Topics: Australia-Pacific defence relations; Wages; China-Pacific police cooperation; Pacific Island Forum;

11:45AM AEDT
23 November 2022

Journalist: Senator, what do you make of the meeting that Richard Marles has now had his second with his counterpart? The possibility of dialogue resuming between our two militaries, would that be a good thing?

Simon Birmingham: As I’ve always said, both in government and in opposition, dialogue is preferable to stand off. It’s important we are able to engage and engage in constructive ways the with partners across the region, including engagement between Australia and China. Of course, it’s crucial that we maintain and hold true to our values and our national interests in any stage of dialogue, in terms of cooperation or discussion between Defence ministers and what that might lead to. I trust that the Government will be strong and firm in terms of Australia’s interests, in terms of defence of the decisions that we’ve made around Australia’s strategic engagement with other partners, including through AUKUS, and that any further activities will be mindful of that.

Journalist: The RBA governor says if workers get pay rises in line with inflation, it will only create more pain. Can I get your reaction on that?

Simon Birmingham: Well, the Government really needs to clarify its position here. If anybody who remembers the debates that ensued during the election, the government was crystal clear at that stage that they expected to see Fair Work Commission minimum wage decisions in excess of the inflation rate. That was the language of Anthony Albanese. It’s how he defended the claims and statements he made during the election campaign. And it’s the approach the Government took in its first few days in office. Where do they stand now? Do they accept the advice of the RBA governor? Will they make the same type of submission to the Fair Work Commission next year, or have they actually changed their position after just a few months?

Journalist: But do you agree with the RBA governor that workers need to get used to the idea of not getting a pay rise?

Simon Birmingham: We want to see wages grow in Australia and for them to grow as strongly as possible. We know that that is achieved through having the strongest possible economy, the lowest possible unemployment and in circumstances where businesses can effectively negotiate. Our real concerns at present are that we have a government who’s going to make a bad situation in terms of inflation worse through their industrial relations reforms and a government whose position, when it comes to submissions to the Fair Work Commission is now thoroughly confusing as to whether they do or don’t think that they should keep up with inflation.

Journalist: Senator, China’s just held a police cooperation ministerial meeting with Pacific Island nations. Should this have gone through the PIF given concerns from Pacific leaders that any regional security deal needs consensus?

Simon Birmingham: Our position would be to continue to urge engagement and security decisions or indeed other decisions to respect the architecture of Pacific Island nations, and particularly the architecture of working through the Pacific Islands Forum and doing so as partners. We would also urge countries to recognise the principles of a Pacific first approach when it comes to security engagement and cooperation. We respect the sovereignty of all to engage and to talk with other nations, but we think those architectural frameworks in relation to cooperative work by Pacific Island nations through the PIF and a Pacific first approach to security settings are important principles.

Journalist: Do you think there’s any use to- Do you think China can play a useful role in any way in terms of police cooperation in the Pacific? Or fundamentally, do we have the belief that it should be Australia and Pacific Island nations that should take responsibility for policing?

Simon Birmingham: Cooperation can take many forms and there are no doubt ways in which cooperation can be helpful, effective in terms of capability, ability, where it is coupled with transparency, openness and demonstrably in the best interests of all parties in terms of preserving the peace and security of nations and the region. But doing so in a way that respects particularly the priority Pacific nations have placed on working together in collaborative ways through the PIF.

Journalist: And just building on that. Are sideline meetings with Pacific Island nations that don’t include Australia and New Zealand and some Pacific Island nations that still recognise Taiwan like the Cook Islands appropriate?

Simon Birmingham: Look, again, as I said before, we have to respect the sovereignty of individual nations. But we will continue to support the Government in urging PIF members to work together and in urging them to ensure that when it comes to regional security, the Pacific first approach is maintained. Thanks, everybody.