17 February 2023
SUBJECTS: Australia-China relationship; Attempts to recruit ex-ADF personnel; Voice to Parliament; PNG-Australia Bilateral Security Agreement.
REPORTER: Scott Morrison on the front of The Australian today is going to call on the Government to consider Magnitsky-style sanctions against China. Would that help, given the Albanese Government's attempt to try and thaw the relationship, the consular cases and also, obviously, trade sanctions?
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Human rights are fundamentally important, and they are for this Government, and they are in the way in which we engage with every country in the world. We've continually raised issues around Xinjiang, around the Uighur population, I've done that. And we make sure that is part of the way in which we engage with China. But it is important that we are stabilising our relationship with China, which is what the Government is seeking to do. We obviously value a productive relationship with China and it is possible to stabilise our relationship in that way, whilst also raising these issues of human rights. Walking that –
REPORTER: But raising them in this way, not threatening sanctions as we’ve heard from a former prime minister? That’s not going to help?
MARLES: Well, what we seek to do is to pursue these issues in a way which makes the greatest difference. And having a relationship with China where we can raise these issues is really important and it is actually possible to walk that balance which this government is doing.
REPORTER: And when were those concerns last raised? And is there any plan to do so again soon?
MARLES: Those concerns are continually raised with China. I mean, human rights is a central part of the way in which we engage with China. And the plight of the Uighurs is an issue that we've continually raised. As I say, I have raised that publicly in speeches in Beijing. But it's also important that this is done in a way which is respectful in the context of a relationship which we are seeking to stabilise.
REPORTER: Has the Government also raised the reports about potential pilot poaching, when that came to light last year?
MARLES: Look, I'm not going to go into that publicly. We've made comments during this week that we want to make sure that here in Australia, we have the most robust set of policies and laws which apply to this situation. It is an issue that we face here and as I announced during the week we will be developing legislation, just to remove any doubt that any person who acquires a secret, one of Australia's secrets, or any knowledge around that secret is obliged to maintain that secret by law for as long as it remains a secret. For as long as it remains classified.
REPORTER: The Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, in the working group meeting yesterday with the Indigenous Voice to Parliament indicated that he believed, as it stands, the referendum is not on track to succeed. Do you share that assessment?
MARLES: Well, I don't share that assessment. We are working across the Parliament and indeed across the Australian community to achieve an outcome here where we recognise Indigenous Australians in our Constitution through the establishment of a Voice to Parliament. Now, it's good that the Opposition Leader is participating in that process. If the Opposition Leader has constructive suggestions about how we can improve the chances of the referendum succeeding, then we're really willing to listen to him about that. But what matters here is that we get this done, because this will be a critically important moment for the nation in recognising our First Nations people in our most important document, and doing it in a practical way, which gives rise to a Voice to Parliament.
REPORTER: On the PNG Ministerial, I believe you had an informal dinner last night. There will be meetings today. Can you just update us a little bit about where negotiations are going with that defence treaty? Whether we're on track to have it signed or completed by April? And what that would mean for both nations?
MARLES: Well, the security agreement that we are working with PNG on is very important. PNG is a is a profoundly important country for Australia, in so many ways, but security is definitely one of them. When you think about PNG’s geography, its size, it is a critical part of our national security landscape. A lot of the conversations I've had with my counterpart Win Daki, the Minister for Defence in PNG, is about thickening what is already a very strong relationship between our two militaries. The negotiations in respect of this are very much on track. And we look forward to advancing all of this in the meeting that we have today.
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