Topics: Albanese no-show at NATO; US election campaign; Pacific Island banking;

07:45AM AEST
9 July 2024


Pete Stefanovic:  Thank you. Well, a Russian hypersonic missile strike has hit several targets in Kiev overnight, including a children’s hospital which killed more than 30 people and injured 140. And as US Democrats continue to squabble over the future of Joe Biden’s presidency, sure does make for a pretty compelling NATO summit that begins in Washington, D.C. tonight our time. Joining us live is the Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Simon Birmingham. Simon, good to see you, Richard Mars. He’s going to be there for us. We are a bit player in the grand scheme of things here, but what do you hope he can achieve there?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Peter, firstly, it’s disappointing that Anthony Albanese is not going himself. This is a big summit. It’s the 75th anniversary summit of NATO. It comes at a critical time. You think about all that’s happened in the last 12 months around the world. Russia’s escalation against Ukraine, Iran’s scaling up all of their terrorist proxies, China’s military actions throughout, sadly, the oceans of our region. All of these types of issues just show what a challenged and dangerous world we live in. And the reality is that we need a democratic and security partners and allies more than ever, and we need them to be focused on the challenges in our region as they need us, and our Indo-Pacific partners focused on theirs. And Anthony Albanese is missing that opportunity. If he doesn’t have a good reason. It really is, as I said before, a dereliction of duty. I hope Richard Marles goes there with some clear plans and thoughts to ensure that Australia’s engagement with NATO is as strong as possible. I hope he goes there with more support for Ukraine, where one of the few countries now, in terms of significant supporters, not to have a multi-year support programme in place and Australia really should step up in that regard.


Pete Stefanovic: Just on the US, Simon, how weakened do you think the United States government is at the moment, while all this squabbling is going on and all these claims that Joe Biden is just no longer mentally and physically there to be the leader of the United States?


Simon Birmingham: Peter, I’ve got no doubt that the US government remains strong, whatever the weaknesses or challenges in a campaign. And we’ve all lived through campaigns that get thrown off track at times. And clearly, when you’re talking about yourselves and having those problems, then that’s not a good place for your campaign to be in. But in terms of the US government and the administration officials, all of those people whose focus needs to be on not just the US domestic challenges, but the leadership role internationally that we see Secretary of State and Secretary of Defence and others undertake. These are people who have done a good job over the last few years and put the US into strong, commanding leadership positions through these difficult times, and that is what we need the US to be in the future, in strong, commanding leadership roles, working as a partner with NATO and others to ensure that we can navigate the challenging world we’re in.


Pete Stefanovic: Australia is to embark on a major push today into the Pacific, amid fears Western banks are in retreat. Simon, that will allow China to come in, or more so than they already are. What do you make of our commitment that Jim Chalmers will announce today?


Simon Birmingham: These are really important discussions that are happening around banking services in the Pacific. If you think of it from an Australian perspective or from anybody at that essential critical role, that having local, available, accessible banking services that can be depended upon and are of high quality, it’s also very essential to the operation of your economy, your country, your household at all different levels. The reality is that in many Pacific Island countries, for Australian banks or big banks internationally, there is the challenge that the markets are too small, but the risk profile too high. And we’ve asked questions in estimates. I’ve had discussions with the banking sector, with Pacific Island countries and pursued this with the government. And I want to see Australia working with international partners, and particularly the Pacific Island nations, to come up with Pacific led solutions that give them strong, credible banking systems working under the type of regulatory standards that we would expect to give safety and surety, but also ensuring that they can remit funds safely, make international transfers and of course, that this is not opened up as a back door avenue for international influence into those Pacific countries.


Pete Stefanovic: All right, Simon Birmingham, the Shadow Foreign Minister. Thanks for your time.