Bridget Brennan, ABC News Breakfast

  • Transcript E&OE
Subjects: Australia-PNG relationship; Australia-Papua New Guinea Ministerial Forum; Nuclear energy; Hamas-Israel conflict.

Bridget Brennan, Host: Just days after the Chinese Premier wrapped up his visit, Australia's diplomatic focus turned to the Pacific with a delegation of senior ministers in Papua New Guinea to discuss security and the aftermath of last month's deadly landslide. Among them is Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, who joins us now from Enga Province. Good morning to you, Foreign Minister, great to see you.

Penny Wong, Foreign Minister: Good to be with you.

Bridget Brennan: Just tell us about the purpose of this visit of this very high‑level delegation, I believe it's one of the largest delegations you've taken to PNG. What's the purpose of this trip?

Foreign Minister: Well, Papua New Guinea is the only country where we have this type of engagement, multiple ministers sitting down with their counterparts in this ministerial forum, and as you said in the introduction, this is one of the most senior delegations Australia has ever sent, with a number of cabinet ministers and ministers who work in areas that are relevant to the Pacific.

So, it's very important, because this is our closest neighbour, we have a long‑standing history with Papua New Guinea, and Papua New Guinea's stability and security is good for Australia, it's good for Papua New Guinea, and it's also good for the region.

Bridget Brennan: Last year, the Prime Minister, James Marape said that PNG was caught in a confluence of interest in the region, and we know there are competing interests and competing demands for attention in the Pacific. How is Australia faring in terms of our relationship with PNG given China's influence in the region?

Foreign Minister: Look, I said a few days ago that we are in a state of permanent contest in the Pacific, and I meant it. The, you know, ability to be, or the opportunity to be the only partner of choice was lost under Peter Dutton and the Liberals. We are now in a permanent contest, and what we have to do to assure Australia's interests is to keep engaging with Papua New Guinea and other members of the Pacific Islands Forum, to keep ensuring we work with them to assure their security needs, because our view, as is the view of the leaders of the Pacific is that if security is provided within the Pacific family, on that path is security and stability for all.

Bridget Brennan: We saw a devastating toll from that landslide a few weeks ago, and I know Australia offered a lot of support after that event. Will you be able to speak to communities affected and have a look at some of the aid that's gone in that region?

Foreign Minister: Look, I hope so. We are going to Enga Province today, which is where this, you know, horrific landslide occurred. As you said, we offered support immediately, we provided an initial $2.5 million in humanitarian assistance, we've sent a team in to assess damage and to give the advice to the Papua New Guinean Government about the extent of the damage and risk and what more needs to be done.

But there is a lot of rebuilding, potentially relocation, which will have to occur, and what I said to Prime Minister Marape last night at dinner is that we will work with them on working out how we provide the solutions and the assistance to the people of this province and this village.

Our condolences go to all those who have lost someone, and there have been many people who have been grieving for weeks now.

Bridget Brennan: Penny Wong, Peter Dutton said his plan towards nuclear energy in Australia is a pragmatic solution to keep the lights on. What's your assessment?

Foreign Minister: It's a risky and expensive gamble that won't work. I mean that's the reality. I mean this is decades of subsidy from Australians on, you know, infrastructure and technology we don't have in order to deliver higher electricity prices.

You know, we've seen what happens when the Coalition, you know, does this. They are so allergic to renewables. We saw under them power exit the system because they gave the private sector no certainty, no one was investing in energy, and now he wants to delay for decades and ensure that taxpayers stump up the money to build these plants. It's just risky, expensive, and it won't work.

Bridget Brennan: Peter Dutton points to countries like France. I believe France is using about 70 per cent of its energy mix from nuclear alongside renewables. He says that's an example for Australia to move towards our commitment to meet those 2050 targets. What do you make of that?

Foreign Minister: Well, I'd say to him that France has had nuclear energy for a very, very long time. The problem we have here is ‑ and this is ‑ I know this has been an obsession of the Coalition for decades, John Howard commissioned a study to look at nuclear power, and it was found to be, you know, many, many decades of subsidy from taxpayers before you'd actually get anything, and even then it would be the most expensive form of power, leaving aside all of the risks that people are concerned about. So yet again we see Peter Dutton putting up something that is not going to help Australian households which won't deliver power in any timeframe that matters and will deliver more expensive power after people have had to subsidise it for decades. So I just think this really is no plan, worse than no plan actually, it's a risky gamble from Peter Dutton.

Bridget Brennan: Let's go to Gaza where the UN has reconfirmed it is the most dangerous place in the world to be an aid worker; hundreds of thousands of people facing famine conditions. Do you continue to have a dialogue with the Israeli Government about your concerns about the way in which this conflict is being carried out?

Foreign Minister: We've been very clear about our position, whether it's in our engagement with Israel, whether it's in our voting position in the United Nations, whether it's in my public statements or the Prime Minister's public statements, we've been very clear, and what we ‑ what I say is this: President Biden has put out a ceasefire plan, but all parties should agree to it, we should have a ceasefire, hostages should be released, aid should flow and civilians should be protected. The cost of this conflict has been catastrophic, and what is occurring in Gaza is horrific, and we have to find a pathway out. The American President has put on the table a pathway out, and all parties should back it in.

Bridget Brennan: Thanks very much, Penny Wong, for your time this morning. I wouldn't mind a bit of your weather this morning. Pretty freezing here in Melbourne. Have a good trip.

Foreign Minister: It's pretty warm here, yeah, it's not ‑ we're looking forward to getting back to Australia, but it's going to be chilly. Thanks very much.

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