Date: Friday, 25 February 2022

Scott Emerson: The Prime Minister has announced a new round of sanctions aimed at ensuring Russia pays a cost for the terrible violence inflicted on the people of Ukraine amid concerns about the negligible impact of the early rounds of sanctions. Scott Morrison says he is working with NATO to provide non-lethal military equipment and medical supplies to Ukraine. He’s also called for the boycott of all international sports events in Russia this year. Sanctions will also be extended to Belarus, which is a key Russian supporter. Simon Birmingham is the Acting Foreign Affairs Minister and also, of course, the Minister for Finance, and he joins me on the line. Minister, thanks for being on 4BC Drive this afternoon.

Simon Birmingham: Hello, Scott, it’s good to be with you again. But obviously very difficult circumstances much of the world is facing right now

Scott Emerson: Terrible, grim and frightful circumstances coming out of Ukraine, Minister now the new sanctions Australia has announced today. What are they?

Simon Birmingham: So we have continued as a partnership with other countries around the world and extending the sanctions regime against targeted Russian individuals, businesses, financial institutions and companies in the military space. This is now targeting a sweeping range of individuals and financial institutions and businesses. As President Biden has indicated, the sanctions that the US has applied, which freeze assets and limit financial transactions and access to capital, are freezing some trillions of dollars’ worth of Russian assets and cash. Australia is following suit. Of course, the value here is much less given our distance and our smaller trade and investment ties with Russia. But it’s about getting as many countries as possible to act as uniformly as possible to really apply these measures. And we saw that last night, the Russian stock exchange collapsed by some 40 per cent, indicating that these measures are having an effect on the way Russian business and investors perceive the impacts. And of course, what Prime Minister Morrison has done is make clear he wants to see the rest of the world go further, and Australia is willing to go further and encouraging others to go further so that we can have an even stronger impact on Russia

Scott Emerson: On the issue of sanctions there. You say that had impact on the Russian share market, but is it having any impact on Vladimir Putin? There’s warnings about sanctions. If he went into Ukraine, that didn’t seem to sway him at all from going in. He’s invaded Ukraine now. So is someone like Putin going to be changing his attitude, his mind and withdrawing the troops just because of sanctions? Does something more need to be done?

Simon Birmingham: Scott, immediately, you’re right. These measures haven’t deterred Putin from waging war on Ukraine and from invading Ukraine and betraying the people of Ukraine with these attacks. But importantly, what they provide is a means to apply pressure, sustained pressure over a sustained period of time. And if people think back, for example, to the breakdown of apartheid in South Africa, it was a coordinated series of sanctions on investment ties, on trade, on finance, on commerce, on sports and cultural engagement that ultimately brought about change there. And whilst we hope for a faster change of attitude from Russia than was achieved in in relation to that, it’s a demonstration that these sorts of actions, if taken with sufficient scale and intensity, can work. Now what Prime Minister Morrison has called on other leaders to consider today are to target the financial transaction systems that apply globally and to really make it hard for transactions, the likes of which we all undertake on a daily basis in Australia as we go about our shops, shopping and our daily lives to really cripple that system in Russia. If we can by withdrawing access to parts of it, and particularly to those parts that engage in international currency transfers to also the Prime Minister, Morrison has called the international sporting bodies to pull events such as the Formula One Grand Prix from Russia, that we want the Russian people to see the consequences of this in their lives, in their country, and to apply the pressure on their government to change course.

Scott Emerson: You mentioned that that swift financial payment system, but overnight even the European members of NATO could not agree to kick Russia out of that. Does that say something about the willingness of even the European members of NATO to take hard action against Vladimir Putin and Russia?

Simon Birmingham: Well, there is a test for much of the world in the way in which we respond here in our Ukraine, not a member of NATO, and it’s why NATO has not sent troops into the Ukraine in relation to Russia’s invasion. But you are seeing troops re-positioned across those NATO countries to now places like Poland bordering with Ukraine as additional buffer and protection. Given the uncertainty of just how far Putin will go and what he will do. But you know, we from Australia would urge the strongest possible, most comprehensive and consistent reaction from all countries in terms of applying sanctions and disruptions that that will hit Russia hard. We do that because we think it’s the right thing to do in relation to this dispute. We also think it’s important to send that signal to other autocratic regimes, to other dictators, to others who have shown a lack of respect for the sovereignty of other nations and to make sure that they too know that the world will react comprehensively in these situations.

Scott Emerson: Scott Morrison today singled out China in terms of easing its trade restrictions with Russia. What is your message to China as the acting foreign affairs minister?

Simon Birmingham: That China has completely the wrong approach on this, that China is making excuses unacceptably so for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, any acknowledgement as China has done of the suggestion that there are territorial concerns or military concerns about Ukraine are completely wrong. Ukraine has been operating as a peaceful, democratic nation alongside Russia, posing no military or other threat to Russia, and China should join the rest of the world. Firstly, in calling out Russia’s actions for what they are an unlawful invasion of Ukraine and a terrible assault on Ukrainian people in relation to the actions that are being taken. China should join us in applying sanctions and pressure. If China did so, that would have a profound additional impact on the effectiveness of those sanctions. But instead, what we seem to see is that China has applied sanctions over the last couple of years to Australia’s wine and barley industry. But relief over the last couple of days to Russia’s wheat industry. And in doing so, they appear to be both making excuses for Russia’s action and in part facilitating or underpinning it by giving economic relief. And that is completely unacceptable.

Scott Emerson: Simon Birmingham, thanks for being on the show.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you Scott, my pleasure.