Interview with Patricia Karvelas, ABC RN Breakfast

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australia-Indonesia relations; AUKUS; Hong Kong national security law; Julian Assange; Special Envoy for the Pacific and Regional Affairs; Russia-Ukraine War.

Patricia Karvelas, Host: Anthony Albanese's first bilateral meeting was with Indonesia's President Joko Widodo. As Australia formally reset relations with the Indo‑Pacific. President Widodo is now in Australia, ahead of him hosting the ASEAN Summit next week, as the two countries form tighter security and economic ties. Penny Wong is the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and she joins us this morning. Minister, welcome back to the program.

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

Karvelas: Now, while the diplomatic ties are strengthening at the official level, people to people ties between Indonesia and Australia are lower. It's difficult for Indonesians to get an Australian visa. Is that something that you're going to seek to fix?

Foreign Minister: It's certainly one of the things that has been consistently raised with us, as you say Patricia. The Prime Minister will have more to say about this, but one of the things we are focused on in this visit, as you've pointed out, it's not the first, in fact, I think it's the fourth meeting between the leaders and the sixth meeting between the Foreign Ministers of Indonesia and Australia since we came to government.

One of the things we're focused on is how do we improve our economic ties. Obviously Indonesia is an increasing economic power and will be over the next decade. We want to make sure we're partners in that. So there will be a great focus on the economy and the economic relationship. As part of that you'll see some visa changes to make sure we make business travel easier.

Karvelas: Okay. So you're working on business travel being easier. How about at other levels of movement?

Foreign Minister: Well, as I said, this is something we're conscious of, this was raised with us, but I will, obviously we have to make sure that we continue to run Australia's visa system in a way that is appropriate. But I would say the PM will have more to say about this issue later in the day with the President.

What I would say is, I can flag with you that we will be making business travel easier for Indonesians to come to Australia. And that's a good thing for Australia, for investments here, and for jobs.

Karvelas: I know the announcement is happening later, but just give us a sense of the impediments to business. Well, I just want to understand, it sounds, it's a great headline, but explain to me what are the impediments to business travel that you're seeking to fix?

Foreign Minister: Well, one of the issues that President Jokowi raised on the last occasion with the Prime Minister was the length of time that business visas lasted for, how long you could have a visa arrangement for, so someone could keep coming backwards and forwards, so that's obviously one of the areas that you'll see some movement on today.

Karvelas: Okay. Indonesia and Australia are looking at partnering on using our critical minerals like nickel and lithium to dominate the lucrative renewable energy and battery market. How much would that grow trade between the two nations, and is that a priority?

Foreign Minister: Well, the transition to a clean energy economy is a priority for both nations. And President Jokowi has very clearly understood the economic opportunity for his country, he's talked a lot about the importance of Indonesia making that transition and a focus on electric vehicles, and we want to talk about how we might collaborate together.

It's a reminder isn't it, Patricia, we want to make sure that we export to the world, and participate in supply chains for the goods and services, for the products that will thrive in a net zero economy, which is where the world is going. This is part of that.

Karvelas: If you're just tuning in, this is RN Breakfast, and our guest is the Foreign Minister, Penny Wong. Penny Wong, AUKUS has been a concern for Indonesia. Will you ask the President to allow AUKUS subs to enter their waters?

Foreign Minister: Look, in relation to AUKUS, I'd make a few points. Obviously Indonesia is keen to understand what we are doing. It's keen to ensure that non‑proliferation is observed, that is nuclear material is not allowed to proliferate. We are very conscious of Indonesia's interests. We share the same motivation. We both want a peaceful and stable region. And we acquire the new submarine capability and participate in AUKUS with that objective in mind, just as we participate so deeply in the centre of the region, which is ASEAN.

We will continue to be transparent with Indonesia. We will engage with them. We will ensure that we talk through with them, as we have, what we are doing, and we've spent quite a lot of time prior to the announcement making sure the senior people in the Indonesian system understood what was going to be announced.

Karvelas: And just for some clarity, will you ask Indonesia to allow subs in its waters?

Foreign Minister: We’re in the process of acquiring a new submarine capability, and we're focused on doing that, not on those sorts of operational matters.

Karvelas: Just on some other issues, Foreign Minister. Hong Kong has issued "wanted" notices for eight activists including an Australian citizen, accusing them of national security offences.

Now, police there say they're not putting on a political show, nor disseminating fear. How would you describe Hong Kong's actions?

Foreign Minister: I have expressed publicly for some time on behalf of this country the concerns Australia has, deep concerns, about the national security laws in Hong Kong, and about their broad application. What I would say in relation to the events overnight, I want to be very clear, Australia has a view about freedom of expression, we have a view about people's right to express their political views peacefully, and people in Australia who do so in accordance with our laws will be supported. We will support those in Australia who exercise these rights.

Karvelas: Yesterday was Julian Assange's birthday inside, I think the fifth birthday inside Belmarsh Prison where the WikiLeaks co‑founder fights a US attempt to extradite him. In March you said you wanted the case brought to a close because it's dragged on long enough. But nothing's happened since. Why not?

Foreign Minister: Ultimately this is a legal case in another jurisdiction involving another country. That is both the United Kingdom and the United States. So there are limits to what Australia can do. And I know people believe that somehow we can fix this. Actually there are limits to what Australia can do. What we can do is continue to advocate to both countries our view that this has dragged on too long, and our request that this be brought to a close, and that those matters have been raised with the most senior levels of government.

Karvelas: When did you last speak to your counterparts about Julian Assange?

Foreign Minister: I'm not going to go into that, but you and I both know I've engaged with the Foreign Secretary, and obviously we have engaged with the United States. So you would expect that those matters are raised both at my level and at the most senior levels.

Karvelas: Minister, again moving on, there's been quite a lot of movement in your portfolio. Yesterday you announced a new High Commissioner for Fiji who will also be the first Special Envoy for the Pacific and Regional Affairs. What's the purpose of that role?

Foreign Minister: I've announced that very deliberately actually, and we've asked Ewen McDonald, who may not be a household name, but has worked very hard to ensure Australia's interests in the Pacific are strengthened and preserved at a time where there is obviously greater contest in the world and in the region, and I've asked Ewen to not only be our High Commissioner to Fiji, but given the centrality of Fiji and Fiji's convening power in the region, I've also asked him to be a Special Envoy for the Pacific.

We know that in addition to my travel and in addition to Pat Conroy, who's the Minister for International Development and the Pacific. We know there is a lot of engagement that is required. The tempo of engagement needs to continue to rise, and will continue to be required. So I've asked Ewen to work out of Fiji and be an envoy in the region to work on the things we share an interest in, which is, as I said, peace, stability and prosperity.

Karvelas: Is Australia in a bit of trouble with our Pacific neighbours? I mean last week the Deputy Prime Minister visited the Solomon Islands. We know that the Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare, wants to review the security pact he signed with Australia, and Vanuatu is still examining its deal. Are things getting more complicated?

Foreign Minister: I think I said after one of my interviews earlier in the year, we're not going back to where we were anywhere in the world, and certainly not in our region. We live in a much more contested world. And regrettably, during the period of the previous Government a lot of the relationships in the region weren't given the attention that was required, and you know, when there’s a vacuum others fill it.

But in my first year as Foreign Minister, I wanted to do two things. I wanted to make sure I visit every member of the Pacific Islands Forum, and I did. And I wanted to visit every member of ASEAN except for Myanmar, and I did. And the reason I did that was as a explanation of intent. It was an indication of our intent in the region. We understand our security first starts at home and in our region. And that we have a responsibility to work here with others in our region for the sort of secure region that all of us want.

Karvelas: Minister, on Sunday Ukraine's Ambassador spoke on insiders and invited you to visit Kyiv. Will you do it?

Foreign Minister: I'm honoured by the invitation, and I'll certainly visit when I'm able. But I would make the point, make a couple of points about why Ukraine matters, and the ways in which we seek to support them. There are many ways to support Ukraine, and as Foreign Minister, one of the central ways in which I want to and have supported Ukraine is to build and maintain the international solidarity with Ukraine, to build and maintain the broad and hopefully universal condemnation of Russia's illegal actions.

So the visits that I described that I've engaged in in the region, to all of the Pacific Islands Forum region, and to ASEAN has included me expressing our view about why Ukraine matters to us, why it matters to all of us. And it might be a long way from the countries of ASEAN, it might be a long way from the countries of the Pacific, but the principle that a larger country should not unilaterally invade, illegally and immorally, another country and change its borders and seek to impugn its territorial sovereignty, that matters to all countries, small and large. There's obviously a lot of disinformation in the region, and we work to counter that.

Karvelas: So for clarity, will you visit this year?

Foreign Minister: I said I will visit when I'm able, and you wouldn't expect me to flag such a visit to you on the radio.

Karvelas: But do you understand why the request has been made? Do you think it is important for the Foreign Minister to do that?

Foreign Minister: I understand why the Ukrainian Ambassador does what he does in our country to maximise support for his people in a war. He's doing exactly what I would do in the same situation, which is to continue to seek to garner support for his people and his country, and we are there; Australia continues to stand with Ukraine, and we will because it matters.

Karvelas: Foreign Minister, how many Russian diplomats have been kicked out of Australia over the last 12 months?

Foreign Minister: You wouldn't expect me to outline that on radio.

Karvelas: Can you clarify that it has happened?

Foreign Minister: Let me just say this. We have and will act in our national interests when it comes to diplomats in Australia. That's what we've done. And our national interests also have led us to continue our presence in Moscow notwithstanding our deep differences and views about the actions of the Russian government and President Putin.

Karvelas: Senator, thank you for joining us.

Foreign Minister: Good to speak with you.

Karvelas: That's the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Penny Wong.

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