Wednesday, 1 November 2023

Prof. Peter Dean: Thank you so much, Senator, for that. Mike, please take note next time we need a fire for the fire side chat. Great broad ranging speech. I particularly love any speech that uses the phrase forlorn hope. I think we all we can all look forward to, hopefully, a strategic surprise like your government pulled off with AUKUS, which would be bringing the United States back in the TPP. As much as that might be a forlorn hope. In your speech, you’re really broad ranging about liberal democracy, about market economics, about innovation. You mentioned the DSR, you mentioned deterrence. And I also want to draw on the fact that you were previously Minister for Education and Training. And one of the things that pulls all of those things together is AUKUS. And I’m thinking here, particularly pillar two of AUKUS. So pillar one, we all have spoken, I think ad nauseum about submarines and pillar two on that innovation piece that you’ve got to particular on those areas of hyper sonics or research and development of cyber, of quantum, etcetera, etcetera. I think are really important. So I want to get your sense of what do you think in terms of that second pillar of AUKUS? The real opportunities are for Australian research and development, for the Australian defence industry, and for sort of collaboration across that realm in relation to pillar two.


Simon Birmingham: Well, thanks, Peter. I think firstly, the two are actually deeply related for particularly in Australian perspective, to step up and meet the challenge of building nuclear-powered submarines requires the type of advancement in our industrial capability, as well as capacities around skills training and research and development that aligns very much with where we equally want to see that occur. In terms of the pillar two realms, be it across artificial intelligence or the range of other prospects that can be pursued. And it’s where the point that I made in the speech about our expectations for the US is essential to make that clear as to how we operationalise AUKUS for export trade, industry, hardware and how that flows. If we end up in a situation where piecemeal liberation occurs or piecemeal liberalisation occurs in terms of the flow of goods and trade in exports, the flow of people, then we won’t be able to maximise those benefits. And particularly one of the real challenges there, I think, is, yes, a lot of focus around how ITAR’s are changed and how that relates to particular export controls. But we also need to look deeply at that movement of people and the integration there. That would be so essential for our universities and research institutions being at the cutting edge of breakthroughs in these technologies. And that is what will continue to give us the edge. We have the edge. China may have the largest military in the world, but nobody denies the US continuing to have the most capable military in the world and that’s because of the technological edge and sophistication that exists there. Keeping that within the alliance is critical, and Australia wants to make sure we can play a role in that.


Prof. Peter Dean: So, on that. So one of the great things I like about AUKUS as a, as a real defence boffin and nerd, it’s brought two things really to the fore. It’s made much more public knowledge about what snorting is when it comes to submarines and conventional submarines, and why that’s not as good as a nuclear-powered submarine. But it also has brought ITAR. Not, I wouldn’t say into a household phrase yet, but certainly amongst the broader foreign policy and defence community, people are much more interested in ITAR regulations. And that was a key feature, obviously, of the PM’s recent trip to Washington. Can I get your take on what your thoughts of how you think the PM’s trip went? Do you think it’s really pushing that agenda forward that you were talking about? And I suppose where you think that whole ITAR debate within the US political system sits?


Simon Birmingham: Look, I was on the whole, encouraged in the sense that trip occurred at what was obviously, in congressional terms, an awkward time, to put it politely. But nonetheless, it did seem as if the opportunities were seized to try to push hard in terms of getting real progress. And in the meetings and engagements I’ve had with Ambassador Rudd, it’s been pretty clear that he has ambition for the scale of what needs to pass through the Congress. And so if that is being relayed comprehensively into the US system, then really it does fall back onto the US as to how they, the Congress in particular, see the scope and roll of AUKUS. And if it’s a narrow scope, then that is going to be to the detriment of all of us, because the trust that exists in this relationship is unparalleled already. And there are responsibilities for Australia in terms of making sure that as we want, as seamless as possible, a flow of intellectual property, of exports and trade, of people and personnel, of technology and hardware, that also has to be as secure as possible. So there’s the onus on us to make sure that the US system has confidence in our security. But if we can give that confidence, then there should be no barriers at all to the US providing a fully open exchange across all of those platforms.


Prof. Peter Dean: Just to stay on the PM for a moment. He is racking up the frequent flyer miles at the moment, although I’m not sure the RAAF actually hands out frequent flyer cards. He’s off to China later this week. You’ve previously stated we’ve now seen many discussions happen between the new Albanese Government and China, and now is a time when we hope to see outcomes from that dialogue and critical outcomes that Australians would want to see. So can I get your take on before he goes? What would success look like for you? What what would really you think, see would advance Australia’s national interest in the bilateral relationship with China for this visit?


Simon Birmingham: Peter, credit where it’s due stabilisation has seen some successes to date in terms of the removal of some of the trade sanctions and of course, the return to Australia of Cheng Lei, which is incredibly welcome. When I made the remarks, is an important one though, we shouldn’t be showing enormous gratitude for the removal of trade sanctions that should never have been imposed in the first place. We shouldn’t be thankful that the economic coercion is coming to an end. We obviously should expect that it ends and that it ends faster. We are already engaged in a trade off of sorts with China over these areas of trade sanctions. The review into Bali is only initiated on the precondition that we suspended our WTO challenge, and only happened after the initial findings of the WTO had been provided to both parties. Lo and behold, the same approach is applying in relation to wine. The review into wine has only been agreed to by China on the agreement, and proviso that we suspend those WTO actions, and after both parties have received the initial findings. What does anybody think those findings show? Clearly that China is in breach of WTO rules, in breach of the free trade agreement, and they don’t want the embarrassment of the independent umpire making clear those findings. Now it’s still in Australia’s economic interests and those of our businesses. And as a South Australian, I in particular want to see the tariffs on wine lifted. So it’s still in our interest to strike that agreement because the WTO process could go on for years, if not indefinitely. And so getting an outcome is better than no outcome at all in terms of lifting them. But we should equally be clear, and the PM should be clear that he expects to see those tariffs lifted and other sanctions removed, and that a five month wait is not acceptable. We should be clear in relation to Dr. Yang Hengjun, and we see from the release today by his family of information, the harsh conditions he’s in. Let’s remember, this is an indefinite detention. His sentencing hearing continues to be delayed and has been again until at least January next year. And without transparency around the nature of the charges that have been laid against him, we can but call it an arbitrary detention. So, Australian experts have maintain a strong stand against that type of arbitrary and indefinite detention of an Australian citizen and expect the release there. But of course, there are beyond those challenges in the bilateral relationship, the need to try to pursue cooperation where we can, particularly in areas of tackling climate change, where if China doesn’t act, then the rest of the world sees real challenges flow to all of us.

But also, we need to front up to the regional and global challenges that should be addressed in a forthright way with China. So the PM heading to Beijing should be expecting to have a challenging, if not difficult, meeting on the bilateral grievances that Australia continues to have on the regional challenges we continue to face, and most recently, those actions involving Chinese interceptions of Philippines vessels do present not only a real risk in terms of escalation, but are a clear breach of previous unclosed findings in relation to rights in the South China Sea. The PM needs to be forthright and upfront about addressing those types of challenges and grievances. Australia’s own head of ASIO recently highlighted the challenges in relation to continued cyber interference, theft of intellectual property and again, forthright identification of those problems and our expectations of China need to form part of the PM’s agenda, as well as the expectations Australia would have in a values sense, to be raising issues around, of course, human rights violations and the judicial concerns that we would have that have only continued to be challenged over time in regions like Xinjiang and Tibet.


Prof. Peter Dean: So thank you very much, Senator. It’s been a fantastic and very broad ranging coverage, on really the key issues that we’re facing in Indo-Pacific.