Topics: Devastating earthquake in Türkiye and Syria; Surveillance cameras in Commonwealth buildings; Australia-China trade relations;
9 February 2023
Simon Birmingham: Can I just at the outset acknowledge the continued assistance that the government has announced, the further assistance to the people of Türkiye and in Syria in terms of response to these tragic earthquakes that have struck the region. We have now seen, quite appropriately, a commitment of humanitarian support and assistance, as well as the dispatch of skilled Australians to be able to help with the immediate recovery effort. This will be an ongoing challenge for the region. Of course, we’ve seen huge tragic loss of life, destruction of buildings, devastation to critical infrastructure. So, it’s not just the immediate challenge in terms of rescue workers helping people out of rubble. It is also the challenge of ensuring there is clean water, there are essential medicines, there are food and other supplies provided through. All of these things need to occur and that’s why the humanitarian relief support is so welcome and so important. We will continue to provide that bipartisan support. Can also say to those Australians who can afford to do so, to give to UNICEF, to Red Cross, to other international relief agencies where you can afford to help in a response like this, should. I’ve personally done so, and I encourage others to do so.
Journalist: Just your response to news that four Australians are unaccounted for and did the government wait too long to send search and rescue teams over there?
Simon Birmingham: I’m sure the Government has been engaging closely with Turkish authorities in terms of what practical support is necessary on the ground. We can’t just go in and send our own search and rescue teams in, and I have no doubt that the Australian search and rescue teams will be acting as part of a coordinated international effort and that those on the ground at present will be seeking to rescue any people they can, including any missing Australians. But of course, our hearts go out to those families who have lost loved ones, who have missing people, particularly to those families of four potential missing Australians. We know how distressing this time will be for you, and we just hope and pray that those rescue workers are able to find your loved ones.
Journalist: Reports that Chinese surveillance cameras are being used in government departments. Are you concerned the data could be fed to China and should they be removed?
Simon Birmingham: So, this existence of these cameras has been exposed thanks to questioning by my colleagues and by James Paterson. And it clearly now provokes more questions about what safeguards are in place, precisely what risks exist, and from that, what steps the Government will take. We will be further exploring this through the Senate estimates process next week, and we will be seeking to make sure that the government has taken every bit of advice necessary to guarantee the safety and security of Australian government facilities to ensure that information and data and operations remain confidential where necessary. And we want to make sure that the Government is completely across this and takes whatever steps are necessary to ensure that effective safety and security of Australian government buildings.
Journalist: Is there a concern just because the companies are affiliated with the CCP is there actually any proof that the data could be fed back to China?
Simon Birmingham: We have to operate in a precautionary way in relation to these things and make sure that if there are genuine risks they are heeded that precautionary steps are taken, including if necessary, removal of such cameras. Now that’s why we’ll go through the proper process of seeking further information from Government, understanding now this has been exposed, what they are doing to guarantee that safety of Australian facilities. We know from other countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, that they have taken more of a precautionary approach in terms of not having such cameras in place or removing them. And so Australia, I trust, will be seeking also information from our partner countries to understand what they have learned, concerns they have and how they are applying those policies in their circumstances.
Journalist: First shipment of coal arrived in China last night. Is this a sign of normality returning?
Simon Birmingham: We hope to see an effective stabilisation of relations with China. There are still strategic challenges and we should be honest and up front in addressing those strategic challenges with China. But China’s attempts at economic coercion on Australia have failed. There have been no changes of policies in Australia and it is essential that we continue to hold true to those policies, but also that China removes the trade sanctions it applied against Australia comprehensively. Remove the tariffs on Australian wine, remove the tariffs on Australian barley. Stop the bureaucratic processes that have been stopping our resources, our seafood, our timber, our other sectors from effectively trading. It’s been counterproductive for China and Chinese industry to have these bans and tariffs in place. Of course, it’s hurt some Australian businesses and that’s why these should be removed. If China is genuine about a true stabilisation in relations and ending any attempts at economic coercion. Thanks, everybody.