Interview with Ross Stevenson and Russel Howcroft, 3AW Melbourne Breakfast

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Foreign agreement audit.
27 August 2020

Ross Stevenson: Scott Morrison will legislate to tear up Victoria's multi-million-dollar Belt and Road Initiative agreement with Beijing, creating laws that will also ban a raft of other deals with foreign governments found to be against the national interest. Universities who do deals with China face having their current and future research collaboration scrapped. Marise Payne is the Foreign Minister. Minister, good morning to you.

Marise Payne: Good morning, Ross.

Ross Stevenson: Constitutionally, can you do it? I assume you’ve had constitutional lawyers look over it, but you would be anticipating possible constitutional challenges?

Marise Payne: We have indeed, and the Commonwealth does have responsibility for Australia's foreign relations and that is a constitutional principle. We understand that state and territory governments are always of course enthusiastic in advancing their own interests, and they should be. But what we want to make sure is that the arrangements into which they enter are consistent in terms of how they deal with foreign governments, that they take a national perspective that’s in our national interests and in line with Australia's foreign policy.

Ross Stevenson: Okay. And the aim – it's a broad aim – it's not the Victorian Belt and Road Act, but is that your number one target?

Marise Payne: No, it's not that Act, as you put it. We think we've identified through an open source search alone over 135 individual arrangements between states and territories that touch 30 different countries. So there's obviously a lot of international engagement, and on the face of it that's a good thing. But we do need to ensure that we're doing that due diligence to look at these international arrangements and make sure they're consistent with our national interests and with our values.

Russel Howcroft: Minister, the bill, how will it actually work? So practically, how does the mechanics of it work?

Marise Payne: So it will be introduced next week, and what we will do under the legislation is to ask state and territory governments to do a stock take, if you like, of agreements that already exist between their governments and foreign entities – so between a state government and a national government of a foreign country, or a state government department and a foreign government department – and provide us with that information. My department will be part of reviewing those to ensure, as I said, that they are consistent with our national interests and our values, and to make sure that we are addressing those in a consistent way. And that is I think one of the issues that we have – there are many and varied arrangements and agreements. And part of the process that we will be taking in reviewing those is looking for the consistency of the national perspective in our national interest.

Russel Howcroft: So Minister, the register is just for government relations? So it's not about business relationships?

Marise Payne: No, it's not. It does not have a commercial focus. It’s about prohibiting arrangements with foreign governments unless the Foreign Minister, in this case me, has given approval for those.

Ross Stevenson: And will you do it on a deal by deal basis? You say, righto, give me this deal that South Australia's done, let’s run a microscope over that and see whether we're happy with it?

Marise Payne: That's right. So arrangements which are in prospect are an important part of that, and I think using South Australia is a good example. Obviously in South Australia we have a very strong focus on the development of a great deal of Australia's naval capacity in their shipbuilding programs – arrangements with the major British shipbuilder BAE, a major French submarine builder, Naval Group. Off the back of those there is a raft of arrangements in South Australia or other parts of the country which are part of government to government undertakings. Making sure that they're consistent and in our national interests is I think what Australians expects their Federal Government to do.

Ross Stevenson: Minister, we thank you very much for your time. Marise Payne, Federal Foreign Minister.

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