Topics: Albanese Government needs to manage it’s time; increasing wages; Meeting with Xi Jinping; Options open to the Government to impose sanctions;

08:15AM AEDT
21 November 2022

Ursula Heger: Federal Parliament kicks off its final scheduled sitting fortnight for 2022 today. But the Prime Minister back home after a successful summit season, including a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, has hinted at extending the sitting calendar to enable the Senate to debate key industrial relations and anti-corruption commission bills. Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister and Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Simon Birmingham joins us now from Canberra. Thanks for being with us.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Ursula. Great to be with you.

Ursula Heger: Thank you. And well, are you up for additional sitting days in order to give the Government time to fulfil their election promises before the end of the year?

Simon Birmingham: Ursula, it’s for the Government to set the sitting schedule and if they haven’t managed their time well enough and they ask for extra time, well we’ll consider it. Of course, these aren’t all election promises. The industrial relations reforms, for example, involve measures that the Government didn’t take to the election. They didn’t tell small businesses that they were going to impose these new measures that small businesses and other business groups are firmly against. And these are types of reforms that there are real concerns will drive costs up, will hurt businesses, will mean inflation is worse, productivity is worse, and that we actually see fewer jobs. And so we certainly won’t be looking to rush those reforms. We want to make sure they are thoroughly scrutinised because we have grave, grave concerns about them.

Ursula Heger: What do you propose we should do to get wages moving?

Simon Birmingham: Well, the most important thing you need to keep wages moving is to have the strongest possible economy. Now, when the election was held, Australia had some world leading economic growth. We also had the lowest unemployment rate in close to 50 years. And so the real threat out of what the government’s proposing is if they put in place something that drives that unemployment rate higher, that weakens economic growth, well, that’s not going to help with sustainable wage growth in the long run. It’s only going to hurt it and create a circumstance where we see many businesses feel genuine pressure.

Ursula Heger: Just moving on to the PM’s meeting with Xi Jinping, it was the thawing of the icy relationship that we’ve had with China. Do you gauge it as a success?

Simon Birmingham: It was very important to have that meeting and it’s welcome. It was always counterproductive for China to refuse to come to the table and have meetings. Importantly, the government didn’t concede on any of the policy measures that the previous Coalition government put in place, which strengthened our foreign investment, critical infrastructure, foreign interference laws across Australia. They’re all fundamental. There are many challenges that we still face in terms of the relationship with China, but it’s always better to have dialogue than to have stand-off.

Ursula Heger: You’re now calling for sanctions on individuals from China, Iran and Myanmar. Can you explain to viewers what this would look like?

Simon Birmingham: So, there are different types of sanctions regimes. There are those that are broad economic sanctions, bans on certain activity occurring between countries or there are targeted sanctions that particularly focus on individuals who are leaders in different regimes that undertake human rights abuses or other actions of concern. And we are particularly concerned to see the Government take action in relation to Iran, where at present we’re seeing great heroism coming from individuals standing up for the rights of women and girls. And we’re seeing a strong protest movement following the murder of Mahsa Amini and we really do want to see the Government catch up with the rest of the world. Other countries, from Canada to the UK to the European Union to the US, have taken strong action. Australia is behind the eight ball there and we should step up there and we should be looking carefully at other issues in our region as to what we can do to be more consistent with other countries and to get stronger outcomes in the Xinjiang region of China or in Myanmar potentially as well.

Ursula Heger: Why didn’t you call for this while you were in power though?

Simon Birmingham: We actually put in place some reforms to provide more opportunity and options for government to how sanctions apply. They were legislated late in the life of the last parliament and we used those in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and other matters to do with Russia with those reforms there, which the now government called for and they said were urgent at the time. We question why it is some six months since their election they haven’t used them at all. And particularly we see an urgency, as I said, in the case of Iran, it’s kind of a moment in time right now seeing this protest wave happening. And that’s why we want to see the government lean in, join other countries and help apply pressure to the regime in Iran to change their behaviour or support for those seeking to drive even broader change in that country.

Ursula Heger: Senator Birmingham, thank you for your time today.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Ursula. My pleasure.


Media Contacts

Julia Ebbs: +61 498 778 269

Office: 02 6277 3059 (CBR) 08 8354 1644 (ADL)

Authorised by Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham, South Australia.