Topics: Pelosi visit to Taiwan; Defence review; Climate bill
Greg Jennett: But in the meantime, Shadow Foreign Minister Simon Birmingham joins us in the studio now. Welcome, Senator. Nancy Pelosi’s visit there to Taiwan, the government’s being quite cautious in its language, stating at every turn that the one-China policy is Australia’s position and remains. Does it pose any risk, though, unsettling risk for this region?
Simon Birmingham: Well, Greg, thanks for the opportunity. And indeed the one-China policy remains a bipartisan position in Australia, as also in relation to Taiwan and the expectation that there should be no unilateral change to the status quo. Taiwan is an important economy in the Indo-Pacific. It’s a vibrant democracy and it’s an important partner of Australia’s and our national engagement there of businesses and others has been significant over a period of time. Of course, Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision is one for her and for the United States in relation to that visit. But I would urge China and indeed all players to make sure that this doesn’t lead to an escalation of military activity, of tensions that could lead in any way, shape or form to military misadventure or to further escalations that could undermine peace and prosperity in the region.
Greg Jennett: It very well could, though, couldn’t it? If you take at their word, Chinese officials talking about the risk of playing with fire and the consequences that come from that, everyone should be at heightened alert perhaps. Would you agree, including any Australian naval assets or other personnel in the region.
Simon Birmingham: Well threats are never helpful and this visit should be kept in perspective. It is just that, a visit. Now, an escalation of military activity, a military build-up, all of that presents a risk, a risk of either further escalation and lead to military action.
Greg Jennett: All right. We will talk to your colleague Andrew Hastie about the defence review that’s being ordered today. But because it intersects with foreign policy, do you see it potentially undoing any of the policy settings and projects for that matter put in place by the Morrison Government?
Simon Birmingham: Well, Greg, this review comes at a very sensitive and important time in relation to Australia’s defences. We do face the most uncertain of international environments with the topics we were just discussing the Russian invasion of Ukraine and over recent years of course the increased militarisation that we’ve seen by China activities in the South China Sea and the like. It means that the government needs to make sure this review doesn’t result in any delays and doesn’t result in outcomes that we saw the last time we had a Labor government where budgets were cut, projects didn’t happen, procurements didn’t occur. They have to make sure that the type of work we did as a government building, the budget back up, investing in getting shipbuilding underway and ships delivered, other critical procurement activities actually are fast tracked, not delayed as a result of review.
Greg Jennett: Some of those records you just pointed to there did in fact overlap or occur during Stephen Smith’s watch as Defence Minister. Are you in any way critical of his appointment? Some around the Defence community or on the edges of it have been.
Simon Birmingham: Look, that’s a matter for the Government in having chosen Stephen Smith. I have nothing but the highest of regard for Sir Angus Houston, who I’m sure will bring great skill and knowledge to this review. I trust he’ll work closely with Stephen Smith and the critical parts are what the Government does in relation to keeping the work going while this review is happening. Oftentimes reviews can become an excuse for inertia and a lack of progress. That can’t possibly be the case at this time. This government needs to keep that momentum going and then be quite transparent out of the review that if it is going to see some action cease, they’ve got to be clear about that, the reasons for it. And of course they have to keep investing in our Defence forces. Given the Labor track record of having previously cut our defence spending to the lowest level since 1938.
Greg Jennett: Right. Just moving on to climate legislation when you next come back, the House will have dealt with the emissions reduction target bill and it’ll be headed the Senate’s way. What have you or the coalition broadly settled in the party room that makes you satisfied as you were distressed, I think, or worried on the 22nd of May about the Coalition’s climate change position. Why are you now satisfied that somehow you’ve landed a compromise internally on this?
Simon Birmingham: Greg, certainly I think the voters did deliver a clear message in relation to climate change and its importance at the last election. I welcome the fact that Australia has increased its national ambition for 2030 emissions reduction targets if this legislation that were in the Parliament were necessary to give effect to that increase in our emissions reduction targets, then personally I’d support it in a heartbeat, but of course it’s not necessary. Chris Bowen and the Labor Government themselves have made clear that it’s not necessary. They’ve already made the commitment in accordance with the Paris Agreement.
Greg Jennett: It puts you at odds. It still puts you at odds with other colleagues. You’re putting a necessary unnecessary construction on it. You’re saying you would have passed it if it were you personally would have voted for it if it were necessary. That’s not the party position, is it?
Simon Birmingham: Well, Greg, the reality is that it’s not necessary. And Chris Bowen himself has said that countless times now. Now, the test for the Coalition going into the next election is to make sure that we do have a high ambition in relation to emissions reduction, that we present credible targets underpinned by credible policies and that’s what I’ll be working to make sure. The test isn’t what we do on a particular piece of unnecessary government legislation today, but it will be in a few years’ time the policies we take to the next election and I expect the indications of there being a higher commitment to emissions reduction than in the past. Should be met, must be met to make sure that we do address those concerns that voters sent us in the past.
Greg Jennett: Well, we’ll keep across your party’s evolving position on that over the next three years. Just a quick one, because you were a trade minister and even now in your shadow portfolio, this whole Barilaro saga in New South Wales has cost the Minister his job. Can I just ask you the simple question? Do these state envoy positions for trade, are they required at all or does the Commonwealth do a perfectly good job in posts like New York or Washington?
Simon Birmingham: Greg, I do think some of these areas that states sometimes duplicate. There’s no doubt that they play a function on the ground helping businesses to make connections, to open doors, to sell deals. And insofar as that increases the trade and investment flow, it’s welcome. But I would always rather see a Team Australia approach taken rather than Australian states tripping over one another, competing for potentially sometimes the same investment or the or the same trade opportunities.
Greg Jennett: Yeah, it does sound like that might be a live question for the state of New South Wales, whether they even pursue that into the future. Simon Birmingham, great to see you again. We’ll talk again.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Greg. My pleasure.