Interview with Sabra Lane, Radio National AM

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Ensuring Integrity Bill; return to Australia of Taliban hostage Timothy Weeks; claims of Wang Liqiang; Australia’s concerns over human rights violations in Xinjiang and freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea.
29 November 2019

Sabra Lane: Marise Payne is the Foreign Minister and she joined me earlier.


Marise Payne, thanks for joining AM. You were the Senator in charge of ushering through the Ensuring Integrity Bill. How shocked were you that One Nation sided with Labor and voted it down?

Marise Payne: Well, I think ultimately it’s up to One Nation to explain their actions, but I guess the one thing I have learned in the Senate over two decades now of experience is that you can’t count the outcome until you see where everybody’s sitting. And that was certainly the case yesterday. It’s disappointing because we had consulted extensively on the bill and we met every requirement that One Nation had in relation to amendments that they suggested to us and we worked with them on. But we’re determined to find a way to pass the bill. It’s a very important reform. It’s about ensuring that registered organisations obey the law, and it’s pretty simple. So we’ll remain committed and seek to reintroduce it when we can.

Sabra Lane: Did the Government have a deal with One Nation to support it, as Eric Abetz certainly seems to think that you had a deal and it was broken?

Marise Payne: Well the- arrangements are made around amendments, around the content of legislation from time to time. And it’s disappointing that although we worked closely with One Nation and others …

Sabra Lane: [Talks over] Did you think you had a deal?

Marise Payne: In relation to- this is a matter for work between parties. It happens all the time, but the one thing that I would say is it’s a reform we’re committed to.

Sabra Lane: [Talks over] It doesn’t actually happen all the time. It doesn’t happen all the time that the Government loses a vote like that.

Marise Payne: Well I’ve seen votes lost before. I saw a vote change on the floor of the chamber a couple of weeks ago which was unexpected. It does happen, and it’s been happening in a tight chamber for many years. But the important part from the Government’s point of view is that we are committed to the reform. We’re determined to ensure that registered organisations, some of which- a minority of which operate wilfully outside the law are in fact required to operate lawfully.

Sabra Lane: With your Foreign Minister’s hat on now, are you able to confirm is Timothy Weeks, the Australian who was released by the Taliban last week after three years in custody, is he back in Australia?

Marise Payne: Sabra, I am very pleased to confirm that Tim has returned to Australia and very much welcome his return. It has been an extraordinarily long three years for him and for his family. I’ve spoken to his family once his release was confirmed some time ago now. But I’ve also spoken this week to Professor Weeks and that was a very special conversation, one I had been hoping to be able to have for a long time. It’s a matter I was closely involved with as Defence Minister as well. So it’s an enormous relief for him and for his family. There’s a lot of people who contributed to this being able to happen, including the Afghanistan Government, including the US, and I really want to acknowledge the people in my department, in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, who work in that consular space where such sensitive and difficult issues are managed every day. They do a very, very good job.

Sabra Lane: Has Australia been able to assess the bona fides of Wang Liqiang, the man who’s claiming that he was a Chinese spy?

Marise Payne: Well, these matters of course are still under investigation and as the Director General of Security said at the time, the- they were aware of the matter and inquiries continue. I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to comment on an ongoing matter like that.

Sabra Lane: Beijing says he’s a fraudster. China posted video claiming it’s Wang in court yesterday pleading guilty to fraud charges in 2016. What do you make of that?

Marise Payne: I’m not going to provide a running commentary. I mean, these are serious allegations and they should be dealt with seriously. We made changes to our laws to address foreign interference no matter where it comes from, no matter who is responsible and I have seen in my contact with counterparts around the world, I have seen countries experiencing an unprecedented rate of foreign interference from multiple – multiple – actors around the world. So it’s important that Australia has these laws in place and that we enforce them.

Sabra Lane: China seems to thumb its nose at international protestations over the detention of a million Uighurs including your own interventions. They don’t seem to care about what Australia or anyone else says. What’s the point of words if they have no effect?

Marise Payne: Well I do think it’s important to raise our concerns and to continue to do that in an appropriate way in appropriate fora and bilaterally. And that is the approach that Australia has taken. We’ve consistently raised our concerns around the human rights situation in Xinjiang. It is important for those of us who are concerned about human rights levels to raise those concerns.

Sabra Lane: You’re meeting with the Malaysian Foreign Minister today. They’re at odds with China over the South China Sea. Tony Abbott says Australia should be more assertive and conduct more naval exercises there. Will you follow his advice?

Marise Payne: Well I think I’m well and truly on the record in saying on a number of occasions that we make our own decisions about how we operate and the approach that we take. But most importantly, Australia is a strong and vocal supporter of the freedom of- rights of freedom of navigation, freedom of overflight according to international law. We regularly operate through the region. We recognise the importance of a free and open South China Sea and we work very closely with our counterparts, particularly in ASEAN. Whether or not the Australian Government and the Australian Defence Force take a particular direction or approach is a matter that we’ll always consider in our national interests. But most importantly, when we look at the importance of the South China Sea and the importance of those freedoms, Australia is a key interlocutor on those issues and we will continue to maintain that approach.

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

Marise Payne: Thanks very much Sabra.

[End of excerpt]

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

Media enquiries