Topics:  ICC warrant application; Chinese military exercises around Taiwan; AUKUS;

09:20AM AEST
24 May 2024




Holly Stearnes:  Well, Scott Morrison has weighed in on the International Criminal Court’s decision to seek arrest warrants for both Hamas and Israeli leaders, including Benjamin Netanyahu. Now, the former prime minister took to X to say that the ICC has surrendered its legitimacy in creating a moral equivalence between terrorists and a nation. Joining me live is Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Birmingham. Simon Birmingham, thank you for your time this morning. What do you think about these comments made by former Prime Minister Scott Morrison?


Simon Birmingham: Well, I totally understand the comments and the remarks. The reality is that the International Criminal Court made the decision to have their prosecutor make the request for these warrants, simultaneously creating some type of impression of equivalence where there is no equivalence between the terrorist organisation of Hamas, who deliberately set out to kill as many Jewish people in Israel as they could on October 7th last year, deliberately slaughtered, raped, kidnapped babies, children, women, young people at a music festival and others. Who’ve said they want to do that again and again, and who are committed to the destruction of the state of Israel.

Versus the democratically elected government of Israel, who has a legitimate right to self-defence in the face of such terror from Hamas, and who has been exercising that in difficult circumstances. And there’s no doubt that there are terrible tragedies of innocent lives lost in this war all around. But there is no moral equivalence between Hamas and the legitimate government of Israel. And the fact that the ICC has created that impression has brought great shame upon that organisation and the type of comments are genuinely made by Mr. Morrison.


Holly Stearnes: Well, Anthony Albanese, I mean, has pointed blame for the ICC warrant decision back at the Howard government for signing up to the courts in the first place. The Coalition thinks the ICC made the wrong decision on Israeli officials. Does the PM have a point, do you think?


Simon Birmingham: Well, what is the Prime Minister’s point? I mean, Australia, sadly, has got a Prime Minister bereft of being able to make a clear position on this. Is when he makes that point Anthony Albanese saying that it was a mistake for Australia to have signed on and joined the ICC? Is that the point Anthony Albanese is making? Is he suggesting that he and his government would withdraw? If that’s what he’s suggesting, then he should say so. Equally, if he is defending the ICC action and suggesting that his Government would arrest Benjamin Netanyahu or others were they had come to Australia, if it got to that stage in these proceedings, then he should say so. Anthony Albanese, however, started out completely unwilling to comment on this at all, using the defence of saying he doesn’t comment on court proceedings in the very same press conference where he was happy to talk about Julian Assange and his court proceedings. So he was, in a wilful way, being absolutely inconsistent in his remarks. Since then, the types of arguments he’s made have just been lacking in any type of clarity, consistency or legitimacy.


Holly Stearnes: I mean, it’s been flagged that Australia should withdraw its membership from the ICC. Do you support these comments?


Simon Birmingham: I can understand why people are suggesting that. Now, there is obviously another stage to go before we get to the point where proceedings move into territory that would be deeply, deeply concerning. We obviously reject the type of moral equivalence the ICC has sought to draw already. But let’s see what this next stage does bring in terms of decisions that may or may not have to be made about future engagement with the ICC.


Holly Stearnes: I mean, there’s so much to talk about and unravel there, but I also want to get your thoughts on some other top news today. China has carried out live fire exercises around Taiwan. This is just days, of course, after the inauguration of the new Taiwanese President. It’s a move that many predicted, right. You’ve criticised China’s actions. Will China listen to calls for restraint here?


Simon Birmingham: This is deliberately dangerous action by China. It is action that risks miscalculation and risks escalation. Those risks should never be underestimated and it’s why China should not be undertaking this type of dangerous and destabilising activity in the first place. We would urge them to show respect for the democratic outcomes in Taiwan, a willingness to engage and to work across the Taiwan Strait, and in doing so, to preserve peace, stability and security in our region, rather than to escalate military activities in these ways that can create very dangerous circumstances and risk those dangerous circumstances, either through accident or otherwise escalating in ways that would be terrible for the people in Taiwan and indeed for people right across the region. In terms of the consequences, if things were to go wrong from these types of quite unnecessary actions that the Chinese government has initiated.


Holly Stearnes: Do you think Australian troops would be required to assist in the AUKUS alliance if conflict did escalate in the region? Who exactly makes that call? There’s been mixed messaging around this.


Simon Birmingham: Ultimately, any decision to deploy Australian troops is one for the Australian government of the day, and there will be and would be many factors that would have to be considered in any such deployment. We all would wish that it not come to that. And that’s why creating effective deterrence is so critical. So, AUKUS and effective investment in our defence forces is all about building that deterrence framework with our allies and partners. Not just the United States and the United Kingdom through AUKUS, but so far as possible, right across the region. The work of the Quad and bringing in Japan and India, and the work of other defence partnerships and alliances, all of them very crucial to ensure we have a strong framework that tries to deter military conflict from happening and give diplomacy the scope to be able to do its job. That is why it’s so concerning to see the Albanese Government not showing the type of pace of investment in defence that is necessary, not building the capacity of our defence forces, including the numbers of personnel, to the rates that have been promised. These failures don’t help to create the deterrence framework that we want to see, but we do need to see that succeed, because that is the best way to avoid conflict and to avoid those types of decisions or questions that you asked.


Holly Stearnes: Okay, Simon Birmingham, we do have to leave things there. Thanks for your time this morning.


Simon Birmingham: Thank you. My pleasure.