Interview with Michael Rowland, ABC News Breakfast

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: FIFA Women’s World Cup; Matildas’ loss to Nigeria; AUSMIN; cooperation in the Pacific and on climate change; Prime Minister’s visits to US and China.

Michael Rowland, Host: Well, just hours after hosting a World Cup clash, Brisbane will stay a big focus on the world stage today – the city is hosting the high-level AUSMIN talks this weekend, bringing together Australia's defence and foreign ministers with their US counterparts.

The Foreign Minister here, Penny Wong, joins us now. Minister, good morning.

Penny Wong, Foreign Minister: Good morning to you.

Rowland: Firstly, I believe you went to the Matildas' game last night. Nigeria potentially crueling the Matildas' World Cup chances. I think the only response from Australia now is to sever diplomatic ties with Nigeria, don't you agree?

Foreign Minister: It might be a bit harsh, but it was heartbreaking, wasn't it? I mean, we watched with bated breath. There was a goal in that first half. Everybody was, you know, super excited. And then just before half time we saw the equaliser and then, you know, heartbreak in the second half. So, like I'm sure every Australian, we were pretty disappointed, but we'll have to focus on the Canada game and obviously hope we get the result there that carries us through.

Rowland: Let's hope so. Listen, I want to talk about AUSMIN, but firstly to the news this morning – the federal government confirming it will re-introduce the housing bill into the House of Reps next week. If it's blocked again a second time, of course it gives the government a trigger for a potential double-dissolution election. How much is the government angling here Penny Wong, for an early election?

Foreign Minister: Well the government's angling for and what the government is focused on is more housing for Australians. That's what we're focused on. And we want to give the Greens an opportunity to not vote with the Coalition – that's a pretty-odd alliance, isn't it – to not vote with the Coalition and to vote for more housing in Australia. It's as simple as that.

Rowland: Okay. But if it is blocked again, how willing is the government to take this issue to the people?

Foreign Minister: Well, look, I'm not speculating about that. My focus as Senate leader will be on advocating to the Greens and to the community why we need this legislation. We know the problems of housing supply in this country. We know that the best way to reduce the pressure on rents and the increasing cost of rentals and the best way to reduce the cost of housing is to increase supply. And the Greens voting with Peter Dutton has to be one of the most unholy alliances we've seen for some time in politics.

Rowland: Okay. Let's turn to the AUSMIN talks. As you know, so much going on strategically in our region. What will be top on the agenda for you and Richard Marles when you sit down with your US counterparts?

Foreign Minister: Well, look, obviously there's security cooperation. That's critical. Cooperation in the Pacific and our region, also critical. And cooperation on climate, which, as you know, was – is such a pressing crisis for the world but also was a focus of the Prime Minister's announcement with President Biden in Hiroshima. Climate is the third pillar of the alliance, it's very important to us, making sure we can work together to accelerate the transition of countries in the region and ourselves to clean energy.

Rowland: Is the US engaged as much as Australia would like it to be engaged in your view in our region?

Foreign Minister: The US is deeply engaged in the region. And the fact that we've seen the second AUSMIN in I think it's eight months on top of leaders meetings, we've seen Secretary Austin was in Papua New Guinea I think yesterday on his way to Australia. We've seen Secretary Blinken also meeting with Pacific Island countries. The US recognises, and the administration recognises, the importance of the United States to this region. They are indispensable to the balance in the region, the strategic equilibrium, how we make sure we get the region we want – peaceful, stable and prosperous, where sovereignty is respected. The US is indispensable to that.

Rowland: Okay. Are we expecting to get details at the end of this meeting or perhaps as early as today about a potential visit by the Prime Minister to the White House sometime later this year?

Foreign Minister: Well, look, you know that's something we're looking to have, and I'm sure that the Prime Minister and the President will make that announcement in due course.

Rowland: Okay, and what's the likelihood of the Prime Minister visiting Beijing this year?

Foreign Minister: Well, the Prime Minister has made clear he has – he looks forward to visiting Beijing, that he's pleased to accept the invitation. What I have said to my counterpart Wang Yi, as you know, is we obviously want – we look forward to that visit and we want the most positive circumstances for such a visit. So we continue to look for progress on the trade impediments, including barley and wine. We continue to advocate for Ms Cheng Lei and Dr Yang. We're pleased that we've seen some progress on the economic front, and we look forward to more progress.

Rowland: On that front, reports this morning that China is growing increasingly frustrated with the time taken for this security review into this Chinese company's leasing on the – leasing of the Port of Darwin, putting that as a potential handbrake to the stabilisation of relations. Where is that security review at at the moment, Minister?

Foreign Minister: That is – that is still under review as I understand it in the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet. And certainly, we'll make sure that we consider that appropriately. We understand the interest both in Australia but also from the Chinese side.

Rowland: Okay. Penny Wong, really appreciate your time this morning. Busy weekend coming up. Thanks for joining us.

Foreign Minister: Yeah, it is, indeed. Great to be with you.

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