Transcript, E&OE

Topics: Captain Cook statue defaced by protesters, Australian facing death penalty in China,
14 June 2020

Journalist: A statue of Captain Cook has been defaced in Hyde Park in Sydney overnight. Your reaction to that?

Simon Birmingham: Look, I condemn any type of vandalism. In the end we should learn from our history, not seek to airbrush it or destroy it. You know, we’re all flawed figures today and all of the historical figures have their flaws and failings. But that doesn’t mean that we should destroy the recognition of them and the good things they would have achieved.

Journalist: Is there any indication that these protests, that are based on racial concerns, are getting out of hand?

Simon Birmingham: I really would urge Australians to keep in check the demonstration and the activism that is occurring at present from all sides, and we’re seeing far too much in the US and the UK. The fact that the extremes of politics are causing division – and in Australia we want to be working to bring people together and I would urge everyone to recognise that as a country we have not a perfect record, but a proud record of acknowledging failings and trying to work to solve them and we should continue that trajectory.

Journalist: Great. In the news in the last 24 hours an Australian is facing the death penalty in China. Should we read anything into this other than a criminal case?

Simon Birmingham: We shouldn’t necessarily seek to draw any conclusions. Australia condemns the use of the death penalty in all countries, in all circumstances. We’ve seen those, sadly, in China over the last decade where death penalty sentences have been carried out on Japanese nationals and a Filipino national – those things we condemn as well. This individual is receiving consular assistance and has a few rights that are available to them. And of course we hope that ultimately it will not result the death penalty.

Journalist: Normally in these cases representation could be made at a ministerial level as well. Does that seem to be [indistinct] in the current climate with the relationship with China?

Simon Birmingham: Well, there are appeal rights still available at this stage. So the legal avenues will be applied and China will, no doubt, run their course – then it’s a matter as to whether there are further appeals necessary to [indistinct] to see if he was successful for any [indistinct] to the judicial processes.

Journalist: Are there any conversations linked to the minister referring with China at the moment? Have you spoken with your counterpart in China?

Simon Birmingham: Disappointingly, the requests for discussion and dialogue between trade minister to trade minister with China have not been met with agreement at this stage. We stand ready to have open, honest dialogue with any of our partners, including over issues that we disagree on, and we’d urge them to come to the table in the same spirit of openly discussing those disagreements as well as where we continue to work together.

Journalist: Thanks very much.

Simon Birmingham: Good, mate.