Interview with Sofie Formica, 4BC

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Statement of Acknowledgement, women in leadership, Quad Alliance, AUKUS, China.
08 February 2022

Sofie Formica:
It's now my privilege to welcome the Foreign Minister and the Minister for Women, Marise Payne to afternoons.  Good morning, Minister.

Marise Payne:
How are you, Sofie?

Sofie Formica:
Very well, and thank you for your time.  I know it is a busy day, as I said Parliament is sitting for the first time.  I just played for our audience the statement that was made by the Prime Minister.  He acknowledged what we all knew, which was there was sexual harassment, assault and bullying happening in Parliament and then apologised to Brittany Higgins.  What did you think of his statements today?

Marise Payne:
Sofie, I have heard reports of the Prime Minister's statement.  I of course was in the Senate chamber hearing the statement of the President followed by our leader of the government in the Senate Minister Birmingham, the Acting Leader of the Opposition Senator Keneally, and Senator McKenzie the Leader of the National Party, and Senator Larissa Waters from the Australian Greens is currently speaking. I think it is important that the statements from the presiding officers have been made.  It responds to the first recommendation of the Jenkins Report was to deliver a statement of acknowledgment, and we have also had our first leadership task force meeting of which I'm a member. So, these responses are important, and the Prime Minister's words which I have heard briefly in waiting for you on the line today have been, I think, very heartfelt and very important for him to place on the chamber record. 

Sofie Formica:
You know, you mentioned the Jenkins Report there, Minister, have any of the 28 recommendations that were outlined in that report been implemented to your knowledge in any meaningful way?

Marise Payne:  
Well, this is the first one; the acknowledgment in the chamber today.  The establishment of the leadership task force, which is a multi‑leadership task force chaired by a highly respected senior public servant, has been established to oversee the implementation of the recommendations and that body includes the major parliamentary parties and representations of the representative of the independents in the Parliament.  We are also introducing the legislative changes to confirm that the Fair Work Act, The Age Discrimination Act and the Disability Discrimination Act apply to people employed under the Members of Parliament Act ‑ our Members of Parliament Staff Act.  That is also recommended in the report. So, having received this at ‑ I think in the last sitting week last year, we are now taking those steps through.  We are committed to implementing all 28 of those recommendations. 

Sofie Formica:
You know, you can't please everybody all of the time, Minister, and while I've been speaking to you Grace Tame has now come out to slam Scott Morrison publicly for the apology, saying that it is a stunt, and her quote is "how about some proactive preventative measures and not just this performative last‑minute band-aid electioneering stunts." Obviously there is no love lost with Grace Tame and the Prime Minister, do you think that this is ‑ again, just an opportunity for her to do at all costs everything she can to say whatever she can against the Prime Minister or do you think that there is some validity to the hurt that is still being felt by those who have been affected most by what we are talking about?

Marise Payne:
Sofie, ultimately Ms Tame's comments are of course a matter for her.  She has given service over the last year as Australian of the Year to amplify the voices of sexual assault survivors.  She has educated, frankly, many Australians on how we can better prevent and respond to sexual abuse.  But I don't think there is much to be gained by me commenting on her individual comments.  What I would say is that we have worked with many victim survivors, including Ms Tame, through the consultation process to develop a new national plan to end violence against women and their children.  We welcomed their participation in our women's safety summit held last year, and certainly that included Ms Tame's participation, and many, many other Australians who have a vast range of, sadly, different experiences in relation to these issues.  As a government though we have also invested very strongly in women's safety initiatives since 2013 since we were elected.  Last year in our women's budget statement that included an investment of over $1 billion.  But what I have always said, Sofie, and will continue to say to Australians right across our nation, is that these issues, these matters cannot be solved by governments alone.  These are whole‑of‑community issues.  They are for communities, families, individuals, parliaments, the media; for all of us to say enough is enough. 

Sofie Formica:
Yes. 

Marise Payne:
And that this must stop.  And today's next steps in responding to the Jenkins review are part of that. 

Sofie Formica: There has also been a positive milestone that you are announcing today when it comes to the proportion of women on Australian Government boards?

Marise Payne:
Yes.  This is a target that this government set in 2016.  It was the first time such a target had been set and that was to ensure that more than 50 per cent ‑ or at least 50 per cent of Australian Government board positions, board positions which are within the control of the Australian Government, are held by women.  And our December 2021 figures show us that women now hold a record 50.2 per cent of Australian Government board positions.  This is fulfilling that commitment from 2016.  It is a very strong achievement, and I want to thank the cabinet colleagues and the departmental officials who have assisted in achieving this point.  These names have to be brought forward, people have to be engaged in the process, it doesn't happen by itself.  So, I'm very pleased to see us go past that.  And it is about supporting more women into leadership positions in the public sector and hopefully we will see that continue in the private sector as well.

Sofie Formica:
As Minister for Women you have also recently appointed Christine Clarke as Australia's Ambassador for Women and Girls. There may be many Australians, Minister, who don't even know that we have such an appointee. What are the Government's objectives when it comes to appointing an Ambassador and how does this agenda align with our own domestic challenges and the opportunities that may arise?

Marise Payne:
It is a really important ambassadorial role, Sofie, and it's one which I know Ms Clarke is very honoured to take on following in the footsteps of people like Julie‑Ann Guivarra, who was our first indigenous Ambassador, her predecessor Natasha Stott Despoja and Shaman Stone both her predecessors will be known to many as former members of the Parliament.  It's important for Australia to work across our region, particularly, on gender equality.  And that is ensuring that women in the Indo‑Pacific in particular have the opportunities to participate to the fullest extent in their communities and in their countries.  There are some countries for example in the Pacific where there are still no women elected to parliament, that's something that I have always focused on during my career over many years now.  But Ms Clarke's role will be to make sure that she is working for gender equality and for women and girls across the region with our partners in so many countries, and I had a function last night with the Pacific Heads of Mission, Ambassadors and High Commissioners.  I was very pleased to see that we were able to welcome almost half of those Ambassadors and High Commissioners here in Canberra, who are leading female diplomats from nations around the region.  Working with those people will be part of Christine Clarke's remit. 

Sofie Formica:
I've got a lot of things I would like to get through with you today, Minister, and one is your thoughts on the legislative front. There's going to be plenty of discussion today around the contentious religious discrimination bill.  It became a central issue surrounding a Christian school here in Brisbane last week, and central to that was some language used in an enrolment contract with parents which then has seen a principal have to step down and some public protests gather.  The Prime Minister will be keen to have this pass in the face of resistance within the party as well.  I would love to know your personal views on the bill and if you think it will be passed in this sitting fortnight?

Marise Payne:
I understand that the intention is for the bill to be debated certainly in this sitting fortnight and dealt with in this sitting fortnight.  It is a commitment which as you would be aware as a government we took to the last federal election and one which we intend to proceed with.  I did see the media surrounding the school in Queensland last week and I understand that that has been dealt with within the school itself.  The bill has been through two committees in the Christmas period essentially, the Senator Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights and I think there has been a majority recommendations from both of those recommending that the bill be passed.  We have been engaged in debate and discussion in our own party room today, as I'm sure other members of the parliament have been, and I know that that will continue. 

Sofie Formica:
As Foreign Minister we also know that there is an awful lot going on in the current geopolitical tensions across the globe. You seem to have at this point a simultaneous approach, becoming closer to those that we have as our long‑term friends. Traditionally we have relied upon them as evidenced by the AUKUS alliance, and then we are also ensuring that we have our revolving partners like Japan and India becoming closer as evidenced by the Quad Alliance. So when it comes to the foreign affairs portfolio I would love you to be able to talk to us about the value of each set of these relationships and how you balance that historical trust on one hand with an eye on the future. Why is the Quad so important and what's on the agenda? I know you are set to meet. 

Marise Payne:
We are meeting this week in Melbourne, Sofie, and I am very pleased to be able to say that my Quad partners at Foreign Minister level, the US Secretary of State, the Indian Minister for External Affairs and the Japanese Foreign Minister will all be joining me here in person in Australia.  I think that is a testament to their commitment to what is a very important grouping in the Indo‑Pacific.  We are very focused on the work that we do across the Indo‑Pacific.  We see ASEAN at the centre of the region and the ASEAN outlook on the Indo‑Pacific as a very good template for the priorities that we have for security, for stability, for prosperity and for growth.  We also know that there are serious challenges, of course, to address.  Not just in terms of some of the larger strategic challenges but more directly at home, for many of the countries across the region the challenges caused by the impact of COVID‑19 their economies, on their health security.  And, frankly, on the position of women and girls in their communities.  Our focus on vaccines, on infrastructure, on climate and the issues that are of major concern to the region I think reinforces our ability as liberal democracies who promote freedoms and transparency and openness, and who reject authoritarianism, is about making sure that we are responding to the priorities of the countries with whom we work in the Indo‑Pacific.  I'm very much looking forward to welcoming my colleagues to Melbourne this week. 

Sofie Formica:
Minister, I have so many more questions for you.  I want to be able to talk to you about cyber security and our privacy concerns.  I know I'm running out of time, I only have about a minute with you and I would like to have you acknowledge the current tensions between Australia and China.  We know that there are so many newspaper headlines. But I would love you to tell us if you can just a little bit about the art of diplomacy and what might be happening that the Australian public isn't aware of behind the scenes.  How healthy is the Chinese‑Australian relationship?

Marise Payne:
Sofie, there is no denying, and the Government has been very clear, that there are a number of issues on which China and Australia have been expressing different views in recent times.  But our ultimate goal is to ensure that we have a constructive relationship with China; one of our largest trading partners, a close neighbour in the Indo‑Pacific region and also the genesis of one of the most extraordinary diverse parts of the multicultural community in Australia.  There is no question that our Chinese‑Australian diaspora is a fabulous part of our country and I acknowledge that it's lunar new year, or thereabouts, at this time and I commend them on those very festive celebrations.  We also have an important National Foundation for Australia‑China Relations and I would love to talk to you about that more someday.  We cooperate where we are able to and we pursue a relationship that ensures that our sovereignty and our interests are respected in which no party is coerced or subject to pressures that breach international rules and norms.  And so we seek engagement and a very constructive approach and I look forward to continuing to do that. 

Sofie Formica:
I will save the cyber security conversation for another day, so that means you do have to come back and talk to me again.  Because, finally, Minister, I would like to get your comments on the fact that we are heading into a federal election, the headlines and the text leaking is certainly distracting for the Government.  We know now that the Deputy Prime Minister isn't going anywhere for now.  The texts in question, regardless of who they came from, do question the Prime Minister's character.  Do you think that Scott Morrison continues to be the right person to lead your party and all of you into the next election and beyond?

Marise Payne:
Sofie, I have known Prime Minister Morrison for over two decades.  Both inside and outside the Parliament.  I have absolute confidence and he has my absolute support as the Prime Minister of Australia.  What we have experienced coming through the pandemic in the last two years is a period of time like no other in my parliamentary experience, and, in fact, in my lifetime.  And what we have been able to do is in Australia in terms of achieving one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, now able to start a children's vaccination program which many other countries are still yet to embark upon, running a booster program which again many other countries are still to embark upon.  These have been enormous challenges. We have worked to keep people in jobs and businesses afloat and that is due to the Prime Minister and his leadership.  I know it's happened in Queensland, I know it's happened in my own state and I commend him for it. 

Sofie Formica:
Marise Payne, thank you so much for being on 4BC afternoons.  I look forward to having you back again. 

Marise Payne:
Thanks very much.

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