Topics: Trade Minister snubs US as closest ally; Chinese Foreign Minister visit to Australia; 

07:45AM AEDT
19 March 2024



Ben Fordham:  Well, Don Farrell, the trade minister, is no stranger to putting his foot in his mouth and he’s done it again. And this time he somehow managed to offend a global superpower. Have a listen to Don Farrell talking about our friends in the United States of America.




Don Farrell: I’m not sure that the United States is our most trusted, uh, ally.



Ben Fordham: I’m not sure the United States is our most trusted ally. He was being asked about the resumption of funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, and the Liberal Senator, Claire Chandler said, well, why don’t we do what the US is doing? They’re taking a wait and watch approach as opposed to resuming funding now. That’s when Don Farrell gave this most undiplomatic answer.



Don Farrell: Well, I take issue with your original or your first statement there. I’m not sure that the United States is our most trusted, uh, uh, ally. I would have said New Zealand, New Zealand.



Ben Fordham: Simon Birmingham is the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and he’s on the line. Good morning to you, Simon.


Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Ben. Good to be with you.


Ben Fordham: What will our friends in the United States of America be thinking?


Simon Birmingham: I think they’d be pretty shocked that such a senior member of the Albanese Government would use that type of language. Let’s remember that under the Five Eyes partnership, the US shares its most sensitive intelligence with Australia. Under the AUKUS partnership we’re expecting the US to share its most sensitive defence technologies with Australia. We are expecting the US to treat Australia as its most trusted partner, and I would think they expect that to be reciprocated, including at all levels of the Albanese Government.


Ben Fordham: It’s just such a rookie error. I mean, we know the way these things work. Simon Birmingham, we always tell each ally that there’s no better partner of Australia than them, right? That’s a way of giving everyone a compliment without putting them on some kind of leaderboard.


Simon Birmingham: Look, there are all of those different phrases and yes, all to create the sort of warm bonhomie relationship within the foreign policy relationships between countries. But what you don’t do for sure is rush to say what a country is not, especially not a strategic partner and crucial ally and long standing ally and closest ally in our defence partnership like the United States.


Ben Fordham: Just such a dopey call. Now, will you be meeting with the Chinese Foreign Minister who’s in Australia this week?


Simon Birmingham: I do expect to meet with Foreign Minister Wang Yi. We welcome the fact that he’s coming to Australia and that China has ceased what was a very counterproductive ban on dialogue between our countries. It’s important, as the alternative government, that we’re willing to meet, but we will do so clear in terms of the Australian values that we bring to our dialogue and making sure that Australian interests are at the forefront of those discussions.


Ben Fordham: I remember when they were punishing our exporters, and there’s still a few of those tariffs that need to be removed, but you were ringing and ringing and ringing and trying to get your Chinese counterpart on the line when you’re in government and when you were the minister, they wouldn’t even pick up your calls.


Simon Birmingham: As I said, Ben, it was pretty counterproductive of China to refuse to engage in dialogue, even when you’ve got the biggest disagreements. The way to try to work through those things is to be able to talk. The fact that China went through a period where they put a freeze on ministerial level dialogue between countries didn’t help resolve issues or find a way to work through them. It only compounded the problems. So, the fact that they have eased back on some of those wolf warrior type approaches and the like is welcome, but there are still many issues to be resolved. There remain unfair and unjustified trade sanctions that China is imposing on Australia. They should be honouring the terms of our free trade agreement. We continue to be concerned about the detention of Dr Yang Hengjun in Chinese jails and particularly for his health and welfare. And of course, there are security concerns in our region, including the way in which Chinese naval vessels and other vessels operate in South China Sea and interact with a number of countries, including our own navy.


Ben Fordham: Okay, let’s see if you score a meeting this week and we believe the Chinese Foreign Minister is also meeting with the former prime minister, Paul Keating, and of course, the Foreign Affairs Minister, Penny Wong, we presume, and also the PM, Anthony Albanese. They’re going to have a busy week. We appreciate you jumping on the line.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Ben. My pleasure.