Topics: Trade Minister snubs US as closest ally; SA Liberal Party;

08:20AM AEDT
19 March 2024



Jules Schiller: South Australian Senator, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and Leader of Opposition in the Senate, Simon Birmingham. What do you have to say to our New Zealand listeners as you break the news to them that they are no longer our closest and most trusted ally?


Simon Birmingham: Well, good morning, Jules and everybody. Look, we of course, love very much our New Zealand family. They are critical partners to Australia. But it really was a careless and disrespectful for Don Farrell to be so eager yesterday to take issue with a description of the United States as our most trusted ally. Let’s remember that through the Five Eyes partnership, the US shares its most sensitive intelligence with Australia. Through the AUKUS partnership, we’re expecting the US to share its most sensitive defence technologies with Australia. So, we are expecting the United States to put the greatest level of trust in Australia, and I would have thought that Australian government ministers should be reciprocating that degree of trust and confidence.


David Bevan: Well, how do you think this would be received in Washington?


Simon Birmingham: I think it would raise an eyebrow, at the very least across the US and in their intelligence, defence and security areas in particular. They wouldn’t understand why an Australian minister would be so flippant or so disrespectful or so careless in their language.


David Bevan: And yet, many of our listeners, Simon Birmingham, are very sympathetic indeed supportive of Don Farrell.


Simon Birmingham: Well, I understand people will look at it through the lens of closeness and familiarity. Of course, New Zealand is absolutely, our close neighbour and valued, valued partner in almost all aspects of engagement. But as I put it before, when it comes to the question of trust, we are expecting big things of the United States and have for a long time in terms of the way in which they engage with Australia to share sensitive intelligence information, to be an ally that we can rely upon in terms of defence engagement. And under AUKUS, we are taking that to another whole new level with the US sharing its most sensitive defence technologies of nuclear powered submarines with Australia.


David Bevan: Is it also the case that because New Zealand is a relatively small country stuck out there in the Pacific, it can say and do a whole lot of things that Australia cannot afford to do.


Simon Birmingham: Well, David, I think there is nothing that I would want to say in a derogatory or bad about New Zealand and this isn’t about New Zealand.


David Bevan: No, but they’ve got a license to be. They can be much, they can, uh, Lange decided what was 40 years ago. We’re not going to have any nuclear powered submarines or nuclear powered vessels visiting their country. They’re able to do that in a way that Australia. It’s much more difficult for Australia to take a principled stand like that. We live in the real world, in the real world, we live in the real world, you know, they live in Hobbiton. We live in the real world.


Simon Birmingham: Well, I am not going to engage in that sort of commentary. Unsurprisingly, Australia is a G20 country. We are the 13th largest economy in the world. We are one of the biggest landmasses in the world. We have a big stake and a serious role to play and my criticisms aren’t in any way of New Zealand or seeking to draw relativities necessarily with New Zealand. It was Don Farrell who thought when another senator had described the US as our most trusted ally, that he wanted to talk that down for some reason and he jumped on that comment to say, well, I’m not sure that, that I would describe the US as our most trusted ally. There was no need for him to do that. It was irresponsible and reckless of him to do that. He really should be clear in clarifying those remarks, including being willing to front up on your program rather than dodging all media today, as he has been doing.


Sonya Feldhoff: Is the problem with the wort? Is it trust or is it usefulness that we’re talking about here? Because what you’re talking about is that the US is more useful to us.


Simon Birmingham: Well Sonya, it is a relationship that is one of enormous trust between our systems of government and by necessity, has to be if our partnership and alliance is going to prosper in the future as we are relying on it doing so. If we want to have submarines built at Osborne, if we want to continue to have access to the most sensitive of intelligence information from around the globe, then we need the Five Eyes and AUKUS partnerships to fire on all cylinders. That requires the most trusting of relationships.


Jules Schiller: Just on your point about New Zealand not living in the real world. David Bevan about 20 years ago. And this is no joke. They had a minister for Lord of the Rings, a guy called, Pete Hodgson, and I’ve always wondered who was the shadow minister for Lord of the Rings, the politician arguing against.


David Bevan: I think Jules is making my point for me, Simon Birmingham. Just before you leave us, two other people, I feel-


Simon Birmingham: I feel like I should get away from this conversation as soon as possible.


David Bevan: Oh, no, no, no do stay. We’ll keep you on after 9:00. Before you leave us two other people.


Simon Birmingham:  I’m going to New Zealand relatively soon, too. I look forward to meeting with their government officials.


David Bevan: Good, good. Now, before you leave, two other people who have also declined to come on the program are Senator Anne Ruston and Senator Alex Antic. They had a row over who should be the number one on the Liberal Senate ticket. You signalled in AM about an hour ago that you don’t like Antic bumping your friend and respected MP, Anne Ruston, from the top of the Senate ticket. Why don’t you like Alex Antic?


Simon Birmingham: Well, David, as I said in AM, the thing about democratic processes is you don’t always have to be happy with the outcome.


David Bevan: Yeah. No, no, I got that. But why don’t you like Alex Antic?


Simon Birmingham: It is no secret that I respect Anne and supported Anne, and think that she should have led the Senate ticket in SA. But ultimately the party members thought otherwise.


David Bevan: Didn’t ask you if you respected Anne Ruston. Will take that as a given. Why don’t you like Alex Antic?


Simon Birmingham: Well, David, appreciate the question. Just as I was diplomatic before about our cousins across the ditch, I will be diplomatic about my colleagues in the Parliament as well.


David Bevan: You mean you won’t bag them publicly?


Simon Birmingham: That’s not my style and never has been.


David Bevan: What? You do it privately?


Simon Birmingham: If I have something to say to somebody, I’m happy to say it.


Jules Schiller: I won’t say what I say about you off air, David.


Sonya Feldhoff:  The Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, that is Simon Birmingham.