Topics: Parliamentary sitting; New Monarch; Ukraine;
Patricia Karvelas: While the nation will get a one-off public holiday later this month. This week’s sitting of federal parliament was cancelled, but the Prime Minister has committed to making up lost days. Simon Birmingham is the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and our guest this morning. Simon Birmingham, welcome.
Simon Birmingham: Hello Patricia, good to be with you.
Patricia Karvelas: Now, just on this decision for this(sic) week, do you personally support the decision to cancel Parliament, even if it means delaying key legislation?
Simon Birmingham: Patricia, the cancellation is obviously part of a long established tradition and principle that’s put in place. The Prime Minister has indicated the days will be made up, which I welcome. He, of course, will be leaving the country this week in any event. So, look, I think the custom, the tradition here is appropriate for us to follow on this occasion. No doubt people will look carefully at these traditions in the future and assess how they carry forward in terms of marking of significant occasions.
Patricia Karvelas: That’s a really interesting point you just made in the future. So stick to the plan now. But in the future we should revisit some of this? Because there are a range of views. You know that and this is the thing. It’s a diverse community, lots of different views. But I’m overwhelmingly getting many saying and I’m really channelling the sentiment I’m hearing here, which is this is all a little bit over the top.
Simon Birmingham: There are, of course, always many views. Now, though, is the time for respect for the type of reflection that has come about. But with that, reflection comes, as I say, no doubt that we have a new king. And with that, after a period like this, the United Kingdom system, the Australian system, all will have a look back at what has occurred through this period of transition, this period of mourning, and that will all feed into what occurs in the future. And that’s, of course, the way these things should be. Now is a time where I think rightly nearly all politicians and public leaders are avoiding debate, controversy or otherwise. That is as it should be, too. But no doubt, as I say, these things will be assessed and that’s the right, proper process that they should occur calmly, quietly after the fact.
Patricia Karvelas: The Australian Medical Association has criticised the decision to declare a public holiday next week, saying it will force the cancellation of surgeries that have been booked for months. I know business groups, even in Victoria saying that they are concerned too that it’s just happened too quickly and that it has all these implications. Is it fair criticism?
Simon Birmingham: I can understand the concerns, but this is a very, very significant occasion in not just our nation’s history, but in global history. There’s a real sense of poignancy as people reflect and honour the 70 year reign of Queen Elizabeth, the second. And so I think, again, the government is doing the best it can with the type of traditions, precedents that have been set in the past. And with an occasion of this significance, acting in a way that I think most Australians would do, would accept, is a sensible one in terms of providing for that day of national reflection, that day for all Australians to come together around our own national memorial service for Her Majesty. And I hope that Australians do that with the appropriate spirit in mind.
Patricia Karvelas: King Charles has said he’ll adopt his late mother’s position of political neutrality. Does that mean he should speak out on the issue, for instance, of climate change? Yesterday Anthony Albanese told Insiders that he would be happy for him to continue to do that.
Simon Birmingham: Well, political neutrality is a very, very important custom for the monarch to hold. It enables the monarch to be able to rise above day to day politics, work with whomever the people elect, to their democratic governments in different realms and nations in which the king is now head of state. Of course, he is entitled as all to have his views. How he expresses them, though, is very, very important. There are no doubt that there are ways that he will continue to show support for various issues and causes and for environmentally friendly causes, including action on climate change. I would expect he will continue to show that support, but may not do so in a way that caused any type of political controversy.
Patricia Karvelas: It’s interesting, isn’t it, to even consider talking about climate change as a political position. What’s your take on that?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I think my take, I guess, Patricia, is there are two different parts to that. Supporting the general action that occurs to reduce emissions, to have a lighter footprint upon our environment anyway is not something that I see as particularly political, politically controversial. However, how that is done when governments start to enact different policies that can have an impact on businesses, on jobs, on economies, obviously, as we’ve seen in this country and many others have seen, too, they become politically controversial questions. And so that’s where I say the new king no doubt, will support community oriented measures that help to reduce emissions, that demonstrate a community drive for action on climate change and that sense of environmental sustainability. But I don’t see him weighing into the politics of how governments enact different pieces of legislation that may reduce emissions. And that’s the type of sensitive points of difference that he’s able to navigate, I’m sure.
Patricia Karvelas: Do you believe the ascension of King Charles the Third to the British throne, will help build fresh momentum for Australia to become a republic? Obviously we’re not talking about today or tomorrow or next week, but I’m saying in the next few years.
Simon Birmingham: The debate will come again. And you’re right. Now is not the time for that debate. And I’d say that to republicans and monarchists alike in terms of capitalising we’re using this this time in any way. But that debate will inevitably come again at some stage. I can’t predict as to what the tone or tenor of people’s attitudes towards the monarchy in years to come will be and how that will impact that debate. Obviously, the queen was held in great respect, and right now I would feel that there is a great respect and understanding for the new King. But the country will have to work its way through the tone and sentiment of that debate when it comes inevitably, as it will some years down the track.
Patricia Karvelas: The Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says republic won’t happen in his first term. Do you support that decision for the priority to be given to a voice to Parliament for Indigenous Australians?
Simon Birmingham: The Prime Minister has made the commitment in terms of putting the voice to the nation. I think in terms of the timing of these things, that was the right call for him to move forward with that debate. And now on that debate, there are still many questions to be answered and to build the public support for it. But rightly, given the difficulty of constitutional change in Australia and of course the timing around the change in Monarch, it all makes sense to focus on one question rather than complicating the matter.
Patricia Karvelas: We spoke to a former NATO commander this morning who says Ukraine’s success is forcing Russian troops out of the country. Should countries like Australia increase their military and financial assistance to help Ukraine seal a victory here?
Simon Birmingham: The short answer here is yes, Patricia, we should maintain the type of momentum that we had in the early days for support for Ukraine. Australia’s provision of weapons of vehicles, of financial aid, of humanitarian aid relief, all positioned us as the leading non-NATO contributor to the Ukraine cause right around the world. We ought to make sure we continue that type of effort. Ukraine’s work in defence of their nation has been nothing short of heroic. And what we ought to do here is make sure we continue to listen very carefully to what the Ukrainian government says they need, provide that assistance and support wherever we can and do it in concert with others. We’ve seen the US step up further with multi-billion dollar [indistinct] Australia ought to be doing likewise.
Patricia Karvelas: We are out of time. Thank you. Simon Birmingham. That’s the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs.