Topics: ASIO DG warning; Philippines-Australia relations;  

05:35PM AEDT
29 February 2024


David Lipson:  Well, Senator Simon Birmingham is the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs. He’s also a member of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. He joined me earlier. Senator Birmingham, thanks for being with us. You want the Home Affairs Minister to release more information about this individual? If not, name them. Why should she do that? When the ASIO boss clearly thought that that wasn’t a good idea?


Simon Birmingham: Well, the ASIO Director General does a very important job in terms of ensuring that all Australians understand the security risks and challenges our country faces. For a number of years now, he has highlighted foreign interference and espionage as being high amongst those risks. And he’s certainly been briefing members of parliament, ministers for many years about how to be alert to those risks and how to make sure that if they present themselves, you address them very, very quickly and promptly and in the appropriate ways. Now, he’s right to highlight those risks. What he did last night is also appropriate in that sense, but he has created a question mark that hangs over all former members of Parliament. That question mark is an unfair one for essentially all but potentially one of them, who was the subject of the remarks that were made. The Minister for Home Affairs has the potential in the Parliament to at least provide more information, more context, to provide as much information as possible. And ideally that would include the identity of the individual.


David Lipson: You’re not suggesting that Mike Burgess erred, are you?


Simon Birmingham: I’m not suggesting that he erred. He has a job to do. And that job, in terms of the awareness of the security threats we face as a nation, is an important one. And giving contextual examples of it is a valuable part of the way in which he can raise that awareness. But the example does beg many questions, and the way in which it’s presented indicates that were somebody to behave this way today, they may well be breaching criminal laws that have been put in place to further protect Australia. The fact that it’s a couple of years old means that they have potentially avoided those prosecutions, but it doesn’t mean-.


David Lipson: How does that make you feel knowing that a former politician who, according to Mike Burgess, sold out our country can’t actually be charged?


Simon Birmingham: Well, this is it. These are very serious, very grave allegations. And of course, they are being made by the head of our security agency who has taken them right through, including the confronting of the individual involved, who it appears, based on the statements that he’s confident they wouldn’t be so silly to do it again, that they acknowledge the errors of their ways. Now, it could be solved by the individual identifying themselves, but the government has, of course, the ability on the floor of the Parliament to provide further information in ways that is not necessarily available to Mr. Burgess.


David Lipson: In your understanding, what country is largely responsible for this kind of traditional, if I can call it that, espionage threat?


Simon Birmingham: Well, there are lots of different types of threats that that we face in the traditional way, as you put it, as well as in the cyber domain. But there is little doubt that China has engaged increasingly in conduct that seeks to gather information and build relationships, to gather that information and potentially to undertake influence. Just as we’ve seen in the cyber domain, increased threats, including critically coming from Russia, both state and non-state actors, and the identification that has been made of both of those countries in a number of different attacks and instances over recent years.


David Lipson: On another matter, the Philippines president addressed parliament today and Australia signed a new agreement to deepen maritime cooperation with the Philippines. How important are these closer ties between Manilla and Canberra in the pushback against China’s growing aggression in the region?


Simon Birmingham: Regional cooperation is essential. The Philippines are a very strong advocate for adherence to the international Laws of the Sea, and indeed, they have ensured that their rights as a nation have been upheld through the UN convention on the Law of the Sea. That’s critical because those rights have been contested and challenged as China has sought to expand its sphere of influence across the South China Sea. That is why Australia’s position in calling for the UNCLOS convention, the Law of the Sea, to be upheld. For its findings, including in relation to the Philippines to be respected, are important positions that we take and the support that we continue to provide to the Philippines and other nations of the region for freedom of navigation and movement is essential because this is our largest trade route and critical in terms of our ongoing economic well-being and our sovereignty to be able to engage ourselves and all of the other nations who rely on that trade route.


David Lipson: Senator Simon Birmingham, we’ll have to leave it there. Thank you.


Simon Birmingham: Thank you. David. My pleasure.


David Lipson: And Senator Birmingham is the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs. PM requested an interview with the Minister for Home Affairs, but she was unavailable.