Jones & Co: Interview with Senator Fierravanti-Wells 19/05/2020

SENATOR THE HONOURABLE CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS

Transcript

Jones & Credlin (Sky News), 19 May 2020

SUBJECTS:

Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Coronavirus, Foreign Investment, Foreign Policy, Political Fortitude, Port of Darwin, Australian Chinese Community, Values and Beliefs, Policy Appeasement, Business and University Sectors, China’s Accountability and Reparations.

 

E&OE …

[3:48]

Alan Jones:

Simon Birmingham is our trade minister.  He can’t even get his ministerial equivalent in China to take his calls.  None of this surprises Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, who made a simple comment almost ten days ago and I quote, “When I made comments about the communist party of China in 2017 and 2018, I was hung out to dry by Turnbull, Bishop, Payne, Birmingham and others”. And she said, “the same group thinkers are still in cabinet and are still in key portfolios”.  She joins us Concetta Fierravanti-Wells.  Senator, good evening and thank you for your time.  So, the stuff continued today, and I suppose no surprises here for you.

Concetta Fierravanti-Wells:

No surprises Alan, and Peta good evening.  The conduct that we are seeing is very typical of what we have come to expect from the communist regime in Beijing.  I mean let’s not forget this is not a market economy.  This is a totalitarian regime and it is vitally important that we understand this.  The other point here is that you know let’s not forget Alan that about a year ago we allowed three Chinese warships to sail into Sydney Harbour and on the 30th anniversary of the massacre of Tiananmen Square.  And what did this show?  This showed that they were able to sail into our waters, they were able to do what they like, and I think Peter Jennings and others called this out at the time.  This showed that they have the psychological, they won that psychological contest.  So what we are seeing today, the predicament that we are facing today I think is symptomatic of the attitude that we have taken towards the communist regime which regrettably has erred on the side of appeasement, rather then standing up to often bellicose and illegal actions of the communist regime in Beijing.

 

Alan Jones:

Well Concetta, do you and both Peta, you see I had a listener ring me on the radio show the other day and said, “Alan, hang on, you can’t blame China. This is Australian Government’s. We’ve said okay to all of this, they bought up all the dairy farmers in Tasmania, they bought the avocado farms, they own water, they own beef farms and then you’ve got the port of Darwin”. So Concetta what do we make of the port of Darwin?  They’ve got 99-year lease.

Concetta Fierravanti-Wells:

Well they’ve got a 99 year lease but they should have never leased the port of Darwin and indeed I started asking questions at estimates last year about the clauses that get out of the contract clauses and I think that the circumstances particularly security circumstances are such that we should seriously look at breaking that lease.  And indeed, post pandemic as you correctly said it cannot be business as usual and for that reason, I have advocated for us to look at a plan to decouple from China to reduce the dependency that we have on the communist regime.  But also examine ways that we can look at how we can recover billons, or some of the billions of dollars that have been incurred as a consequence of this.  But in addition to that Alan, sorry I was just going to say that its vitally important and I think Peta you’ve made this point as well.  Overhauling the critical infrastructure framework, the foreign investment framework, and most importantly revisiting the whole issue of the national interest and expanding the framework of that so that we can ensure that our sovereignty is not put at risk.

Alan Jones:

Yeah Peter if I could just ask you.  You’ve been very recently in the bowels of Government and we both know many of these people backwards.  Is there sufficient political fortitude in Canberra to respond appropriately to this bullying?

Peta Credlin:

No not really.  There’s a, there’s a big spilt inside the architecture of the public service and a lot of the politicians in Canberra between those who want us to take all the commercial advantages of China.  So, shut up and take the money and those who see China that there is a line that they should not be able to cross when it comes to the national interest and that’s probably where Andrew Hastie and others sit.  I’ve got to ask the senator though, she was on Malcolm Turnbull’s front bench weren’t you when and, inside the portfolio I might add of foreign affairs when the decision was taken in relation of the lease on the port of Darwin, what was done internally to give this a good look at Connie?

Concetta Fierravanti-Wells:

Well, Peta I wasn’t privy to that.  But I think what’s very, very clear that had the decision been taken today I think would have been a very different one.  And I think subsequent to the decision that was taken, I think we saw some changes to the critical infrastructure legislation, which I believe should be tightened up even further.  So that’s where I think it sits.  I do not believe that that decision should have been taken.

 

Alan Jones:

Alright, alright, let me just say to both of you.  I’m just wondering where you place the comments by the very respected former defence and security official Peter Jennings. Who has said and I quote, “China can do what they want, where ever they want, and they’ll never be punished for their behaviour because of the veneer of maintaining the relationship”. Now you just…

Concetta Fierravanti-Wells:

I think…

Alan Jones:

…Alluded to that in your argument, Peta…

Peta Credlin:

No Connie you please, please go.

Concetta Fierravanti-Wells:

No, I think that Peter Jennings is absolutely correct, because what we’ve seen is this fellow traveller appeasement approach to those who have been directing our foreign policy, as well as those who have been doing business with the communist regime. Therefore, so long as the rivers of gold were flowing, there was a preparedness to turn a blind eye to the skulduggery of the communist regime.  Now whether it’s in relation to their activities in the South China Sea, whether it’s in relation to cyber-attacks, whether it’s in relation to what they were doing with their minorities.  A whole range of different things we have seen and that’s why I think that Peta’s comments are spot on.

Alan Jones:

Well let me just ask you this, I mean Australia is home to more than a million people of Chinese heritage and they value the liberty and freedom of expression they enjoy in Australia.  Many of them got strong family ties in China.  They expect us to stand up.  Now we’re letting them down aren’t we Peta?  I mean China’s not a democracy as Concetta says it’s a community raised on values and beliefs as you’ve said many times are fundamentally different from ours.  But, I mean why don’t we sort of acknowledge what the local Australian Chinese community want us to do? Concetta you first.

Concetta Fierravanti-Wells:

Well absolutely correct.  I mean let’s, let’s not forget over a million people are here of Chinese heritage in Australia.  Many of them have come here for the very freedoms that we enjoy and so therefore when we are standing up for our values we are not just standing up for the values of Australian’s broadly, but we’re also standing up for the values of what is a very culturally diverse society.  And values and beliefs are very important and if we are going to have a foreign policy white paper that professes to have a values base to it, well then we have to be prepared to stand up for that and that includes not just in words but in deeds.

 

 

Alan Jones:  

Alright well then in deeds…

Peta Credlin:

...Well, well also just, just on that note point though…

Alan Jones:

…Yeah sorry yep yep…

Peta Credlin:

.. let me be very clear because I wrote about this on the weekend.  I draw a distinction between Chinese Australians who have joined the team, they’re permanent residents in this country or you know citizens.  Many of them raising their families and we know many Chinese in this country go back to the gold rush era, so they’ve been here a very, very long time.  I draw a distinction between them and those here on temporary visas, students in particular, that roll their visas over for eight, nine, ten years, buy property in Australia as a bolt hole.  A cause, as we see in this case in the University of Queensland… Cause a lot of problems on our university campuses… Are activists for the Chinese regime I think we have to be, and they can buy property in Australia let me be very clear about that, establish dwellings and yet to be built dwellings…

Alan Jones:

…And Peta…

Peta Credlin:

…I think we need to be smarter about what we do with temporary visa holders.

Alan Jones:

Peta, we’ve got Confucius Institutes for god’s sake in this country.  Confucius classrooms funded by China preaching propaganda in our schools, in primary and secondary schools.  I just want to go to Concetta though you stepped into the ring at the weekend.  You argued that the former foreign minister Julie Bishop failed to stand up to China, you were a junior minister to Julie Bishop, you said the strategy of the Government and the Department of Foreign Affairs has been to avoid any criticism of China. Concetta.

Concetta Fierravanti-Wells:

Well then you look at the recent years and you look at the years when we’ve really seen communist China’s activities, particularly China not acting as a good international citizen.  We’ve really seen it in the last three, four, five years and that was really the point that I was making.  As I said earlier, you tended to have a policy that was practically one of appeasement, preferring to turn the blind eye to the skulduggery so long as the rivers of gold were flowing.  And the rivers of gold flowed in all sorts of different ways.  Whether it’s in the business sector or whether it was in the university sector and we’ve seen universities overly dependent on students from overseas and are now finding themselves in the financial circumstances where their very viability is in question.

Concetta Fierravanti-Wells:

And they have been prepared to succumb to the regime that comes with that financing, and of course as Peta has alluded to, we’ve seen a very good example of that with the University of Queensland.  That just, just we’ve seen in the last recent days and of course don’t forget that the chancellor of the University of Queensland is the former secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and was the secretary for the Department of Foreign affairs for a long period of time.

Alan Jones:

It’s a can of worms isn’t it, just before we go just a quick one to both of you really.  China, put it bluntly, has lied before the world over the corona virus.  It’s now in naked bullying with us and other countries.  Should there be reparation?  The, the economy, the world, the West has been put into a coma.  The economies have been put into power.  How do we make China accountable for that Peta?

Peta Credlin:

Well I think you have to have a fair dinkum inquiry.  I’m not so sure we’re going to get that.  I think the involvement of the World Health Organisation is, is dubious at, at the very least.  I think there’s reparation payable if what they did was deliberate.  Now I’d argue from what we can see from afar, it was deliberate that they deliberately kept things quiet, but it could be that it was just a genuine mistake.  I doubt it.  But let’s say it was.  I would be pushing for reparations and I think is the world, you know any one of us other countries could be involved at that stake but look China has a pattern.  It has a very long-term view.  It plays the long game.  We stupidly play a short game.  Parliamentary terms of three years in this country.  China are working on a much, much longer agenda and we’re only just starting to wake up.

Alan Jones:

Concetta just before we go then.  You are in the party room of the Government.  Your party is in Government.  How firmly do you believe your party will stand up to the bullies and do you believe they will be the architects of a world demand to seek reparation or compensation for the economic damage that’s been done?

Concetta Fierravanti-Wells:

Well that’s why I’ve been saying that it cannot be business as usual after the pandemic and that’s why I think that’s it’s incumbent on the Government to start looking at a plan to decouple from China and also a plan to seek compensation.  There was some very good work that was done by the Henry Jackson Society in a publication that they put out, a coronavirus compensation.  And they looked at it from the UK’s perspective in relation to were there to be a claim, a successful claim, against China.  How damages could flow from that in relation to assets that are held by China in the UK or sovereign debt owed by the United Kingdom to China…

Alan Jones:

…Yeah…

 

Concetta Fierravanti-Wells:

…Questions about tariffs all sorts of things.  My point is, these are the issues that are within the purview of Government to consider and I think it’s incumbent on our Government to give serious consideration to examining these complex issues.  They are complex but just because they’re complex doesn’t meant that they shouldn’t be examined and that’s really where I’m coming from.

Allen Jones:

Absolutely, it’s a good point you make about saying sovereign debt.  Wouldn’t it be funny if someone said to China well look, I know we owe you all this money, but you’ve done infinitely more damage beyond what we owe you and whistle for your money.  It’d be very interesting.  No, I don’t think anyone’s got the spine to do all of that. Concetta…

Peta Credlin:

Never gonna happen…

Alan Jones:

…Senator Fierravanti-Wells thank you.  Good on you Peta.  Thank you for your time Senator, very, very grateful.

 [ends]