Radio interview, ABC Adelaide
NIKOLAI BEILHARZ, HOST: While you're being filmed in the streets of Adelaide or you go into some government buildings, we're hearing that some cameras that have been manufactured by companies partially owned by the Chinese Communist Party it appears are in some government buildings. Senator Penny Wong is the Minister for Foreign Affairs and joins us. Senator, thank you for your time this morning.
PENNY WONG, FOREIGN MINISTER: Good morning, good to be with you, and just fantastic to be back in Adelaide.
BEILHARZ: Good to have you here.
STACEY LEE, HOST: Hey, you've been jet‑setting a lot.
FOREIGN MINISTER: I don't know, jet‑setting, is that the word?
FOREIGN MINISTER: There's been a lot of travel, hasn't there, but it's really nice to be home, and I'm down near the Torrens at the convention centre, and it's a nice to look out over very familiar settings.
BEILHARZ: And as you make your way through those familiar settings, are you worried that you might be being caught on camera?
FOREIGN MINISTER: Look, you know, this is concerning, and it's unfortunate that the previous government, despite doing a review of this in 2018, really didn't do anything about it. We are removing them. I've asked my department to accelerate the replacement of these cameras, the Defence Minister has asked Defence to make sure they're removed and replaced. So I think this can be resolved. The advice to me is that they're not connected to the Internet, so there's minimal security concerns, but obviously given what has happened in other countries, it's probably a good idea to do it.
BEILHARZ: We do see so many of these kinds of products being manufactured by China in some shape or form. I mean is it going to be easy to find replacements?
FOREIGN MINISTER: Look, you know, we're a global economy, there's supply chains which cross many countries. China's an important part of the global economy, which Australia understands. You've got to decide as a country where you're going to source certain equipment from, where you're going to source some of the things you use, and where there are, where it's important to make sure you take a very cautious approach, that's what we should be doing.
LEE: Has it actually been found that anyone externally has access to the cameras, or is this more of an issue with the data? Can you keep the cameras and just encrypt the data so no one can access it.
FOREIGN MINISTER: Look, the advice to me is that, certainly I can only speak for my department, is that they don't have security concerns because they're not connected to the Internet, and they're not connected to our own system. But obviously there was a decision made to remove them, and I've asked that that be accelerated.
LEE: It is a quarter to 8 on ABC Radio Adelaide. That's the voice of Senator Penny Wong, the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Nikolai and Stacey with you for Breakfast.
Minister, the Chinese Government has also been in the headlines for another reason in the United States for their weather surveillance balloon, or spy balloon, depending on which side of the debate you sit on. Are you aware of any of these spy, or weather, balloons from China being sent or intercepted over Australia?
FOREIGN MINISTER: Look, I don't have any advice on that at this stage. Obviously this has been an unfortunate incident which led, regrettably, to the Secretary of State not being able to visit China. I'm glad that the US has indicated their willingness to continue to diplomatically engage, because what we do want is China and the US talking to each other. Obviously there's a lot of competition in the world at the moment. What we've got to do is to really work to ensure that competition doesn't escalate into contest, because that would be a very bad thing for not just the two great powers, but for the whole world. So we should then continue to encourage people to engage.
LEE: So you haven't asked your department if they've found any of these –
FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, I don't have any advice that we have such balloons above us at the moment, but obviously the Australian Government would always act to ensure we protect our sovereignty.
LEE: I mean you say you don't have any advice. Is that advice you would be told if there was one found?
FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, it would probably be ‑ I would not want to speculate about it, and I'm not going to be drawn into speculation.
LEE: No. But the question was, did you ask your department? Surely you saw this story out of the United States and thought, "Ooh, I wonder if we've had that here, I'll ask my department".
FOREIGN MINISTER: First, it would be a matter for Defence. Secondly, it's not something I'd speculate about, but the Defence Minister has said he's not aware of any such balloons above Australia.
BEILHARZ: You mentioned your concern, I guess, about the ongoing relationship between China and the US. Given this was, this was pretty overt, right, like this was pretty obvious that the Chinese Government presumably also, like a lot of nations, uses more covert methods as well. Does that add another layer of concern that it was – you could interpret it as the Chinese authorities saying, "Yep, we're doing it, and you can see us do it"?
FOREIGN MINISTER: I don't know that it's wise for a Foreign Minister to be drawn into speculation and commentary around that. I understand why you ask the question, I'm sure you and others can be drawn into that, I'm not going to be.
What I would say is this, obviously we share the US concerns about this device, this balloon, being in US air space, I said, when this was earlier in the media this week, I said that, look, we commend the US for making sure they dealt with this in a very safe manner, so they brought it down over their territorial waters, and we were encouraged that the US, whilst having obviously to defer the trip, remained open to diplomatic engagement, and that's an important thing.
LEE: Now, Minister, you mentioned at the start that you're glad to be back in Adelaide, and you are hosting the Indonesian Foreign Minister while you're here. It's for a conference tackling people smuggling and modern slavery. It's something that, you know, a lot of people know is there but think it's purely an overseas problem. Are you worried about this locally, or is it more of a geopolitical focus that you've got?
FOREIGN MINISTER: Look, good question. Look, I think the first point I'd make, the conference is the Bali Process, which was set up in 2002, and the idea is that we come together, 45 member governments, so it's co‑chaired by Australia and Indonesia, and this is the first time the conference has been held outside of Indonesia, which is, you know, a good thing for Adelaide. And the idea is that these crimes, so that's people smuggling, human trafficking or modern slavery, can't be tackled by one government alone, but they have to be dealt with together, because by their very nature they involve at least more than one country, often many more countries.
So we come together and try and work out ways we can cooperate better in order to confront these crimes, which are, obviously they're abhorrent, and in today's world we shouldn't be in a situation where we have things like human trafficking and modern slavery.
BEILHARZ: Thank you very much for your time this morning, Senator.
FOREIGN MINISTER: Good to be with you.
BEILHARZ: That's Senator Penny Wong, the Minister for Foreign Affairs.
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