Interview on Sky News Live, AM Agenda with Laura Jayes

Topics:  Australia-China relationship; Australians in India; Climate Conference; George Christensen


Laura Jayes: Live now to the finance minister, Simon Birmingham, he joins us live from Adelaide. Thanks so much for your time. Are we just bracing for impact now from China in retaliation?


Simon Birmingham: Well no, Laura, we shouldn’t be. And indeed, Australia respects the sovereignty of all nations across our region and China ought to do likewise, and that includes respecting Australia’s sovereignty in that regard, acknowledging the fact that Australia remains a country determined and committed to ensuring that we will engage respectfully, openly with other nations, but always stand up for our own sovereignty, our own principles, our own values, our businesses, our people remain free to trade, free to engage. We haven’t put, as James Patterson said in the intro piece, any restrictions in place from an Australian perspective, and nor ought there be any from a Chinese perspective. And that should include stepping back on those that were unfairly imposed over the course of the last year.


Laura Jayes: If I could change tack now to talk about Australians in India, is the government abandoning Australians still stuck their.


Simon Birmingham: No, we’re not, but we are continuing to take a cautious approach when it comes to international arrivals into Australia. The simple truth of the situation is the decisions we took at the start of last year to be able to close Australia’s borders and in doing so, to stop the flow of COVID into Australia from overseas was perhaps the singular, most important decision to protect the health of Australians, the wellbeing of Australians, and then ultimately the Australian economy over the course of the last 12 months. And we continue to see that the main threat of the entry of COVID into Australia comes from international arrivals. And by working with the states and territories to have the safest possible medi hotel arrangements, the safest possible quarantine arrangements, that does also mean responding to threats. And when we see them elevating in terms of the number of cases in those medi hotels, we responded in relation to Papua New Guinea not that long ago. We’re not responding in relation to India by slowing some of the arrival numbers as we monitor the changed circumstances.


Laura Jayes: If you are an Australian in India at the moment and you get COVID, it’s a very concerning situation, what do you suggest they do? There’s already so many concerns about India’s health system. Is there any kind of extra support for Australians over there?


Simon Birmingham: If they have not already registered with the Australian High Commission in India to do so, obviously we have been helping many thousands of people through the course of the last year. To successfully repatriate from India to provide advice in relation to other individual circumstances, to provide financial support and assistance in a number of circumstances. And we’ll continue to do that and to provide that advice and that assistance where we can and where it’s necessary and the best way that people can seek assistance to engage with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to make sure they register the High Commission. And then, of course, on a case by case basis, assessment can be made.


Laura Jayes: Let’s look at the climate conference now. It was last night virtually. That is the new world order, of course. How do you think no target thing went down with Biden and Boris?


Simon Birmingham: I think what we clear last night is that Australia is committed to achieving net zero, but committed to working with other nations on pursuing the agenda of how we achieve net zero, because in the end, the words and promises are one thing, the delivery is a completely different thing. And that is where our investment, our ambition, particularly in the stretch targets in relation to making clean hydrogen affordable, viable, not just for use in Australia, but as an export commodity and for transformation across the globe. They’re the types of step changes that we need to see right around the world. And I think that message was very clear. Our investment is very real and our desire to work with other nations was evident in those comments last night.


Laura Jayes: And will you miss George Christensen when he departs the parliament?


Simon Birmingham: So, George and I, I think that it would be sad to say I have slightly different perspectives on a number of issues. But equally, I respect the fact that George has been a passionate advocate for his part of the world, Queensland. And when I was tourism minister and trade minister, we worked very closely together on a number of areas of mutual interest.


Laura Jayes: Do you expect him to rough things up a bit on his way out?


Simon Birmingham: Well, George has never been shy on ensuring that his views are known and heard, and I expect he’ll continue to give full advocacy to his constituents right up until election day.


Laura Jayes: Is that a problem or a promise, do you think?


Simon Birmingham: I think it’s a continuity.


Laura Jayes: Ok, Minister Simon Birmingham, thanks for your time.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Laura.