HOST: As you saw at the top of the program, a big day in Canberra unfolding on the domestic political front, but also an important overseas visitor in the Papua New Guinea Prime Minister, James Marape, talking to Scott Morrison and others about all sorts of issues including border protection, security in our region, and of course, the rising influence of China.
I'm joined now from Canberra by Alex Hawke, who's the Minister for International Development and the Pacific. Thanks for joining us, Alex. I think so many people underestimate the absolutely crucial relationship between Australia and Papua New Guinea, obviously a former colony, but all sorts of issues playing out when it comes to security and even health in Papua New Guinea that have strong implications for Australia if they get out of hand.
MINISTER HAWKE: Yes, you're absolutely right, Chris, and I guess one group of people that don't underestimate the relationship is people from Papua New Guinea, and the number of ministers, the seniority of the delegation. And the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea made this exact point that you're making. The 40-year defence cooperation, the partnership, that we've had, the shared history - this is what they were speaking to us about - and the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea referred to Australians as brothers and sisters. It's very much what our Prime Minister says; it is a familial relationship and it's been part of Australia. We've got a shared destiny, and a huge interest in the prosperity of PNG and the success of PNG. So, it's part of why I'm here in the new portfolio. I'm pleased to be given the dual role in foreign affairs and defence so we can put a whole effort- a whole of government effort together there to make sure we're doing our absolute best for our close Pacific neighbours.
HOST: Just one point before we move on to other issues, what about the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Papua New Guinea? I know a decade ago that was a huge concern with millions of people affected. What's the situation there? Has that been brought under control?
MINISTER HAWKE: Well, look, Australia partners heavily to make sure we do all of the health-related activity that you'd expect, including immunisation. The Prime Minister made an immunisation announcement today. HIV is a concern, tuberculosis is a concern. And you've got in PNG also - and some of our colleagues here in the Parliament have been talking about this for some time - some drug resistant strains of TB, and why these things are very important to discuss at ministerial level and government to government level like we did this morning, that can easily- the closeness, the geographical closeness – never mind the familial closeness or the government to government closeness, or our shared history – just the closeness of our two countries means a health concern in PNG can easily become a health concern in Australia. We've got a mutual interest in helping out with all of the health outcomes in PNG, and we've got some great partners where we're going to keep doing that.
Today, we've made some more announcements, and look, I'm looking very closely at our ODA budget and our foreign affairs budget to make sure they match the priorities of the Marape Government in meeting those health challenges.
HOST: Now, Papua New Guinea has been very helpful to Australia when it comes to border protection. Twice, in recent decades, hosting the Manus Island Processing Centre, but Prime Minister Marape now really wants to close that. He wants a fixed timetable on when he can close that. Why can't Australia help him out on that front?
MINISTER HAWKE: Yeah. Well, Chris, that's not what we heard this morning in our discussions. Australia and PNG have had a great partnership with the Manus facility. The PNG Government was keen to make certain points about Manus, but Minister Dutton is in close partnership with his colleague there, and we're working very closely together, as you know, to make sure that everyone can be resettled out of Manus, and make sure that PNG is also integral in Australia's border protection regime in the future. When you look at the approaches to Australia, when you look at the partnership, obviously ongoing border protection will rely heavily on the relationship with PNG. We're in close collaboration with them about it, and we'll continue to take the time we need to meet the timetables that the PNG Government gives us.
HOST: Given so many people, though, have been repatriated or moved on from Nauru, wouldn't there be the opportunity to relocate anybody – you still have to take care of anybody Australia has to have responsibility for – take them to Nauru, rather than leave them with Papua New Guinea if that's what Papua New Guinea wants?
MINISTER HAWKE: All of those options are being considered, as you would know. So Minister Dutton and his counterpart are in ongoing discussions. You know, we've been very clear as a Government, as you know, Chris. No one will be resettled in Australia or through New Zealand into Australia, and that is an important component of ongoing border security. Another important component is PNG and the relationship that we have. So we're going to make sure we have a very strong relationship on Manus, and what will happen with Manus in the future. And those discussions are ongoing.
HOST: Speaking of Manus Island, the Greens senator Nick McKim… so I think is holding a press conference live in Canberra now. He tried to get up to Manus Island, or did get up there, and was deported from Papua New Guinea over the weekend. We can just dip into a little bit of Nick McKim and hear what he's got to say.
HOST: That is Nick McKim Speaking outside Parliament House there in Canberra. I'm speaking with Alex Hawke, the Minister for International Development and the Pacific. Like always, you get some extreme language from Nick McKim and other Greens on these issues. What sort of an irritant is this, Alex Hawke? But also, how much urgency can the Government bring to closing Manus Island down?
MINISTER HAWKE: Well to your first point, Chris, you know, this is an ongoing problem from the Greens and some of the activists that we've seen. And I think the Australian public is thoroughly fed up with it. He's not telling the truth about Manus. And you know, this morning, I guess, the Government of PNG went out of its way to say Manus has got a friendly society, a great [indistinct] there. And the unfortunate side of what's been done by people like Nick McKim and others, from our perspective as a government, is that they mislead the Australian public and the international media about what goes on on Manus - deliberately in my opinion - for their activist causes rather than being factual. So you know we reject all those claims by Nick McKim and the Greens. It's nothing new, as you say and it does not relate to reality. He says the Prime Minister's lying. That's absolutely false. And of course we've met all the international standards that we have to in PNG and in Manus, and we're going to continue to do so. And of course, as I've said, with Minister Dutton's ongoing discussions, we'll meet the timetables we have to. We are the government that has resettled as many people as we can in the United States. We've resettled people in other parts of the region. We've returned people back to their country of origin, and we've worked closely with PNG to make sure people can end up in PNG as well. So we're the Government that's solving the problem.
HOST: Just finally, Alex Hawke, I want to get to the security issue. Of course Australia is worried about the injection of China into the South Pacific. They do that through their aid program and also through some security initiatives. So where's Papua New Guinea on that? Are they strongly allied with Australia in rejecting the encroachment of Chinese strategic interests into the region, or are they sidling up to China as well?
MINISTER HAWKE: Well Chris, the Government's perspective - and the Prime Minister's been clear on this on many occasions - is we welcome Chinese investment in the Pacific where it is along infrastructure lines, helping out with health outcomes as you highlighted earlier. . Indeed, we're partnering with the [indistinct] PNG on electrification of the health related outcomes that we can work with them on. We want to work with more outcomes in the Pacific. We find our partner countries - and we listen very closely to them - are open to relevant and public constructed infrastructure projects as well from whatever partner country it might be; whether it's the US, whether it's China, whether it's New Zealand … plays a leadership role in this regard, and that's because we are family members of the Pacific. We're the biggest donor country, we're the biggest funder, we're the biggest contributor, we've got the longest relationship. So people look to us for leadership; we provide that leadership to help with partners getting involved in the Pacific, and a lot of countries are replicating what Australia is doing in terms of stepping up their efforts in the Pacific. And that's what's important to us.
Of course people see things in the media through a constant prism of security, and we also are very proud signatories of the Boe Declaration on Regional Security. And the Pacific, I would say, Chris, is not naive about security in the region. In fact, they're all committed in a multilateral way to security ties with each other. With Australia, we want to see strong sovereign states in the Pacific and that's everything our policy agenda is aimed at.
HOST: Alex Hawke, thanks for joining us.
MINISTER HAWKE: Thanks so much, Chris.
HOST: Alex Hawke there, who's the new Minister for International Development and the Pacific.