Topics: Albanese Government risk national security again; Tech giants on notice; Paul Keating meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister; Supermarket divestiture proposal; SA Liberal Party;

07:55AM AEDT
19 March 2024



Simon Birmingham: Quite remarkable stories today that the Albanese Government has changed the composition of the way in which the National Security Committee of cabinet works and doesn’t have the heads of Australia’s domestic and external intelligence agencies present. ASIO and ASIS have long been regular attenders at NSC meetings and in doing so, I can speak from personal experience, that they provide valuable insight into discussions and, of course, deep knowledge and intelligence understanding. It’s never possible in these types of discussions. It’s never possible in NSC discussions to pre-empt every direction that a conversation may go in. And that’s why having them at the table is valuable. To ensure that the intelligence and analysis is available when it’s needed to inform the decisions and thinking of ministers around the table. To only have them on an as invited basis, reduces the capacity of these agencies to be able to give the critical advice that is necessary. If these reports are true and the Albanese Government should be up front about who is or is not invited on a routine basis to its NSC meetings, then the Albanese Government should reverse this decision because it’s important that ministers get the best intelligence advice at the time they need it when they’re making decisions about critical defence and intelligence matters.


Journalist: Just on the federal government putting tech giants on notice, asking them how they’ll act against terror material. Do you think enough is being done in that space?


Simon Birmingham: It’s critical that we continually move to update and ensure we have the strongest possible laws and enforcement approaches to protect Australians against material online that could be harmful to young people and to others, can incite violence, and can erode our community and our unity as a country. We recognise the challenges posed by the growth in social media platforms and the tech giants by establishing the eSafety Commissioner a number of years ago. We put in place different legislative frameworks to give the eSafety Commissioner powers to be able to tackle inappropriate content. We expect to see the Albanese Government use those powers to the maximum extent and in an ever-evolving landscape of technology, update and build on them wherever necessary.


Journalist: The government says that there’s nothing to see here, and that it’s normal practice for Paul Keating to be meeting with China’s foreign minister. Do you agree?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Australia is a free country, and in a free country like Australia, of course, people are able to meet with others and people of dissenting opinions. And many will note that’s not the case in other nations, including countries like China. However, I think we have to be clear here that Paul Keating has been a very loud critic of Penny Wong and the Albanese Government, and it is quite pointed and somewhat insulting for the Chinese embassy to have sought a meeting with such a loud critic of Penny Wong and the Albanese Government.


Journalist: Is it helpful?


Simon Birmingham: I don’t see much that is helpful by way of Mr. Keating meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. We very much welcome the foreign minister to Australia. China’s decision to cease dialogue with Australia and Australian ministers was counterproductive at the time, and it’s important that we have the opportunity to resume that dialogue and to be able to work through points of difference and to stand up directly for Australian values and interests. Paul Keating has shown that he’s less interested, it seems, in standing up for Australian values and interests than criticising the Labor government of the day and any government of the day, and I don’t see how it can be in Australia’s interests for a former prime minister to be such a vocal critic of Australia’s foreign policy and approach.


Journalist: You mentioned that you think it’s insulting. What do you think China wants out of the meeting with Mr. Keating?


Simon Birmingham: Well, that’s for China to be clear as to what they hope to gain from from the meeting. It’s notable that this appears to be the only former prime minister that China is seeking to engage with, and they’ve chosen a former prime minister who is a loud and vocal critic of Penny Wong and the Albanese Government.


Journalist: The Nationals are supporting a Greens push for greater divestiture powers against the supermarkets. Is this something that the Liberals will also get behind?


Simon Birmingham: Well, conceptually, I’m not against divestiture powers. They play a role in major economies around the world. The detail of it is something that I would want to have a close look at. So important that we have strong businesses in Australia and that those strong businesses operate ethically and that they operate with regard for their suppliers and consumers, but also that they return profits to superannuation funds and investors that ensure their viability and the strength of our economy. All of those factors need to be considered carefully.


Journalist: Senator Jane Hume yesterday said it was a mistake for the South Australian Liberal Party to lay out their Senate ticket, as they did. Do you agree with her, and is there a problem with women in the South Australian Liberal Party?


Simon Birmingham: Well, the thing about democratic processes is you don’t always get to like the outcome. I was and am a strong supporter of Anne Ruston. She is a dear friend, but more importantly than that, a highly effective former cabinet minister, current senior frontbencher, leader in our Senate team of Opposition Business in the Senate. And I know that she will and continues to have a big role to play and that she will keep doing so for years to come. Thanks guys.