Interview with Sabra Lane, ABC AM

  • Transcript, E&OE
12 June 2020

Sabra Lane: Marise Payne is Australia's Foreign Minister and also the Minister for Women. Welcome back to the program.

Marise Payne: Good morning, Sabra.

Sabra Lane: Just on that Twitter story — it's culled thousands of accounts and now adding fact checks to the US President. It’s just one social media source. There's still a lot of disinformation around. What do you say to Australians about who to believe? And where to get their reliable information from?

Marise Payne: I think one of the things that we've seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, Sabra, is a real focus on information from governments that is authoritative and well sourced and clearly, in the interests of providing accurate information — and the work of our Chief Medical Officer would be a perfect example of that. But what Twitter has disclosed today — over 32,000 accounts — is very, very important. It shows just how serious and extensive the problem of disinformation is and, as your report alluded to, covers Russia, China, Turkey in this.

In the middle of a pandemic, this is dangerous. It's unacceptable. It has the potential to undermine global health efforts and trust. So, shining a light on it, countering it with accurate information is absolutely the best disinfectant and I welcome Twitter's efforts in this regard, and also the efforts, indeed, here of ASPI — the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

Sabra Lane: For nearly a month now, neither the Chinese Trade nor Foreign Minister has rung you or Senator Birmingham to explain their various new trade restrictions. And now, warnings to Chinese students and tourists. How frustrating is that?

Marise Payne: Well Sabra, we obviously act in Australia's national interests. We have not acted in any way that’s sought to be offensive in any way shape or form. We're ourselves. We're consistent about what we say in a very important relationship — and it's important to both countries. It's based on mutual respect. It's underpinned by a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and we've made the offers to our counterparts in China in relation to discussing these issues and it will be a matter for them when they take those up. But at the same time, we are obviously working here and in Beijing, across ministries and agencies, to make sure that we are advancing our national interests.

Sabra Lane: Sure. But is it frustrating? Disappointing? There are so many exporters and universities that are waiting to hear what they've got to say.

Marise Payne: Well, it is a part of the process of endeavouring to engage with all of our international counterparts. And during COVID-19, I must say, the process of doing that has changed considerably. But we will continue to seek to engage and to work closely in Beijing, and across China, and our consulates and here in Canberra, to make sure that we are conveying our views and working with our counterparts.

Sabra Lane: Australia's former Ambassador to the US, Joe Hockey, says that Australia shouldn't be cower to bullies. How do you interpret China's behaviour?

Marise Payne: Well, I think we've been quite clear about saying that Australia will continue to act in our national interests, but in relation to the issues that are of concern between us at the moment, we treat each of those on their merits. We have, however, been very clear in relation to accusations that there are reasons related to racism for which tourists and travellers should not come to Australia — students as well — we have absolutely rejected those. We are widely and consistently recognised as a safe and welcoming place to visit and study, and once borders are reopened we will welcome all comers with open arms, as we always have. So, we reject that assertion.

We think that is, in fact, disinformation and it contributes to a climate of fear and division at a time, in a pandemic context, when what we need is cooperation and understanding.

Sabra Lane: Well, on that point about being a safe place, is Hong Kong is a safe place for Australian businesses to maintain their offices, given the often stated, ‘One Country, Two Systems’ appears to be dead?

Marise Payne: We are very concerned by events in Hong Kong and, in the context of protests last year, we made our concerns clear. In relation to the application of new national security laws this is not just a concern held by Australia. It is shared internationally, particularly by the United Kingdom, and we have seen multiple international statements from the European Union, from our friends in Japan, from a number of other places.

And, of course, we have participated in statements with Canada, with the United Kingdom, with the US outlining our concerns about the undermining of the principles of ‘One Country, Two Systems’ and the spirit, and the purpose, of the Basic Law. This has enormous potential to have a deleterious impact on life and activity in Hong Kong and the qualities that give Hong Kong its special character. So, we have raised those concerns and we will continue to work with counterparts to prosecute that case.

Sabra Lane: It is a financial hub. Many Australian businesses have offices and headquarters there. Is it a safe place for them to remain?

Marise Payne: Well, they will make their own judgments about that and we will work closely with counterparts to ensure that we are supporting Australians who have any concerns. And the question of commercial safety, as well, is a judgment that they will also make. But, it is important, I think, that anyone who is in Hong Kong follows our travel advice, follows travel advice that's issued by a number of countries, to ensure their own position. But importantly, we continue to be very clear and very consistent: there is global concern, as I said, and Australia reiterates that.

Sabra Lane: As Women’s Minister, what does it say about the value placed on early childhood education and women's workforce participation that the Government targeted the childcare sector as the only sector so far to have its payments curtailed and not in place until September?

Marise Payne: Well, I think it's important, Sabra, to understand the work that was done with the childcare sector in relation to this in the first place. And importantly, the sector was very concerned about their ability to sustain themselves, frankly, and had been asking us to impose, of course, or to take a temporary measure, which we did, because that was about supporting the childcare sector at a time of great stress to try to keep it strong, to try to keep its workers employed. But, since that step was taken, we are now at a point where we are able to revert, step-by-step, to a more normal approach.

The sector had said they could not support rising demand on the current business continuity payments that were part of the emergency relief package. Parents were also reporting that they couldn't access the level of care they would need into the future under the relief package. But really importantly, we are continuing to make a transition payment into the sector, so that we continue the support that we were previously providing.

And where parents are in difficulty — I want to be really clear about this — the additional childcare subsidy, that safety net, will be extended to free care for a maximum of 100 hours a week, particularly for families who are transitioning from JobSeeker, for example, back to work. We've eased the activity test until early October to help those families whose employment has been affected. So, we're very conscious of that. We will monitor it very carefully and I'll work closely with my colleagues, particularly Minister Tehan, whose responsibility this is in a portfolio sense.

Sabra Lane: Marise Payne, thanks for your time on AM, this morning.

Marise Payne: Thanks very much, Sabra.

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