Topics: Final parliamentary sitting week; Foreign Relations Bill; returning Australians





Simon Birmingham:     Final parliamentary sitting week of a year 2020, which has been a year unlike any other. Important priority for this week, remains the health and economic security and safety of Australians, the passage of the extension of the coronavirus supplementary support JobSeeker. It is an important extension of support through until the end of March, building upon the record levels of economic assistance that our government has provided to keep Australians safe and secure during this remarkable period of history. Equally, this year we will continue to progress other important policy reforms, measures in relation to foreign relations and foreign investment reforms and crucial measures as they relate to the operation and extension of the cashless debit card and introducing into the House measures that will give far greater certainty to casual employees and employers of casual employees to make sure that they all understand where they stand and to provide the greatest possible opportunity for further jobs, growth and employment recovery. Building upon them will have more than 600,000 jobs that we have seen created in recent months.


Question:         The foreign relations building, something that is continuing to needle China. How do we go about repairing that relationship?


Simon Birmingham:     Australia’s approach is one of being calm and consistent, consistent to our values and the foreign relations bill is an important piece of foreign policy to make sure that the national government in Australia, whoever’s in power, is truly in charge of our foreign policy.


That’s the way those who wrote our Constitution intended it to be. And it’s appropriate that the states and territories, if they’re going to enter into agreements with foreign powers and foreign governments, do so only where it is consistent with Australia’s foreign policy interests.


Question: How confident are you that the bill will pass this week and how quickly will you tear up Belt and Road?


Simon Birmingham:     I do trust that this bill will pass this week. I hope that the opposition will be cooperative in relation to ensuring that it passes and that it passes with all of its key aspects firmly intact. And now the bill provides for states and territories to have to give details of all such agreements that they have with foreign governments within a three month period.


Once they’ve done so in that three month period, then we will carefully and methodically through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, consider those bills against Australia’s foreign policy settings and it will be a matter for the foreign minister thereafter.

Question:         So you haven’t already made your mind up then on Belt and Road?


Simon Birmingham:     This is a legitimate piece of foreign policy legislation that will look at everything, all 130 or so different agreements that exist between states and territories and foreign governments, the significant majority of which are with governments other than China.


And we’ll look at them all at face value and assess them against our foreign policy fairly, squarely and without any predetermined outcomes.


Question:         You talk about both sides of politics. Penny Wong has called for greater bipartisanship when it comes to foreign policy. Do you think that both parties need to be working closely together, picking up the phone to each other when it comes to things like China?


Simon Birmingham:     Our government engages with the opposition whenever it’s appropriate to do so. There are many other vehicles through this parliament, such as the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security that provide the opposition with regular, routine national security and sensitive foreign policy briefings, as is entirely appropriate.


Question:         Melbourne and Adelaide are taking on international arrivals again. Is this going to make a dent in getting stranded Australians back home in time for Christmas?


Simon Birmingham:     The return of Victoria and South Australia to the task of bringing returning Australians back to Australia is welcome. This will see the total number being processed on a routine basis lift to about 6700 returning Australians able to come in. It will help to get more home by Christmas. But as we can see with the incident in New South Wales, with past incidents in Victoria and South Australia, in Queensland, there are real challenges and threats. That’s why we have to work very closely, carefully with the states and territories. Our government is committed more Defence Force personnel to help Victoria in this task to make sure it can be done as safely as possible.