Topics:  Solicitor-General advice released on the Voice; Solomon Islands security pact with Melanesia; Mining opportunities for New Caledonia;

10:55AM AEST
Friday, 21 April 2023


Journalist:  What do you made of the solicitor general’s advice over the voice? Do you think this will ease coalition concerns? That it may lead to legal challenges?


Simon Birmingham: Well, I look forward to reviewing the advice that’s only just been released. I think it’s disappointing the Government has asked for specific or separate advice compared to what they received in the drafting of the proposals and compared to the potential for whether there was a better way of the wording to be undertaken. But this advice is important, but it’s disappointing it’s only a couple of days old and isn’t the full advice that was received by the Government.


Journalist: Is it a bit confusing that we’ve had John Howard say the referendum was for the republic was bigger? Peter Dutton said this is the biggest referendum we’ve had, but you’re still bound to the Cabinet position. Which one is it? Is it the biggest, is it not? Why are you bound if it’s either way?


Simon Birmingham:  Australians will make their decision on this. It doesn’t really matter how you radiate amendments to the Constitution. Australians will make a decision about whether they’re voting yes or no. It ultimately comes down to a binary proposition. The more information they can have, the better and that’s why it’s disappointing that the Government at this time has chosen to release a specific set of advice from the SG rather than the full set of advice.


Journalist: But this advice from the Solicitor General, that’s what the Liberal Party has been calling for all along. Do you think now that this advice is out there, would there be any movement in terms of support from the Opposition?


Simon Birmingham: Two points. We’ve been calling for the release of the full advice and we would still urge the Government to consider releasing the full advice so Australians can understand is there a better set of wording rather than the proposed set of wording? And then in terms of in terms of positions more broadly, I think for many Australians, whilst they may not sit down and read the Solicitor-General’s advice over the kitchen table, they will be looking at how it is reported upon, how it is reflected and the fact that this is not the full set of advice to Government does make the Government’s job and the yes case’s job harder than it may otherwise be if it’s consistent, in fact, with all previous advice.


Journalist: One for your Shadow Foreign Minister hat, if I may?


Simon Birmingham: That’s a delight.


Journalist: What do you make of the apparent push by the Solomons to create a splinter security pact with Melanesia that may involve Beijing?


Simon Birmingham: Well, we would continue to urge the members across the Pacific Island Forum to act as a PIFF, act as the family of the Pacific, and to act together in concert with one another as much as possible. And that’s a bipartisan position to try to ensure that we do have that type of cooperative approach. But of course, across the different subgroupings of the Pacific Islands Forum, it’s important as well that Australia work and engage with each of those subgroupings where we can, but do so trying to encourage that uniform approach of the PIFF, which is important to the strength of Pacific voice and standing in the region and across the world.


Journalist: And Penny Wong in New Caledonia said that there’s ample opportunity for Australian businesses when it comes to nickel mining in New Caledonia and value adding for batteries for electric vehicles as such. Under the former Coalition government, did you fail to take advantage of the critical mineral cooperation with Pacific Island nations?


Simon Birmingham: Look, our development and establishment, for example, of the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific, was about creating the type of investment vehicle that could get things like critical minerals projects and other key infrastructure off the ground. So, we provided absolutely the type of financing vehicles, the type of policy framework that Pacific Island countries are able to utilise and pursue. And in opportunities they may have to participate in clean energy economy in the future. Absolutely encourage the government to support them in accessing those types of policies and vehicles.


Journalist: Just on the Solicitor-General’s advice again. So, in this advice, it said that the voice would not form part of either the parliament or the executive government, but instead operate only as an advisory body to those two branches as a separate entity. That was the concern, though, wasn’t it, from the Liberal Party all along. So, what more advice do you need apart from what the Solicitor-General has said here?


Simon Birmingham: Well, as said before, it would be, I think, helpful to the whole debate for the full SG advice to be provided, not just one specifically designed for public release. And in considering that totality of advice, it’s important for the question to be answered of is this the best form of wording? Is this the optimal approach that is being taken forward, or was there a better way that the Government chose for whatever reason through its processes with the working groups not to pursue? Thanks, guys.