Interview with Sabra Lane, ABC AM

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Chartered flights to return stranded Australians; quarantine caps; DFAT data breach; foreign interference in the US election; remarks by Chinese Ambassador.
23 October 2020

Sabra Lane: Marise Payne, welcome to AM. The first plane is on its way, but 32,000 Australians still want to come home. By when will they all be back? It won’t be Christmas.

Marise Payne: Sabra, this is a long and complex process, as we have been saying all year. What we're trying to do at the moment is to help the most vulnerable Australians who are located in a number of key centres around the world, and I'm very pleased to see that the flight will land in Darwin this afternoon. We will also have a flight taking off from New Delhi next week and a further flight after that from Johannesburg. We have eight in the planning at the moment. We're also working very closely with commercial airlines to consistently try to get the largest number of Australians on board that we can. But that, of course, has to be facilitated within the existing caps that are restricting access through the states and territories. So, it's a big job, we are very focussed on it, and we are trying to help as many people as possible.

Sabra Lane: Alright. The National Cabinet is meeting today – the current cap is 6000. What number would the Federal Government like that to be? And again, the 32,000, when will they all be home?

Marise Payne: Sabra, I don't think it's possible to say when all of the 32,000 will be home because of the complexity of the international aviation market, the caps here, the issues around quarantine and, in fact, the broad effect of the pandemic. This is not a situation that the world has had to deal with in the current context ever before. It's a multi-generational period of time since we’ve had to deal with something like this.

In terms of the caps in the National Cabinet, well, they'll have their deliberations today. I don't know whether caps themselves are on the agenda, and we have just had an increase this month. But we would hope that it does gradually increase through the states and territories, as they are able to deal with quarantine. The one thing I would say is, we've seen the damage caused by poor management of quarantine. Managing quarantine for large numbers of people is complex, and we can't afford to get this wrong.

Sabra Lane: So, you're not prepared to say you'd like to see it at 7000, 8000?

Marise Payne: I would like to see it increasing steadily – absolutely, I would. I would welcome that from the states and territories. But it's a matter for the National Cabinet, it’s a matter for what the jurisdictions believe they are able to deal with. They have been adding numbers in recent weeks, including in some states and territories that had not been taking any. We welcome that, and we encourage more.

Sabra Lane: Your department’s emailed the identities of Australians stranded overseas again. The Guardian'sreporting that Aussies in France have had their details shared. This is the third data breach in three months. One Aussie in France says it's insult to injury. What's your response?

Marise Payne: It is not an ideal situation at all, Sabra. And I've spoken with the Secretary of my department about this. We know this is an issue that needs to be addressed, and I understand the Secretary is taking that up with officials to endeavour to ensure it doesn't happen again. It is not something that I like to see. I know that we try to be very careful with people's personal information, as we should be, and to observe our privacy obligations. And I will repeat my concerns.

Sabra Lane: Is an apology owed to those people?

Marise Payne: Well, I am very sorry that these events have occurred. And as you say, this is the third occasion. I am sorry that they have occurred. I know our officials are trying very hard to support as many Australians as they possibly can overseas, it is important to be careful with people's private information, and that has absolutely been reinforced to my department.

Sabra Lane: The US Justice Department's decision to out Iran and Russia as trying to interfere in the presidential election. What's your message to Tehran and Moscow?

Marise Payne: My message to anyone who would seek to interfere in an election in a democratic country that is not their own, is that foreign interference is unacceptable. I think the United States’ statements yesterday, statements of senior US officials in relation to endeavouring to address that foreign interference and misinformation, is extremely important, because exposing these actions and pouring sunlight on them is a very important part of addressing them. That said, the US is a robust democracy. It has strong institutions and those institutions yesterday made it very clear that this was unacceptable.

Sabra Lane: If President Trump loses, how confident are you that he will hand over power in an orderly and no-fuss fashion?

Marise Payne: I'm not going to engage in commentary on either of the candidates, actually Sabra, in the US election. That is a matter for the US people, for whom they choose to vote. But what I can say, and what I absolutely believe, is that the Australian people and the Australian Government are confident that we will have a very positive, very productive relationship with the United States continuing into the future, as we have for well over a century.

Sabra Lane: China's ambassador to Australia has likened Liberal Senator Eric Abetz to Goebbels, saying his tactics smack of the Nazi propagandist’s tactics. What's your response to that?

Marise Payne: I've seen that report this morning in relation to the submission to the Foreign Relations Bill inquiry. And I would say that Nazi comparisons, frankly, rarely contribute very much use to any discussion. And this would be no exception.

Sabra Lane: Senator Abetz has offended many Chinese-Australians by demanding people denounce the Chinese Government. How helpful is that in maintaining inclusion in the community, and trying to patch up relations with Beijing?

Marise Payne: Well, we are always prepared for robust debate and robust exchange in Australia, including from our Members of Parliament. But my personal view, and I think it's one which the Prime Minister has expressed before, is the only pledge we expect Australian citizens to make is the pledge that they make when they become an Australian. That's what's important to us, and I would apply that approach myself.

Sabra Lane: Minister, thanks for talking to AM this morning.

Marise Payne: Thanks very much, Sabra.

Sabra Lane: The Foreign Minister, Marise Payne.

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