Topics: Labor political stunt on housing;  

03:45PM ACST
28 July 2023


Andy Park:  Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Birmingham. Welcome to you.


Simon Birmingham: Hello, Andy. Great to be with you again.


Andy Park: Before we get to these developments today, we have the Prime Minister flagging a possible double dissolution if the Senate doesn’t pass the Housing Future Fund. You’re the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. How seriously are you taking this?


Simon Birmingham: Well, that’s a matter for the Prime Minister in terms of what stunts he wants to play politically and whether or not he wants to have an early election. If he wants to have an early election, then bring it on. Australians are feeling real cost of living pressures at present. I think there are increasing concerns about the priorities of this government and we’ll fight the election with our own policies and the like if he chooses to go to the polls early. But this is just a political stunt. There is no need for the government to do as they’ve indicated today in terms of reintroducing this bill into the House of Representatives. The bill is still on the Senate notice paper. They can move any motions they want to try to bring it on for debate in the Senate. And now the Senate to date has refused to consider it. We believe it is bad policy in terms of the Coalition and we see that it adds billions of dollars to public sector debt while doing absolutely nothing to help with home ownership in Australia and does very little to drive the and respond to the huge slump in new dwelling approvals in Australia. So, we think this is bad policy and will add significantly to government debt overall and that’s why we oppose it. Don’t support this proposal. But the Government’s announcement today has really nothing to do with housing policy and everything to do with political posturing around setting up the option for an early election if that’s what Anthony Albanese chooses to pursue.


Andy Park: So, the Coalition will continue to partner with the Greens in opposing this legislation?


Simon Birmingham: Well, we’ve been clear about our policy position from really the moment this policy was announced in the last election campaign and through the life of this Parliament and nothing the Government is doing, which has seen some various changes to this policy. But those changes have only undermined many of the early assurances the Government made back in the election campaign. They said this would be a totally off budget, off balance sheet commitment, but the more they have sought to yield to different demands from the Greens along the way, the more that has been undermined. As lacking in credibility as that statement was, even when it was first made.


Andy Park: It’s 4:20 here on our end drive. Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Birmingham is my guest. Let’s turn to the AUSMIN meetings today and over the weekend. What should the Albanese Government be focusing on in these talks with Antony Blinken and Lloyd Austin?


Simon Birmingham: These are very important talks. They’re annual talks, AUSMIN meetings between Australia and US foreign and defence ministers happen every year. They alternate between countries. Covid means that we haven’t physically hosted them in Australia since 2019, but it is a long standing and ongoing commitment to this type of effective dialogue at the highest levels and it’s an indication of how seriously both countries take the partnership that in alternating years our foreign and defence ministers or in the US case foreign and defence secretaries, make that commitment to travel to the other nation and to engage in serious dialogue. We expect this to cover the range of crucial issues for us in terms of our support and upholding the rules based international order, how we continue to support Ukraine in its defence against Russia’s illegal and immoral invasion, how we uphold those legal rules in the South China Sea and across our own Indo-Pacific region. The critical assessment in terms of ongoing support for Pacific Island nations, their development, their respect for sovereignty and support for them in tackling climate change, our values and shared values in relation to human rights issues and how we continue to work across those, including in terms of issues within the region such as in Xinjiang and Tibet. So there’s a long list of different issues that we would expect to be on the agenda for this discussion.


Andy Park: Antony Blinken and Lloyd Austin also stopped over in Tonga and Papua New Guinea during this trip. You would welcome this increased engagement in the region, I presume, and certainly it sends a strong signal to China about the strength of our alliance. Is that a powerful signal?


Simon Birmingham: It is important and we really do, at a bipartisan level, continue to encourage United States senior officials and indeed other partners from around the rest of the world to seize any opportunity they can to engage with partners across the Indo-Pacific region. And so just as it was very welcome that President Biden was able to attend the East Asia Summit in person and make different visits in terms of the region last year, we welcome the fact that Secretary Austin and Secretary Blinken have been able to make these types of bilateral visits into regional partners and Pacific Island nations. But of course, coinciding as it does with also the visit by President Macron and also noting that that we have certain UK ministers have been in the region very recently as well. So, lots of different activity, all of it making sure that democratic nations share values, working with our other regional partners who need to have that type of support and benefit from partnership as equal partners and valued partners in the region.


Andy Park: We’ll have to leave it there. Simon Birmingham, the Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, appreciate your time. Thank you.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Andy. My pleasure.