Luke Grant: Now I’m glad to tell you here on 2GB To drive we have the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister for Women, Senator Marise Payne, online from Brussels in Belgium. Minister, I know it’s morning there. Hello. I hope you’re doing well.
Marise Payne: Hello, Luke, and yes, I think the weather here reflects the weather in Sydney. Lots of rain here too.
Luke Grant: Uh-huh. You are about to head to NATO headquarters, if I understand correctly. I assume that Russia and what is happening, of course, in Ukraine will be on the agenda.
Marise Payne: Absolutely, that is the whole agenda of the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting, and Australia is very pleased to be able to participate as a close partner of NATO and of so many of countries seated around the table today.
Luke Grant: You know, most of my listeners who call – we feel so helpless, we see the atrocities and people want to get involved as best they can. We know sanctions are probably the safest way to deal with Putin. Do you think they worked?
Marise Payne: I think the sanctions have a real effect, and one of the reasons for that, Luke, is the large amount of global coordination between partners in relation to these sanctions. Through my department and myself, we speak to our counterparts every day in terms of dealing with sanctions, whether they are entities or individuals, oligarchs, financial institutions, members from the ruling families of Russia and Belarus, where – many countries are also applying sanctions against Belarus for facilitating Russia’s illegal and illegal invasion of Ukraine.
The horror is, as you say, almost indescribable, and we see it every day. But I think Australians can be proud of our country’s efforts to support Ukraine and to work so closely with our partners, whether that support for Ukraine is the humanitarian aid that we provide, the military aid that we bring or, as you say, these very important coordinated sanctions as strong as possible.
Luke Grant: It was wonderful to see President Zelensky address our Parliament last week. I thought it was such an important moment in history, and I think for many Australians, on that occasion, we realized how important our contribution was to this effort. A lot of people are probably off to a conclusion a little early on what it did to the world, but it did two things. It has, I think, strengthened the strength, the courage of the Ukrainian people and their leader, and to a great extent it has united the free world, hasn’t it?
Marise Payne: Well, around the world there is total and overwhelming admiration for the people of Ukraine and for the strength, the courage, the courage they show to protect their democratic nation, which is democratic by choice. I think whether in Australia or in many other countries around the world where President Zelenskyy has spoken in parliaments and elected assemblies of the people, he has been extremely powerful. I must say that for someone who has been in the Australian Parliament for a long time, this was one of the most captivating and moving presentations I have had the honor to attend.
And, of course, Australians also have the option of providing support to a number of Australian aid organisations, Luke. There is a portal for that. I’ll make sure my office gives you the details of that number because humanitarian support is extremely important. But your comment about international coordination and bringing the world closer together is absolutely correct. I met on the last day with the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, the Finnish Foreign Minister, the Swedish Foreign Minister, the Secretary General of NATO, and today I have a series of other scheduled meetings, as well as all NATO ministers. This level of coordination is what gives us the strength to push back, to fight against these extraordinary acts of authoritarian states like Russia, and to say that we will not accept this kind of action.
Luke Grant: What about Russian diplomats here in Australia? Do you communicate these strong words to them? I mean, they wouldn’t have to be geniuses to realize our complete and utter displeasure with all of this. Do you communicate with them? And additional question, if I may say so, should they even be in the country?
Marise Payne: We absolutely communicate with them. The Russian ambassador was approached again in Canberra last week by the secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. She and I have consistently expressed our views and will continue to do so. I know this is a point that is of some interest to your listeners and more broadly, and I think it’s important to realize that, for me, having a diplomatic pass to discuss these issues can be very important. I am also cautious that there are hundreds and hundreds of Australians in Russia, many of whom may eventually contact our Embassy in time for consular support. We have given clear travel advice on leaving Russia at this time, but at the end of the day they are Australian citizens and if they are still there they can ask for our support. So I’m aware of balancing those things.
Countries that have expelled diplomats have not expelled ambassadors overwhelmingly, but many of them have been expelled for behavior inconsistent with the Vienna Convention, i.e. not the behavior of diplomats, frankly.
Luke Grant: I don’t want to play tricky stuff with the tongue because frankly it’s above my salary, if I can put it that way, but the idea that Putin is a war criminal or would be tried as a war criminal is that a live option for the world?
Marise Payne: It is certainly within the framework of the reference that we made – Australia and a number of partners did very early in March – to the International Criminal Court. The reason this reference is so important at the beginning of March was to allow immediate investigation of events as they unfolded. This includes things like the Mariupol attacks on clearly civilian shelters, on schools, and on hospitals, and that horrible list goes on. It includes the findings of the most – what would appear to be the most appalling crimes in Bucha this week, including a mass grave, including execution-style murders, including rape as a weapon of war as well. This reference to the International Criminal Court allows these investigations to be ongoing. We have proposed two specialist Australian staff to assist the tribunal in these investigations and many will be involved in this process: European partners, the Ukrainian authorities themselves and the tribunal.
This is part of Russia’s accountability. And under the court’s statute, political and military leaders, and that clearly includes President Putin, can be held accountable for war crimes committed under their authority or command. It is important that we pursue this matter as firmly as possible. Australia is a very clear and determined supporter of this.
Luke Grant: I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and hearing when I saw Russian foreign officials suggesting that the Bucha abomination was set up by the Ukrainians. I don’t know how they do that even with a straight face. I mean, you just can’t imagine that they would imagine anyone on planet Earth accepting that this is indeed what happened.
Marise Payne: But that’s not surprising, Luke. This kind of misinformation and denial is part of the playbook. We saw it happen last month. But, frankly, for Australia and the countries that are affected by the downing of MH-17, we’ve seen these things happen for many years. The important thing is that for countries like Australia, we denounce them for the inventions that they are, for the lies that they are, and we will continue to do that wherever it happens, and we will continue also to do so for other countries that also perpetuate these lies. Because disinformation is more than dangerous in these circumstances. Misinformation is the kind of thing that, frankly, is as offensive as some of the actions themselves.
Luke Grant: In effect. Just before I let you go, I was speaking yesterday to your Senate colleague, Senator Canavan, who raised, I think, the amazing point about the Solomon Islands where we saw the Leader of the Opposition suggest that the Solomon made a deal with China because we’re not doing enough for the climate and Matt pointed out to me that because we’re not doing enough for the climate Solomon Islands made a deal with the largest coal producer in the world. It doesn’t quite work that way. How comfortable are you with this Chinese deal and do we still have a way to help the Solomons if they need it or should we just, you know, help other people now?
Marise Payne: I think, Luke, it’s very important that the Pacific family stays together, and Australia is the strongest advocate for that, and that includes a very strong partnership with the Solomon Islands in many areas of engagement. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that we are certainly concerned about the progress of a security agreement of this nature. We have been in close contact with senior Solomon Islands government officials, the head of the Pacific Office is here again this week. He was there in January and February of this year and those conversations are ongoing.
We strongly believe, and indeed we know we showed late last year in response to the unrest in Honiara, that the Pacific family – in this case it was Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Papua New Guinea – are absolutely best placed to respond to these kinds of security challenges. But one thing that I think is very important to be clear about is that we have been an extremely important contributor to the support for the Solomon Islands. This includes the construction of the Coral Sea Cable, which was completed in 2020, which provided connectivity to Honiara and, at the time, Port Moresby. It was a significant step forward for them in their communications. And, of course, our overseas development assistance. We will always continue to talk and engage with our Pacific family members. That’s what we have to do. This is what we want to do and this is what we will do. But we also have a position where we can clearly articulate Australia’s concerns, and we certainly have, I can assure you.
Luke Grant: Creepy. Senator, thank you for what you are doing. Safe travels. Thank you for your time.
Marise Payne: Thank you very much, Luke.
Luke Grant: It’s the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Senator Marise Payne.