ABC AM with David Lipson

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Crisis in Sudan; Humanitarian flight to Cyprus; Barley trade dispute; Pacific leaders meeting in Port Moresby.

David Lipson, Host: The United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan warns that the crisis in the country is turning into a full-blown catastrophe. Fighting between rival military forces is in its third week, and the UN estimates at least 100,000 people have fled the country. Penny Wong is the Foreign Minister, and she joins me on the line. Minister, thanks for your time. Have more Australians been able to leave Sudan? 

Penny Wong, Foreign Minister: Good morning, David. Good to be with you. Look, first is to say you're right in what you said in your introduction, the security situation in Sudan is very dangerous, and it is volatile, and as you know we have been doing all we can to assist Australians with the support of our partners, bearing in mind we don't have people on the ground in an embassy in Sudan.

I'm grateful to members of the ADF, Australian Defence Force. We had a plane overnight taking some Australians, some 36 Australians and their family members, as well as citizens from 15 partner countries out of Sudan. They safely landed in Cyprus around 4:20 am this morning. So that is a good outcome. We're pleased that that's happened safely in what is quite a difficult security situation.

Unfortunately, we still have Australians on the ground, and we'll continue to engage through our consular team with the Australians who are on the ground, and I urge people to make sure they are registered.

David, this brings to, I think 191 Australians that we've assisted or have been able to secure passage out of the country since the crisis began.

Lipson: Can you offer anymore detail on how that flight happened, where it came from? You mentioned Cyprus is where it landed, and also whether there is a chance there could be more flights like that? 

Foreign Minister: This is an ADF asset that was positioned in Cyprus to contribute to the international effort. Obviously our focus in the early days, given we're a long way away, is to - was to work with partner countries, and we're really grateful to the many nations, the United Kingdom, the US, Canada, France, Germany, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, amongst others, and also the support of Egypt. These are all countries with whom we worked in the earlier days to get Australians out.

But we did have an asset that was sent to Cyprus, and given that the United Kingdom was not flying overnight, we offered that that plane contribute to the international efforts, and we're pleased that they've landed safely.

Lipson: Is Australia planning any humanitarian assistance to Sudan? 

Foreign Minister: Look, we obviously provide core funding to those UN agencies that are already delivering assistance, and to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent. We will look at, after our focus shifts to the humanitarian effort, we will look at what options we have within our development assistance budget for more humanitarian assistance. I would say though our focus at the moment is on the consular effort and the remaining Australians.

Lipson: And what's your message to those remaining Australians? I mean can they expect any further flights, or what should they do? 

Foreign Minister: Well, they should register with us, with the DFAT portal, which enables registration. Most have registered, as far as we are aware, and that will ensure that we can keep in contact with them. I would emphasise it's a very volatile situation, and the security situation is worsening.

So obviously we are doing all we can, in circumstances where we do not have anybody on the ground from the Department of Foreign Affairs. We've deployed additional officers to neighbouring countries to assist people once they have exited Sudan.

Lipson: But no guarantees of more flights? 

Foreign Minister: There may be. Obviously flights are possible. We would look at that. That is something we will discuss with partner countries, but the focus has probably been more on ferries departing Port Sudan for Jeddah, and we have officers positioned in Jeddah.

Lipson: Just on another matter, the Trade Minister Don Farrell says he's heading to China very soon. He's hinted he expects China will soon unwind barley tariffs. Are you confident China will take that step as well? 

Foreign Minister: Don and I announced that Australia had agreed with China a process for barley. As you know, we have a World Trade Organization dispute in relation to actions that China has taken as relates to Australian barley, and we have agreed to suspend that World Trade Organization action for a limited period, and China has agreed to an expedited review of the actions it's taken, an extradited review of the measures which it has put in place. So this does enable a process for that to be resolved.

I would maintain what I've said from the beginning, as has the Prime Minister, that we believe it is in the interests of both countries for trade impediments to be removed, whether it be barley or wine.

Lipson: We've just got 30 seconds left, but just on the Pacific, PNG's Foreign Minister has announced that Anthony Albanese will join other Pacific leaders in Port Moresby for a meeting with the US President Joe Biden. Can you confirm the PM will attend that meeting? 

Foreign Minister: Look, I'm going to leave the PM to confirm what he is doing, but I would say this, we are very pleased that the President of the United States is demonstrating American commitment to the region, not only by attending the Quad Summit here in Australia, hosted by Australia, and hosted by the Prime Minister, but to ensure there's a visitor to Port Moresby on the way to the summit. We think that is a really important step that's been taken.

Lipson: Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, thanks for being with us.

Foreign Minister: Thanks very much.


Media enquiries

  • Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555