Topics: Chinese Foreign Minister visit to Australia; Trade Minister snubs US as closest ally; SA Liberal Party;

08:20AM AEDT
19 March 2024



David Lipson: The Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, will be welcomed to Canberra, but it’s a meeting planned with former prime minister Paul Keating that’s raised eyebrows in parliament and defence circles. Senator Simon Birmingham is the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs. He joined me earlier. Senator Birmingham, thanks for being with us. The Chinese foreign minister is meeting with the Prime Minister and other senior leaders tomorrow here in Canberra. Do you see a problem with him meeting with former Prime Minister Paul Keating the next day?


Simon Birmingham: Well good morning, David. It’s good to be with you. We welcome the visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Australia. It is important that we have dialogue and the cessation of dialogue that China imposed on the relationship over a number of years was entirely counterproductive. So, it’s a good thing to see him visiting and coming. It is quite pointed and somewhat insulting towards Senator Wong for the Chinese Embassy to have sought this meeting, given just how publicly critical Paul Keating has been of Penny Wong and of the Albanese Government and their foreign policy. I think, frankly, Paul Keating should reconsider his undertaking of this meeting. I note he’s dialled back some of his usually quite out there and extreme rhetoric. But in the end, all of our former prime ministers do have a responsibility to be judicious in the use of their offices. I would hope in terms of engagement with foreign governments, particularly one with as sensitive a relationship as the one with China, to back the government of the day and the way in which they conduct that.


David Lipson: Should the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet have facilitated this meeting?


Simon Birmingham: Well, I understand the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet is playing certain logistical roles. Ultimately, they are helping a guest in Australia in Foreign Minister Wang Yi. So, I understand their logistical arrangements. It was the Chinese embassy who sought this meeting and that says much, I suspect to many in terms of the intent there, what they see in interest in Paul Keating’s comments. And of course, you couldn’t do the same for an Australian leader or foreign minister going to China to find a similar critique of Chinese government policy.


David Lipson: You’ve been very unhappy with a comment from the trade minister, Don Farrell, in the Senate yesterday. He said New Zealand is our closest international ally at the time. He now says the Kiwis are family, but the US is our closest ally. Is that enough?


Simon Birmingham: Well, look, it was just surprising the attitude of Don Farrell there that he wanted to rush so quickly when a phrase was used about the United States being our most trusted ally, to try to talk that down, let’s understand that in the Five Eyes arrangement, the United States shares its most sensitive intelligence with us. In the AUKUS partnership we are expecting the United States to share its most sensitive defence assets with us. So ultimately, we are putting great trust in the United States and expecting them to trust us immensely. I would have thought that it was nothing but clear cut in terms of the US being our most trusted partner, because that’s the relationship we expect for our defence and security interests.


David Lipson: Just finally, should Alex Antic be the number one pick on the South Australian Senate ticket for the Liberals?


Simon Birmingham: The thing about democracy is you don’t always have to like the outcomes. And ultimately, I supported Anne Ruston. She is a dear friend, but more important than that, a highly effective colleague. She was an effective cabinet minister in the previous government. She was an outstanding part of our leadership team, and she will continue to be so as a Senator into the future.


David Lipson: Is this going to hurt your party’s prospects with women?


Simon Birmingham: Look, the voters always make their decisions. We will put strong candidates and strong policies forward, and it will be the policies that matter that we take to the next election.


David Lipson: Simon Birmingham, thank you.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, David. My pleasure.