Topics: AUSMIN talks; AUKUS; Labor’s political stunt on Housing Bill

04:20PM AEST
28 July 2023


Greg Jennett: Simon Birmingham. Time is brief with you this afternoon, but let’s launch straight into it. The Housing Australia Future Fund. You’ve said today the only basis for the Government reintroducing the bill to the House is to set up a double dissolution election trigger. You can actually change the Government’s approach though, by splitting with the Greens and for argument’s sake, bringing this on for an up or down vote next week. Are you prepared to do that?


Simon Birmingham: No, Greg, because we don’t think this is good policy. This will add billions of dollars of debt to Australian taxpayers and do nothing at all to help in terms of home ownership in Australia. Do nothing really to drive forward dwelling approvals which have sunk to some of their lowest levels in Australia. So we think it’s bad policy and that’s why we oppose it. But the Government’s just engaged in political tactics. This bill is still on the Senate notice paper. They do not need to reintroduce it into the House of Representatives and the only reason, the singular and only reason to reintroduce it to the House of Representatives is for the government to set up a double dissolution trigger for them to play politics with this issue.


Greg Jennett: Do you fear a double dissolution trigger then, if you’re not prepared to just try and vote it down? And potentially you could do that with the Greens if you’re not prepared to do that as early as next week, do you then fear the accumulation of a double dissolution trigger?


Simon Birmingham: No, we don’t quibble with the fact that this may well establish a double dissolution trigger. And if it does, it does. And if the Government chooses to have an early election, we’ll let them wear the wrath of Australians who don’t really like early elections, who are feeling real cost of living pressures at present, who have genuine concerns, I think, that are mounting about the priorities of this Government. So if they want an early election, let’s have it. We don’t fear it, but we address this not on the politics, not on political stunts like reintroducing it to the House of Representatives, as Anthony Albanese is doing. We simply look at it on whether it is good policy or bad policy. And this is policy that just adds billions of dollars of extra debt, does absolutely nothing to help with home ownership and does little to address the real slump in dwelling approvals that we’re seeing in Australia at present.


Greg Jennett: All right. Let me bring you as quickly as we can, Simon Birmingham, to the Shadow Foreign portfolio. You’ll of course be watching AUKUS discussions and AUSMIN discussions. The Government seems pretty comfortable about these 23 Republican senators that are sounding off about submarine production in the US. Could it result or if it did result in Australia having to fund more industrial activity in the US? Should it be prepared to do that?


Simon Birmingham: Well, the deal has been negotiated and the deal should be what is delivered upon in terms of Australia having early access to those Virginia class submarines. Because that’s essential in terms of Australia building not just our capability in terms of building submarines in the future, but critically in the early access to the Virginia class – its own capability in terms of safely and securely operating those submarines, having the facilities to do so, building the training and the crew and the staff and capabilities within the Navy to do so. So, that’s really the key aspect there. And that should all be honoured as negotiated. What is a real test for the Albanese Government for Penny Wong as Foreign Minister and for Australian diplomacy overall is to make sure that we maintain the type of strong bipartisan support in the United States that has been there for AUKUS to date and needs to be maintained into the future. And that is a critical test that must be met and achieved. We would expect this legislation to pass through the US Congress based on the support stated to date and based on that level of bipartisanship. But it’s crucial that that is maintained, that every effort is made with every individual senator, every individual congressperson who may express a doubt about elements of AUKUS to make sure that they are on board for the long haul, because that’s crucial to Australia’s interests and to the United States interests in terms of growing our capabilities overall across our alliance with, of course, the third AUKUS partner in the United Kingdom.


Greg Jennett: Well, I guess we will get to evaluate what Australia’s contribution to the maintenance of that bipartisanship is after the AUSMIN talks conclude tomorrow. Maybe we can catch up because time has been really shortened on us today, Simon Birmingham. We can catch up and get your thoughts on that when you’re back in Canberra next week. Thanks so much for joining us from Adelaide.


Simon Birmingham: Look forward to it. Greg. Thank you.