Interview with Monique Wright, Sunrise

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australia-PNG relationship; Australia-Papua New Guinea Ministerial Forum; Cheng Lei; Premier Li’s visit.

Monique Wright, Host: Australia has made a new move in the diplomatic battle for control of the South Pacific this morning, strengthening our security agreement with Papua New Guinea. Several of Australia's most senior government ministers have travelled to our closest neighbour to meet with their counterparts, with concerns over China's growing influence in the region front of mind following Beijing's attempt to woo the strategically-placed country. For more let's cross live now to our Foreign Minister Penny Wong, who is in Port Moresby. Morning to you, thanks so much for being with us. So given the new security initiatives that you announced ‑‑

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

Wright: Thank you. Can we count on PNG do you think to be on our side if there is a dispute in the South Pacific?

Foreign Minister: Look, we're here as a ministerial delegation with, you know, our closest neighbour, a country that has fought with us, a country, you know, who became independent as a result of the actions of Australia alongside Papua New Guinea. So we have a long‑standing history, a very close relationship and that's reflected in the forum that we have had.

Of course, what I've said already is, you know, we're in a permanent contest in the Pacific and so what that means is Australia has to continue to step up, we have to continue to be a more engaged, more involved partner in the Pacific.

Wright: Yeah, okay. Let's talk about these interesting comments yesterday from your counterpart from PNG, that the Foreign Minister there, hoping to send more temporary workers to Australia, but the Foreign Minister said that we have to make sure that Australia doesn't get any of their riff‑raff problems. How do we ensure that?

Foreign Minister: Well, we know that, you know, workers coming to Australia from Papua New Guinea and from other countries in the Pacific is good for us. You know, a lot of those workers do things such as fruit picking, very important for the Australian economy, particularly the agricultural sector. But we want to make sure that, you know, it's sustainable. We want to make sure that those workers are supported and that they have the skills that employers need. I think what Justin Tkatchenko was saying is that we want to make sure that, Papua New Guinea wants to make sure that the workers that they give us reflect the sorts of needs of the Australian industry.

Wright: Yeah, okay. There's been plenty of discussion following Australian journalist Cheng Lei's treatment by Chinese officials during the Chinese Premier's recent visit here in Australia. Have we received any kind of apology from Beijing? Because Cheng Lei also says she was blocked from another press event, this time between Peter Dutton and China's Premier? If that is the case this is an outrageous situation.

Foreign Minister: Well, I think let's be very clear. What we say is, you know, we believe in freedom of the press. I've spoken to Cheng Lei. I've made clear to her, as has the Prime Minister publicly, you know, she has our support and that's why the Prime Minister raised this matter directly with Premier Li personally before he left. You know, obviously freedom of the press matters in Australia and we're very supportive of Cheng Lei. As you know we worked very hard to support her and we're so pleased that she was able to come back home to Australia to be with her kids.

Wright: Yes, which is wonderful, but this is how she was treated by Chinese officials. We're looking at vision right now inside the Parliament House, our Parliament House. And then yesterday she says she that she was pre‑approved to be at this event and then was blocked from attending. I mean viewers are quite rightly absolutely outraged by this.

Foreign Minister: And freedom of the press matters and certainly I haven't seen the second event, but I certainly saw the footage of the first event at Parliament House and that was the wrong thing to do. That should not have happened. We were very pleased that she could attend the press conference but concerned about what has occurred, so it is a good thing the Prime Minister has raised this directly with Premier Li.

Wright: Yeah, all right. Foreign Minister Penny Wong, we really appreciate your time this morning from PNG. Thank you.

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