DAVID LIPSON: … welcome back to 2013 to our panellists for today, Labor MP Graham Perrett and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary Senator Simon Birmingham. Thank you so much for your time this morning, gentlemen. I want to start first with Barack Obama’s inauguration speech today.
DAVID LIPSON: Senator Birmingham, there was of course that Asian link there and the focus on foreign policy but also what stood out for me was his talk about dealing with climate change and also the issue of gay rights. What can we read from that here in Australia?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, David, I think the issue of climate change in particular is a notable one because the Obama administration, indeed the President himself, have been at pains since the November election to make very clear that his administration will not pursue any form of carbon tax for the United States, yet today he’s equally made very clear that addressing climate change is a priority for his administration, so what we know is that over the last few years the United States have managed to reduce their emissions levels and they’ve done so without having a carbon tax in place and Barack Obama today has made clear that he is intent on continuing to work to do so but, equally, do so without a carbon tax in place, so it shows there is a better way potentially to be able to tackle these problems which, of course, is what the Coalition has been saying for quite a long period of time, so I welcome that. I look forward to seeing the type of policies the US pursues there. I hope it means there’ll be additional international engagement from the US but I note that, of course, the US, unlike Australia, has not signed onto a second commitment period of Kyoto, in fact at this stage is not committing to any definite legally binding approaches in the future.
DAVID LIPSON: … I want to move on to another story today and The Australian Financial Review which has obtained a draft copy of the Defence White Paper and the report today suggests that Australia is preparing to embark on further war games in the north and northwest of the country to better prepare ourselves for possible attacks against some of our resources in remote areas like gas plants, oil plants and mines as well. Simon Birmingham, if this is the direction that Australia is going to take, is that a suitable way of preparing the nation for such a threat?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, quite clearly, David, these are strategic interests for Australia – very important interests, these significant resource developments scattered throughout very remote parts of Australia – and we should be making sure that we are well equipped to protect those interests that are so critical to our export base and our economic future but what is of concern is the fact that it’s one thing, of course, within the finite resources of the military to say ‘this is where we’ll direct the spending’ but the problem we have from this Government is that they have just not lived up to their promises of what will be invested in Defence. The Government, in the 2009 White Paper, promised 3 per cent real growth in defence spending. During the 2010 election campaign, numerous Ministers recommitted the promise – 3 per cent real growth in Defence spending – and yet what we’ve seen since the election is a $25 billion cut and slash to Defence spending. That, of course, puts in jeopardy our capacity to do all of the things our Defence forces should do, as well as, of course, causing some problems for defence industries like those here in my home state of South Australia.
DAVID LIPSON: Okay, well, on the policy of asylum seekers, a report today suggesting that there’s going to be a significant influx of Afghan refugees coming to Australia in the months and years ahead as foreign troops pull out of Afghanistan and the stability of that nation is severely tested. Simon Birmingham, what do you make of that? Should we be welcoming these asylum seekers rather than, as some do, demonising them, seeing as Australia, you know, were intimately involved in that country? Do we have a responsibility to welcome them?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Australia has a very proud record of welcoming refugees and of course we should continue to welcome refugees but the Coalition’s policy has been very clear for a long, long period of time and that, of course, is that we should be welcoming refugees who we take from refugee camps around the world, lift those most worthy and most needy out of the direst of situations and give them a fresh start in Australia, rather than what seems to be the Government’s acceptance that there is nothing you can do to stop a flow of people to Australia that end up simply taking all those spots away from the most worthy and most needy. 550 boats we’ve now seen under the watch of this Government. We keep seeing those boats coming and, of course, we keep seeing the policy failures, the latest risk to this Government’s policy being the legal challenges surrounding Manus Island. Now, that may or may not succeed but, if it does succeed, it will be yet another notch in the belt in a very, very long list of policy failures when it comes to asylum seekers under Labor’s watch.
DAVID LIPSON: I just wanted to get both your thoughts on the Rio Tinto agreement with the Australian Workers’ Union. They’ve agreed to resume bargaining with the AWU after almost 20 years of hostilities…
DAVID LIPSON: Simon Birmingham, what do you make of this shift and what are the implications for other non-unionised workplaces around the country?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: David, Rio Tinto didn’t have much choice but to agree. The Government’s Fair Work laws have tipped the balance so far back in favour of the unions that the AWU simply exercised their rights through a certain process to basically force Rio Tinto’s hands. Now, this should be of concern around Australia. I note Paul Howes promising that the AWU will take a responsible approach to negotiations with Rio. I sincerely hope that’s the case but history tells us that, in the end, unions, when they have too much power, don’t act responsibly and, in doing so, jeopardise jobs and that ends up just being to the detriment not just of businesses but of employees right around Australia.
DAVID LIPSON: Senator Simon Birmingham and Graham Perrett, thank you so much for your time this morning.