Fran Kelly:

Marise Payne, welcome back to Breakfast.

Minister Payne:

Good morning Fran.

Fran Kelly:

The government's focus on Pacific diplomacy is facing an immediate test. Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister Peter O'Neill says he will resign. He hasn't yet handed in that resignation. Meanwhile, the opposition claims it has enough MPs in its camp to have a majority in the parliament and form a new government. Are you concerned about political stability in PNG right now?

Minister Payne:

Well Fran, I think it's important to emphasise of course, as the Prime Minister did yesterday, that Papua New Guinea is our closest friend and our closest neighbour in this region. So we have a long-term commitment to strengthening our Australia-Papua New Guinea partnership, and Prime Minister O'Neill has been absolutely pivotal to that in recent years in a number of capacities. Obviously these are matters for the Papua New Guinea parliament and political parties and we will work with the leadership as it is determined by them and I'm sure that no matter who that is, that will be a continuing approach similar to the one that we've enjoyed in recent years.

Fran Kelly:

Peter O'Neill was very helpful and supportive of Australia with our offshore detention facility there on Papua New Guinea. Some opposition MPs in PNG want all refugees and asylum seekers off Manus Island now. What are the implications of this leadership upheaval for Australia's offshore processing deal with PNG?

Minister Payne:

We will obviously deal with those issues as they arise and I think it's premature to speculate on those. As we've seen in recent weeks, Papua New Guinea politics is historically and clearly currently very dynamic and I think you would be a very brave person to predict outcomes at the moment. So we will work with the leadership as it is determined by both political parties and members. But one of the things that we've seen in recent years is the great strengths under the leadership of Peter O'Neill and the holding of APEC last year - its delivery is a very, very successful key meeting in this region has demonstrated the growth and the progress of PNG. I very much look forward to continuing to work closely with counterparts. We have very close relationships across ministers here in Australia and in Papua New Guinea and I'm sure that they will continue into the future.

Fran Kelly:

So you are not worried. Are you suggesting you're worried about their growth and progress if they replace Peter O'Neill?

Minister Payne:

No, I'm not. I'm saying that I'm sure the relationship which is very deep, which is multifaceted, it's comprehensive, I'm sure that will continue into the future.

Fran Kelly:

The Prime Minister is going to make a statement, I suppose, his first overseas trip since the election will be to Solomon Islands. The Solomons like some other countries in the Pacific are being courted by China, which is trying to get them to switch allegiance from Taiwan to Beijing. That's one of China's priorities. Is Scott Morrison's trip a bid to counter that Chinese influence?

Minister Payne:

I think the Prime Minister's decision to visit the Solomon Islands is an absolute reinforcement of the importance of our Pacific Step Up which of course we have been pursuing over a number of years now and strongly reinforced by Prime Minister Morrison last year.

The Solomon Islands and Australia have a bond which was formed decades ago particularly through the conflicts of World War II, but strongly reinforced through the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands over many years. And Australian military and police members who were part of that, I recall their great engagement and so do the political leaders between our two countries.

So it's been election season right around the region. The Solomon Islands has only recently formed a new government as we have here and the Prime Minister is taking the first opportunity to visit with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.

Prime Minister Sogavare is very well-known to Australia. We have worked with him closely before and I know that in visiting there what Prime Minister Morrison is doing is reinforcing the strength of our Step Up, is reinforcing that close collaboration we developed during the RAMSI period and most importantly saying to our family in the Pacific our neighbours in the Pacific, this is where Australia lives and this is what is important to us.

Fran Kelly:

But how worried is Australia about Chinese plans for instance to establish a naval base in the South Pacific? A top US state official the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Patrick Murphy was in Canberra last week. He said the idea of a Chinese military base in the South Pacific is quite troubling. Are you troubled by it?

Minister Payne:

What we've always said that the establishment of facilities of that nature by other parties, and it could be a number of other parties, but in this case of course Mr Murphy was talking specifically, but the establishment of a facility like that would change and affect Australia's strategic outlook. But that is not the focus of our Pacific Step Up. If you look across the comprehensive programme which we have established as part of the Step Up, you will see it goes to people-to-people links, it goes to education, it goes to infrastructure development, it goes to church-to-church relationships, it goes to Pacific Labour Mobility which is so important for delivering economic growth to our Pacific Island neighbours. So it's much, much broader than that.

Fran Kelly:

Can I ask you about our relationship with China? Labor's Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong during the election campaign said Australia should have, “A more considered disciplined and consistent approach to its relationship with China.” Also during the campaign, the Prime Minister seemed to describe America as a friend and China as a customer. He said you stand by your friends and you stand by your customers as well. Is that the right tone to take, an approach to have to China? Describe it as a customer and America as a friend?

Minister Payne:

We have consistently said that we have a relationship with China which we value very deeply. In fact, one of my first and early bilateral meetings internationally when I was appointed as Foreign Minister last year was to visit Beijing and to sit down with Foreign Minister and State Councilor Wang Yi there and to reinforce that the important basis of our relationship is mutual respect and shared interests. Now there will be issues from time-to-time on which we don't agree. It's how you manage those which is important. They have to be managed respectfully using that basis of mutual respect in our relationship.

Fran Kelly:

The US President Donald Trump has asked his Attorney General to look into Australia's role in sparking the 2016 FBI probe into links between his campaign and Russia. He said, “I hope he looks at Australia.” He can't be in any more direct than that. Our former High Commissioner to the UK Alexander Downer of course met with an official from the US President's election campaign in London in that year. Will Australia participate with this investigation into the origins of the Mueller report?

Marise Payne:

Well Fran, I think the Prime Minister made our position clear yesterday in relation to commentary on the report. We have not been asked to participate. We would of course consider such a request were it to be made. But we don't intend to engage in a public commentary that might entail any risk that we're seen to prejudice the ongoing examination of these matters in the US.

Fran Kelly:

Sure, but I think a lot of people were surprised to hear the US President directly say he wants China investigated. You were in Cabinet at the time of a meeting in question between Alexander Downer and George Papadopoulos. Are you satisfied Australia followed correct protocols in reporting in George Papadopoulos’ comments about Russia on Hillary Clinton to the American authorities?

Marise Payne:

Well as I’ve said and as the Prime Minister said, I'm not going to comment on the details of these matters because we don't want to be seen to risk any or prejudice any ongoing examination of them in the United States. If such a request is made as you have adverted to, then of course we'll consider that.

Fran Kelly:

President Trump is declassifying large amounts of intelligence material in order to allow his Attorney General to investigate. Is Australia concerned about the security of our intelligence?

Marise Payne:

Well Fran, it is a long held position of foreign ministers and other ministers of the National Security Committee not to comment on intelligence matters and I don't intend to change that approach now.

Fran Kelly:

You're the Foreign Minister, but you're also the newly appointed Minister for Women. There are eleven women on the Coalition frontbench, seven in the Cabinet. But on women more broadly in terms of a policy issue, what would be your top policy priority? Have you had a think about it yet?

Marise Payne:

I've had a think about it for a long time actually…

Fran Kelly:

It’s true.

Marise Payne:

…because it has been a particular passion of mine over many years in the parliamentary environment and the political scene. I think with our landmark Economic Security Statement for Women last year really reinforced the importance of securing economic opportunities for women, also focusing on their safety. And we have been only too tragically reminded in the last couple of days again in Melbourne with the appalling murder of Courtney Herron that the safety of women is something which must concern us all. And of course achieving genuine gender equality.

What I think is particularly good about the opportunity the Prime Minister has given me to serve as both the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Women, there are great opportunities to make gains for women and girls both at home and internationally and I very much look forward to embracing those.

Fran Kelly:

What about achieving genuine gender equality within your own party? The Nationals managed to triple their number of female employees that was a very good effort, but the number of female Liberals overall has barely moved.

The figures I've seen - it may be slightly different than this - but the Coalition, in terms of lower House seats, just 21 per cent of your representation is female. That's a long way from equality and a long way from good enough isn't it? What are you going to do about that?

Minister Payne:

What you are going to see in Canberra in the coming weeks and months is some fabulous Coalition women entering the House of Representatives and the Senate benches.

Fran Kelly:

No doubt, replacing some pretty great women who were there already. But what about the total?

Minister Payne:

Well that is something which we have to continue to address and I have been absolutely consistent over the time that this has been discussed – particularly in recent months – in saying that these issues have to be addressed. But we have great outcomes in seats like Lindsay in western Sydney and Reid in the inner west with Melissa McIntosh and Fiona Martin, in Victoria with great women. I look forward to you and your media colleagues meeting all of those and seeing what fabulous additions they are to our frontbench, sorry, to our party ranks.

Frank Kelly:

But the numbers haven’t shifted. What are you going to do to change that?

Minister Payne:

Well I have said consistently and I think that both the Federal Director and the Prime Minister and I’m sure in the National Party support these views as well, but we have to continue to work on this.

It is not a turn up at the election and decide what you are going to do matter. It's a matter that we have to work at consistently within our parties across Australia to ensure that we have great women standing for selection, great women able to be elected to key seats across the country and that is certainly going to be a priority of mine.

That said though, as the Minister for Women my job is for women right across Australia and for them – young/old and everything in between, every state and territory, every region, every capital city – and I very much look forward to working with them, for them.

Fran Kelly:

Marise Payne, it's great to have you on Breakfast thank you very much for joining us.

Minister Payne:

Thank you, Fran.

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