Interview with Sabra Lane, ABC Radio Canberra, AM

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australians in Wuhan; UK’s 5G decision.
30 January 2020

Sabra Lane: The Foreign Affairs Minister is Marise Payne. I spoke with her a short time ago. Foreign Minister, good morning and welcome to AM. When will Australians be flown out of Wuhan?

Marise Payne: Sabra, this is a process that we are undertaking with the Chinese authorities and, as both the Prime Minister and I indicated yesterday, it requires the seeking of formal approval from the Chinese authorities. So those discussions are underway through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and also through our temporary consular team in Wuhan, who had a very good meeting in Wuhan yesterday afternoon. So it is a very complex process, given the number of Australians who are in the region and the makeup of families and so on. We have, as we said yesterday, a determined focus on individuals who are isolated and vulnerable in Wuhan and Hubei province at the moment. But we’ll continue to work that and advise Australians as soon as we can.

Sabra Lane: The Prime Minister said yesterday there was a limited window. The US and Japan have been able to remove their citizens. Why is Australia still negotiating?

Marise Payne: Well, we didn’t have a consular presence in Wuhan. We don’t have a permanent consul there. So we have moved some staff from Shanghai to do that. And of course, this is a very evolving and complex health crisis, so in the process of working on the public health and protection of the public health of all Australians, we’re also considering what we are able to do in relation to those who are isolated in Wuhan. We will give any assistance we can, but it is a matter for the decision-making of the Chinese authorities.

Sabra Lane: You expecting that soon?

Marise Payne: We will continue to discuss that with them. I was in touch with, of course, with our Ambassador in Beijing, Graham Fletcher, yesterday and have been receiving reports overnight of the contacts from our consular representatives in Wuhan as they have made their way to the area. We will see how long it takes, but it is something that we are waiting to discuss further with the Chinese authorities today.

Sabra Lane: The repatriation, why not bring people to the mainland where hospitals have protocols and facilities for highly contagious outbreaks?

Marise Payne: Well, I think the Prime Minister and the National Security Committee are taking advice from the Chief Medical Officer. And senior leadership in the Department of the Health has determined the best approach for protecting public health in Australia. This is evolving very, very quickly. I mean, we know just from the advice we are receiving on a regular and updated basis from the Health Department here and internationally how quickly that is evolving. This is the safest approach the government has determined and one which we think assists both Australians who are in Wuhan who we may be able to move and of course to protect public health here in Australia.

Sabra Lane: The feedback from some Australians in Wuhan is that they’re worried about being isolated on Christmas Island and the lack of critical care services if required, and they think now that the best option might be to stay in Wuhan. What’s your response?

Marise Payne: Well, they will be decisions that families make for themselves. Appropriate care will of course be provided if we are in a position to bring people to Christmas Island and again, that depends on the decision-making process in China. But appropriate care will most definitely be provided and I can assure all Australians of that. But families will make their own decisions. Of course, they have been in a period of semi-quarantine, if you like, in Wuhan for some time now based on the decisions of the Chinese authorities in relation to restricting movement and so on. So their capacity to move around has – and therefore restricting the spread of the virus, which was the purpose of the Chinese authorities’ decisions – has been an important part of this process. But, as I have said, they will make their own decisions and the Australian Government’s focus is on protecting Australia’s public health.

Sabra Lane: Qantas says it can’t land 747s on Christmas Island. If the flight goes ahead, will the plane land on the mainland Australia first before smaller craft go to Christmas Island?

Marise Payne: Well, those decisions and arrangements will be made in due course through the Department of Home Affairs. But the most important thing is endeavouring to seek the agreement of Chinese authorities for this process, determining those who will join a flight such as this and of course their families will be part of that decision-making process with my consular team at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. And the arrangements for the logistics of the flights themselves will be made through the Department of Home Affairs.

Sabra Lane: Some airlines have suspended direct flights to China. Do you think that Qantas should follow suit?

Marise Payne: I understand that we have heard that British Airways has made that decision, but Qantas has not chosen to do so yet. The Australian Health Protection Principals Committee, which is made up of the chief health officers from all over Australia met again yesterday and through those meetings and the work of the Chief Medical Officer, we are following the best available expert medical advice. That has not been given to us as an indication of something that we should pursue, but of course airlines will make their own decisions and I believe that is a decision of British Airways yesterday, not necessarily of the UK Government.

Sabra Lane: Minister, just on another issue. Can the UK be trusted with intelligence-sharing, given it is allowing Huawei to participate in its 5G rollout?

Marise Payne: Well I’m aware of this decision of course and this is one of our longest, strongest relationships in the international community. I spoke with Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Dominic Raab, early yesterday morning on the UK decision and it is for the UK Government to explain its decision. But we will continue to work closely and collaboratively with the UK. They’re an important partner for us. We have significant matters of common interest. In fact, in a post-Brexit environment, we look forward to pursuing a strong and vital FTA. And we will be working with them on a range of issues. We will of course continue to discuss intelligence matters with them, but I won’t provide a public commentary on those.

Sabra Lane: All right. Minister, thanks for talking to AM.

Marise Payne: Thank you very much Sabra.

Sabra Lane: And that’s the Foreign Minister Marise Payne.

Media enquiries