Topics: Mr Albanese meeting with Xi Jinping; Australia-China relationship; Protest against Russian representation at leaders summits;

02:55PM AEDT
15 November 2022

Simon Birmingham: Thanks very much for coming along today. Dialogue is always preferable to stand off. And to that end, we welcome the Chinese Government’s cessation of its ban on ministerial dialogue with Australia and the fact that Prime Minister Albanese will be sitting down for a face-to-face meeting with President Xi Jinping. That this is happening at the first face to face summits to occur since 2019 is timely and of course particularly timely when we note also the very extensive conversations and dialogue that US President Joe Biden had overnight with President Xi Jinping.

And engaging in this dialogue it’s important to recognise that the Australian Government goes there standing firm in terms of Australia’s national and strategic interests, standing firm in terms of the type of policy decisions taken in recent years to protect our foreign investment regime, to ensure the security of our critical infrastructure, and to guarantee that we don’t have as far as possible foreign interference in our democratic institutions. It’s important that Prime Minister Albanese enter these conversations with good faith, but also in pursuit of the national interest be firm and clear about the need for China to cease its unfair and unwarranted trade sanctions against Australia. To treat detained Australians in China fairly and to ensure that it abide by international rules and norms, be that across the South China Sea or in relation to the observance of basic human rights.

This is an important relationship. It’s also a relationship that has seen challenges in recent times. It’s the relationship around the world that has seen some challenges in recent times with many other nations. But we hope and wish the new government well in terms of ensuring that so far as possible they advance Australia’s national interest in ways that secure outcomes for Australia without in any way compromising the types of interests that need to be protected within Australia.

Journalist: Senator, can I ask you do you give Mr Albanese credit (indistinct) resetting this relationship in a way that your Coalition government wasn’t perhaps able (indistinct)?

Simon Birmingham: There were many very necessary decisions taken in recent years by the Turnbull government and the Morrison government to ensure the protection of critical infrastructure and telecommunications networks. To ensure that we put in place foreign interference laws to protect our democracy. And these types of decisions did have consequences in terms of the relationship, but they were necessary decisions and their decisions I welcome the fact that the Albanese Government stands by.

The fact that with a change of government there is an opportunity for dialogue to move beyond. Hopefully some of those tensions is welcome. It was always counterproductive for China to refuse to sit down at the table with Australia. Dialogue should be the last thing ended rather than the first thing. Dialogue is always preferable to stand off and so we welcome these talks. But importantly, the test of any dialogue, the test of talks ultimately lies in the outcomes received. And for Australia, it’s important that over time those outcomes see the removal of the unfair and unwarranted trade restrictions, the fair treatment of detained Australian citizens, respect for human rights and for international law within our region.

Journalist: (Indistinct)

Simon Birmingham: We aren’t unrealistic in expecting all of the differences to be resolved instantly. But progress is important, and particularly for Australian exporters who have been feeling the pain of economic coercion attempts by China. They expect and need to see progress in the removal of trade sanctions and that steps are taken in the right direction there and critically for Australians who have been detained within China. They of course need to see fair and due process.

Journalist: There are some European countries that are talking about walk outs as a protest against Russia’s activities. Do you think that’s appropriate, and do you support Mr Albanese not walking out of those (indistinct)?

Simon Birmingham: Firstly, I hope that as many nations as possible sitting around the G20 table can send very clear messages to Russia that its illegal and unjust invasion of Ukraine must cease and that it needs to cease these actions that are causing such loss of life, such disruption not only in Ukraine, but to global energy markets and to the global economy. In relation to how that is expressed. I understand what Prime Minister Albanese is seeking to balance there between sending a strong message and showing respect for Indonesian hosts, but it would be preferable if these actions were united and coordinated between like-minded nations so that we could ensure clear and consistent messages sent to Russia while all showing respect as well to Indonesia, who are seeking to do their best in difficult circumstances. Thanks, guys.