Interview with Sabra Lane, ABC AM

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Foreign agreement audit; Brenton Tarrant’s sentencing; Tony Abbott’s travel to the UK.
27 August 2020

Sabra Lane: Marise Payne, good morning and welcome. If this bill becomes law, it sounds like Victoria’s Belt and Road Initiative with China could be torn up. Is that right?

Marise Payne: Well, we’ll be reviewing all agreements that currently exist and then seeking to review those which are in prospect. There are actually – even on an open source review – 135 plus agreements that we’ve been able to identify with 30 different countries. So certainly, that agreement in Victoria is one which would be part of this process. But as you can see, there will be many others as well.

We are in obviously very complex strategic times and we do think it's important to consult from state and territory governments to the Commonwealth before such agreements are made. It is about doing that due diligence and I think that Australians would expect that.

Sabra Lane: It will also mean that university collaborations with foreign governments will be reviewed. Is there any idea of how many deals are in existence there and how long the auditing and decision-making process might take?

Marise Payne: That's part of the stocktake process and we expect those pieces of information to be returned within six months. So we understand that it does require focus and review inside things such as universities, as you say. So a six-month process, I think, for those is an adequate period of time. And then my department will be part of engaging with the states and territories and entities such as universities on those.

Sabra Lane: Without re-prosecuting the history of the Darwin Port leasing deal to Landbridge, a Chinese company, does this new bill mean that that is up for review or not?

Marise Payne: Commercial agreements of that nature are not covered in this context. It is about government to government engagements primarily, or a state government department and a foreign government department. So commercial aspects not necessarily. But I think actually what it will do is provide a degree of focus on such engagements from state and territory governments that perhaps focus them on the national interest and of course, underlying that, they will have their own state and territory interests.

But we will have the opportunity for them to be able to consult with us in a formal sense through this process underneath this legislation. And I do think even the example that you have given, evidence is why that's important.

Sabra Lane: The Deputy Chinese Ambassador says that China was hurt and offended that Australia didn't consult it before putting forward a proposal for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus comparing it with Julius Caesar's betrayal at the hands of Brutus. What's your response?

Marise Payne: Well I believe Australia made a very principled call for an independent review of the coronavirus outbreak. Its impact on the global community is very significant; its impact on the global economy is still unfolding but we know even from what we have experienced here in Australia what that means.

So calling for an independent and impartial review, as we did, I think was consistent with Australia's experience and with the international environment. We saw, in the World Health Assembly, the number of countries that supported the proposition. It wasn't a remarkable proposition and certainly our key partners in the Pacific and South East Asia were part of that. That reinforces the importance of the call to me.

Sabra Lane: You put forward the original idea. So in his eyes, you’re Brutus.

Marise Payne: Well people use many metaphors. That's not one that I would use.

Sabra Lane: Brenton Tarrant will be sentenced today for the Christchurch mosque attack. Some victims want him serving jail time in Australia. Australia doesn't have a prisoner transfer agreement with New Zealand. Given that's what some survivors want, will Australia consider it?

Marise Payne: Sabra, I'm not going to speculate on that. I think the sentencing today will bring at least this part of what was an horrific experience for so many families who lost so much to a conclusion. Many people, and I'm included in that, will be pleased to see that happen. Matters after that may or may not be raised between governments but most importantly, to the extent that any closure can be achieved after an experience such as this, one hopes that the sentencing brings some families some small amount of peace.

Sabra Lane: There is no doubt that he will get a sentence. It's just a question of how long. Would Australia consider a request?

Marise Payne: I'm not going to speculate, Sabra. That'll be matters that are discussed between governments if they're raised.

Sabra Lane: Tony Abbott was given an exemption to travel abroad, why? Given so many families say that they've been denied that to visit dying relatives.

Marise Payne: I understand an exemption would have been given through the appropriate application processes to Australian Border Force and that Mr Abbott is in the UK for business purposes, certainly in relation to the range of exemptions that are available through the ABF process, that I understand is one, but it's not something that I have had any direct involvement in.

Sabra Lane: Well are you comfortable with it? He's not alone, other wealthy Australians have been given exemptions to pick up things like yachts.

Marise Payne: Well I'm not going to second guess the ABF or the Commissioner and I understand that the former prime minister will have made an application through the appropriate process and if those applications are made, then they're considered in the normal course of events and the Commissioner and his team will have evaluated the application itself.

Sabra Lane: UK Trade Board’s apparently wanting Mr Abbott to be a senior trade adviser for them. Many Australians would be confused by that. The UK Opposition’s been scathing. If true, will he have to disclose that he’s working for a foreign government?

Marise Payne: Well I think as the Prime Minister said yesterday, it's a good hire to Prime Minister Johnson and the requirements would be that Mr Abbott is required to comply with those aspects of the legislation and the policies that we have in place here and I'm sure that he will.

Sabra Lane: Foreign Minister thanks for joining AM.

Marise Payne: Thanks very much Sabra.

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