Topics: Sentencing of Dr Yang Hengjun; Stage 3 tax cut changes; 

07:05 AM AEDT
6 February 2024


Lisa Millar: The suspended death sentence for Australian Doctor Yang Hungjun by a Chinese court has been described by Australia’s foreign minister as harrowing and appalling. The Chinese ambassador was called in to explain the sentence given to the Australian academic. For more, we’re joined by the Shadow Foreign Minister, Simon Birmingham. Good morning. Welcome to the program.


Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Lisa. Thanks for the opportunity.


Lisa Millar: What did you think when you first heard the news?


Simon Birmingham: Well, this indeed was shocking news and news that would have appalled, I’m sure, all Australians to see an Australian citizen who has been so unjustly detained for such a long period of time already, with such a lack of transparency over the judicial process applied to him, now face the prospect of a lifetime in detention. Harrowing news, indeed for his family, who faced the prospect of potentially never being reunited again with their loved one. And, of course, a case that is something of a reality check for Australia in the relationship with China, and a case that must remain at the forefront of advocacy by the Albanese Government and all Australian officials in their engagement with Beijing.


Lisa Millar: Yeah, you called yesterday for appropriate and strong action. What does that look like?


Simon Birmingham: Well, it’s important that in every single engagement, our prime minister, our foreign minister and all our officials have, the case of Doctor Yang is clearly laid out for the Chinese. The anguish and anger that exists across Australia should be made clear and felt in Beijing, and the expectations of Australia that he ought to receive treatment that ultimately enables his release and return to Australia need to continue to be made clear. Now, we will be seeking briefings in the normal course of events as an Opposition to understand the behind-the-scenes steps and how these decisions can best be calibrated. But it is critical that we make sure Australia’s feelings are heard and that in no way in the days, weeks, months or if need be, years ahead, should this case be allowed to slip from mind or from advocacy.


Lisa Millar: The relationship had been described as stabilised in recent months. What would you call it now?


Simon Birmingham: Well, I do think this is something of a reality check. It is also, sadly, a stark reminder of the vastly different democratic and systems of government and judicial systems that we have. Of course, whilst this is tragic and terrible news for Doctor Yang and his family, it also does nothing for people-to-people relations because it underscores the high risks that can come from engaging in countries and working in countries like China and sadly, their justice system, the lack of transparency and the risk of arbitrary detention being a real one for individuals.


Lisa Millar: Can we turn to the politics of the day, and will the Coalition vote for the government’s changes to the stage three tax cuts?


Simon Birmingham: We only got that legislation on Sunday. So, we’re working through the normal parliamentary party processes to settle our position. Our position will be one of ultimately always standing for lower, simpler, fairer taxes for all Australians. Now, this package by the Albanese government is a band aid on what is really a gaping wound for many of Australian households, who on average $8,000 per person worse off under the Albanese Government thanks to higher inflation, higher interest rates, higher tax grabs, all of which have compounded on Australian households. The few dollars a week that this will provide for many households isn’t going to do anything really to cover over that huge gap in household finances and the pressure that people are facing. But we will work through it.


Lisa Millar: Right. You’ve got a big sort of decision to make, because the suggestion has been that you’ve been wedged in on this. Given how many people in Coalition electorates are actually going to be better off.


Simon Birmingham: Well, Lisa, we believe that tax reform as we legislated was important to achieve and we still believe it is important for the future. Let’s remember that the stage three, the Coalition had legislated in government, was abolishing the 37 cent in the dollar tax bracket, outright eliminating bracket creep for the vast majority of working Australians. Labor’s proposal keeps that 37 cent in the dollar. It keeps bracket creep and therefore actually grabs an extra $28 billion from Australians over the next few years in extra tax the government will take.


Lisa Millar: Yes. But you know the lower- and middle-income earners are going to be better off and a lot of them are in your electorates. Are you concerned there will be a backlash if you don’t support it?


Simon Birmingham: Well, our concern is for Australian households, and we want to see every household pay as little tax as possible and get whatever they can in terms of support for the huge pressures they are facing right now and that they’re facing as a result of what adds up to some $8,000 on average, that they are worse off over the last 12 months alone.


Lisa Millar: Well, well, well, you had your shadow cabinet yesterday. We’ll see what the party room says today and await the decision. Simon Birmingham, thanks for your time.


Simon Birmingham: Thank you, Lisa. My pleasure.