PATRICIA KARVELAS: South Korea’s acting chief of the Defense Ministry has confirmed North Korea is readying the launch of a ballistic missile, possibly an ICBM. How much do we know about this impending missile launch?
MARISE PAYNE: Patricia, we obviously rely on intelligence reports of this nature and we work with our allies to put that material together. This is, as you say unfolding now, so we will wait for further information.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Seoul’s agency says it might fire the missile towards the Pacific. Are you concerned?
MARISE PAYNE: I am very concerned with the behaviour of the regime as I have said on a number of occasions, I am very concerned that they are endangering regional stability and security and that their behaviour is both provocative and destructive, so I have been at great pains to articulate the Government’s views in relation to the sanctions regime. I understand that China today has made a diplomatic protest to North Korea over the nuclear test. All of these steps are very important parts of the process and ones which we must observe acutely.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: The time between the North’s actions is reducing, just a day between the nuclear test and now another suspected launch being reported. What should we read into this – the timeframe alone?
MARISE PAYNE: Well we know that Kim Jong-un and the regime itself is clearly interested in displays such as that we are discussing now. What we should be focussed on is the efforts of the international community, particularly the UN Security Council and its permanent members, to deter the regime from this sort of behaviour, because as we know, the alternative doesn’t bear contemplation.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Given the suspected nuclear test yesterday, could the missile be nuclear armed?
MARISE PAYNE: I can’t possibly comment on that, Patricia. We are still examining the nature of the test yesterday, and you’re now talking about a test that’s about to happen, so I don’t think you can expect me to try and do that analysis.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Both President Trump and our own Prime Minister have called again on China to do more. What exactly should they do?
MARISE PAYNE: Well we know that they have agreed to implement a number of the key sanctions which the Security Council has adopted most recently. We know that they have issued an extremely strong statement in relation to yesterday’s claimed nuclear test. But most importantly, they are the ones who do have particularly the economic leverage to engage more strongly, and as the Prime Minister said this morning, with that leverage comes responsibility. We understand that they’re not as East Germany was to the Soviet Union. Again, the Prime Minister has reinforced that as well. Clearly, they do have the ability, the capacity to exercise more influence on the North Korean regime and we think in the circumstances this is an entirely appropriate and considered measure for the Chinese government to look at.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Sanctions against North Korea have been increased sharply in line with the escalating tension on the Korean Peninsula. But given the nuclear test still took place, they don’t seem to have worked.
MARISE PAYNE: Well it’s fair to say that the sanctions in a number of areas are only now coming into a period of time where they could possibly have an effect. The previous sanctions gave partial bans on some key sectors, for example, coal, but they were narrower than the ones that we have now. So the sanctions that have been imposed now have full and multiple sectoral bans on North Korean exports, including coal, including iron and iron ore, seafood, led and led ore exports, which they rely on quite strongly. So they do have to have time to have an effect and that is where our collective efforts are currently focused, on ensuring that those existing sanctions, and especially by the permanent members of the UNSC.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: So when we talk about time to be implemented, what sort of timeframe are we talking about? What time frame does a country like ours give for these sanctions to be successful, because time seems to be running out. We’re seeing an escalation, a really dramatic escalation of this testing from North Korea. It doesn’t look like time’s on our side.
MARISE PAYNE: Well, Patricia, I am not sure what you would suggest the alternative is and I don’t think you can apply an arbitrary timeframe to this. This is a matter of the most sensitive concern, it is a matter of extremely serious negotiations, consultations, between Australia, the United States, South Korea, Japan, and the allies more broadly, and putting an arbitrary timeline on that I don’t think serves any purpose. What we have to do is to continue to maintain the pressure in relation to the implementation of the sanctions and of course countries like Australia have encouraged others to– as we have done – pursue autonomous sanctions to complement the UNSC sanctions.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Should China cut off oil supplies or cut off work visa? Are they the kind of sanctions you’re talking about?
MARISE PAYNE: Well the cutting off of oil supply is a matter for China, but that would have a very significant effect on the capacity of the North Korean regime. In terms of work visas, some of the sanctions that have already been imposed through the UNSC relate to the power of North Koreans working outside North Korea to return remittances, and that has an impact in relation to workers providing support back into the regime. So there is a number of options already under way, and indeed as you highlight, more to consider. We are not at the end of this conversation, Patricia, and we frankly can’t afford to be. The alternative does not bear contemplation.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: What does North Korea want to do with its nuclear weapon capability? Is it for protection, a deterrent? What sort of advice are you getting from our own agencies?
MARISE PAYNE: I am not going to speak publicly about the sort of intelligence advice that we receive but it is clear that the regime is trying to make some sort of point around its place in the world, one supposes, and about the place that it thinks it should have, and also the protection of its own regime. But the United States made clear the other day, in the statement by Secretary Mattis that the government of the United States, that the governments that support the United States, whether it’s South Korea, Japan or Australia, indeed, are not looking to annihilate North Korea, are not looking to change the regime as such. This is about ensuring that we stop this extraordinarily dangerous and provocative behaviour, and use the UN Security Council structures and resolutions to do that. In the op-ed that Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Mattis wrote just a few weeks ago in the Wall Street Journal, they made this very clear. This is not about regime change, it is about dealing with these weapons and ensuring that the North Korean regime is not allowed to continue its irresponsible behaviour.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: A massive military response is what’s been promised from the Defense Secretary Mattis, if US targets are threatened. What’s the threshold here?
MARISE PAYNE: Well I think what the Secretary of Defense made clear today was that the United States has the ability to defend itself and its allies, and that they would respond in relation to a threat to the United States, its territories, and so on. But most importantly, he reinforced again, as he and Secretary Tillerson have done, that all the members of the UN Security Council agreed unanimously in relation to the threat posed by North Korea, they remain unanimous in their commitment to the denuclearisation of the Peninsula and they are not pursuing the other aspects of regime change and so on that perhaps may be of concern to the regime. These are the options which we are currently focussed on prosecuting.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: South Korea’s second largest newspaper is running an editorial calling for Seoul to develop its own nuclear capability to deter attacks from the north. Could they do this and would Australia support this?
MARISE PAYNE: Well I haven’t seen the editorial myself but I am visiting Seoul later this week, and meeting with my counterpart and with the Prime Minister. I am speaking at the Seoul Security Dialogue, the agenda for which is about ‘Visions for security cooperation in an age of uncertainty’ and I am confident that a number of options will be discussed.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Mark Fitzpatrick is the Executive Director for America for the International Centre for Strategic Studies and says there are no realistic military options in terms of striking North Korea because doing so would likely spark a full-scale war. Do you agree with that?
MARISE PAYNE: Well I have made very clear, and we have made clear as a government, that we understand that the alternative to ensuring that the international effort to apply sanctions and to allow them to operate. The alternative to that is potentially catastrophic and that’s not a road that we are wanting to go down and not a road we are countenancing. We are focussed entirely on prosecuting the effectiveness of the sanctions and the sanctions regime both autonomous from Australia’s perspective and the UN Security Council-supported sanctions. We understand that the alternative, frankly, doesn’t bear contemplation.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: The US has 30,000 troops stationed in the South. Could they add nuclear weapons to act as deterrence to the North?
MARISE PAYNE: Well Patricia, it would not be appropriate for me to engage in conjecture on what the United States may or may not do with their own troops, but what I am saying is that as allies and as strategic partners and as participants in the region, we are absolutely focused on is ensuring that we are focused on bringing the North Korean regime to its senses, to working with the global community, to absolutely condemn this reckless action and the action of this previous week in relation to overflying of Hokkaido, to use the UN sanctions and the enhancement of those to enforce them as well.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Your trip will also include the Philippines where the battle in the city of Malawi between ISIS and government forces continues. How big is the presence of ISIS in our region?
MARISE PAYNE: Well, we are acutely aware of the potential for its growth and that relates directly to the movement of Daesh out of Iraq and Syria as the forces there gain more ground. What we are focussed on working towards with our regional partners, including of course the Philippines as you mentioned, is ensuring that that is not allowed to happen. So we work closely with Indonesia, we work with our counterparts in Singapore and Malaysia, in fact with a number of other countries which I visited last week, at which this was a topic of discussed – in Vietnam, in Thailand and in Laos – to ensure that we are very alert to the challenge that returning foreign fighters and to the pervasiveness that ISIS can pose here, and we work very closely within the region against that.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: What is Australia’s current role in that battle? What the ADF extend that commitment?
MARISE PAYNE: As you know, we have two P-3C Orions assisting in aerial surveillance in support of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the purpose of my visit is to engage with Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, my counterpart, and to continue our discussions on what, if any, further support Australia may be able to contribute.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: And so, a decision might be imminent on further support?
MARISE PAYNE: No, discussions are continuing.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Just on another story the ABC has been covering. Australia is considering purchasing aerial drones from a US company but an Israeli competitor is accusing the ADF of giving the US favourable treatment. Was there an even playing field?
MARISE PAYNE: I have seen that story, Patricia, and the consideration for that particular acquisition is still underway and I am not going to make any comment while that is under way.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: So you’re saying no final decisions have been made?
MARISE PAYNE: That’s correct – no decisions have been made.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Just finally, just on a political question – Bill Shorten tabled his documents proving he renounced his British citizenship. Does that make the attacks from the government in recent weeks look a little hollow?
MARISE PAYNE: Well, I think what looks completely hollow is the opposition leader’s prevarication for three weeks. I mean seriously, if you want to be taken seriously and you want to be an adult participant in this process, I am not sure why you would have played that game.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Well given he did have the documents, and he clearly isn’t a citizen of the United Kingdom, wasn’t he just trying to stick to the principle there was no evidence, it was just about mud throwing – isn’t that the point he was trying to make?
MARISE PAYNE: Well, if that is the case, then what is the opposition doing in relation to other members of the Parliament? It’s a phenomenally hypocritical position if that’s the one that he takes.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Thank you so much for your time, Marise.
MARISE PAYNE: Thank you, Patricia.