FRAN KELLY: Australia has stepped up its economic sanctions against Russia over the conflict in Ukraine. State owned banks won’t be able to access Australian capital markets and there will be restrictions on arms exports and the sale of goods and services for use in Russian oil production.
Targeted financial sanctions and travel bans will also be slapped on an extra 63 individuals including some close political allies of the President Vladimir Putin.
This Australian action coincides with reports overnight that talks between Russian, Ukrainian and separatists rebels have ended without results.
Trade Minister Andrew Robb is in our Parliament House studios. Minister, good morning, welcome back to Breakfast.
ANDREW ROBB: Thanks very much Fran.
FRAN KELLY: Andrew Robb before I come to the trade issues, can I just ask you about the report in the Daily Telegraph today that the RAAF Hercules, that was dropping humanitarian supplies into areas of Northern Iraq under siege from Islamic State fighters, came under heavy machine gun fire. Can you confirm that or tell us what happened?
ANDREW ROBB: I have seen the report and made some inquiries. We’ve had, or our military have had no confirmation that the Hercules was in fact fired upon. What they have been told though is that the humanitarian mission was wholly successful.
FRAN KELLY: So no confirmation that they did come under attack and certainly no one was harmed.
ANDREW ROBB: No, that’s correct.
FRAN KELLY: Alright Minister, just to go back to the trade sanctions announced yesterday by the Prime Minister against Russia. This package focuses on financial sanctions and travel bans on 63 people, this is on top of those already named, who are these particular people, how close are they to Vladimir Putin, why are we targeting them?
ANDREW ROBB: Well they are people who are connected either through long-standing commercial interests or senior party officials who have got commercial interests, and we are targeting them as a signal to Russia that there are consequences, there are significant consequences.
These sanctions are of course in concert with other allies, and the cumulative effect of our sanctions and those of the European community, the United States and others, combine to send a signal to Russia that it will have severe consequences if Russia continues to violate international law, and continues to aggressively put troops into Ukraine.
As we understand there are now over a thousand with sophisticated armoury and these sorts of things need to addressed, and we will address them strongly, as we will with other allies because this sort of action is intolerable.
FRAN KELLY: There is no sign really so far, that the sanctions have had much impact on Putin, he certainly hasn’t really backed off and we spoke to a Russian analyst who said that these kind of actions in some sense, has played into the hand of Vladimir Putin with his portrayal to the Russian public of the West ganging up on Russia.
ANDREW ROBB: Well, of course he will play the politics as he sees fit. What would be the alternative, if we hadn’t taken sanctions or no action? In the short term he might use that to his advantage locally, but he will put whatever spin he likes on it.
But over time if he persists then the Russian people will start to find that they are impacted, a lot of these people, we have restricted their access, either through the banking system or their commercial movements in different parts of the world, will find that their businesses are seriously affected.
FRAN KELLY: Can we talk about that because what you have mentioned today is a ban on Australia selling goods and services for use in oil production, overall our two-way trade with Russia is quite small, it’s worth less than 2 billion dollars and might not be so small if you were one of the ones trading with them, but what kinds of exports and what value in terms of the mineral operation do we have going into Russia?
ANDREW ROBB: Well, we’ve got services of the order of a couple of million, a fair bit of that is related to mineral and energy uses, but in combination with those from the European community and the United States, as I said we are working with our allies on this and Russia needs to know that there is, in the developed world there is a concern around the world and those countries that they have previously been working with, in the G20 and others forums find this unacceptable.
FRAN KELLY: It is a harsh reality for those in Australia who have been trading with Russia too, because they also get affected by this, our beef producers were hit by the tit-for-tat response from Russia when they banned beef exports, and presumably this will hit those selling those mining and the exploration goods and services into Russia. Is there any kind of government compensation offered here?
ANDREW ROBB: We are confident that the trade is, as you mentioned relatively small. With beef, the Russians had already some months ago put a ban on our beef, on the very dubious claim of some existing disease that they claimed that we had in Australia.
That has yet to be cleared so the beef trade had in fact already stopped. But there are small quantities of dairy products and some live cattle and certainly some services. All of those, we are confident there will be other market opportunities and the agricultural Minister Barnaby Joyce has made attempts around the world to assist in opening up other market opportunities to compensate for the loss of the Russian market.
FRAN KELLY: Some of those will be in India; I want to come to your forthcoming visit to India but just before I leave Russia, what about suggestions that Australia is going move to push for Vladimir Putin to be banned from the G20. Julie Bishop, the Foreign Minister will be at the NATO meeting in Wales, and suggestions she is going to lobby other nations for a ban. Do you expect that will occur that Vladimir Putin will not be invited to the G20?
ANDREW ROBB: It’s not a decision that we can take unilaterally, so Julie Bishop and David Johnston our Defence Minister will be canvasing in Wales at the NATO meeting at the end of this week, with others members of the G20 countries. I think increasingly people are taking a very concerned view about his presence but we will see what comes out of those discussions.
FRAN KELLY: And Minister, there is also another harsh result of this that these sanctions will mean that perhaps the government won’t have much hope of recovering anymore human remains from the MH17 crash site, given the breakdown in relationship between Australia and Russia.
ANDREW ROBB: That might be awkward but it is in the Ukraine. But secondly, I think the authorities have already ruled that possibly there is no opportunity, not just because of that situation but they feel that have recovered all the human remains that could be recovered. I could be wrong on that but I think that was the understanding and the process at the moment is to obviously as quickly as possible identify the remains that they have been able to get from the crash site.
FRAN KELLY: It’s a quarter to eight on Breakfast. Our guest is the Trade Minister Andrew Robb. Andrew Robb, can we clarify another thing too. Yesterday the Iraqi Ambassador to Australia said the Australian Government really should be directing all weapons through the Iraqi government, not giving them directly to the Kurdish fighters. Can you clear this up; are these weapons drops to Peshmerga fighters, are they approved and indeed requested by the Iraqi government or not?
ANDREW ROBB: We have been in discussions with the Iraqi government and our absolutely clear intention is to work with them. I am not certain; I haven’t spoken to David Johnston on this matter about the initial flights, but certainly our Ambassador there is working closely with the government in Baghdad, and the intention is to have them cleared through Baghdad.
FRAN KELLY: Alright, on another issue, you are heading off to New Delhi with the Prime Minister tomorrow to formerly sign a deal to sell Australian uranium to India. Under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a full-scope of safeguards has to be in place as a condition of supply, and critics say those safeguards are not in place in India. What steps have you taken to make sure that they are, or are you happy to have a compromise here?
ANDREW ROBB: No. We have satisfied ourselves that the steps are in place. The negotiations and work that’s gone on between authorities in India and Australia have gone on for some years to develop a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement which meets the international requirements and we are satisfied, our officials are satisfied that all the requirements have been met, and we are in a position if that’s what comes about with the Prime Minister’s visit, to sign such a cooperation agreement.
FRAN KELLY: Andrew Robb thank you very for joining us on Breakfast.
ANDREW ROBB: It’s my pleasure. Thanks Fran.
FRAN KELLY: Andrew Robb is the Federal Minister for Trade and Investment and tomorrow he and the Prime Minister will head off to New Delhi. Andrew Robb will have a trade delegation of Australian businesses with him.
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