Radio Interview with Ben Fordham - 2GB Breakfast - 24/05/2023

24 May 2023



Subjects: Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Australia; Australia’s relationship with India; Prime Minister invited to visit China; cost of offshore processing; Rights to “Tasmanian Devils” name.

BEN FORDHAM, HOST: The Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, is in Sydney. He's been greeted like a rock star at Qudos Bank Arena last night, 20,000 people. And this was Anthony Albanese.

AUDIO OF ANTHONY ALBANESE: I said to my friend, the Prime Minister, before the last time I saw someone on the stage here was Bruce Springsteen and he didn't get the welcome that Prime Minister Modi is getting. Prime Minister Modi is the boss.

FORDHAM: Prime Minister Modi is the boss. Penny Wong, the Foreign Minister, was there last night. Minister, good morning to you.

PENNY WONG, FOREIGN MINISTER: Good morning. Good to be with you again. Yeah, it was a pretty amazing night, I have to say.

FORDHAM: How come you don't get a reception like that?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, I don't think very many people get a reception like that. But look, it really was a reminder that what's at the heart of our relationship with India is actually our Australian-Indian community, the Indian diaspora community, which was out in force last night with all the energy and vibrance, that vibrancy that you saw last night was fantastic.

FORDHAM: Prime Minister Modi was talking of our relationship and he says we're no longer linked by just the three C's - Commonwealth, cricket and curry. He says we're now linked by mutual trust and mutual respect. We're also doing a lot of trade with them too, aren't we?

FOREIGN MINISTER: We are and look, it was a great speech. He talked about, as he said, mutual trust and respect. He talked about that we were linked also by our belief in democracy as well, and our friendship. But as you said, look, India’s now become the world's largest country, the most populous country. It is on a track to - it's continuing to develop. Obviously, it's a very big economic opportunity for Australia, as well as a good thing for the world, as over a billion people in India continue their path along the development track. So, we've got a good economic relationship, we can do more. Part of what we'll discuss today in the meeting between Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Albanese is how we can do that.

FORDHAM: Please tell me they were serving Indian food last night, not hot dogs and meat pies.

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, I don't know that there was any food being served. We were too busy you know.

FORDHAM: You're the Foreign Minister, you're supposed to sort this stuff out.

FOREIGN MINISTER: Yeah, sorry, catering, forgot.

FORDHAM: Let's talk about China. I was interested this week when the Senator Simon Birmingham, the Liberal senator, said the Prime Minister shouldn't go to China unless all trade restrictions are lifted. And I did make the point that when he was minister, that China wasn't even picking up the phone. And I know that times were different then, but, I mean, that shouldn't be a barrier between the Prime Minister leaving Australia and going to China. Some of these things will be sorted out in some of those meetings, surely.

FOREIGN MINISTER: Yeah. Look, I think that's a pretty wise position you're taking, and I think you got to keep engaging and keep trying to engage. We know there's going to be things we don't agree on, but China’s not going anywhere, neither is Australia. We're part of this region. We have to find, continue to work to stabilise the relationship and to make sure we can manage our differences wisely. Obviously, the Prime Minister has been invited. What I've said is we would want to see continued progress on trade impediments. Pleased that there's been some movement, we've seen some movement to date and we hope to see more because it's in both countries’ interests for those trade impediments to be removed.

FORDHAM: The Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, is our guest. Minister, can you tell me, can they just lift these tariffs with a stroke of a pen?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, the Chinese system takes a fair bit of time to work through these issues. We saw just last week resolution on timber. We've seen coal and other restrictions improve. Obviously, one of the big ones for Australia economically is barley. And I announced what we described as a pathway to resolution of that with the Trade Minister Don Farrell. Hopefully that will see progress on barley more quickly than if we went through finalised World Trade Organization actions on that. So, the key thing here is we've got to keep pressing, keep engaging and keep reminding, I think all of us, that and particularly China, that we think it's in both countries’ interest for these impediments to be removed.

FORDHAM: No doubt about it. Now, this is something we haven't discussed for a while - offshore detention. The processing centre on Nauru is going to cost us nearly $500 million this year. But there are only 22 people there. Is that money well spent?

FOREIGN MINISTER: And I understand those people would look at those figures and react. The advice I have is these are baseline costs. So, this is a cost that's in place just to have the centre for the reasons that you'd be aware of, Ben, and I'm sure your listeners as well, we think offshore processing remains an important part of managing our borders. So, we do think you have to keep that facility as an ongoing proposition. So, regrettably, these are the sorts of, I suppose, sunk costs or fixed costs.

FORDHAM: I mean, we've got Christmas Island there, but we want to be able to send a message, right, that if you come here and you're not supposed to be coming here, that you might end up in another country and therefore you can't just turn on a place like Nauru overnight.

FOREIGN MINISTER: Correct. And what we've said, people will be processed offshore and we've maintained those aspects of the sovereign borders arrangements. So, that is about making sure we have orderly migration to this country.

FORDHAM: Just on money that is maybe going down the drain. What about the Quad meeting being cancelled, because didn't you guys put aside about $23 million for the event to be held in Sydney and then Joe Biden pulled the pin and the whole thing fell apart? Is that 23 mil down the drain?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, I'm sure there'll be sort of accounting for costs, but we did allocate that amount of money in the Budget that was handed down to the Quad and associated with the associated work of officials and so forth. But, look, it was disappointing, but understandable when you've got the hyperpartisan domestic politics that we've seen in the United States, it's obviously disappointing, but as the Prime Minister said, he would have done the same thing. It was really good that we still were able to have an engagement with Quad leaders, as well as a bilateral meeting between Prime Minister Albanese and President Biden. That's a good thing. And we're really pleased also that Prime Minister Modi, even though the Quad was cancelled, has continued with his bilateral visit to Australia. That obviously demonstrates an importance in the relationship that we appreciate.

FORDHAM: When you joined us last, Penny Wong, you had a question without notice right off the top, about a drama involving the new Tasmanian AFL team wanting to be called the Tassie Devils and the fact that Warner Brothers in the US had the trademark. And I said, you've got to sort this out. Well, boy, you work quickly. It was sorted out within 48 hours. So, I know you won't reveal the private phone calls that you had with the US President, but well done.

FOREIGN MINISTER: I wish I could claim all credit.

FORDHAM: Just claim credit.

FOREIGN MINISTER: These negotiations are going well, right, but the credit needs to go to those who are negotiating with Warner Brothers. But I hope it all gets, what is it – T's crossed and I's dotted.

FORDHAM: Yeah, something like that. All right, well, you're very modest and, yes, I know you had no role in all of that, but anyway, some people would claim credit anyway. Good to catch up and let's do it again soon.

FOREIGN MINISTER: Yeah, take care. Cheers.

FORDHAM: Good on you. Penny Wong, the Foreign Minister joining us at 08:26.


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Authorised by Senator the Hon Penny Wong, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Australia.