Interview on Breakfast, ABC Radio Adelaide with David Bevan and Ali Clarke.
Topics: Boris Johnson; Brexit; Foreign Fighters Legislation;
Ali Clarke: Joining us now is Simon Birmingham, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment. Hello.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning Ali.
Ali Clarke: Mark Butler, Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Labor Member for Hindmarsh, good morning to you.
Mark Butler: Morning everyone.
Ali Clarke: And we have the independent Senator for South Australia, Cory Bernardi. Look here for Super Wednesday or auditioning to replace the people on MasterChef, just a thought. No?
Cory Bernardi: Well Ali I could team up with you. What do you reckon? You can cook, I’ll comment.
David Bevan: Well all morning we’ve been receiving calls from people saying that they were upset at being woken up by robo calls. Now we’ve yet to work out who’s responsible for these although they are asking questions such as, how do you think the South Australian economy is going. And one listener who persisted right to the end said it was endorsed by the South Australian Government, something that the Marshall Government denies. Simon Birmingham, what is the point of the robo calls? Don’t they just annoy people.
Simon Birmingham: Well David robo calls are made, well the main purpose is to survey and gather information and understand people’s opinions and views. That purpose is supplied by a range of different entities.
David Bevan: You think they’re a waste of time though, just annoy people?
Simon Birmingham: No David, they’re used to get a better understanding of people’s views, opinions and to gather information it’s part of modern technology and practice. Now in relation to these ones this morning after I heard some of your coverage this morning I got in touch with the Liberal Party State Director to query what was happening and I understand a statement has just recently gone out acknowledging that there was a technical error. The calls that were meant to go to some suburbs yesterday evening went out this morning and that the state director has issued a public apology for any inconvenience or annoyance.
Ali Clarke: Actually. I do have that statement, this just been handed to me. It does say the South Australian Liberal Party apologises for some early morning telephone surveys that went out in error. State Director Sasha Meldrum said survey calls were made across a number of suburbs which were in fact scheduled to go out last night, but due to a technical error went out between 6:15 and 7:15 this morning. The quote is, I sincerely apologise for any inconvenience or annoyance caused by these early morning survey calls to households.
David Bevan: Okay, so sorry, somebody pressed the wrong button. On a bigger issue, Boris Johnson is now the Prime Minister of the UK. Given that Donald Trump and Boris Johnson are now leading our two longest and strongest allies, is Scott Morrison actually the best person for the job? I mean he’d be a lot more comfortable with these two men than Bill Shorten or Penny Wong. Your thoughts, Cory Bernardi?
Cory Bernardi: Of course I think Scott Morrison’s a better alternative than the Labor Government, there’s no doubt about that. In reality international diplomacy is one of the hallmarks of leadership and Scott Morrison has proved himself adept at that. He’s respected by Donald Trump. I’m sure he’ll get along well with Boris Johnson as well. And together you know, we might not agree with everything that’s going on but together Australia will be very well represented on the world stage.
David Bevan: Mark Butler, Scott Morrison is going to feel a lot more comfortable with Donald Trump and Boris Johnson than Bill Shorten would have?
Mark Butler: Well I mean I think the strength of our relationships over time – of our relationship with the US and the UK over many decades – lies in the fact that it doesn’t really matter what party the US President, the UK Prime Minister or the Australian Prime Minister for that matter comes from. The relationship is much deeper than that. And I think whether it’s Bill Shorten or Scott Morrison or any of the other figures you’ve talked about, once you get into the international arena you focus very much on the national interests.
Ali Clarke: So if you…
Mark Butler: Bob Hawke for example got on famously with Ronald Reagan. They were from different political ends of the spectrum and they were pursuing very different economic policies in their country but they still recognise national interest of both countries was way beyond party politics.
Ali Clarke: So you’re as comfortable with this triangle of Trump, Johnson and Morrison as you would have any other leaders?
Mark Butler: Well I’ve got to vote about Scott Morrison and it won’t be a surprise to your listeners, I voted strongly against him. But I don’t get a vote in the British prime ministership or the US presidency, our job as major political parties in particular – so for Simon and me in particular – our job is to be very clear that we’ll work with whomever the British and the American people and the people of any other country for that matter choose as their leader.
David Bevan: Simon Birmingham, do you welcome Boris Johnson’s ascension?
Simon Birmingham: Well I congratulate Boris Johnson on his election as leader of the Conservative Party in the UK and his pending appointment now as Prime Minister. I look forward to working with him and his government as trade minister. He has much to get on with his ambition of realising Brexit is achieved, then Australia stands ready to move as swiftly as the UK are able to finalise a trade agreement between Australia in the United Kingdom that we hope would restore much of the market access that Australia lost many, many years ago as part of the UK’s entry into the European Common Market at the time. And we want to make sure that we enhance trade and investment ties between Australia and the UK. We’ve been working to be prepared for that under Prime Minister May and I want to acknowledge her service and her enormous efforts to try to resolve some of their complex domestic policy challenges. But we’ll now get on with working with the new Prime Minister and whoever he appoints as his ministers to make sure that the Australia-UK relationship yields the maximum possible benefits for the people to both our nations.
Ali Clarke: Given 31 October is the date for the Brexit as such, just in working terms Simon Birmingham, how long or how soon will we actually see a tangible difference or this tangible change to this agreement?
Simon Birmingham: We have seen a couple of Brexit dates come and go. And now Mr Johnson as the incoming Prime Minister has been very clear he doesn’t want to see any movement from that 31 October date.The UK, technically, is not able to negotiate new trade agreements with other countries until they actually terminate their Customs Union with the European Union. So, in that sense, they can’t formalise negotiations with us until after 31 October if that’s the date of departure. But we would move as swiftly as we can. We already put in place a trade working group between Australia and the UK to explore possibilities and that will put us in a position where if the UK wanted to get the deal done in a period of months, maybe even weeks, well we would be willing to move as swiftly as they were able to. Australia has plenty of experience, having struck trade agreements bilaterally with big countries like China and Japan and the US and across multilateral partners such as through the Trans-Pacific Partnership. So, we could help them get a deal done – a good deal that hopefully ensures the free a flow of Australian agricultural products and business products into the UK, investment and trade in both directions.
David Bevan: Simon Birmingham, the foreign fighters legislation, I think it’s passed the Lower House now. It’ll head up your chamber, the Senate. Can you explain what exactly is the Government trying to achieve here, with these people- Australians who are being held in refugee camps in the Middle East?
Simon Birmingham: Our ambition is to provide the maximum possible protection to Australians, the safety of Australians, from the threat of terrorist incidents or domestic disruption here in Australia. And so, with those who chose to leave Australia to go and fight in foreign wars with groups- like terrorist organisations like ISIL, what we want to do is make sure that we deal as best we can in terms of those foreign terrorist fighters as far from our shores, as far from the risk of any violence occurring in Australia as is possible, and what the bill provides for is that a temporary exclusion order prohibiting an Australian of counter-terrorism interest from returning to Australia for up to two years. And so, that would provide a two-year window. It would be a decision made by the Minister for Home Affairs based on the advice and analysis of the risk that that person of counterterrorism interest poses, but under the types of amendments and so on that are being considered, that would also be subject to judicial overview.
Ali Clarke: Cory Bernardi.
Cory Bernardi: Well, I actually will back the Government on this 100 per cent. I think it’s very important for all Australians. And quite frankly, I think that if someone goes to fight with Australia’s enemies against the West’s interests and our national interests, the exclusion order could be much broader than that. I don’t want a –
David Bevan: [Interrupts] What if they had no choice? What if we’re talking about mothers and children?
Cory Bernardi: Yeah. This is where it becomes a little bit more difficult and of course, the Government has made some decisions to repatriate some mothers- or women and children. I personally don’t agree with those decisions. I think it’s a very tough call. But ultimately, I think what people have been exposed to internationally in these sorts of theaters is so gruesome, it’s so hideous and so brainwashing that they really- they forfeit their rights to Australian protection.
Ali Clarke: So you’ll leave them there.
David Bevan: What? So you’d never let them back here?
Cory Bernardi: Yeah. This is one of the challenges. I don’t think it’s in our national interest to repatriate them. I understand the Government has made different decisions and so people will have different views on this. But when a child has been exposed, at the parental behest, to beheadings and various other atrocities, I don’t think it’s Australia’s responsibility to raise that child and to rehabilitate them.
David Bevan: Mark Butler, would you leave them there forever?
Mark Butler: No. These are children and these are Australian citizens so obviously, it’s not that simple and neither of the major parties have taken that view. We’ve been in pretty strong agreement with the Government that there needs to be a temporary exclusion order regime in Australia. The UK, for example, has had one in place since 2015 and as we have with a whole range of other pieces of national security legislation, over the past little while, there was a joint parliamentary committee chaired by Andrew Hastie – a number of Labor members on it as well; a committee that’s worked very well, very cooperatively and constructively over recent years –consider this legislation, made a series of recommendations that were made on a unanimous basis. So, we think those recommendations should be picked up. We’ve made it very clear that we support the legislation in principle. We support this regime being introduced. But for example, one of the recommendations was that the orders should be made by a judge, as happens in the UK. Peter Dutton wants to make the orders himself rather than have a judicial officer make that. Those are amendments we’ll continue to press in the Senate when the debate comes up, I think, over the course of today. But we’re being clear that we support the need to make sure that people who do go overseas, engage in terrorism-related activity and want to return home can be subject to temporary exclusion orders while our security agencies work out a way to keep the Australian people safe.
David Bevan: But if they’re going to be brought back here eventually, this is eventually where they’re going to end up, wouldn’t it make sense to get them back here as soon as possible so that we can, for want of a better word, start the re-education?
Mark Butler: Well, these are matters we take advice from our security agencies about. We don’t support, I don’t think the Government supports permanent exclusion, I mean, particularly when you’re talking about children. I mean, the vast bulk of the people who are in the queue, if you like, to come back, as we understand it from the Department, are children and women. We don’t support the permanent exclusion obviously of Australian citizens, that’s sort of impracticable. But we do need to take account of security agency advice about ways in which they can be brought back into the country safely.
Ali Clarke: Well, Mark-
Simon Birmingham: Well, Ali, if I can just say in relation to this, it’s important for the listeners to understand that this is not mandatory; that this is about a case by case analysis. So the Government has chosen to bring some children back to Australia and it’s working through that process. Equally, this provides powers where we think there is a higher risk to make sure that we deal with those cases offshore to keep Australians safe and that’s the policy rationale behind it. It gives us flexibility. It has judicial oversight. And as for the Labor Party, look, I acknowledge that they voted for it in the end, but it was a pretty grudging process. The Labor Party tried to make 41-
Mark Butler: [Interrupts] We supported the unanimous committee position that was chaired by your people, Simon.
Simon Birmingham: Your guys tried to make 41 amendments in the House of Representatives; claims that it was unconstitutional, and were dragged kicking and screaming to supporting this just like you were at tax cuts.
Ali Clarke: Okay. Look, Simon Birmingham, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Mark Butler, Shadow Minister for Climate Change and our Labor member for Hindmarsh, and Cory Bernardi, Independent Senator for South Australia, thank you all for your time.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you.
Cory Bernardi: Thank you.