Topics: Press Club Address – Ambassador of Ukraine & Kateryna Argyrou

01:35PM AEDT
28 February 2024


Journalist: …the Ambassador’s calls today?


Simon Birmingham: Absolutely. There’s a desperate need for a quick and strong response from the Albanese Government. It is clear that too many opportunities have been missed in recent times, be it the failure to step up with the Taipans, be it the request for coal and energy assistance that has been gathering dust on ministers’ desks. What we desperately need to see is the Government show strength and resolve to help Ukraine win. And for that, it requires a scaling up, greater innovation in thinking about what can be done, rather than just looking at the bare minimum that could be done.


Journalist: It was mentioned today, Australia is now the sixth largest non-NATO donor to Ukraine. It used to be the first. What does it say to you?


Simon Birmingham: The Coalition is very proud of the way in which we initially responded. Positioned Australia as the largest non-NATO contributor to Ukraine, and in doing so provided military assistance, humanitarian assistance, energy assistance, visa pathways for Ukrainians in need. It was a comprehensive package of support. Sadly, over the last two years that support has slipped and now Australia is not such a strong supporter of Ukraine. But more importantly, practical opportunities to help Ukraine prevail have gone wanting under the Albanese Government. What we need to see is a government thinking about everything that can be done, rather than contemplating only the bare minimum it can get away with doing. That really requires them to heed the messages about where defence assets are being disposed of or are planned to be disposed of. Rather than burying them. Let’s gift them and let Ukraine use them for their defence and their safety. Let’s be quick about responding to things like coal requests. In fact, we shouldn’t have even had to wait for the request, given Australia had already sent shipments of coal initiated by the Morrison government. The response of the Albanese Government should have been, “do you need more?” rather than needing to wait to be asked for it.


Journalist: Does it concern you that the exporter of that 70,000 hasn’t even been asked when the request came in December?


Simon Birmingham: The request for coal has been gathering dust on ministers’ desks and it seems they’ve done absolutely nothing with it. Not talk to Ukraine about it, not talk to coal suppliers about it. Done nothing. Rather than addressing the need. We heard very clearly from the Ambassador today. Ukraine’s energy needs are a year-round proposition. They are a constant need that they have. Australia can easily do this. We’ve done it before. We should be doing it now.


Journalist: Kateryna had an interesting suggestion on stage. She said that there should be a line item in the budget, and that any support to Ukraine doesn’t come from the defence budget, but a line item in the budget. What do you think of that suggestion?


Simon Birmingham: Well, I think there are certainly questions about the fact that there has been no replenishment of the defence budget for commitments that have been made, and that clearly impacts upon defence decision making. So how that is addressed, there could be different ways. To contemplate that separate line item, commitments to replenish, whatever approaches are taken. But when the government says they are relying on defence advice for the decisions they’re making, they are clearly putting an imposition on defence by tying their hands behind their backs when they’re giving that advice. If defence knows it’s coming out of Australia’s defence capabilities with no replenishment commitments. Thanks guys.