Interview with Sabra Lane

  • Transcript
Subjects: Historical rape allegations; Minister Payne acting as Defence Minister; Australia-Myanmar relations
08 March 2021

Sabra Lane: Minister Payne, good morning and welcome to AM.

Marise Payne: Good morning, Sabra. How are you?

Sabra Lane: Well, thank you. As the most senior woman in the Government and the Minister for Women, did the Prime Minister consult you before reaching his decision that no independent inquiry is needed into the historical rape allegation against Christian Porter? An allegation he strenuously denies.

Marise Payne: The Prime Minister has made decisions in relation to that in consultation with appropriate colleagues, Sabra. Most importantly, I think what the Prime Minister has emphasised is that there are principles and legal processes, well-established processes, in the form of our justice system, which are for determining whether criminal allegations can be proven. And that is the strong view of the Prime Minister and of the Government in this matter.

The police in New South Wales have made their announcements in relation to that investigation. And matters, of course, are still underway in the question of a coronial inquiry in South Australia.

Sabra Lane: As the Minister for Women, you'd know that there are other processes outside the criminal legal system that can attempt to tackle these types of allegations. Why won't the Prime Minister allow an independent enquiry along those lines?

Marise Payne: Sabra, I think the Prime Minister has made his position very clear …

Sabra Lane: [Talks over] Did he seek your advice?

Marise Payne: Members of the Government at the highest levels, of course, have discussed these issues, Sabra, both with the Prime Minister and with other colleagues. There has been a full and comprehensive statement made by the Attorney-General in relation to these matters, including the fact that the formal allegations were not put to him, not put to him by law enforcement and indeed not in detail by the media before they were aired publicly.

The New South Wales police closed the matter, and that did enable the Attorney-General to make a public statement. But I do think it is very important to work through the very well-established processes we have in the form of our justice system for determining whether criminal allegations can be proven.

Sabra Lane: Did the Prime Minister seek your advice about this or have you asked him why he hasn't considered an independent inquiry?

Marise Payne: Sabra, I'm not going to go into the details of my private conversations with the Prime Minister. But I can assure you and assure those listening that, at the highest levels of the Government, we have discussed these issues, and we have agreed, and we do agree, that there are very well-established processes in this country, in the form of our justice system. They determine whether criminal allegations can be proven or not.

Sabra Lane: Australia's representative on the UN Committee to End Discrimination Against Women, Natasha Stott Despoja, says the way the Government handled this matter has saddened and angered her. She says she can't see how the Government can avoid an independent inquiry. The woman's family also supports an inquiry. What's your response?

Marise Payne: I have heard, of course, those comments that have been made and I absolutely understand and appreciate that this is an extremely difficult set of circumstances. In fact, it is unprecedented. And it would be unprecedented if we moved to establish an inquiry of this nature based on an allegation, in the way in which we see it occurring now.

That would mean that any person in Australia, in any role, in any job, can be put in the position of the ignoring of the rule of law, the ignoring of the processes of justice that are well-established for determining whether criminal allegations can be proven. I've read commentators on both sides of this argument - those who do not believe there should be an independent inquiry, those who do. I think it is very vexed.

But ultimately, the rule of law is what pertains in this country. And the reason it does is because it's one of the foundations of our democratic principles, one of the foundations of the presumptions with which we all go before a legal system, and they are the presumption of innocence. And it is the principle of the rule of law, and of the operation of the justice system, that the Government has looked to.

Sabra Lane: You've taken on Linda Reynolds' portfolio of Defence while her medical leave has been extended until early April. How tenable is that for you, given your workload and given the pressures that you currently have?

Marise Payne: Well, Sabra obviously I work closely with all of my colleagues, and within the Defence portfolio that includes in support of Minister Reynolds while she is absent on medical leave. That includes the Assistant Minister, Andrew Hastie; it includes the Defence Industry Minister, Melissa Price.

It is a portfolio with which I have some familiarity and one in which I am very well supported by the Department of Defence and the ADF. We will continue with hard work that is ahead of us as a Government - of course we will - and I look forward to welcoming Senator Reynolds back as soon as she's able to return.

Sabra Lane: Australia's now cut military ties with Myanmar. Why has the Government stopped short of trade sanctions?

Marise Payne: Sabra, we have made a number of decisions that we have announced in the last day. But I wanted to say, first of all, that we continue to absolutely call for the release of Professor Sean Turnell. He has been detained with only limited consular access for over a month now. His release, the release of those others arbitrarily detained, including State Councillor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, are calls that the Australian Government has made consistently.

So, we have looked at the nature of the limited bilateral Defence Cooperation Programme we have had, and that has been suspended. We have also looked at the development programme and development support that we have provided - we are providing, and redirected that with an absolute focus on the immediate needs of some of the most vulnerable and poor in Myanmar, which is one of the poorest countries in ASEAN.

Sabra Lane: [Interrupts] Is Australia being – sorry, Minister. Is Australia being guarded in its language on this, and taking longer to respond than allies, because you don't know where the detained Australian economist Sean Turnell is?

Marise Payne: We have been in active consultation with a number of our partners, particularly our ASEAN neighbours, particularly Japan and India. The ASEAN foreign ministers are-

Sabra Lane: [Interrupts] Sorry, Minister, do you know where he is?

Marise Payne: Yes, we do know where Professor Turnell is, Sabra, and we have had access to him on two occasions - one in relation to a communication with his family, and, one in relation to a communication with our Ambassador in Myanmar. But we do regard that as very limited consular support and we do seek more.

Our autonomous sanctions regime already includes an arms embargo and targeted sanctions on a number of individuals. And, in consultation with the Prime Minister and my colleagues, we will review those sanctions and we have been doing so since the coup.

Sabra Lane: Minister, thanks for talking to AM.

Marise Payne: Thank you very much, Sabra.

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