Topics:  Japan cooperation for AUKUS; Importance of Quad; Israel-Hamas conflict; Supermarket divestiture proposal;  

07:48AM AEDT
9 April 2024


Peter Stefanovic:  You are watching First Edition this Tuesday morning folks and thank you for your company. Let’s bring in the Shadow Foreign Minister, Simon Birmingham now for our regular Tuesday chat. Simon, it is good to see you. We got a bit to get to today. So, we had this joint statement on AUKUS this morning involving all three of the relevant ministers from here, from the US and from the UK, reaffirming their commitment to it. Now, there has been some pushback from some parts of the US about it involving timelines for delivery, etc. So, was this needed today?


Simon Birmingham: Well it’s important to make sure there is 110% commitment across the three AUKUS partners for the delivery of pillar one, along the timelines that were outlined for pillar one, that is to ensure that we have the development of nuclear-powered submarine capabilities here in Australia, the availability to those capabilities, and then the development of the capability to build our own nuclear-powered submarines in the future. So, ensuring that that is resolute, clear cut and sending a clear message into all of the different aspects of defence industry and military establishment is welcome. It’s important that everybody keeps the foot down on the pedal to keep things going there. We’ll be looking very closely at the Albanese Government’s upcoming budget to make sure that the types of cuts to defence and slow progress we’ve seen to date is reversed, because that’s where the real test will lie.


Peter Stefanovic: Okay. And do you support Japan joining the alliance?


Simon Birmingham: So, pillar two of AUKUS, the advanced technology area that has a range of different spheres it’s likely to pursue in terms of other areas of undersea capabilities, but also hypersonic capabilities, artificial intelligence and a long range of other advanced technologies is a perfect sphere to partner, and Japan is a perfect partner to seek to have. The strategic alignment between Japan and Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom is incredibly strong. From an Australian perspective the regional challenges that we share and face and have a very common perspective on is also very, very strong. So, that provides, I think, for a real underpinning of looking at the right areas for a technologically sophisticated and advanced country like Japan, to play a partnership role in some of those different-


Peter Stefanovic: So, does that mean that they should get their own letter in the acronym?


Simon Birmingham: [Laughs] Look, we can certainly say there will be a JAUKUS part to some parts of AUKUS and that will be welcome.


Peter Stefanovic: But not fully.


Simon Birmingham: Look, I think the nuclear-powered submarine capability in pillar one is a clear-cut tri-nation undertaking. It is a huge task, as it is. That’s where the focus has got to be first and foremost.


Peter Stefanovic: Okay, now we’re just before we move on. There was quite strong words from the former Japanese ambassador to Australia, Yamagami, this morning in The Australian, he says the Quad has basically been forgotten about in favour of the Albanese Government’s photo ops with the senior members of the Chinese government. Do you agree with his concerns?


Simon Birmingham: I think Shingo Yamagami sends a real warning and potential wake up call to the government. If you look at the fact that under the Coalition, we resurrected the Quad because the previous Labor government had killed it off. We resurrected it. It initially was established at an official’s level dialogue. We elevated it to a ministerial level dialogue, then ultimately to a leader level dialogue. So, we put real drive behind getting that type of highest possible level engagement across India, the US, Japan and Australia. Now the Labor government have inherited that, but what are they doing with it is a fair question, particularly at a time when, as Shingo Yamagami rightly points out, there’s huge bandwidth pressures around the world as other partners are being distracted by the conflicts in the Middle East, in Ukraine and a range of different domestic pressures. We have to make sure that we are resolute in bringing the attention of those Quad partners back to how we can cooperate through security dialogue to ensure the stability of our region.


Peter Stefanovic: And just on some of those conflicts. We’ve had confirmation this morning from Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel that a date has been set for Rafah. So obviously, for strategic purposes, they’re not saying what the date is, but are you all for that? And what’s your message?


Simon Birmingham: Well, frankly, firstly, my message goes into Cairo where the ceasefire negotiations are happening, and once again, it is that we should all be putting pressure on Hamas to unconditionally release hostages to agree to surrender its terrorist capabilities, in which case there could be a ceasefire and there would be no need for this type of action. Tragically, Hamas refuse to release the hostages. They refuse to surrender their terrorist infrastructure, and that creates the environment where this type of action is considered. Clearly, if it is to be undertaken, it must be undertaken with extreme care, caution and regard for international law to make sure that the terrible and difficult humanitarian situation that exists is not compounded, but the objectives of disabling Hamas and securing hostages release remain ones that we clearly and strongly support.


Peter Stefanovic: Just a final one with a quick answer, if you can, Simon, because I’ve gone over. But there’s just some confusion within the Coalition about what their position is on the divestiture powers relating to our supermarket titans. Are you for the break-up of the big chains or not? Are you for divestiture or not?


Simon Birmingham: I’m not sure a policy issue as complex as divestiture powers gets a quick answer. But conceptually, there’s nothing wrong with divestiture powers, how you do it is what matters. We’re not going to be led by the Greens. Ultimately, you also have to be careful. Divestiture powers used the wrong way could, in fact, hurt competition. So, we’ll have clear policies in this space that are being carefully worked up and considered. Make sure puts the right pressure on supermarkets not have the wrong impact for consumers.


Peter Stefanovic: All right. Kept that brief nicely. Simon Birmingham, thanks.