TopicsDevastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria; Ukrainians in Australian concerned of visa expiry; Lidia Thorpe split from Greens;

07:55AM AEDT
7 February 2023

Simon Birmingham: Can I firstly touch on the deeply distressing events we are seeing unfolding in Turkey and Syria. Multiple earthquakes are causing enormous loss of life, destruction of property, devastation to critical infrastructure and essential services. The humanitarian toll from these earthquakes is going to be devastating and ongoing for days, weeks and months into the future. It’s essential that international aid agencies and disaster relief agencies work together quickly and comprehensively to ensure as unified an international response as possible to provide Turkey and Syria and the people affected by these earthquakes with the support and assistance they need.

The loss of life we see from the earthquakes may not be the end, with the disruption to the flow of clean water services, available food and medicines, critical infrastructures in sewage, electricity and elsewhere. And so to prevent and to minimise further humanitarian catastrophe, further loss of life does require critical, essential, comprehensive response from the international community. And Australia should play our part as part of that coordinated international effort.

Journalist: What do you think Australia can provide? I know it’s early days still.

Simon Birmingham: I would expect responses to be led, of course, by nations involved, by international disaster relief agencies and then by those within the region, the European Union and others who are well placed to provide support practically on the ground. But if there are technical skills that Australia has that are needed, then we should be willing to dispatch those skills. And of course, in terms of the supply of humanitarian essentials, in terms of the ability for people to be able to clean their water, to be able to access essential medicines or food relief we should be willing to step up and provide practical support in that regard too.

Journalist: There’s also been some suggestions that on a different issue that Ukrainians in Australia are worried about their visas running out. Is that something you’re aware of and do you think the government should act on?

Simon Birmingham: The Government should be making sure it provides certainty to those who have fled the war-torn situation in Ukraine, who have come seeking refuge in Australia during these troubled times, many of them women and children, and often in circumstances where partners or loved ones are fighting against Russia to repel the illegal and immoral invasion. And so certainty is essential for those who are affected by the war in Ukraine and to make sure that they know they can stay safely in Australia whilst people work to defend their country from this invasion.

Journalist: Thoughts on your Senate colleague Lidia Thorpe leaving the Greens, does that change the calculus in the Upper House a little bit?

Simon Birmingham: Well, it’s a matter for Senator Thorpe, but as a Liberal and National Coalition, we will work with whomever is on the Senate crossbench to make sure we hold the Government to account, that we oppose bad legislation and we seek to improve legislation where we can and support indeed good legislation to pass through. Now it changes the calculus certainly for the Government they go from needing the Greens plus one other Senator to be able to pass legislation to now needing the Greens plus two other senators to be able to pass legislation. That’s a matter for the Government. But from our perspective, we will certainly work with anyone who is there and work with Senator Thorpe where we can too.

Journalist: Do you welcome the Greens commitment to back the Voice to Parliament?

Simon Birmingham: It’s a matter of Greens policy where you continue to appeal to the Government to address Australians with the detail around the Voice that can help Australians to make an informed decision. As someone who has long supported Indigenous recognition in our Constitution, I’ve long supported the recognition of First Australians in our Constitution. I don’t want to see a referendum put and fail, but I can see a scenario where the Government’s failure to provide comprehensive answers detailed to the Australian people that is creating a real challenge in relation to whether Australians will give the support for this referendum and that’s why the Government should provide that detail and enable Australians to be fully informed when they vote.

Journalist: Have you spoken to Senator Thorpe yet on any issues where she could potentially back the Coalition in the Senate?

Simon Birmingham: It’s very early days, less than 24 hours since Senator Thorpe has made her announcement. I respect her choice and her decision. She will now participate in Senate proceedings in a slightly different way and will engage with her in the same constructive approach that we bring to anybody who sits on the Senate crossbench. Thanks, guys.