• Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Medevac Repeal Bill; climate change.
02 December 2019

Laura Jayes: Let’s return to Canberra for a moment. It is the last sitting week of Parliament for this year. Joining me is the Trade Minister, Simon Birmingham. Thank you for your time. Medevac will be put to a vote this week, we just had that confirmed by Mathias Cormann. Does that mean that you have secured a deal with Jacqui Lambie or you’re close?

Simon Birmingham: Laura, you’ll forgive me for not seeking to predict everything that will happen on the floor of the Senate chamber, and certainly also for not going into the detail of negotiations or discussions with individual Senate cross-benchers. So yeah, we think that repealing the medevac law stands on its merits. It’s an unnecessary piece of legislation because there already were and would still continue to be the powers for the government of the day, based on medical advice, to transfer detainees to Australia, but with the government of the day having firm control of those matters.

The problem with the medevac law is it weakens the control of the government of the day, and what we’ve seen is that of the 160 plus transferees to date, only around five of them are actually in hospital and that really does question the relative.

Laura Jayes: Are you prepared to put this to a vote and lose?

Simon Birmingham: Laura, we’re proceeding with the legislation in the Senate. How the Senate ultimately votes is a matter for the 76 Senators on the floor of the Senate chamber. So, losing is always a chance …

Laura Jayes: Sure. But why would you do that? What would be the consequence of that? Is it, you know, taking a more principled stance?

Simon Birmingham: Our principles are clear. Governments will lose votes on the Senate floor, governments nearly always have and always will and that’s just the nature of the way our bicameral Parliament is built and the fact that governments of the day virtually never have a majority on the floor of the Senate.

Laura Jayes: Okay.

Simon Birmingham: So we just have to work through that reality and work as hard as we can to do what we believe is right in the best interests of securing the nation, in the best interests of protecting our borders. We have been consistent all along, this legislation is unnecessary. It’s legislation that weakens the control.

Laura Jayes: Jacqui Lambie has put solution A and B to the Government and that’s about the extent of the information we have at the moment. Do you know what those options are?

Simon Birmingham: Even if I had those details, I’m not going to play them out on air. As I said nothing is gained for the …

Laura Jayes: No sure, I’m not asking that. But who knows? Who knows what the options are?

Simon Birmingham: … nothing is gained, nothing is …

Laura Jayes: Does the Prime Minister? Does the Home Affairs Minister? Does the senior team in the Government?

Simon Birmingham: No.

Laura Jayes: Do all the Liberal back-benchers know?

Simon Birmingham: Well I don’t have a list of who knows. And of course Jacqui is having her discussions principally and primarily, as you should, with the portfolio minister, Minister Dutton. That’s the way these things normally and generally work and that’s the way that we handle it, dealing respectfully in an engaging way direct with the Senate cross-benchers. And if they’re- if they’re …

Laura Jayes: So when this comes before a vote, Senator, will you know what you’re voting for?

Simon Birmingham: Yes, but- if their requests align with the interests and values of the Government and the policy, well then of course we work through sensible requests. If they don’t, then we don’t agree to them and we move on to other scenarios and options. That’s the way I’m sure any of your viewers would expect it to play.

Laura Jayes: Right. So you don’t know now but you will know by the time you get to a vote, and you’d expect everyone in that chamber will know what they’re voting for?

Simon Birmingham: People in that chamber will be voting in relation to the Medevac Repeal Bill, that’s the legislation that’s on the chamber. And I would say to Senator Lambie or any of the other senate cross-benchers, or indeed to the Labor Party – and the Labor Party are the ones who created this mess and this circumstance – they ought to reconsider their position. You know, they’re hopelessly divided when it comes to temporary visas, they’re hopelessly divided when it comes to the way in which they handle border protection policies and that’s why they ought to really reconsider their position on this. It’s now been in place for a period of time, only five of them are in hospital. It’s a clear demonstration that some are using this system Labor put in place with the Greens and others to be able to get around the type of protections our legislation should have.

Laura Jayes: But if there is a quid pro quo here and there’s a national security matters in which Jacqui Lambie has discussed with the Government, will everyone voting in that chamber, the Labor Party, the Greens, your side of Government included, will they have all the available information to them, whether contained in the bill or without?

Simon Birmingham: Well, the bill is a transparent piece of legislation and that is what people and …

Laura Jayes: I know. But there’s a quid pro quo here that we don’t know about yet.

Simon Birmingham: No. The bill is what people are being asked to vote upon and they should vote for the bill based on the merits of that bill. That’s what we would expect any individual Senator to think about, that’s what we urge everyone on the crossbench, in the Labor Party for the integrity and the strength of our border protection policies.

Laura Jayes: So the calls from Labor to have these national security matters that we don’t know about yet, to have that discussed with them on a bipartisan basis, that is essentially rejected?

Simon Birmingham: If Labor want to talk about the repeal of the medevac laws, we would welcome them to the table, but I’m not seeing any sign from the Labor Party that they are waking up to their error and their mistake in passing these laws with the Greens and others as part of a pre-election stunt in the first place. Now, it was a pre-election stunt. Good luck to the Labor Party. They got away with their stunt, it backfired and they lost the election and they ought to go back actually and have a look at the failures and recognise that the lack of consistency and cohesion in Labor ranks on border security is one of the things and one of the reasons why Australians just don’t trust them on these matters.

Laura Jayes: Just a few quick things. Malcolm Turnbull has called on the Liberals to be loud Australians when it comes- or moderate Liberals to be loud Australians when it comes to climate change. Does he reflect the sentiments of some Liberal moderates?

Simon Birmingham: Well I think what we need to do is absolutely firmly deliver upon our emissions reduction targets and that’s precisely what our Government is doing. And we ought to shout our commitment and our achievements in relation to our emission reductions from the rooftops because we’ve had great success as a country meeting and exceeding our targets in the first Kyoto commitment period. We will meet and exceed our targets in the second Kyoto commitment period and we’ve outlined clear and detailed policy measures to meet our Paris targets out to 2030.

And so- and when you look at the different periods of climate change reductions, Australia has done well in terms of meeting the commitments we’ve made, exceeding those commitments and we ought to be proud of that. And as a Government, we ought to be proud of the climate solutions policies that we have outlined and took to the last election of our extra investment into the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the new national hydrogen strategy, the investment in terms of continued work around Snowy 2.0 and the Battery of the Nation project in Tasmania, all of which are quite transformative measures.

Laura Jayes: And do you have a problem with Nick Xenophon working for Huawei just quickly?

Simon Birmingham: Well I only just saw that before I walked into the studio. Look, Nick is a private citizen and I’m unaware of the nature of the work that he’s undertaking, but I’ll be interested to hear what his continuing colleagues who are elected alongside of him think about that.

Laura Jayes: Strategic council apparently, crucial assistance as they seek to defend themselves against malicious attacks. Sounds ominous.

Simon Birmingham: Well as I say, it’s a- it’s for Nick to explain the nature of his work. He has Parliamentary colleagues still serving in this Parliament, in the South Australian Parliament. So what they make of it we’ll see. But the Government’s policy in terms of clear protections for critical infrastructure, including emerging technologies, are clearly developed. They’re not applied- targeted at any one country or any one company. They’re about protecting Australian infrastructure, including telecommunications, into the future.

Laura Jayes: Okay. Senator, thanks for your time.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks very much, Laura.