Topics: Anthony Albanese international travel; nuclear-powered submarines; election result


08:10AM AEST


Patricia Karvelas:  Simon Birmingham is in Washington, D.C. I would have thought it would have been a place where we can actually get a clear line, but we’re having some trouble this morning. We’re going to get back on to him to see what he makes of this. I think we’ve got him back. So I’ll ask again. I don’t know if you got the question, but I’m going to ask it again in case you didn’t. And also, for the benefit of our listeners, to hear some of your colleagues have been critical of the Prime Minister for spending too much time out of the country. What do you think?


Simon Birmingham: So hello, P.K. it’s good to be with you. I think it is important that the early stages of government for them to take the opportunity where other governments around the world are interested in meeting them and talking to them for them to do so. And so for Anthony Albanese to take that opportunity, obviously for him to be at the Pacific Islands Forum, that’s crucial. That is something that previous prime ministers have prioritised and he is right to prioritise. And for other engagements these are early opportunities. There are clearly domestic priorities to for him to focus on. And Australians will judge in due course whether he’s paying enough attention to those domestic priorities and the policy settings he brings to those. But in the international sphere, it is important to ensure that those relations are established early. The first visit after the last election that Scott Morrison made was to the Solomon Islands. And so to see Anthony Albanese now at the PIF is the right thing engaging with those Pacific Island leaders.


Patricia Karvelas: He’s obviously not just gone to the PIF, though there have been other visits as well to NATO and beyond. Is there anything that could have been cancelled in your view?


Simon Birmingham: People can quibble about a day here or a day there. And the point that I think I can understand from some commentators, even colleagues or others, is that the Labor opposition was unrelenting in their attacks on Scott Morrison and that extended in a range of different ways.


Patricia Karvelas: Because he went on holidays during bushfires to Hawaii, he wasn’t meeting with foreign leaders, he was well he was taking selfies with other people. So it was completely different.


Simon Birmingham: So, Patricia, you’ve cited one incident many years ago. I didn’t see the unrelenting attacks let up in the years that followed from that incident. So I think I can understand why perhaps some would look at it with a ensuring that people are held to account for the way in which they they spoke, argued, acted in the past. But I’m not seeking to play politics with Anthony Albanese, his travel agenda or schedule at present. As I said, I think it’s right and proper. It’s a new government. There’s an early stage of a new government, foreign leaders, other governments interested in talking to them, in meeting them. That is a logical thing and sensible thing that occurs under any new regime. And so that’s simply as we would expect it to be. And, of course, for much of the travel program, they have been properly scheduled meetings, the meeting of the Quad, the meeting of NATO, the meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum. These are events that Scott Morrison would have attended as well had the election result gone a different way.


Patricia Karvelas: Do you welcome this US step up in the Pacific and is the Vice President right that America has neglected the region?


Simon Birmingham: The step up is very, very welcome. Over the course of the previous government, Australia opened some six new diplomatic missions across Pacific island countries. We are now the only nation to have diplomatic representation through a formal mission, a high commission or an embassy in each of the Pacific Island Forum nations. And it’s very, very welcome to see the United States follow Australia’s lead in in opening new missions across those countries, in extending their support in a range of different ways to see also the presence of a US naval vessel providing medical and other support in Pacific Island countries. These are all very welcome steps and consistent with the type of step up that Australia has been undertaking over a number of years. And that I trust will continue given the focus the new Government has brought to their engagement with the Pacific, consistent with what had been occurring.


Patricia Karvelas: Is Richard Marles right to say that Australia’s fleet of nuclear submarines should inevitably be built here and in your home state of South Australia?


Simon Birmingham: Yes, there are dual requirements for achieving the nuclear submarines. One is getting that capability itself for Australia and the other is having the defence industry capability for the building of those submarines to contribute to the broader effort around construction and capabilities. So you do need to do both. Navy needs the submarines to ensure they’ve got the best defence capabilities to operate with stealth, with duration and distance and the other factors necessary in our region. But we also as a country need to make sure we are best placed and able to be able to build and construct these things ourselves, contributing to the broader effort of our allies and friends in that regard. And so so that’s why AUKUS was structured the way it is. It’s not a classic contractual arrangement between a defence company and the defence client. It’s a partnership between nations that seeks to transfer the capabilities, the technology, the industrial know how to be able to get the job done as well.


Patricia Karvelas: Did the Coalition fail by not understanding that the Pacific views the threat from climate change as much more serious than anything else?


Simon Birmingham: No. I think the efforts that were made previously be it the commitment to net zero by 2050 better $700 million Pacific financing package. All of those were intended to ensure Australia did its part globally, but also was able to show to the Pacific a genuine commitment towards action. But climate change is an understandably real, even existential issue for some Pacific island nations. And so their desire to see as much happen as fast as possible is an understandable one. Now, of course, to tackle those issues requires not just Australia, but all of the nations who are partners in terms of tackling climate change. And so we have our part to do. And that is a critical element that is always featured in Pacific Island discussions. And I can understand and appreciate why they would be welcoming higher levels of short term ambition. Of course, I note their commentary seeking in some cases for that to go even further. But it’s always been part of that dialogue, and it’s always been perhaps a key factor driving Australia to meet and exceed our emissions reduction targets, as we’ve done under previous settings, be it Kyoto one or Kyoto two, but also to make sure that we continue to have ambition and, and Pacific relations and ambitions where part of the net zero commitment that was made.


Patricia Karvelas: If you’re just tuning in, Simon Birmingham is the Shadow Foreign Minister and he joins us this morning from Washington DC. Simon Birmingham, Peter Dutton says the Liberals will vote against legislation to set a 2030 emissions reduction target of 43%. But the day after the election you said the Government needed to be more ambitious. Will you cross the floor to support Labor’s target?


Simon Birmingham: Patricia, like all Australians, I’m yet to see the legislation that Labor proposes to bring forward.


Patricia Karvelas: Well, I can help you. It’s a 43% reduction. It’s really super clear what’s going to be in it. Do you think that your side of politics should be voting for that mandate?


Simon Birmingham: No, that’s the target and Labor announced that target prior to the election and they have already committed to that target and they’ve, I understand, already notified the UN and Triple C in terms of the vehicle through which those commitments are made of the target. The legislation is unnecessary for the target itself and that’s evident by the fact that Labor have already signed off and had the fanfare of doing so around the target. The legislation, from what Chris Bowen has said, will go further and may encompass other things. So it would be fit and proper for us all to see that legislation before we make final conclusions around around its handling or otherwise through the Parliament. And that’s certainly the approach that I’d expect all of us will take. I understand-


Patricia Karvelas: So there is no final view? Because Peter Dutton said you’d be voting against it.


Simon Birmingham: Well, Patricia, all of these things have a process to go through in our different parliamentary structures, through our shadow cabinets, through our party rooms-


Patricia Karvelas: So the leader make an announcement that hadn’t gone through the process?


Simon Birmingham: I think Peter has rightly noted that it is not necessary to legislate for the target, and he’s correct in that that governments have always been able to set these targets themselves and the new government has already done that. And they seem to in fact be saying that it doesn’t matter terribly much whether they’re legislation passes or fails-


Patricia Karvelas: But you’re saying it still needs to go through your party room and your shadow cabinet to see where you vote, where you stand. Right. So what do you think?


Simon Birmingham: Well, that’s a statement of fact that all of these bills under our processes ultimately go through those processes, those steps.


Patricia Karvelas: And what will you be advocating for, given your view, that you need to be more ambitious?


Simon Birmingham: I’ll advocate my views inside those rooms not to not in advance on on different media programs.


Patricia Karvelas: Do you still believe that the mid-term ambition needs to be higher than what you took to the election?


Simon Birmingham: Well, I think what we took to the election, what Australia was previously committed to is a target that based on most projections we were in a position to exceed anyway. So the 26 to 28% reduction target under most assessments was like the previous targets of Kyoto one and Kyoto two that I referenced previously, going to be exceeded by Australia on the basis of the type of effort and transition in our economy already underway. So logically, we should be seeking to do as much as we reasonably can without unduly jeopardising jobs, industry or the like in Australia. That’s what I want to see us do. Now the legislation of a target, say, is not a necessary factor, but let’s see what the government is proposing and the full construct of that legislation as to whether there’s some other justification as to why it’s necessary to legislate it and how that might be considered.


Patricia Karvelas: Do you agree with Scott Morrison’s assessment that it was the Federal Government’s handling of the pandemic, specifically frustrations with how the Federation work that cost you the election?


Simon Birmingham: I think there are many different factors in an election result. I’ve got no doubt that for some Australians, the handling of the pandemic was a factor. Clearly, if you’re talking about the results in Western Australia, where we got a serious swing against us and saw a more direct swing from the Liberal Party to the Labor Party, elsewhere around the country, the Labor Party struggled to lift their vote, but in WA there was a more direct translation of shift of support and so different issues around how the government was perceived about borders and those management issues would have played a role there. Elsewhere in the country where you saw perhaps a drift to some of the minor parties, I think at a federal level, we perhaps faced some consequences from state vaccine mandates and other things that that may not have been within our control. But they did drive some support from the Liberal or National Parties into minor parties and other structures. So that was one factor. Was it the dominant factor? Outside of WA I struggle to say it was the dominant factor, but you would be hard pressed to say it wasn’t a factor if you look at the voting trends across the country.


Patricia Karvelas: So not the dominant factor outside of WA. Interesting insight there. Thank you so much for joining us this morning.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Patricia.