Q & A

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Foreign Relations; Global Institutions; China; WTO.

SIMON JACKMAN: For me, I contrast the Australian Foreign Policy White Paper of 2017 with the Asian Century White Paper not so long ago, the speech you gave tonight. And like the Foreign Policy White Paper where security, sovereignty, resilience are much more up towards the front of the speech and of the relevant documents than they say were in a document like the Asian Century White Paper from not that long ago, less than a decade ago. And at various points tonight, you spoke about the difference, particularly right at the end there, sort of long term gain perhaps for short term sacrifice needed to ensure over the long haul we hang on to our values. 

And- but the bigger arc here though is about the way foreign policy has come home to roost, about how threats like cyber are now not things that are happening to us out there, but are here. And so I'm trying to connect the dots here a little bit and see if I can draw you out on it. Is there a version of the near future where Australia goes above 2 per cent of GDP, given that uncertainty you spoke about associated with strategic competition, where- and indeed some- what forms might that short term pain, if you will, in order to realize that long term gain will look like for those of us here at home, in the spirit of foreign policy, having to impose costs here on us locally?

MARISE PAYNE: I think one of the important things that government must do, and must assure the community that it does, is to constantly review those settings. So yes, a Defence White Paper, Foreign Policy White Paper launched within the same term of government — and the Foreign Policy White Paper in fact filled a very long gap since there had been such a document — they are foundational documents. There is no question of that. 

But what governments must do is to constantly and consistently review the settings that we take into the international community, and frankly that we take into the domestic discussion. If we did not do that — and in some ways, I think I was trying to point out with the rapidity of change that is that is what we do do. And if we did not do that we would be, I think, complicit in not ensuring we are prepared for what lies ahead.

Now nobody — nobody, I don't care who says they do — has a crystal ball. Not least one that's functional. So with it — in the absence of that piece of technology and I did ask the Defence Science and Technology Group repeatedly to please produce it. In the absence of that piece of technology- in fact I asked Thales too, I think Chris, from memory. 

SIMON JACKMAN: Working on it. 

MARISE PAYNE: That is what you have to do, and you do that by constant engagement and communication and work with our key partners, allies, and our counterparts regionally and globally. You do that through engagement in the institutions that are part of the rules-based global order. You do that by working with key agencies and we have- from Australia's perspective we have a very special relationship, as you know, with our Five Eyes colleagues- Five Eyes partners, the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia are absolutely pivotal to ensuring that those conversations occur, so that review process occurs domestically, it occurs internationally, and governments make their policy settings based on constantly reviewing that. 

SIMON JACKMAN: I guess though I'm interested in how you bring the public along if the notion of short term pain is in the offing, and how that conversation works? One of the things we encounter a lot as a US Studies Centre is we have perhaps not people in this room, but people not in this room, the pace at which, say, official Australia — the things official Australia is saying about our relationship with China are quite different to the things they were saying about it five, six, seven years ago. 

MARISE PAYNE: But they must be said. 

SIMON JACKMAN: Right. What else — of that — in that bucket of short term pain that we may be looking at, what sort of things must we prepare the Australian public for perhaps?

MARISE PAYNE: Well, again, back to the lack of a crystal ball but obviously you have to prepare as much as you possibly can for fissures in the international structures that are unexpected. So, if you had asked the international community ten years ago whether we expected to see this sort of engagement on trade issues that we are seeing between China and the United States now in 2019, the international community would have said well no, no. There may be some prescient individuals who may have said yes, but in the broad, they would have said no. So as we come closer to dealing with those sorts of challenges, we have to be very clear about where we stand. 

And I think it was literally in this room I think where the Prime Minister indicated this is not about making binary choices, but it is about saying to the community- is about saying broadly that we have two very important relationships here. One is based on all those aspects of history and engagement that I spoke about; the other is based in a more contemporary and newer Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. They are very different relationships and they are prosecuted very differently for that- for that reason. 

We are not the same as any other country in the Five Eyes. We are not the same as any other country in the world. And we will always prosecute that case according to Australia's national interests. And if you predicate your responses on what might be short term pain, as you had termed it, by always enunciating that as a government you are acting in Australia's national interests and explain that that premise, I think that is a very important starting point.

SIMON JACKMAN: Fair enough. Last one from me before we — a little bit of time for questions from the audience and for that reason I’ll give you a bit of a two-parter. Little less highfalutin and more in the US-Australia bilateral, and that is I know at the Palo Alto AUSMIN when you were still Defence Minister; I know at the most recent AUSMIN here in Sydney, this sort of chain of agreements between Australia and the US — one of them blossoming into a trilateral with Japan — on things not painted battleship grey in the Indo-Pacific, infrastructure, public health, and other things besides. When or what or when will be the runs on the board there that you think we can we can point to in the reasonable to near term? 

And moreover, [indistinct] throw one on the fire that I didn't hear in the speech tonight and that is democracy promotion. Values suffused through the speech, as they do through any, I think, articulation of Australian foreign policy and its foundations at the moment. And to be sure there is what we would in academic circles call a fair amount of ideation at work in the battle for hearts and minds here, to what extent that is part of the Government's thinking, particularly in the swing of non-battleship-grey initiatives that we’re pursuing in …

MARISE PAYNE: [Talks over] [Indistinct] democracy? 

SIMON JACKMAN: Well, democracy promotion. And is that part of the suite of things along with infrastructure and [indistinct] and digital economy and things like that, where might democracy promotion be in Pacific step up, dot, dot, dot? 

MARISE PAYNE: Sure. So I think in response to your first question, we have seen a very effective underpinning of AUSMIN meetings. And I've had the opportunity to participate, in several in two incarnations in a number of locations obviously. We have seen an underpinning of those with a very proactive approach to implementation to a work plan, that is actually the plan agreed between officials once the secretaries and the ministers have left the room, agreed between officials to implement the commitments. And I think the example that I gave about the Indo-Pacific mechanism is a very good example. So AUSMIN-New South Wales State Parliament, August this year. 

Commitment between Prime Minister Morrison and President Trump on 20 September in Washington to implement and to engage the Indo-Pacific mechanism, first meeting last week. Now even from the point of time in which I took up the role as Australia's Defence Minister in 2016, I would not have seen a pace of that nature until we actually put the work plan process underneath how AUSMIN has operated. So whilst I think it is often characterised as a meeting of the Ministers and the Secretaries, what is really important to understand is that depth of officials’ engagement between Australia and the United States is so significant, is so ingrained and is literally the way we do business. And the statistic which sticks in my mind from my previous role — I remember speaking at an ADM event in Canberra about this is that across maybe 36 states of the US, more than 600 ADF officials, both uniformed and civilian, were embedded in the US system. And the numbers are proportionately similar in reverse.

So what that says to me is this is not about who's standing up here. It's not about the Secretaries and the Ministers who are in the room. It's really about the breadth, but most importantly the depth. And so I think we are good at doing that. The trilateral-TSD, you've spoken about, the trilateral strategic dialogue, and again, a very powerful meeting in Bangkok on the sidelines of the EAS this year between Mike Pompeo, then Taro Kono and myself. But what we saw at APEC in Papua New Guinea at the end of last year was a manifestation in the infrastructure sense of a partnership that also includes New Zealand about electrification in Papua New Guinea, that is changing Papua New Guinea's electrification capacity from 13 per cent currently to 70 per cent under this infrastructure partnership. That is absolutely transformative. And so if you want to operationalise those things, then that is the way to do it. 

In Fiji, at the moment, a number of us with the ADB are examining with Fiji, the Government of Fiji, the Nandi River Project, which again is a very, very important development for the people of Fiji and a priority of the Government of Fiji. What our trilateral engagements, what our minilateral engagements enable us to do is to far more effectively engage in those discussions than simply from- than we have historically and to produce outcomes. And so I think they are operationalised in that way. And part of what we do most definitely across the region is to engage, particularly in the Pacific, around democracy as you have put it, both within the parliaments but also within the public services. And that is a really important part of our work. And it is something which I think Australia has done proudly for many, many years both from the employed side of my business if you like, from DFAT, but also through Australian Volunteers International, through so many different organisations that you find across the Pacific who are who are helping, supporting, engaging with their public sectors, with their Parliaments on these aspects of democracy that enable us to talk about values, that enable us to talk about representative democracy, and with my other hat on momentarily as the Minister for Women, encourage those countries in which there are no elected women to contemplate next steps as to what might encourage that diversity into a Parliament. And there's a lot of work that I am enjoying, bringing together between foreign affairs and women, in that portfolio sense, which goes exactly to that point.


Drew has a microphone. If you could please raise your hand and we'll get you a mic. And time is very tight, ladies and gentlemen, I’m sorry about that. So if we could keep it short. 

MARISE PAYNE: I can promise shorter answers. 


Question: Two quick ones from me. Thank you very much for the speech, Foreign Minister. 


Question: Will Glasgow from The Australian. First question, it was a very optimistic speech about Australia's place in the world, and especially the role of western liberal democracies. There’s been some champions of Australia joining or enlarging the G7, making it the G8 again. There's been champions of that domestically and internationally. I would like to know are you a champion of that idea? And if not, why not? And then the other one a bit more of a bubble question, just because I think it’ll be asked or it’ll be in commentary tomorrow, this speech, beyond Simon being a very charming guy, to give a speech on- I mean a really interesting speech on your world view, the Government’s world view, and especially China in Australia’s future — to give that speech at the United States Studies Centre seems really pointed. Is it or- why give the speech here and not at another forum?

MARISE PAYNE: Well, see Will, you’ve missed the series. So I had the opportunity to speak recently to CEDA in Canberra, where a lot of these points were elucidated, and I'm enjoying the opportunity to develop those. And you're right, an invitation from Simon Jackman is impossible to refuse.


But not just there. Last year and particularly on the cyber and the technology aspects of this last year, if I’m allowed to mention the name of other institutes and think tanks here, the world won’t fall down. I accepted an invitation with Dr Toby Feakin to go to Lowy and talk about those challenges. So they're not new views but they're certainly important views to articulate in the context of Australia's foreign policy. As to whether Australia is ambitious to join other pieces of international architecture, I think that is a matter governments will look at in time. But most importantly, those pieces of regional and international architecture which I have identified tonight — ASEAN, its centrality, absolutely the focus in our Indo-Pacific engagement. The EAS, the IORA across the Indian Ocean, they are here in the Indo-Pacific. They are absolutely fundamental to how we do business.

Interestingly, and I think ASEAN is an excellent case in point. In the last two years, I have had a series of very wide-ranging discussions with ASEAN counterparts, which as a student of the region over almost more than two decades in the Parliament, I think would not have been possible 10, or 15, or 12, 15 years ago. Conversations about very, very serious human rights issues in Myanmar — an ASEAN member — where the countries of ASEAN working through a AHA — the humanitarian agency — are also focused on addressing that challenge. And if you think about the fundamentals that brought ASEAN together, particularly the non-interference aspect, that is a change. A change in concern about human rights and those humanitarian issues and trying to work with a member at the same time to address those — I think that is that is very important. If you had asked, I think many commentators ten years ago, eight years ago, would they have expected in 2019 to see ASEAN produce an Indo-Pacific concept of their own? The answer would have been highly unlikely. Highly unlikely, if not no.

And so those developments are really important in our region, and it's very important that Australia maintains the closest consultative engaged partnerships with the members of ASEAN and then more broadly across the Indo-Pacific, to make sure that we are in pursuit of a region that is secure, that is stable, that is prosperous, that is open, that is free. That we are working with the people we live with to achieve that. And so our focus is very much in that. If a government was to choose to seek engagement in a different piece of international architecture, ultimately that would be a decision for government and of course the accepting body were it be the case. 

Unidentified Speaker: Geraldine? 

MARISE PAYNE: I really did not shorten that answer. I’m sorry. Hello, Geraldine. 

Question: Hello [indistinct], hello Minister. Look, I wonder if you react to this morning, quite a prominent column from the ex-ambassador to China, Geoff Raby, worrying as he has — he's not alone, of course — about the domination of the Australia-China policy by the security military establishment. In his final words — it is time for diplomats to be put in charge, back in charge of our foreign policy on China, and others have called for a rearrangement of arrangements inside the Cabinet. What is your response to that?

MARISE PAYNE: I respectfully disagree with Dr Raby. 


Unidentified Speaker: Moving right along. 

Question: Thank you Minister. Can I ask you specifically about one international institution, the WTO? What does- does the Australian Government believe it will survive the departure of two of the three appeal panel judges in December? And could you outline what the Government is doing to ensure that what I think is an important part of our- in our interest to ensure the WTO continues?

MARISE PAYNE: Absolutely in our interest, and I'd like to introduce you, if he was here, to the other half of my tag team, Simon Birmingham, who is very focused on those issues that you raise. And he has been working assiduously at the same time as prosecuting the case for three recently agreed FTAs, as well as negotiating the RCEP and bringing the IA-CEPA home earlier this year — working very assiduously to advance Australia's case for the preservation, but the reform of the WTO. And the reform that brings it to a point of contemporaneity that you would expect a world trading organisation to have. I think as I've said recently — and I think Simon has also — there are things that we are now trading whose invention was not even contemplated at the point of development of the rules that underpin the WTO. So this is a significant task. I am not able to predict the outcome, and I don't intend to try and second guess the work that Simon is doing in that regard. But I can assure you that it is an absolute focus of this government, and working with key partners to ensure that we are addressing those challenges in the most timely way that we can, bearing in mind that the marker is a very hard marker. 

Unidentified Speaker: Former partner in crime.

MARISE PAYNE: A former partner in crime? 

Question: Minister, thanks for your speech and the very clear calls on the importance human rights, which I think is very consistent with comments you’ve made on regional events so far this year. My question is about the future of the Five Eyes. You've talked about reforming institutions, and I'm interested as to whether you see a need or the possibility to reform that de facto grouping of democracies to make the conversation a little bit richer than just security policy?

MARISE PAYNE: Well, James, I think there's an assumption inherent in your question, which I absolutely understand. Because that is how it is always characterised, that it is largely based in that historical footing, if you like. But really, even in the amount of time that I have been- had the opportunity, the honour, of working in these roles, it has changed. It has progressed, if you like. The conversations have progressed, the characters around the table have changed from an intelligence-based only lead, to involving defence ministers, involving foreign ministers, and developing the depth of the conversation because the challenges that we face are so significant. And they are, in so many ways, shared. So I'll take one relatively benign example, which is actually benign in conversation but absolutely diabolical in implementation, and that is threats to the democratic process in a number of our countries that we have seen, particularly by cyber breaches and cyber security threats. That is something which brings together a much larger grouping of people around the table for discussion than just intelligence officials, because they are fundamentally important to our democracy. So you will see- we see, I see every week engagements across multiple platforms, multiple portfolio and policy areas, which are predicated on that unity of the Five Eyes, but which go much further than its historic purpose. 

Unidentified Speaker: I'm afraid that will be our last question tonight. We're running a little bit out of time. But our hosts get the last word. Thank you so much.

Host: Foreign Minister Payne, Professor [Indistinct]. Ladies and gentlemen my name's Edward Johnson and I'm the …

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