KIERAN GILBERT: Back to politics now. And this morning I spoke to Liberal front-bencher, the Minister for [International Development and] the Pacific, Alex Hawke and discussed a range of issues including an intervention from Donald Trump's son into the Australian political debate.
KIERAN GILBERT: Alex Hawke, thanks very much for your time. A lot to cover this morning. I want to start with a tweet from Donald Trump Junior where he says the major party in Australia is trying to silence a conservative commentator who is due to visit Australia for a conference. Kristina Keneally says his visa should be rejected. What do you make of this intervention from the President's son?
ALEX HAWKE: Well look, first of all I mean the Australian Government doesn't comment on individual cases, it's a longstanding position. We always look at immigration and visa matters very carefully. In relation to this individual, whether you agree with him or not, it's obviously a matter of free speech that the Government has to consider.
When you think about what is going on with Kristina Keneally in particular, I just say this: she seems to live in a Twitter bubble. I'll be very honest with you Kieran, I have never heard of this guy before. I checked with my office, nobody in my office had ever heard of him before. I checked with my family, no one had ever heard of this guy before. So the only way people are hearing about this guy in Australia is because Kristina Keneally is seeking to ban him. And I think she's got to take a long hard look at herself to be honest. Because I mean by banning him, by saying the Government should ban him, she's giving him attention and prominence with views that, from what I've seen so far, I don't agree with myself. Now, you can live in this Twitter bubble forever, you can think that's the real world. But frankly speaking I think most Australians out there, the quiet Australians if you like Kieran, have never heard of this guy.
KIERAN GILBERT: Well yeah. Well indeed. I think you're right, many people would not have heard of him. But in the United States he's a former Breitbart editor-in-chief and Donald Trump Junior says he's been trying to be silenced because of his conservative views. I don't think that that's the point though from Kristina Keneally, she's saying he's made bigoted and Islamophobic statements previously and that's why she wanted him blocked.
ALEX HAWKE: The standard can't be what Kristina Keneally thinks on Twitter. There's a lot of negative comments on Twitter, we all know that and if we banned everybody on Twitter we'd ban a lot of people coming to this country. But the point is the story's wrong there. We're not seeking to ban anyone. Now, the Government's going through its normal processes like it does with everybody. Nobody in Australia is seeking to ban anyone other than through the normal immigration processes.
KIERAN GILBERT: So you'd think she's basically overreacting?
ALEX HAWKE: She's done this to Australia and I think once again her radar, being addicted to Twitter and living in the Twitterverse, is completely out of touch with ordinary people.
KIERAN GILBERT: Let's look at the related story to an extent and that is the US relationship, because this came from Donald Trump's son and we know that members of the administration will be here this weekend in fact, the Defense Secretary and the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. You've met with a senior member of the Trump administration in the last week. Where is their commitment to our region right now? Does it remain strong? Because we're hearing about renewed investment in the Port of Darwin - $200 million U.S. dollars to be spent - but more broadly in the Pacific, which is your patch. Do they get it?
ALEX HAWKE: Well, we welcome the visit of the Secretary of State to Australia very soon. Obviously the US is very committed to the region and in the Federated States of Micronesia the US has a particular and special role that they play along with the three compact states there.
And their engagement in the region is absolutely vital. The engagement of all our partners is vital. We want to partner with countries like the US, and the alliance there allows us to do that in a strong way. Countries like Japan, countries like New Zealand, and indeed we'll work with China if they want to cooperate on health, development, positive goals for Pacific countries. We'll partner with all these countries to deliver good outcomes for the Pacific.
KIERAN GILBERT: Is that something that you're serious about in terms of working with China. Because …
ALEX HAWKE: Absolutely.
KIERAN GILBERT: … it has been put that this would be a way to help smooth relations with Beijing when things haven't always been that smooth. But a way of ensuring at least awareness of each other's positions when working on humanitarian matters, for example, in the Pacific.
ALEX HAWKE: Well Kieran there's a lot of commentary about China, about other countries as well. But the point is that from Australia's point of view we've been in the region for a long time now. So our Pacific family, as the Prime Minister says regularly, and the depth of our relationships mean we listen very carefully to our Pacific family about what they need and what they want. And it's a good opportunity to have all of the partners who are interested in the Pacific ensuring that countries get better outcomes and we're very focused on helping with that, listening carefully to our Pacific country partners but working with partners like the United States and indeed China. If they want to help in development like they do in PNG - we cooperate on a project in PNG that delivers great health outcomes for people - we'll do so. We'll make sure there's a great outcome for the people.
KIERAN GILBERT: The Pacific Island Forum is coming up in Tuvalu, have you noticed that there is an increased assertiveness or attempt to influence by China and among our smaller Pacific neighbours?
ALEX HAWKE: Well look it's not so much about that. I mean, the regional forum - the Pacific Islands Forum - is an opportunity for Australia to go and listen and engage with all the regional leadership. The regional leaders are talking about things you'd expect them to, like regional security, which means climate change security, it means economic security, it means obviously good policing relationships with transnational crime issues. They're the things we're hearing about. We're not hearing about geopolitical struggles from our Pacific partners. We're hearing about what is it that we can do to lift the average lot of our people? What can we do to have greater economic prosperity? What can we do to have better relationships in the region? And they're the things that we're focused on.
KIERAN GILBERT: When you talk about climate change, are they comfortable with Australia's position right now when it comes to the response to climate change? Because there have been concerns in the past from Pacific leaders that this Coalition government hasn't been as strong on that issue as it should be.
ALEX HAWKE: Well there's a lot of conversations about this and obviously Australia signed up to the Boe Declaration, the regional declaration, which deals with climate change and security and other issues. And we're very focused on implementing the Boe Declaration with our Pacific partners. And what does that mean? Now this year there's a record $1.14 billion being spent, it's the highest ever spending that we've had over the years. And what that means is $300 million will be on climate change and it means climate adaptation, climate resilience, helping Pacific partner countries with the practical impacts of climate change and preparing for other matters that deal with climate change.
KIERAN GILBERT: But have you given them reassurances that that funding will be there in the future as well?
ALEX HAWKE: Absolutely, Kieran. And we also have our Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility that we're just starting now and what that also enables is $2 billion for projects that will be nominated and delivered by partner countries and that will unlock more money. And climate adaptation and climate resilience is a huge part of that, so projects can come forward about climate that will help our partner countries in the Pacific.
KIERAN GILBERT: Because I know some of them have expressed concern that the funding cycle for some of the climate finance, for example, ends next year. But you have said to them, you've reassured them that that will continue beyond that?
ALEX HAWKE: Well, no. So obviously in the green climate fund, that's a different issue, that will finish up. But we have our Infrastructure Financing Facility which has climate adaptation, climate resilience as part of its mandate and we expect to see projects based on climate adaptation and climate resilience.
KIERAN GILBERT: To a similar magnitude of …
ALEX HAWKE: Well $2 billion is a very significant amount of money to put on the table but the opportunity with the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility is that it would unlock and leverage more money from partners so you can have, obviously, investments that leverage more money out of the $2 billion …
KIERAN GILBERT: [Talks over] But in the Pacific, specifically?
ALEX HAWKE: Yeah, in the Pacific. This is for the Pacific. Obviously the AIFFP - it's a difficult acronym - is for the Pacific and so our partner countries know that climate projects will come forward through this project.
KIERAN GILBERT: So they've been reassured?
ALEX HAWKE: Absolutely and we'll keep reassuring them and we'll listen very carefully, Kieran. Part of Australia's role is to listen about what climate adaptation and resilience needs are out there and how we can best assist with them.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay. And just finally, I want to get your thoughts on the terror laws that have been reported in the Herald Sun today in relation to keeping those who are deemed a terror risk in prison even after they've served their term behind bars. Is that right?
ALEX HAWKE: Well yes. You can understand this Government, I think there are 17 tranches of these laws that have now come through. We've been very strong on national security. We are obviously introducing another bill today. That will of course take account of the current situation that we see in Australia. We're very concerned about very dangerous people being released onto the streets and we think that's in line with public expectations.
KIERAN GILBERT: Like in the example of the Brighton attack, shooting where an individual was still believed to be part of a terror plot but had to be released because his prison term had finished?
ALEX HAWKE: Well there are obvious examples out there. I wouldn't comment on individual cases, but yes these laws are now designed to take account of situations where we believe dangerous terrorists are able to be released and make sure that they're not.
KIERAN GILBERT: And they can be held indefinitely?
ALEX HAWKE: Well the bill will be brought forward and everyone will have a chance to have a look at it.
KIERAN GILBERT: Mr Hawke thanks so much for your time.
KIERAN GILBERT: Alex Hawke speaking to us earlier
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555