Topics: India, China, AUKUS, The Voice
07:47AM AEDT
9 March 2023


Patricia Karvelas: With the Prime Minister in India this week, he’s using degrees as a form of diplomacy. A new agreement will make it easier for students to have their tertiary education recognised in each country. Simon Birmingham is now the shadow foreign spokesman and he joins me now. Welcome to the program.


Simon Birmingham: Hello, Patricia, great to be with you.


Patricia Karvelas: Ties with India have often been described as under done in our relationship. Have they been under done?


Simon Birmingham: Well, they have been drawing closer and closer in recent years. Under the previous government we signed a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership agreement with India; we signed a new trade agreement with India; just prior to COVID hitting I led as then Trade Minister the largest business delegation ever to India in terms of reaching across a whole range of sectors including critically the education sector, that you just spoke of. And so I really welcome this admission by Prime Minister Albanese, he finds the India Australia relationship at a high point, and it’s an opportunity for him to drive that further in terms of our bilateral cooperation and critically also building upon the areas of regional and global cooperation that have also been strengthened so greatly in recent years through our partnership in the Quad and that are at a key point this year with India’s chairmanship of the G20.


Patricia Karvelas: Now the Prime Minister is obviously there for three days with a delegation – very strong bipartisan support for this trip and for its aims – the Parliament’s quite united on this. But there have been questions to the Prime Minister in recent days, weeks, about what other issues he’s prepared to raise, like, for instance, whether he’s prepared to raise issues around Russia with Modi, whether he’s prepared to raise free speech issues, also the raiding of the BBC offices in Delhi, do you think you should be using that opportunity?


Simon Birmingham: Well, a couple of things there Patricia; Australia should always be consistent and predictable when it comes to our values. We have clear values in our country that we uphold in terms of the nature of our democracy, the freedom of the media and they’re types of values that people should expect us to uphold, to express, and to do so quite consistently with any nation in the world. Critically, of course, we do wish to see the G20 used as a platform to try to continue to put pressure on Russia to cease the war in Ukraine. And so I would expect those matters to form part of discussions to make sure that we are attempting to send as strong a message as possible about not just the human toll that that war is inflicting, but also the economic toll on Europe and around the world as a consequence of that. And that’s part of the reason why the ,G20 founded for particular economic purposes, has a role to play in sending a strong message as it can to Russia.


Patricia Karvelas: Moving to China, there’s been a lot of speculation around Australia’s preparedness – Fairfax, Nine papers are reporting we could be at war with Beijing within three years. What did you think of that coverage?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Patricia, I just acknowledged the important value in a free press. But we should be working, as we are, across bipartisan terrain in Australia to ensure that we are as prepared in terms of Australia’s defences and our defence alliances and partnerships, but also to make sure that we are working as comprehensively in the region to create stability and to underpin that stability by having strong deterrence from any type of conflict occurring by supporting international rules; by supporting dialogue through different partners and the importance of ASEAN and other partners in the region, to help to underpin stability. So, nothing should be taken for granted in terms of our security or regional security, but nor should we be assuming the worst – we have to make sure we work for peace and stability.


Patricia Karvelas: Early next week the Government, with the US and the UK, is expected to announce what the AUKUS submarines will look like and how and where they’ll be made, crucially. Now yesterday the UK High Commissioner, Vicki Treadell, confronted Liberal Leader, Peter Dutton, over his comments that the UK subs should not be chosen. Do you think it’s appropriate for, for Peter Dutton to be saying that the UK subs shouldn’t be chosen before the decision’s announced?


Simon Birmingham: Well, I’d encourage you to look a little more closely at what Peter said. He indicated that he thought a mature design was a safer and more certain prospect in terms of the delivery, successfully, of those submarines than a new boat design would be. But he also made it clear that we will support as a Coalition, whatever process and decision the AUKUS taskforce has landed at and that the Government has agreed with the US and the UK. We recognise the importance of bipartisanship in this. When we were in government and we established the AUKUS process and started this partnership and the drive towards nuclear-powered submarines, we did so by bringing in the Opposition in for briefings; we welcomed the fact that they provided bipartisanship at the time, we will be doing likewise in terms of the process. We want to make sure though, that this is as successful a venture as possible. There are huge challenges and tasks to getting those submarines and to ensuring that they are successfully built in Australia and delivering the capability that our defence force needs. So of course, we will be…


Patricia Karvelas: What’s the benefit of Peter Dutton saying it so close to an announcement, if you’re going to, you’ve just said, support it anyway regardless?


Simon Birmingham: Patricia he was asked and so he did venture that. I think fairly non-contentious opinion, that when it comes to any type of shipbuilding exercise, a mature design historically will provide you with greater certainty in terms of lowering the risks of cost or time issues during that process. So, I don’t think there’s anything terribly remarkable there. But the bipartisanship in terms of our support for AUKUS is clear. AUKUS was a Coalition initiative. The decision to procure nuclear-powered submarines was a Coalition initiative, and we’re going to work as hard as we possibly can to ensure that that is delivered as quickly as timely, as efficiently as possible. There are big challenges in delivering the workforce. We want to make sure that there is a greater opening for industry to be able to participate across Australia, the US and the UK, and that’s going to require regulatory changes in different countries to help to ensure as seamless an integration of our defence industries as possible to get this project delivered.


Patricia Karvelas: Very quickly, last time we spoke you told me you didn’t think there should be public funding for the yes and no campaigns, but now your side of politics has voted down the Referendum Machinery Act. Do you really think there should be a yes and no campaign funded?


Simon Birmingham: Patricia, I think that we should have formal yes and no committees and that those committees, as I said last time, should have some administrative or operational funding attached to them. That’s what we’re asking for. I don’t want to see large licks of taxpayer funds spent on big advertising campaigns – that’s for different parties to go out and raise themselves. But it is reasonable to expect to see that there are formal campaigns there, to ensure that the debate on The Voice is an informed, structured debate that is subjected to all the same types of rules and regulations that we would also see during a normal election campaign. That’s actually about the integrity and the proper process of it and I hope that the Government will consider that and those reasonable requests as it passes through the Senate.


Patricia Karvelas: We’re out of time. Thank you so much for joining us.


Simon Birmingham: Thank you Patricia.