Topics: Albanese Government missing in action on safety and security; Defence recruitment; Released detainees; Doxxing laws; Israel-Hamas conflict; 

08:00AM AEDT
13 February 2024


Simon Birmingham:  The Senate Estimates revelations show that the Prime Minister really continues to be missing in action when it comes to matters of national security and the important role of keeping Australians safe. The government has had to have dragged out of it details of the detainees who have been released, the murderers, the sexual offenders and the other violent criminals. And then the revelation that this government has not applied for a single community safety order. Where was the preparatory work in relation to these cases? Why hadn’t the government prepared the legislation far earlier and done the groundwork to be able to lodge these applications? Just as the Prime Minister and his government are failing and missing in action in relation to these cases, so too it was revealed yesterday that when it came to the United States appeal for Australian assistance in the Red Sea. Did the Prime Minister play a role in that decision? No. Did he call a National Security Meeting of the Cabinet? No. It was all left entirely in the hands of the Minister for Defence to say Australia’s not really going to do much. It’s not going to send a ship. It’s going to make the bare minimum contribution. To not have a National Security Committee meeting called when our closest ally is making a serious request, such as for assistance in the Red Sea to combat the Houthi rebels is an amazing, negligent action on behalf of the Prime Minister and the government. And you have to wonder why there is that disregard or disinterest in those critical areas of national security.


Journalist: Does Australia have the personnel we need to defend ourselves in the future, or do we have the ability to retain or to attract the personnel?


Simon Birmingham: There appears to be a real and growing crisis in the Defence Force and the Defence Department, and it’s a crisis in large part of the government’s own making, and they have failed to make critical decisions about infrastructure investments, they have failed to make critical funding decisions. Those failures have compounded in terms of seeing the size of our defence force depleted. We’ll have a chance in defence estimates tomorrow to explore just how closely and carefully the extent of those losses in our defence forces have been. But it is clear that this government is overseeing a defence force and department where the numbers of personnel are going backwards. The investment in defence spending has been going backwards, and indeed the decision making has just been piling up on Richard Marles’s desk and it is just a massive failure in terms of delivery that Australia needs.


Journalist: What are your thoughts on officials who began to discuss the possibility of preventative detention in September, and then took options to Minister O’Neil on October 3rd, about a month before the landmark ruling from the High Court, immigration detention was handed down?


Simon Birmingham: Well, the government should have had all of its ducks lined up in terms of options to respond to this High Court case. It should have ensured that it had worked closely with the department, taking up options and having the legislative options and frameworks put in place. The Opposition was pretty quick after the High Court case was handed down to say that a preventative detention regime should be considered. Why hadn’t the government, with all of the resources and legal powers, developed the legislative framework for it? Why did it take so long after the High Court ruling for that legislation to be brought to the parliament? And why hadn’t it started the work on each individual case so that it could lodge orders and make those applications much earlier than has been the case.


Journalist: Are you supportive of a crackdown on doxxing?


Simon Birmingham: What we have seen in relation to the targeting of Jewish Australians as part of an overall rise in anti-Semitism has been horrific. Action to ensure that people are not targeted due to their faith is absolutely critical and I’m sure we look forward to working with the government on the details of that.


Journalist: How concerned are you about Israel’s latest bombardment of Rafah? A place where many people have gone to seek refuge.


Simon Birmingham: It is critical that Israel act with regard to international humanitarian law, and be mindful of the vast number of displaced persons and the humanitarian toll that is occurring. We continue to support Israel in wanting to see Hamas disable Hamas leadership removed, and indeed Hamas terrorism infrastructure destroyed. The best way for a ceasefire would be for Hamas to release the remaining hostages. It is a vivid reminder that in seeing that Israel has rescued two hostages in the last couple of days, that there are still around 100 hostages held. If Hamas released those hostages and surrendered its leadership and its terrorist infrastructure, that would be the safest, fastest way to ceasefire and security for both Israel and the Palestinian peoples who Hamas use as human shields. Thank you.