Interview with Patricia Karvelas

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: terrorism financing; kidnap for ransom; Islamic State; Australians in Al-Hawl; Australia/China relationship; Dr Yang Hengjun.
07 November 2019

PATRICIA KARVELAS: The killing of Islamic state leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi by US forces represented a significant blow for the extremist group. But the escape of hundreds of Islamic State fighters during Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria serves as a reminder that Islamic State is far from defeated. How to choke extremist organisations of the funding they depend on is the focus of the “No Money for Terror” conference underway in Melbourne.

The Foreign Minister Marise Payne spoke at that conference today, and she joins me tonight. Marise Payne, welcome.

MARISE PAYNE: Thank you Patricia.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Your colleague Peter Dutton says cryptocurrencies, online payment systems and crowdfunding platforms have emerged as key conduits for terrorism financing. How significant is this threat?

MARISE PAYNE: Well, we are very focused on ensuring that, where we can, we stop terrorist financing. And this “No Money for Terror” conference is the second of these events – the first was held in France last year and initiated by President Macron – and it is really about sharing information, and that the value of the cooperative approach to address the evolving terrorism risk, I think, he’s pointed to a number of the issues that Minister Dutton has raised today. But we’ve also this afternoon discussed global responses to kidnap for ransom and other aspects of terrorism financing, and they are also very important issues which we are focussed on.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: You spoke today on the importance of not paying ransom to terrorist organisations. How many countries have policies of not paying ransoms?

MARISE PAYNE: Patricia, there’s a wide range of approaches to this but, from Australia’s perspective, we have a very clear policy. We don’t pay ransoms either to terrorists or to criminal groups because it’s illegal under Australian law for anyone - governments of course, but also for private security firms or insurance providers or families – to make a payment to a terrorist organisation. It’s obviously a very, very difficult and emotive issue at the time. So one of the things that we’ve spoken about today is some of the experiences that have been had over recent years, including in the early to mid-2000s in Iraq, where it was really necessary for countries to come together who were going to refuse to pay ransoms, and actually collaborate in the way they approached what were absolute extreme kidnapping circumstances.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: You’ve had direct experiences with cases of Australians kidnapped by terrorist organisations; what happens when a family or a government refuses to pay?

MARISE PAYNE: Well, it involves a very significant period of negotiation, more often than not. And they are very difficult circumstances for families, we all recognise that, both officials and ministers who deal with these situations. The significant negotiations – some of them are not successful, and I know that there are cases still around the world of Australians who are kidnapped in places that we can’t identify, and their families suffer enormously through that process.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: How much difference has the killing of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made to the threat posed by Islamic State and the groups inspired by their ideology?

MARISE PAYNE: We think that it has made a significant difference. Removing key leaders such as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi does have an impact on the structure and life, if you like, of an organisation like Daesh, but it is only one step in the process towards ensuring defeat. And the one thing that we are all clear about has been reiterated today, is that we cannot afford to be complacent. There is an ongoing threat. We've seen arrests just this week in the Philippines in relation to two ISIL inspired extremists in our own region, again. So being focused on this, ensuring that we are working together in a global coalition is obviously very, very important. And the focus of today's discussion around restricting their funding is important, but also noting and identifying the use of technology such as the Internet to spread propaganda, to groom, to radicalise – Australia and New Zealand – they’re very focused on that in this region, for example. We want to ensure that the rules-based order applies online the way it does offline, and we are very focused on being vigilant in relation to that.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Peter Dutton says the Australian women captured from Islamic State made their choices and he doesn't want them here. Is that your view too?

MARISE PAYNE: These are very challenging circumstances, and I acknowledge also that they are particularly challenging in relation to people who have families who are in that part of the world. But to be very clear, it was always Australia's strongest possible advice that people should not travel to this region under any circumstances. What we now have is an immensely dangerous environment - dangerous not just for the people who are there, but for anyone who tries or would try to assist them. And what the Prime Minister and Minister Dutton and I have been very clear in saying is that we won't subject Australian officials to that danger, unless we can guarantee that danger has passed, and that is certainly not the case now.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: How about for the women who were coerced?

MARISE PAYNE: That is very, very difficult as I said …

PATRICIA KARVELAS: [Interrupts] Because you said, you know, they’d warned they knew but if you’ve been coerced the situation is entirely different isn’t it?

MARISE PAYNE: Well it is still a situation where we understood and we were very clear about the dangers. And I know what you’re saying around coercion and I understand that for families, this is a very difficult circumstance. But I have some insight into the efforts that were made to rescue a number of orphaned children who we have been able to remove from that area. It is very, very complex. It is extremely dangerous. It is so far from being a clear cut and simple exercise that we have been focused on ensuring that we are providing some humanitarian support where we can into those camps which are supporting so many people and some of them are significantly large camps. Focused on providing that humanitarian support where we can but it is not a simple task to contemplate how those individuals might be removed.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: The situation in the Al-Hawl camp stabilised during the ceasefire between Turkey and the Kurds, what’s the status of the Australians in the camp now?

MARISE PAYNE: Well I think that situation has not really changed for them. It is a dangerous environment. It is dangerous in relation to the general circumstances themselves of course in that part of Syria. It’s also dangerous in relation to other residents in the camp. It is certainly a very difficult and complex environment.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: We know that some Islamic State fighters were able to escape from where they were being held in northern Syria. Do we know how many escapes and where they went?

MARISE PAYNE: I think the challenge Patricia is getting that sort of information on the ground, both in terms of who and where and how many, when Australia does not have officials present in that part of Syria is very difficult. We obviously have engagements with our counterparts and with countries who are facing similar problems and similar challenges. But it is a very dense environment. It's not clear cut intelligence. It's not clear cut information. So I wouldn't like to speculate about those numbers. We certainly know that there are significant escapes and that really affirms my concerns about the challenge that the continuation of Da’esh presents to the rest of the world and presents in that region.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Just a week after your speech, the US Studies Centre, was blasted by Chinese authorities, the Premier Li Keqiang met Scott Morrison and offered to help repair the relationship. What did you make of that?

MARISE PAYNE: I think the Prime Minister and Premier Li Keqiang both very much welcomed that meeting. It was a positive meeting at the EAS last weekend, it's the annual leaders meeting and of course Minister Birmingham is currently in China now leading a delegation to the China International Import Expo. We are very clear that the comprehensive strategic partnership is our top priority. It rests on five key pillars; on engagement in agriculture, in resources, in manufacturing exports, in services and in investment. And we have been able to reaffirm that. Both the Prime Minister, the Trade Minister and indeed I did the same with State Councillor Wang Yi my counterpart, just in September when I met him in the in the leader's weak side lines.

So we will continue to engage with China through that CSP framework and addressing those important shared interests that we have in the region. It's a very, very important relationship for us and it is a relationship which benefits both countries.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: How significant do you think this more conciliatory tone adopted by the Chinese Premier is? Does this signal a shift in your view?

MARISE PAYNE: I think it reflects the previous commitments; that we would continue to build on our relationship, that we would strengthen cooperation on what are important shared interests. I have had some experience of that myself in recent times with, as I've said State Councillor Wang Yi. I know that for example China amongst other countries has been looking very closely about how regional counterparts might support both Myanmar and Bangladesh to address this enormous challenge of displaced Rohingya from Rakhine state. I've had those conversations with my counterparts myself and that I think reflects an opportunity for us to pursue those shared interests. So where we think we can make a difference.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: And Beijing seems to think that the Australia/China relationship needs some work to improve it. Do you agree that it does?

MARISE PAYNE: Well I think it's a very wide-ranging and complex relationship and I know that it has many aspects and it is, as I said, premised in our comprehensive strategic partnership in contemporary terms. But it has a lot of history behind it and it has an enormous future ahead of it. We are looking forward to formally launching our Australia China Foundation in early 2020 which we announced some time ago now and has been in the planning since then. We welcome the meeting that the Prime Minister and Premier Li Keqiang had and Minister Birmingham's current visit to the Shanghai Expo, which of course is a follow up to the visit last year.

So I think that there are always going to be differences. The most important thing for Australia to do, and frankly for us both to do, is to address those in a measured and a consistent way and to make sure that that we are working closely together to address those but also to maximise the opportunities between us.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: And the Australian writer, Yang Hengjun is obviously being detained, is there any update on his case?

MARISE PAYNE: We have had a recent consular visit with Dr Yang and I am very grateful to Australian diplomatic officials in Beijing who are consistently ensuring that they are seeing Dr Yang as often as possible. I am still seeking access for Dr Yang to his lawyers and I think that is a fundamental right which he should be supported in receiving and I have reiterated that in recent times. There is no particular update in terms of the progress of the case. These things obviously take time through the Chinese legal system. But most importantly I have focused on Dr Yang receiving access to his lawyers.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Thank you so much for your time.

MARISE PAYNE: Thank you Patricia.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: That's the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Marise Payne.

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