Interview with Sabra Lane, Radio National AM
Sabra Lane: The Federal Government announced last night it had torn up four agreements between the Victorian Government and foreign nations. Two of them are controversial Belt and Road initiatives with China. It's the first time it's used new powers which allowed it to rip up deals that state and territory government, local councils and public universities negotiate with other nations that it deems are contrary to the national interest. The Foreign Minister Marise Payne is responsible. She's currently in New Zealand.
Minister, thanks for talking to AM. Before we talk about the ripping up of the foreign deals, what can you tell us about what help Australia will be giving Indonesia in finding this missing submarine?
Marise Payne: Good morning Sabra. We are obviously very concerned about these reports. It's very distressing for families and particularly for the Indonesian navy. We have indicated that we will help in any way we can. We operate very different submarines from this one, but the Australian Defence Force and our Australian Defence organisation will work with defence operations in Indonesia to determine what we may be able to do. We will go to the support of our neighbour in any way we can.
Sabra Lane: To the foreign agreements that have been ripped up, the most notable are the two Belt and Road initiatives the Victorian Government has with China. The Embassy here has already responded by saying that this is another unreasonable and provocative move by the Australian Government. What's your reaction?
Marise Payne: Well, Sabra, this scheme is very focussed on Australia's national interest. It's about ensuring consistency of our foreign relations across Australia, and it's most certainly not aimed at any one country. And in fact, with the 1000 notifications that we received from the states and territories, arrangements exist with so many countries. They exist with Korea, with France, the United Kingdom, with Indonesia itself, with China, Japan, the US, New Zealand and many others. So, these are the first notifications under the scheme. They don't just go to China, of course, there are also arrangements with Victoria, with Syria and Iran, which we have also determined are not consistent with Australia's foreign relations and will also be cancelled.
Sabra Lane: What retaliation are you expecting, though, from China? They are saying it's unreasonable and provocative. And we know from our experience in the past 14 months that they can cancel trade deals, they impose tariffs when they're cranky with Australia. What should producers expect from this?
Marise Payne: I don't actually agree with the premise of the question in terms of an expectation of retaliation. I think Australia is operating in our national interests. We are very careful and very considered in that approach. We have been examining, as I said, all of these arrangements in the months since they were submitted to the Commonwealth. It's about ensuring that we have a consistent approach to foreign policy across all levels of government. And it isn't about any one country, most certainly not intended to harm Australia's relationships with any countries. We are always, as I've been consistent in saying, very careful and considered in how we do this and making sure that we continue to emphasise our commitment to engaging with China as we do regularly and as we have reinforced over the last many months. We are asking all countries around the world to respect our government's decision making authority. And I hope that if there are any concerns, they'll be raised directly with the government. But we are not going to move away from our principles, which are about protecting and advocating for our sovereignty and our national interests.
Sabra Lane: Was China given a heads up, Minister? And you'd have to be naive to think that Beijing won't respond.
Marise Payne: So, we have made advice available in both Canberra and in Beijing. And so that information was provided, yes.
I think your question about the response is made clear in the statement that was issued by China overnight. But I also think that as many countries around the world - Australia, China included - are clear about our prosecution of our own national interests. These matters should be considered in the light of that sort of approach.
Sabra Lane: You're in New Zealand. Will you speak with your foreign counterpart there, Minister Mahuta, about her comments in recent days that New Zealand doesn't want the intelligence sharing organisation Five Eyes, of which Australia is a partner, straying to other matters like commenting about the Uighurs or about Hong Kong?
Marise Payne: Well it is for a start very good to actually be in New Zealand for Foreign Minister Consultations. Minister Mahuta and I have met a number of times virtually since her appointment. We will certainly be meeting at length today in our Foreign Minister Consultations and there will be a range of issues discussed but on..
Sabra Lane: [interrupts] Including this one?
Marise Payne: Absolutely, on the question on the Five Eyes, it's a highly valued relationship as you know of vital strategic alliance. It is key to our foreign, our defence and our intelligence interests. But ultimately, countries will choose to address issues of concern in whichever forum they determine appropriate and consistent with their respective national interests but Australia will continue to emphasise the vital nature of the Five Eyes alliance in security and in intelligence, as I said.
Sabra Lane: Will these comments from the New Zealand Minister hobble it? What's the danger that the Five Eyes will splinter because of it?
Marise Payne: I think there is a depth of commitment in the relationship between Australia and New Zealand that is very significant. And in terms of the Five Eyes, what I have found in the last year in particular and certainly in the last little while is a very significant level of engagement across counterparts. And in fact, the Five Eyes foreign ministers have met more in the last year in discussions on a number of issues – COVID included, supply chains, matters like that – which I have found to be very, very valuable exchanges with the US, with Canada, with New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Australia is a very, very strong supporter of the Five Eyes arrangement.
Sabra Lane: Minister, thanks for talking to AM.
Marise Payne: Thank you Sabra.
Sabra Lane: The Foreign Minister Marise Payne.