SENATOR THE HON PENNY WONG
LEADER OF THE GOVERNMENT IN THE SENATE
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Subjects: Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Australia; Australia’s relationship with India; Meeting of India’s Prime Minister and Ukraine’s President; Australia China relationship and trade impediments; Foreign interference.
DANICA DE GIORGIO, HOST: Welcome back to the program. Returning now to our top story. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is set to welcome his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi to Admiralty House this morning ahead of official talks.
Joining me now live is the Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong. Thank you so much for joining us this morning. It was quite the rockstar reception last night in Sydney. What does this visit mean to Australia?
PENNY WONG, FOREIGN MINISTER: Yeah. Good morning, great to be with you. Yeah, it was a pretty amazing experience last night, wasn't it? Full of energy, full of colour, vibrancy, a demonstration of, you know, the strength of the relationship between India and Australia, and a reminder that the heart of that relationship, the bridge between our two nations is of course the Indian diaspora here in Australia, the second largest diaspora that we have and the fastest growing.
But look, this visit means a lot, Danica, it's a very important relationship for us, I think increasingly important at this time, so we're really pleased with the momentum in the relationship, how often the leaders have met, and really pleased to welcome Prime Minister Modi and his delegation here to Australia.
DE GIORGIO: Yeah, not many politicians get that sort of a reception. But now attention turns to important discussions, of course, this morning. What is on the agenda for today's bilateral meetings?
FOREIGN MINISTER: Yes, well, you'd anticipate there's obviously going to be discussion about what more there needs to be done in the bilateral relationship, how we can continue to build on the momentum, we can continue to take forward our economic partnership, but in addition, I'm sure we'll be discussing the region. We both have an interest in a stable region, a peaceful region, an open and resilient Indo Pacific. So these are interests that Australia and India share, and it's a reminder of why this partnership is so important.
DE GIORGIO: A number of issues have been raised ahead of this visit, particularly the fact that India still has not publicly condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine. How confident are you that India is in fact aligned with Australia's values?
FOREIGN MINISTER: Look, on Russia, I think we all know the history to India's relationship with Russia, and that's a long standing history. I thought it was very important that Prime Minister Modi met with President Zelenskyy when he was at the G7. I know that President Zelenskyy said afterwards he welcomed Prime Minister Modi's support for Ukrainian sovereignty. I thought that was a very important meeting, and sent a very important signal about the opposition to Russia's illegal and immoral war against Ukraine.
DE GIORGIO: And what about the issues of human rights violations against minority groups in India. Some members of the Australian India community are calling on Anthony Albanese to take a tough line. Will this be raised with Narendra Modi today?
FOREIGN MINISTER: Look, Australia, as the Prime Minister has said, and as I've said when asked about this before in India, we have a consistent position on human rights; we have a consistent position on democratic principles, and we articulate that appropriately with friends and partners, and we'll continue to do that.
DE GIORGIO: I want to ask you now about China. Will Prime Minister Anthony Albanese travel to Beijing before those trade disputes are resolved?
FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, there's sort of a few points on that. The first is we've made very clear publicly and to the Chinese privately, that to my counterpart, and at the Presidential-Prime Minister level, that we believe it's in both countries' interests for the trade impediments to be removed, and we are pleased to have seen some movement in relation to those impediments.
What I said yesterday when asked about this is, of course, we want, we welcome the invitation, we obviously want to see continued progress in relation to the removal of these trade impediments for a number of reasons; one is, we think it's in both countries' interests, but also obviously that contributes to a positive atmosphere for Prime Ministerial visit which would be a very important visit.
DE GIORGIO: But when does Anthony Albanese accept it, and move quickly to go to Beijing? Should that trip be further delayed if there's been no progress, for example, on the detained Australians in China? What are you looking for here before you give that formal yes or no?
FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, yeah, I'm not I don't think what I'm looking for is continued progress, and I think, you know, that is the most appropriate way to handle this is, is to keep seeking continued progress, and we have, in relation to the detained Australians, Dr Young and Cheng Lei, I think you would have heard me in China in every meeting I've had with my counterpart, whether Foreign Minister Wang Yi or Qin Gang who's recently become the Foreign Minister, you would have heard the Prime Minister also raise our concerns and advocate for those detained Australians. We'll continue to do that, and I would say this, that I think all Australians would want both Dr Young, and Ms Cheng Lei to be re united with their families.
DE GIORGIO: Just finally, ASIO officers are being embedded within the Defence Department to help prevent foreign spies from stealing nuclear powered submarine secrets. How concerned is Australia in particular about foreign interference, or the threat of it?
FOREIGN MINISTER: I'll make three points. First, we don't comment on ASIO operations, I'm sure you'd understand that. Secondly, we've got a long standing bipartisan position, and I think this is one area that has remained bipartisan, of ensuring that we work together through the Parliament to have the right legislation to deal with foreign interference. The third thing is, obviously AUKUS is very important, and we will make sure that appropriate security arrangements are in place to enable AUKUS to proceed.
DE GIORGIO: Penny Wong, we will leave it there. I appreciate your time. Thank you so much for joining us.
Foreign Minister's Office: +61 2 6277 7500
Authorised by Senator the Hon Penny Wong, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Australia.