Topics: Russian escalation on war in Ukraine; Australian support for Ukraine


04:32PM AEST


Matt Doran: Well. The Shadow Foreign Minister Simon Birmingham joins me now in the Parliament House studio. Senator, welcome to Afternoon Briefing.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Matt.


Matt Doran: There is a unity ticket on this issue across the Australian political divide. So let’s talk about it from the perspective of how the world, I guess, should be initially responding to this escalation from Vladimir Putin. It is a ratcheting up of rhetoric. Everyone is saying that. How does the world respond to threats of nuclear war?


Simon Birmingham: Well, in President Putin, we have a Russian president who is acting illegally with his invasion of Ukraine, immorally, with his threats in relation to the use of nuclear weapons and his conduct of this war and the pursuit of illegitimate means through his suggestions that he would use sham referenda processes to try to gauge the public opinion in the territories he seeks to control. Ultimately, the world needs to respond, as it did through the early stages, with as much unity as possible and as much resolve as can be mustered in providing support to Ukraine and seeking to isolate Russia. And that requires Australia and other nations to redouble our efforts in providing assistance wherever possible to Ukraine, military and other assistance, as well as working with our international partners to find the means for us to go further, apply tighter sanctions and penalties on President Putin, the oligarchs who support him and upon Russia.


Matt Doran: So what is going further on some of those sanctions actually look like because we’ve heard all about the travel bans that are on members of the government, on oligarchs. We’ve got assets that have been frozen. We’ve got controls put on commodities. And it doesn’t seem to have stopped this situation from developing. What is that next step on the sanctions front?


Simon Birmingham: Matt, firstly, we shouldn’t underestimate the role that sanctions have had in creating tensions within Russia and putting pressure on the Russian leadership and on having an impact in areas of the Russian economy. And that is a credit to the world that the initial application of those sanctions has had those impacts and played its role, no doubt, in putting those pressures there that now see the type of escalation in rhetoric that we’ve seen. But to now go further requires us really to work first and foremost from an Australian perspective in concert with others. We don’t have extensive trade, travel or otherwise between Australia and Russia. It’s why we can play, though certainly a leading role in offering to work with partners in Europe, the United States, elsewhere across NATO and around the world in seeking to explore what else can be done in terms of travel restrictions, other economic sanctions and restrictions that can be applied, and also to redouble our efforts with other nations who may not have applied those sanctions in encouraging them to join us in maximising that pressure. Because the threats that President Putin has made are now threats that have far greater impact beyond Ukraine or Europe, when he starts talking about the potential for the diabolical use of nuclear weapons.


Matt Doran: In terms of arming the Ukrainian forces, Australia’s already provided munitions is provided Bushmaster vehicles. The world has done similar things, providing missiles and the like. How does that go from here? Does it need to be an increase in not only volume but also in the types of weaponry, really heavy weaponry being sent into Ukraine because of this escalation?


Simon Birmingham: So Ukraine’s ambassador to Australia has been speaking publicly for some time now about additional requests that he and his Government have made of Australia for further support. And in this last 24 hours we’ve seen President Zelensky make the appeal to the world for additional military and other assistance to Ukraine. It is necessary that the Albanese Government respond as swiftly, as positively and as comprehensively as possible to Ukraine’s requests for additional military assistance. Now of course that should be done following discussion and analysis with our Australian Defence Force and the Defence advisers the Government will have. And so I can’t prescribe what those materials should be. That depends upon the advice that our Government has about what we can afford to make available, what we can bring forward our own supplies and purchases of to provide. But we should be providing it and we should be providing it as urgently and quickly as possible, because any delays simply play into Russia’s hands and potentially undermine the advances that Ukraine has made in its defence and in recapturing some of the territories that Russia had initially taken.


Matt Doran: And just finally, because we are running out of time, what do you say to people who are watching at home, watching what Vladimir Putin is saying and getting quite worried about this rhetoric where the world could be heading because this will be a worldwide incident if it does escalate even further. How fearful should they be? About this situation, do you think?


Simon Birmingham: These are troubled times? There is- There’s no shying away from that. And even without the use of nuclear weapons, we are talking about territories where Russia has made threats around the way in which it engages around nuclear power plants or other facilities. And so it is a very risky set of circumstances. But Australians should look at this and see firstly that the best interests of our country and all nations, be they big or small, democratic or otherwise, will be served by ensuring that Ukraine prevails, that its territory, territorial sovereignty and borders are ultimately respected because that Ukraine prevailing will be the best deterrent to other nations in the future doing what President Putin and Russia have done through the course of this year.


Matt Doran: Shadow Foreign Minister Simon Birmingham, thanks for joining us.


Simon Birmingham: Matt, thank you for the time.