Topics: Energy price crisis; Australia’s security cooperation with Solomon Islands;

07:50AM AEDT
3 November 2022

Patricia Karvelas: Pressure is piling on the government to fix energy prices as soon as possible. Simon Birmingham is the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and joins you now. Welcome back to Breakfast.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Patricia. Good to be with you.

Patricia Karvelas: Thank you. The shadow treasurer says it’s all about supply, but isn’t the problem that the vast majority of the East Coast supply is just going overseas? And as you heard there from Ed Husic, it’ll take a long time for domestic supply to ramp up. Isn’t price the big issue now?

Simon Birmingham: Well, Patricia, Australia shouldn’t have to choose between honouring our export commitments, generating the wealth that comes from being an energy exporter to key partners like Japan and Korea. And in the alternative, having a domestic supply. We should have both. We should have both because there should be enough incentive and there frankly, should be enough momentum within the approvals regime for gas companies to be able to fulfil the contractual obligations in the international markets to generate the export wealth for our nation and to supply domestic market. And we’ve shown over recent years an ability through negotiation with the gas companies to make sure that supply gets into the domestic market and that it gets in at affordable prices. And now we’re clearly seeing real pressures at present, and we’ll see what the government does propose. There’s an awful lot of rhetoric coming there from Ed Husic, but not a lot of clarity or detail about what it is they’re actually proposing. So, we’ll see what that detail is if and when it comes to the fore. But it is important the government also keeps that eye to the medium to longer term, and that means putting the pressure on especially those states who have resisted in terms of helping opening up new supply and not doing as the government did in the recent budget, which is actually withdraw from some of these policies and proposals that were there to try to help stimulate supply in the gas market in years to come and they should actually be backing in those policies.

Patricia Karvelas: But even if they did, those states did open up. That’s massive delay in terms of when we’re going to actually see prices come down. So, in that context, do you support the idea that the government should intervene in a regulatory sense to bring down energy prices?

Simon Birmingham: Patricia, as just indicated we’ll see what that detail is if and when we get it from the government. There’s an awful lot of rhetoric, an awful lot of chest beating, an awful lot of attacking gas companies who create jobs for thousands of Australians and generate billions of dollars of export revenue that comes back into this country and that generates taxes and other things that contributes to social services across the country-

Patricia Karvelas: You say that, but gas prices are just as high, if not higher, after the heads of agreement was signed with the Federal Government the Industry Minister has just told us. Does that alarm you that that’s going on after that agreement was signed?

Simon Birmingham: Well, it says that either that the negotiations weren’t effective or that there are issues there, given that in previous years when we’ve sat down and negotiated as a government with gas companies to ensure effective supply, it has also delivered price benefits into Australia relative to some of those international contracts. And of course we’ve seen a more volatile international market at present due to what’s happened in Ukraine. So that is understandable there are extra pressures there. But in previous times these negotiations have yielded outcomes on supply that has also seen affordability in terms of pricing. If that’s not the case this year and the government needs to get to the bottom of why and ideally it does it in a way that doesn’t demonise employers of Australia and one of our biggest exporters, but actually gets an outcome with them that ensures they can continue to deliver for us as an exporting nation. And I say this is a former trade minister who knows full well the benefits of what that delivers in terms of job creation and wealth across many corners of this country, and that underpins the economies of many, many parts of Australia.

Patricia Karvelas: Turning to your portfolio, Simon Birmingham, the AFP is giving the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force 60 semiautomatic rifles in what’s been called a landmark step up in security cooperation. Is that wise?

Simon Birmingham: We have both under the Coalition and the Labor Government acknowledge and welcome the fact that the Solomon Islands indicates and continues to indicate Australia as the security partner of choice. As most listeners would recall, Australia has sent multiple security missions into the Solomon Islands over the years, dating back through the Howard Government and since then to try to support peace and stability in the Solomon Islands. So, working with them in areas such as this is logical, but it has to be integrated to make sure that there is training and support and otherwise to ensure it’s not just a provision of weapons, but that we work closely to ensure the professionalism, the appropriate conduct and the skills and abilities to operate as a high quality police force.

Patricia Karvelas: Solomon Islands Opposition leader has slammed that move. He says the country does not need to be militarised and says Australia is being driven by anxiety over China’s growing police cooperation program with the Solomon Islands. What do you make of the Solomon Islands Opposition Leader slamming our intervention here?

Simon Birmingham: But I welcome the fact that there’s a robust democracy in the Solomon Islands. But it is the job of the Australian Government to work with governments of the day, and in this case the Sogavare Government in the Solomon Islands to engage constructively with them and to honour the commitments that we have made to be that security partner of choice. And that where they are making sensible commitments and I trust that in this case the Australian Federal Police, working with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, have worked through all of the implications of this commitment and these offers and that in doing so, it is part of an integrated approach of security cooperation and building those capabilities across the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force and to ensure that it is able to operate in an effective way. And that is effective in terms of ensuring security and peace and also effective in terms of its ethics and conduct and those other things that go with being a high-quality police force. And we need to make sure that there is a long-term commitment and relationship there. And of course, all of those checks and balances as part of a long-term commitment must be in place. And I would hope and trust that is the case from our AFP and DFAT resources.

Patricia Karvelas: Thank you so much for joining us this morning.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Patricia. My pleasure.