Subjects: Solomon Islands, Pacific engagement, Australia–New Zealand relations, 501 visa policy, First Nations foreign policy.
KIM HILL, HOST: Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong is in Wellington today to meet with her counterpart here, Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta. And Penny Wong is with us now. Thank you for joining us. Good morning.
PENNY WONG, MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Good morning. Good to be with you.
HILL: You criticised the Coalition for failing to intervene the stop the Solomon Islands–China deal, saying it was “the worst foreign policy blunder in the Pacific since the end of World War II”. Why do you describe it so?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Look, I think our criticism wasn’t only of that deal. It was of the Government’s failure to engage sufficiently in the Pacific in the way that Australia should have been engaging.
HILL: I think it was specifically aimed at China. You said that the Chinese–Solomon Islands deal was dramatically detrimental to Australia’s security interests. Why did you say that?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Look, we do have a clear view, which I think New Zealand, your Government shares – which is that Pacific security should be provided by the Pacific family. And we do have concerns about the security of the Pacific being engaged in by nations outside of that Pacific family. That is the position Australia has taken and I think it’s the position New Zealand has taken. Obviously, we understand that Solomon Islands is a sovereign nation. But ultimately, as I said in my first visit to Fiji when I spoke to the Pacific Islands Forum, security in the Pacific should be the responsibility of the Pacific family of which Australia and New Zealand are a part.
HILL: How are you going to make the Solomons want to re-join the family then?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Well, they’re already in the family, aren’t they?
HILL: Well, I don’t know. It seems not if you’re accusing them of making a deal which is dramatically detrimental to Australia’s security interests.
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: I will be discussing a whole range of issues with Pacific Island nations, as I have been since we were elected. You know, one of the things I’ve said is we acknowledge that Australia should be a more engaged partner in the Pacific –
HILL: What does that mean?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Well, what I was going to say was we should listen more, we should do much better than the previous Government did on climate; and one of the key differences between the new Government in Australia and the Government which preceded us, we obviously have a much more ambitious position on climate change.
HILL: Both the Solomons and Beijing have said that military bases are not part of the agreement.
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: And that is good to hear.
HILL: And you believe that?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: That is an assertion which I think, or an undertaking, which the region will want to understand, and which is important, and we think that that is a very important assurance, as do many other Pacific nations.
HILL: So, if military bases are not part of the pact, what is the problem?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Well, as I said to you, I think your country and my country are taking the view that Pacific security should be provided for within the Pacific family.
HILL: You make a great deal of the Pacific family. You’ve said that in terms of New Zealand–Australia, our countries are tied together by the deepest bonds of friendship and shared values - an indispensable partner in your ambition for a stronger Pacific family. Will you be talking to our Foreign Minister about the vexed issue of the 501 people?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Oh, yes, look, that’s been raised, obviously, in the discussion between Prime Minister Albanese and Prime Minister Ardern. I am familiar with this issue being an issue of concern for New Zealand, and our Prime Minister has said a number of things. The first is we will be retaining section 501, which provides the Government with the powers that people are aware of, but we do recognise that concerns have been raised. Those deserve consideration and the new Government will work through them with New Zealand.
HILL: So, you’re keeping 501 and you’re aware of concerns.
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: And we will be working through those issues as the Prime Ministers said in their joint press conference with New Zealand.
HILL: So, are you suggesting that there could be changes to it? I’m just trying to work out, I mean, you know, family is family and all that, but this isn’t the way family treats each other, is it?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: I think that, you know, Prime Minister Ardern was very clear about the concerns in the meeting with Prime Minister Albanese, and we’ve said we will consider them, and we will work through them together in an orderly way.
HILL: So, how do you plan to deepen cooperation? Let’s go back to the Solomons for a moment. How do you plan to deepen cooperation with it? Doesn’t it just come down to who’s got more money to throw around?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: I suppose that’s one way of looking at it. I think if we take a step back, I’m part of a new Government that recognises that we need to do, Australia needs to do more in the Pacific than we previously have –
HILL: What does that mean though? Do more of what?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Australia needs to do more in the Pacific than we previously have, and what I was going to go on and say was, obviously, there was quite a substantial ODA reduction under the previous Government, so during the election, we outlined a policy for the Pacific which did a few things.
Fundamentally, it chose – it sought to draw on Australia’s proximity. We proposed a Pacific Engagement Visa. We proposed additional ODA. We proposed additional maritime engagement, maritime support in the Pacific Defence School. So, a whole range of policy measures which were about making sure Australia worked with the Pacific and Pacific nations, as you say, to deepen the partnership.
One of those policies is modelled on a visa that I think you already have in New Zealand, so we looked at that in order to enable Pacific Island nations to have people come to Australia on a path to permanent residency and citizenship. We also said we would look at enabling those on longer-term labour movement programs to bring their families, because that had been raised with us. So, there were a number of policies, reasonably granular, that we articulated during the election, and part of what I’m doing in the region is talking to people about the implementation of those.
That, of course, is in addition to climate, which, as you would know, Pacific Island nations have declared very clearly that this is the number one economic and national security threat they face.
HILL: I’m interested in the idea that you’re working on a First Nations foreign policy. What does that mean?
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Look, that’s actually one of the things I really wanted to talk to your Foreign Minister about because her emphasis on Indigenous foreign policy, I think, is really quite world-leading. So, for us, it came about because obviously, we have a Voice. Treaty. Truth – the Uluru Statement from the Heart and the implementation of that, which is a key platform for the new Labor Government. And it seemed to me when we were developing policy that we should bring that into our foreign policy, which goes to both projecting the reality of modern Australia, so talking to the world about who we are, which includes, you know, the oldest continuous Indigenous culture on the planet. Secondly, also, ensuring we can try to facilitate engagement between First Nations or Indigenous peoples from Australia and in other parts of the region. So, I’m very keen to implement that. I think that one of the things we can really learn from New Zealand is the way you are seeking to integrate that into your foreign policy.
HILL: Good to talk to you, thank you. Penny Wong is Australian Foreign Minister. She’s in Wellington today to meet with our Foreign Minister, Nanaia Mahuta.
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Authorised by Senator the Hon Penny Wong, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Australia.