Topics: Australian assistance to Solomon Islands; confirmation of vessel off Australia’s coast.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews joins us now from Canberra. Minister, good morning. So how many Australian Federal Police and Defence Force personnel are on the ground so far?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well there’s currently 23 members of the Australian Federal Police and that includes officers from the Tactical Response Teams that we have here in Australia. They actually were deployed pretty much immediately yesterday and have landed in the Solomon Islands. There are also representatives from DFAT there. There will be more Australian Federal Police members deployed today – up to another 50 will be deployed – and then an additional 40 ADF personnel will be deployed from Townsville today.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: What is their role over there?
KAREN ANDREWS: Our role is to assist the Solomon Islands Police Force to restore law and public order as soon as we possibly can do that. So our role is very clear; we’re there as a result of a direct approach from the Solomon Islands Government in accordance with the treaty that we entered into with them in 2017. We’re there to support the Police Force; it is a policing matter. We will be there to provide support to protect critical infrastructure – so that’s ports, airports in particular – and we will do all we can to work with the Police Force to restore that law and public order.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Will the Federal Police and Defence Force personnel be armed with lethal weapons?
KAREN ANDREWS: They will have lethal and nonlethal weapons.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: What are their rules of engagement?
KAREN ANDREWS: The rules of engagement are effectively that we are there on the basis of the request directly from the Solomon Islands Government in accordance with our treaty. They are there to support the Solomon Islands Police Force, they will work with the Police Force. This is a policing matter, not a military matter. We are working very closely with the Police Force there. There has been direct engagement between the Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw and the Commissioner of the Solomon Islands Police Force. It is a policing matter and that is what we are there to do.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Now as we know the Solomon Islands recently changed from diplomatically identifying Taiwan to going to China. An opposition MP told a local newspaper over the last few days that in his view the Solomon Islands has become the front line of aggression from the Chinese Communist Party. How much is geopolitics playing into this, Karen Andrews?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well our response is a direct result of the request from the Solomon Islands Government under the terms of our treaty. We are not there to intervene in any way in domestic matters of a political nature. Now I understand that many people are concerned about the role of other nations in the Pacific. The Pacific Island nations are very close friends of Australia. We will always do what we can to support them. So when the request came in we were more than happy to actually step in and to support the Solomon Islands. I think we need to look at this in context, which is that we have always had a very long and close relationship with our Pacific Island neighbours and with the Solomon Islands. So there was no hesitation at all from Australia in making sure that we were going to be able to support them as they look to restore law and public order.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay, and of course we hope all of the Federal Police and Defence Force personnel stay safe on the ground for as long as they’re there.
KAREN ANDREWS: Certainly.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: I want to move on to reports in the News Corp papers this morning, Minister, about a Chinese spy ship entering Australian waters, not only entering Australian waters but spending close to three weeks in Australian waters gathering electronic intelligence. What can you tell us about that?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well I can confirm that there was a Chinese military vessel off the east coast of Australia. We were very much aware of the presence of that vessel. As you can understand and would no doubt be aware, we monitor very closely any vessels that are either approaching Australia or potentially in our waters. This particular vessel was in our exclusive economic zone. We were well aware of its presence, and I think that many Australians believe that, rightly, Australia has very strong border protection policies in place. So we do monitor our borders and we will continue to do so. We do know who is here and we have a very clear understanding in most instances of what they are doing here.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay. Will there be any formal protest, any formal complaint to China about this?
KAREN ANDREWS: Not at this point in time. We will continue to monitor our borders as we always do. We respect the right of other nations to lawfully enter into territorial waters. In this case that particular vessel was in our exclusive economic zone, not in territorial waters as such. But we actually do respect the right of sovereign nations to behave in a manner that is totally lawful, but we will continue to monitor the situation.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay. Hey, just before we go, a question on domestic politics. As a Liberal MP – indeed as a senior Government Minister – are you in any way embarrassed that your Liberal Party colleague Bridget Archer crossed the floor yesterday to try to bring on at least a debate on setting up an anticorruption commission?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well one of the positive things I would say about the way that the Liberal Party conducts itself is that we don’t restrict the manner in which our members vote in Parliament. Obviously the position that Bridget took yesterday was not the position of Government – we did not support the bill – but she did have a right to be able to make her views and to support that bill; but let’s be clear it’s not the position of the Government.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: It’s a long time since this Federal anticorruption body was first mooted. When are we going to see the legislation hit Parliament?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well Michaelia Cash as the Attorney‑General has been working very diligently on these issues. I’m very confident in the work that Michaelia has done. She is an excellent Attorney. We’ve made a commitment. We will be doing all that we can to introduce and make very clear what our position is going to be. Michaelia Cash has the responsibility for that, and she will be taking those matters forward.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Suggestions this morning that the legislation may even be kicked into next year, can you confirm that?
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, I’m not in a position to speak at all in relation to when legislation may well be introduced. It will be an ongoing issue for us to continue to determine what we will be dealing with this year – we have one more sitting week, there’s obviously a lot of legislation, and I understand that various people have different views of legislation – the timeliness of debating that – but I think when we reflect on this week, there was a significant amount of national security legislation that was debated and resolved in the House, including matters relating to critical infrastructure.
MICHAEL ROWLAND: Karen Andrews, appreciate your time this morning, thank you.
KAREN ANDREWS: Thank you.