Topics: Australian assistance to Solomon Islands; confirmation of vessel off Australia’s coast.
NEIL BREEN: The Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews joins me on the line. Good morning, Minister.
KAREN ANDREWS: Good morning, Neil, how are you?
NEIL BREEN: I’m well, thanks. This unrest in the Solomons, it’s all to do with China. Yet again, China in our region has caused this, and now we’re going to help the Solomons to try and help deal with the unrest from their people who are unhappy about China. It seems a bit odd.
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, the situation in the Solomon Islands is certainly very concerning and, as we all know, the situation has deteriorated over the last few days. Australia has demonstrated its support for the Solomon Islands; we responded almost immediately to deploy AFP personnel – including people from our tactical response units – and in fact there’s more AFP personnel being deployed today. So, we have actually stepped in to support our neighbours. We are on the ground working very closely with the Solomon Islands Police Force and we will do all we can in conjunction with the Solomon Islands Police Force to make sure that we work to restore law and public order as soon as we possibly can.
NEIL BREEN: Well, it is important for Australia to make sure there is law and public order in the Solomons, but the situation is there’s a province called Malaita and they’re very sympathetic towards Taiwan, and the people there are unhappy that the Solomons Government has done a deal in 2019 to take $700 million in aid – with inverted commas around it – from the Chinese Government and the Solomons Government is now more sympathetic to China than it is to Taiwan. But we know that on a world stage, Australia, we’re sympathetic to Taiwan, but now we’re helping the Solomons Government defend the city against people there who are sympathetic to Taiwan. Can you understand how the public would think that this is kind of a twisted scenario?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, what I want the Australian public, and Queenslanders in particular, to understand is that Australia’s role now in the Solomon Islands is a policing matter. We are not intervening at all in all of the political unrest that is happening in the Solomon Islands as such, so we are not intervening in the actions that-
NEIL BREEN: So, we’re keeping the peace.
KAREN ANDREWS: We are doing all that we can to stabilise the area. The Indo–Pacific is vitally important to us, and I think that you’re seeing a few things play out in the Indo–Pacific that are of concern – of concern to many Queenslanders, many Australians. But what I would like to point out very clearly is that the Australian Government, the Morrison Government, is out there doing all we can to try to bring stability to that region because we understand how important it is to us.
NEIL BREEN: Our embassy staff, have we heard from them? Are they safe?
KAREN ANDREWS: Yes, they’re all safe and well, but the situation in the Solomon Islands is certainly very volatile and that’s why it’s important that we sent over the Australian Federal Police. They deployed so quickly. It really is a credit to the Australian Federal Police and, quite frankly, the AFP doesn’t get the acknowledgement that they deserve. They have sent over some of their very best personnel with their tactical response teams there; so they’re on the ground doing the work that is needed to help restore law and public order.
NEIL BREEN: Karen Andrews, it’s also been revealed today that there was a Chinese warship in our region around about August, September, sneaking around and having a look at things, but we seem to be okay with that. That’s what I’ve heard from Marise Payne at this stage today anyway. Are we okay with a Chinese warship hanging around in our waters?
KAREN ANDREWS: We were very conscious of what is happening as vessels are in our waters – in the case of that vessel that was in our Exclusive Economic Zone. We monitor our borders very closely and I think it’s very much appreciated by the Australian people that this government has been very strong on borders. We do monitor who is there, we do monitor who is approaching us. We’re certainly not complacent about it. So we were aware that vessel actually went through the Torres Strait and then spent some time off the east coast of Australia. We are certainly not complacent; we are monitoring. But we do respect the rights of vessels to be doing the work that they need to do, but they must do that lawfully, and we would expect that other nations respect our right to go about our work in a lawful manner as well. So, we are far from complacent.
NEIL BREEN: Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews. Thanks for your time on 4BC Breakfast.
KAREN ANDREWS: It’s a pleasure. Take care.