BARRIE CASSIDY: Now next up, our program guest this morning to discuss the latest developments in Syria. We’re joined by the Defence Minister Marise Payne. Good morning, welcome.
MARISE PAYNE: Good morning. Good morning, Barrie.
BARRIE CASSIDY: What do you think motivated Donald Trump to abandon much of his campaign rhetoric and to launch this missile attack?
MARISE PAYNE: Well I think like may of us - in fact all of us who have any sort of sense of humanity whatsoever - he was absolutely horrified by the chemical weapons attack on his own people in Syria and took considered steps, which we understand have been discussed at the highest levels in the United States, before action was taken. He took considered steps for a calibrated and proportionate response as the Prime Minister has said to indicate that the use of chemical weapons - illegal chemical weapons - against your own population is not acceptable, will not be tolerated and this action has clearly demonstrated that.
BARRIE CASSIDY: And it’s not the first time that it’s happened. Barack Obama famously drew the red line and yet he seemed to tolerate it. Has this kind of action been too long in coming?
MARISE PAYNE: Well each administration makes their own decisions, Barrie, and that is their right. But in this instance the United States administration has seen the attack on those families, on children, on infants and adults, and said this is not acceptable. We are going to take this action. They’ve taken that action. They’ve advised their allies and engaged in the region with those they needed to engage with. They forewarned, in the deconfliction sense, the Russians who were also present at that location. So it is a very strong signal that this behaviour - the use of chemical, illegal, toxic, chemical weapons - is unacceptable.
BARRIE CASSIDY: A strong signal, but nevertheless is it adequate given the crime? You’ve heard the nature of the crime. You’ve heard what Turkey’s foreign minister has said. The airfield is now open again. Assad wasn’t hurt in any way materially and he has a dozen or more other airfields anyway.
MARISE PAYNE: Well I think that’s a vexed question because there are those who would criticise the United States for doing it at all. There are those who would criticise the United States for not going far enough. So that’s a rather invidious line to walk down I think. But the message it has sent to the Bashar al-Assad regime and to the Syrian Government more broadly is that this is unacceptable. It is supported by Australia, it is supported by Britain, it is supported by countless other nations around the world as well.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Yeah and you’re right it is a vexed question because there’s arguments in both ways and one of them is that even taking this action has angered the Russians, perhaps made matters worse. I mean Prime Minister Medvedev said the relationship with Washington is completely ruined and he said the two countries are one step away from conflict. Should we be worried about that?
MARISE PAYNE: Well that’s an interesting question. I mean really the Russians need to be answering a question more importantly of what they are going to do with their supporters like Iran to work with the Syrian regime, to work with Bashar al-Assad, to find a solution to this endless conflict. That’s the question they should be answering rather than trying to create another front of argument.
BARRIE CASSIDY: But people around the world can say that, but they’re basically digging in and they don’t even accept Assad was responsible for this chemical attack.
MARISE PAYNE: Well then they are clearly ignoring the evidence, which is available worldwide. But most importantly, determining a solution, a solution that can be UN brokered that can be brokered by supporters of the Assad regime, determining a solution is imperative and the world will not continue to tolerate as we have seen in recent days the sorts of actions that the Assad regime has taken against its own people with the most horrific use of chemical weapons.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Is it a worry that the Russians have suspended cooperation with the United States on air space movements that in itself is could be quite risky? It could potentially lead to a very dangerous situation.
MARISE PAYNE: Well the United States and members of the coalition, including Australia, will continue with deconfliction activities, continue to advise of movements as we do now and expect other operators in the area to behave appropriately and responsibility. That’s a very clear and simple message from the international coalition and Australia reiterates that.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Prime Minister Turnbull indicated yesterday that Assad has to go. He did make the point that would involve a united effort. But can it happen while Russia and Iran stand so solidly behind him?
MARISE PAYNE: Well I go back to what I said, that is where the responsibility lies in relation to the actions of Russia and Iran, to work within the structures and the resolutions of the UN Security Council, to identify a political solution to this impasse.The Prime Minister observed that we struggle to see a solution that has the continuing involvement of Bashar al-Assad in it. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable proposition to put given what we’ve seen in recent days. We absolutely support the efforts of the United Nations to find that resolution and we strongly urge Russia and Iran and other supporters of the regime to engage and to try to identify a solution. It is long overdue.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Where’s the motivation now though for Assad to remain involved in any negotiations? What’s the motivation for him when you and the Prime Minister and others are saying there is no role for him going forward?
MARISE PAYNE: Well I’m not sure I’m going to speculate on the speculations of Bashar al-Assad in any context. I don’t think that’s a mind I’m able to get inside of, frankly. But in terms of the motivation of the international community, what the motivation of the international community needs to be is to pursue that resolution.
BARRIE CASSIDY: And when it’s all over should he be indicted for war crimes or why hasn’t that happened already?
MARISE PAYNE: Barrie, war crimes are war crimes. They need to be dealt with appropriately through the appropriate mechanisms. Beyond that though, the most important thing we need to do is propose a resolution.
BARRIE CASSIDY: And so far I gather the United States hasn’t asked Australia for anything other than keeping you informed of developments?
MARISE PAYNE: In relation to this matter that’s correct. Yes.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Yeah, and you don’t expect going forward that even though you’ve had this retaliation - the first of the probably biggest move in about six years - based on that you don’t think it’s conceivable they will be asking for anything other than that kind of support?
MARISE PAYNE: Well we are still making a considerable effort as you know. We have Advise and Assist personnel in Iraq. We have a Building Partner Capacity operation at Taji in Iraq. We have an Air Task Group, which operates both our Hornets, our Wedgetail, and KC-30A tankers. So we are making a very considerable contribution. I know that is acknowledged by Iraq particularly, by the United States and other members of the coalition. I will be meeting with senior members of the coalition again in the coming weeks and we will expect to discuss these activities further, but at this point in time that is a very significant contribution Australia is making.
BARRIE CASSIDY: And just finally those by-elections that were in your home state yesterday and 20 plus swings in some booths. What’s going on there?
MARISE PAYNE: Well, Barrie, mid-term by-elections are difficult for any government no matter where it is and who they are. But the outcome is that all seats have remained in the same hands. One in the opposition’s hands, two in the hands of the Coalition Government and I can guarantee you, knowing her very well, that Gladys Berejiklian, the Premier of New South Wales has been doing a lot of listening over the past few weeks.
BARRIE CASSIDY: And not panicking just yet?
MARISE PAYNE: A lot of listening.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Thanks your time this morning. Appreciate it.
MARISE PAYNE: Thank you, Barrie.