Interview with Patricia Karvelas, RN Breakfast

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Ministerial delegation in PNG; Security in the Pacific Family; Defence and policing support for PNG; Ongoing assistance for landslide in Enga.

Patricia Karvelas, Host: Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, is leading a delegation of seven ministers to PNG for annual ministerial talks. So far, they've announced new initiatives to strengthen the country's internal security, and the talks come after a high-profile visit to Australia from Beijing's second in charge. Penny Wong is our Foreign Minister. She's in PNG, and she's my guest. Penny Wong, welcome.

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

Patricia Karvelas: Lovely to speak to you. PNG revealed earlier this year it was in talks with China over policing cooperation. Will this money effectively close off that conversation with Beijing?

Foreign Minister: Well, look, we know that we're in a permanent contest in the Pacific, we know that the chance to be the only partner of choice in the Pacific was lost under the neglect of Peter Dutton and the Liberals. We know we have to keep engaging in the Pacific, we have to be, you know, better, more involved members of the Pacific family, and that's what we're doing, and that's why we are here. Our - this ministerial delegation, a very senior delegation, for engagements with our ministerial counterparts, and we had a very good meeting, very good outcomes.

What I've said yesterday is true, that, you know, a stronger, safer Papua New Guinea is good for Papua New Guinea, it's good for Australia and it's good for the region.

Patricia Karvelas: Would the Australian Government feel comfortable if PNG signed a Policing Cooperation Agreement with China?

Foreign Minister: We have been clear for ‑ since we were elected that we think the stability of the region is best served if security is provided within the Pacific family. That is Australia's position, it's the position of the leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum, and that is the position we continue to press with our friends and partners in the Pacific.

Patricia Karvelas: Will you ask the PNG Government for assurances on this issue?

Foreign Minister: Our position is very clear, that we think it's best for all of us, for the whole region, if security needs are met by members of the Pacific family, by the country itself or by others working with each other, and that's what we've been doing.

We understand that, you know, the security situation here in Papua New Guinea, the law and order challenges that they face, this goes directly, as they have made clear to us, to their stability, so that's one of the reasons why there's been so much focus on cooperation between the Australian Federal Police and the Police Force here in Papua New Guinea. It's why the Attorney‑General was here, not only providing further assistance, but also looking at how we can provide more assistance when it comes to the judicial system and prosecutions and investigations.

So, this is all about us working with Papua New Guinea to deal with the challenges they face at this time.

Patricia Karvelas: You've announced a series of new measures to boost defence and policing support for PNG. It's been facing an influx of weaponry and spates of triable violence in the Highlands. How will these measures help deal with that?

Foreign Minister: Well, first, just on the challenge, you're right. I mean, we've seen increasing violence sporadically within Papua New Guinea, and that is something that Prime Minister Marape and his Cabinet colleagues have made clear is their first priority, and that's why we wanted to ‑ we have sat down with them at official level and at Minister level, and also the Commissioner of Police, the Australian Federal Police Commissioner, who is here with us, to talk through how it is we can support them in ensuring stability in their country.

Patricia Karvelas: Penny Wong, last month, PNG suffered a deadly landslide. The Australian Government initially committed $2.5 million. Will you provide any more support?

Foreign Minister: Look, first, you're right, the landslide in Enga was, and is such a tragedy, and this meeting, this ministerial forum occurred in the shadow of, you know, those sad events. We immediately offered whatever assistance they sought, we've made an initial $2.5 million in humanitarian assistance; we've also sent a team of experts in to assess damage to provide assistance in assessing what has happened, what needs to be done and further risks.

I had dinner with Prime Minister Marape last night with my colleagues. It's clear that one of the things that will have to happen is relocation of many of the people who, you know, whose village was demolished as a result of this tragedy, and so obviously there will be ongoing assistance that will be required, and we'll work through that with Papua New Guinea.

Patricia Karvelas: If you're just tuning in, the Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, a distinctive voice, is my guest. I think people can recognise you, Penny Wong. Earlier this week, China's second most senior leader came to visit Australia. The Prime Minister said there would now be more military-to-military communication.

What more can you tell us about what that will look like, and will it avoid any future dangerous flare-ups like we've seen?

Foreign Minister: I've been talking for some time about the importance of, you know, engagement, dialogue, communication, particularly in the context of military interactions, to avoid mistakes, to avoid escalation, to avoid miscalculation.

I mean this is, you know, if you want to make sure you maintain stability, one of the things you do is you make sure you can communicate so that things don't go wrong, or if they do go wrong, they don't escalate.

So, military‑to‑military engagement, which we will work through with them, you know, is a very important part of that. We want stability in our region, we want to make sure that we don't have escalation or miscalculation, and that means we need to ensure we talk to each other. It's what the Americans are doing with the Chinese, and I think it is a good thing for us to do that.

Patricia Karvelas: And that talking, how quickly will you formalise the process for what that talking looks like to avoid these scenarios?

Foreign Minister: Look, I think the first thing is, this is something that the, you know, the Australian Defence Force will have to engage in and the Department of Defence alongside DFAT to work through this with the Chinese, but essentially what we want is the capacity for us to make sure we communicate if there are things which occur on water or in the air which are risky. And we have seen ‑ we have seen incidents that Australia's expressed concern about, and we want to ensure first that they are averted, and second, if they do occur, which, you know, obviously they shouldn't, but should they occur that they are managed so we don't see an escalation.

Patricia Karvelas: Penny Wong, before we hit the news, overnight we've heard the rhetoric between Lebanon and Israel continue to escalate. The leader of Hezbollah has threatened to attack the European Union if Israel invades Southern Lebanon, which is pretty alarming. How concerned are you that this is escalating?

Foreign Minister: Well, I've been concerned since the beginning of the conflict about this escalating in the region and, you know, I've made multiple calls, we've had multiple engagements with the countries of the region; the Arab countries, and also with Israel, about avoiding what people describe as 'horizontal escalation', but it's essentially, you know, the conflict moving more broadly through the region. That could be, you know, catastrophic for Israel and for the world, and catastrophic for the people and the civilians of the region.

So we would continue to urge all parties not to escalate, not to allow this conflict to go further. I mean this conflict is horrific, the loss of life is catastrophic. We want to see the ceasefire, the plan that President Biden has put in place ‑ has articulated ‑ agreed to by all parties, hostages released, humanitarian aid provided, and civilians protected.

Patricia Karvelas: We've only got a minute left. But we saw your parliamentary colleague, Josh Burns, have his office attacked and vandalised yesterday. The Greens leader, Adam Bandt, put out a statement condemning the incident saying Josh Burns and his team have a right to feel safe.

You've been obviously, you know, condemning the Greens. Do you welcome that?

Foreign Minister: Well, finally Adam Bandt has discovered some principle. I mean I think the failure of Mr Bandt and his colleagues to condemn the violence, in fact to participate in protests targeting Labor MPs' offices, some of which turned violent, you know, the Greens' involvement in that campaign has been deeply irresponsible. It has helped bring this conflict to our shores, and yes, it is beyond time for Mr Bandt to condemn the violence.

Patricia Karvelas: Thank you for your time. Foreign Minister Penny Wong there.

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