AM Agenda Sky News Live
Interview with Kieran Gilbert and Laura Jayes on SKY News Live AM Agenda
19 November 2018
SUBJECTS: APEC; China; Bill Shorten letter to PM.
LAURA JAYES: Let’s go live to Adelaide now. The Defence Minister Christopher Pyne joins us. Christopher Pyne, we had a very close look at what happened at APEC yesterday; leaders for the first time unable to agree in that wording in the final communique. This hasn’t happened in 30 years, how significant is it and what does it tell us?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, APEC at Port Moresby the last couple of days has been an absolute triumph for PNG. With our support, primarily led by PNG, they have put on a great conference for the leaders of the Asia-Pacific. The communique itself will be settled, I’m sure, down the track. The most important thing is the work that went on behind the scenes, which is very important. There were very important announcements made at APEC. But we do have disagreements around trade, around the World Trade Organization, and obviously that played out in the last few hours of the conference. And it’s very important that we don’t publish a communique that is a group of motherhood statements, it needs to be meaningful and importantly it needs to make trade - free trade and respect for intellectual property rights et cetera – very much paramount.
KIERAN GILBERT: Do you feel it is all about trade or are there broader geopolitical tensions at play here as well, given the Chinese behaviour in the South China Sea and most notably in the last couple of days, Mike Pence committing to that joint naval base development in Manus Island – and that will obviously happen in PNG as well?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: I think what was very significant for Australia and for other countries in our immediate region was the very strong reaffirmation of the international rules-based order, the fact that countries like Australia and our allies at the US and so forth intend to stand up for freedom of navigation, freedom of overflight, an international rules-based order determining trade and relationships between countries. And there were very significant announcements at APEC around support for – for example – PNG’s electrification project and our Pacific pivot across the South West Pacific. Just last night we announced that we’ll invest in Vanuatu’s infrastructure around their military and police forces, as we have recently at Black Rock in Fiji and – as you mentioned, Kieran – in the development of the Lombrum naval base at Manus Island, which will be a PNG-Australia naval base and the United States will also support that naval base and potentially place platforms there down the track, depending on different circumstances and how those discussions go. But certainly Australian platforms will be based there along with the PNG Guardian-class Offshore Patrol Vessels. So, significant announcements over the weekend.
LAURA JAYES: Chinese officials at APEC were on the public record saying that they didn’t enjoy the language around China’s influence in the Pacific. Will this move from the United States exacerbate those tensions and what does it mean for us?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, look, it’s very important that countries understand the intentions of other nations in the region. Now, we believe that freedom of navigation through the South China Sea and freedom of overflight is very important. China have built military installations on reefs and islands in the South China Sea and they make claims about the South China Sea that we don’t recognise. And other countries also have claims over the South China Sea and it is a disputed territory. What’s important for Australia is that we continue to be able to navigate that space freely. And at a conference like APEC, it’s important that countries know where everyone else stands. So, I think the language was temperate from all the nations involved; whether it’s China, whether it’s the United States, whether it’s Australia for that matter – everyone needs to work closer together in this region, which we’ve done. APEC’s been an unheralded success. And our role in the South West Pacific in announcements we’ve made over the last fortnight show that Australia is going to take its responsibilities for this part of the world seriously and we will invest there financially and militarily as well as diplomatically to ensure that this part of the world is peaceful, secure and growing in its prosperity.
KIERAN GILBERT: Do you see or should we be encouraged by the fact that the Trump administration has agreed to a naval presence near- basically on our doorstep, not seen since the Second World War? And does it – in your view – have more substance than the Obama pivot to Asia did in a sense for us particularly?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, rhetoric always needs to be matched with substance for it to have real meaning. And obviously the announcements that we’ve made in the Pacific pivot - and that Vice-President Pence made over the weekend – mean that we’re putting real substance on our rhetoric of an international rules-based order. We already have, of course, the US Marines based in Darwin, there are 1500 US Marines based there. And the naval base at Lombrum will be a PNG-Australia naval base. We’ve been invited, by the way, by PNG to establish that base at Lombrum and the United States will now be involved in that base as well. But we will be building the infrastructure, extending the wharf and putting the accommodation and so forth that’s needed to expand that base. And we’ll be working closely with PNG and we’ll have our own platforms based there – as will PNG and potentially, of course, the United States. But all of these announcements around infrastructure, support through the Export Finance Investment Corporation, these are all putting texture on our rhetoric that we want an international rules-based order to continue to be at the centre of the APEC region.
LAURA JAYES: Minister, in a trade sense, do you think that China can still be classified as a developing country?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well look, Laura, that's a left field question. I haven't given it a great deal of consideration. Obviously China is a very well developed economy. Whether for particular reasons they describe it as developing or developed is really a matter for them. But I haven't given it a great deal of consideration I have to tell you.
KIERAN GILBERT: When you look at the broader issues facing Australia and our, you know, and strategic outlook, do you feel that we are in a changing- well I guess in many ways unseen sort of dynamic in our region with the Chinese push into the Pacific? I mean more certainly not seen since World War 2.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Look, foreign policy and defence policy are always very dynamic, as is the trade environment in which we live. We've done very well in recent years - the last five years of the Coalition Government - to settle free trade agreements with China and of course with the United States, with the TPP across 10 countries across our region. These are all very significant developments. They’re leading to an enormous boon in things like wine exports for example which affects my state of South Australia in particular into China. So the trade dynamic is better than ever in terms of free trade.
It's always important though to protect intellectual property and copyrights and that discussion needs to continue. And from a defence posture, we need to make sure that we have a presence particularly in the south west Pacific and into Southeast Asia supporting likeminded countries, making sure that we keep sanctions on North Korea until they come to a denuclearised Korean Peninsula. And assuring that countries in the region realise that we don't just talk about supporting free trade and free navigation and international rules-based order. We can implement that through our military. And that's why we're engaged at the moment in the largest build-up of our military capability in our peacetime history to support our own national interests as well as those of our likeminded allies across the region.
LAURA JAYES: Minister, a few domestic issues now. Fairfax-Ipsos poll today gives us a snapshot of what Australians think about Muslim migration, it shows that Australians are split on what the level should be, but I guess it's emblematic of the broader debate on population. What is your view on Muslim migration and migration as a whole? Are the current levels about right or should there be a change?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well Laura, I don't think that our population policy or our immigration intake should be decided by polls. That’s probably the worse way of deciding them. They should be decided on principle. We have a non-discriminatory immigration policy that must remain in place. We have a ceiling in terms of new arrivals each year but that is not a target, it's a ceiling. And last year we came in below that number and we have a growing population.
But we have a continent the size of the United States and the United States continent population is obviously more than 10 times larger than ours, so we have room to grow and we need to manage our water resources, our major cities. If these cities are congested like Sydney or Melbourne, then we need to find ways of moving new migrants out into the regions and that's all part of what the government is doing right now in its policy settings. These things are not beyond us. We don't need to put a handbrake on population growth. We need to manage our population growth sensibly in a country which quite frankly can take a lot more than 25 million people.
KIERAN GILBERT: Finally, Bill Shorten has written to the Prime Minister urging a bipartisan approach to a National Integrity Commission with the crossbench - Kerryn Phelps joining the crossbench and the support on it for such an idea. Is it time the government just got on with it as opposed to being pushed into it?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: No I don't think so. I like the way Bill Shorten writes letters to the Prime Minister and then releases them to the press before they even get to the PM. So they're not really designed for a bipartisan approach. Look, we have a number of different bodies which are already over-sighting federal politicians. The new Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority, of course the Australian Federal Police which has its own particular division which deals with fraud and so on in public office. It's the easiest thing to do is call for another organisation costing money, giving it extra powers. I don't think that's necessary at the national level and it's just another way of Bill Shorten trying to distract people from the real issues that matter around jobs, the economy, national security, border protection. He's had a very quiet couple of weeks as we've been getting on with government and this is his reaction to try and discover a new subject to talk about that he thinks will stop the government from getting on with governing.
KIERAN GILBERT: Defence Minister, thanks for your time, we'll talk to you soon.