TV interview, ABC News Breakfast

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: China; Australian barley; Taiwan; Ukraine; Julian Leeser; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament; Matildas; FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Michael Rowland, Host: There is renewed hope this morning that damaging tariffs on Australia's barley exports could be dropped after China agreed to review the policy over the next few months. The federal government, in turn, has suspended its appeal to the World Trade Organization over the long-running dispute. And there's also hope that Chinese tariffs on wine could be lifted if this agreement succeeds. We're joined now from Adelaide by the Acting Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Penny Wong. Senator Wong, good morning to you.

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

Rowland: Do you see signs of the expensive Australia-China trade war ending?

Foreign Minister: The duties which were imposed on Australian barley were unjustified and we're working to have them removed as quickly as possible. So, as you said in the introduction, what we have agreed with China is China will expedite its review of these tariffs and in return, Australia will suspend our current dispute before the World Trade Organization. So the intent of what we are trying to do is step by step to resolve the access to the Chinese market for Australian barley growers as quickly as possible.

Rowland: Are you more confident this morning than you were yesterday about these crippling trade tariffs being lifted on barley?

Foreign Minister: This is a good step that China is willing to expedite its review. Obviously, we still have a few things we've got to do over the next few months and things we want to see happen, but it is certainly a good step that China has agreed to expedite the review. And what I've said to the Chinese - my Chinese counterparts, to the former and current Foreign Ministers, is that it's in both countries interests for these impediments to be removed. Obviously, it's in Australian producers' interest to have access to the Chinese market, but of course, the Chinese market also will want access to the high-quality Australian barley that we produce. So this is in both the countries’ interests and we look to a resolution in the next few months.

Rowland: We'll see how it plays out. Speaking of China, as you know, over the last week has been simulating war games in and around Taiwan, including simulated missile strikes on the self-ruled island. Taiwan's president says all of this is not the behaviour of a responsible country, a responsible international citizen. Do you agree?

Foreign Minister: I think that's a phrase I've used myself when I've spoken about the importance of China behaving and, as a global leader, that it is. Look, these exercises have been destabilising. I made that point last year when we saw a similar set of circumstances. What we will continue to advocate for Australia and also for the region is that we want the status quo maintained and importantly, we don't want any unilateral change to the status quo. So Australia will continue to advocate that and will continue to urge de-escalation.

Rowland: We've also had the Ukrainian Ambassador to Australia on the show this morning. As you know, the Ukrainian Government pushing Australia to send those Hawkei protected mobility vehicles to Ukraine. Will you?

Foreign Minister: Look, we'll always assess requests from Ukraine and we have continued to provide support. We obviously, in opposition, provided bipartisan support to the assistance that was provided by the former government and since that, we've added to it. So we'll consider any requests from Ukraine. The point about Ukraine, as you know, Michael, is it is a long way away. But the principle is, it matters deeply to Australia and it matters deeply to the region. And that's the principle that a greater power should not be able to infringe upon another country's sovereignty and set territorial integrity. And that was the settlement post-World War II – the principle, which countries agreed after that terrible war, which has enabled peace and stability. That's why we all must stand firm against the illegal invasion by Russia of Ukraine.

Rowland: One point Ambassador Myroshnychenko made to me was that Australia, as he sees it, has fallen behind other non-NATO countries in terms of the assistance provided to Ukraine. Does that sort of thing bother you as the Foreign Minister?

Foreign Minister: Look, we do what we can in many parts of the world. We've obviously provided quite a lot of both humanitarian and military assistance to Ukraine and we will consider this request as we've considered all requests and since we've come to government, we've added to the military assistance that has been provided. I would make the point also, we are obviously providing a lot of support, including security assistance in our near region, as is our responsibility and as you would expect us to do in order to assure Australian and regional stability.

Rowland: Okay, just a couple of very quick issues before you go. The Opposition leader, Peter Dutton, in the wake of Julian Leeser's shock departure from the Opposition frontbench, is calling on the Prime Minister to apologise to Mr Leeser for what Mr Dutton describes as "disgraceful personal attacks" on him. What's your response to that?

Foreign Minister: Well, first, I think Julian Leeser has demonstrated great principle and resolve and I wish that we saw more of that from Mr Dutton. The second point I'd make is this to you and to your viewers: Mr Dutton wants a fight. He doesn't want to bring the country together. He wants to fight over the Voice. So everything he does and everything he says will be about a dispute. We, First Nations leaders, the Australian Government, Mr Leeser and many others want to bring Australians together, and I have hope and faith that the Australian people will demonstrate the same generosity of spirit we know to be so quintessentially Australian.

Rowland: Want to finish with our top story this morning and ask you, as acting Prime Minister, how good are the Matildas, Penny Wong?

Foreign Minister: The Matildas are fantastic.

Rowland: Let's hope they go all the way.

Foreign Minister: And my eldest daughter plays soccer, so we're looking forward to the World Cup, I think. How many days is it now? Ninety-nine or something?

Rowland: Ninety-nine days and counting.

Foreign Minister: There you go. Fantastic.

Rowland: Fantastic, and may they win. Foreign Minister and Acting Prime Minister Penny Wong. Really appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.

Foreign Minister: Good to speak with you.


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