spend on the national plan and bringing the next National Plan into force. And that's our absolute focus.

Neil Breen: Foreign Minister Marise Payne, we all agree. We all agree with you on your thoughts about Hannah Clarke's parents, Lloyd and Sue Clarke. I'm going to talk to them after 8 in an extended conversation. Thanks for your time this morning.

Marise Payne: Thank you, Neil.

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