Topics:PM trip to China; Greens walk-out of Senate; RBA rate rise;

03:35PM AEDT
Tuesday, 7 November 2023

Kieran Gilbert: Let’s return now to the Prime Minister’s visit to China and with me is the Shadow Foreign Minister, Simon Birmingham. Simon Birmingham, thanks for your time. Just some breaking news the last hour or so. The Premier, Li Qiang, has said that the leadership level dialogue has resumed, that this meeting between Prime Minister Albanese and he marked the resumption of annual leaders talks. Is that a welcome breakthrough?

Simon Birmingham: Well, we’ve welcomed each of these steps where China has removed its ban on ministerial level dialogue. I personally have attended a couple of those meetings between Chinese premiers and the Australian prime minister. I did so alongside Scott Morrison on a couple of occasions. The fact that COVID, along with China’s policy decisions, saw them come to an end, was counterproductive to being able to work through difficulties and to resolve them, so it’s welcome there. It’s another sign in terms of China easing off on the wolf warrior diplomacy it had deployed with the rest of the world. But equally a reminder that whilst these are positive signals, the Government, the Albanese Government needs to remain clear eyed about the challenges that still exist with China. That the strategic challenges and environment have not changed, and that even just in the last month, we’ve had a number of reminders of those challenges, be it the ASIO chief and other intelligence chiefs reminding about China’s cyber espionage, be it China launching aggressive military tactics against the Philippines in the South China Sea. Or, of course, President Xi Jinping hosting President Vladimir Putin in China as yet a further extension of their friendship without boundaries or limits arrangement and yet there it is with a warmongering Russia. So, these are all reminders of why real caution is needed, as well as the many unresolved aspects of the bilateral tensions in the relationship.

Kieran Gilbert: Do you think the fact that the dialogue is happening in and of itself is a step forward?

Simon Birmingham: Well, as I said, we welcome dialogue, and dialogue is a way to try to work through difficulties and to ensure that they are better understood by each party. There is much that needs to have been discussed, and that I hope Prime Minister Albanese has frankly and fully discussed with China. The trade sanctions, which are well known, but for which China should cease immediately. Its punitive actions against Australian wine, Australian meat, Australian seafood. Of course, the detention of Dr. Yang Hengjun. But also, the broader regional and global concerns in terms of China’s military actions in the South China Sea, in the Taiwan Strait, all of which increase the risk of accident, misadventure and conflict. Its support for Russia, its destabilisation of different international organisations, its disrespect for intellectual property. These all need to, frankly, be addressed in the relationship to.

Kieran Gilbert: The Prime Minister did raise the human rights issues, the consular issues, including Yang Hengjun, the Australian who remains detained in China. So those conversations were had but behind closed doors. Has Labor shown the Coalition how to do diplomacy, that it should be done behind closed doors, as opposed to the megaphone diplomacy we saw at times during the former government?

Simon Birmingham: Well, Australians will judge this visit on the actions and the outcomes from those actions, and that remains to be seen. To date, there seems to be no movement in terms of speeding up the very drawn-out process that China is offering Australia’s wine industry. It’s not acceptable our winemakers should have to wait five months for a review to conclude. These tariffs are unjustified, they should never have been put in place in the first place and they should be removed. Just as Dr. Yang Hengjun should not be indefinitely detained as he currently is, he should have the legitimacy of proper sentencing, transparency around his charges, and he should, of course, be released and returned to Australia. So, all of these issues, we will have to wait and see whether outcomes can be achieved. That’s the key test.

Kieran Gilbert: On Israel, there’s a lot of scrutiny right now on Israel and its response to Hamas and the terrorist attack that was perpetrated upon Israel on October 7th. Do you- what’s your reaction to, say, the Greens walking out of the Senate and other demands upon Israel at a time when we’re looking at a tragedy unfold in Gaza that can’t be described as a catastrophe, but all of the moral responsibility, it seems, according to some observers, including the Greens, lays on Israel and not as much upon the terrorist group which is in control of that strip being Hamas.

Simon Birmingham: Well, petty games and pathetic tactics such as the Greens walkout do nothing to strengthen Australia’s position and they do nothing in relation to the Middle East and they show a complete naivete when it comes to the complexity of what’s being dealt with. Let’s remember the Greens voted against the parliamentary resolution condemning Hamas for the brutal and bloody terrorist attacks it undertook on October 7th. Now, in terms of calls for ceasefire, here’s the pathway to ceasefire. Hamas should lay down arms. Hamas should surrender its arms and its military capabilities to Israel. Hamas should hand over its leadership and its terrorists to Israel. Hamas should release the hostages who are being held. That would be a pathway to ceasefire, rather than the idea that somehow the Greens would just wish and others that the fighting stops, and Hamas is given an opportunity to rearm, reorganise and strike again in ways that would just see yet more innocent lives lost and the perpetuation of the type of violence that we’ve seen.

Kieran Gilbert: Has the Greens analysis and response been undermined by the fact that they a number of their representatives, were immediately critical of Israel, even in the days after the atrocity was perpetrated by Hamas. For example, Senator Faruqi saying it was a disgrace to have Israel’s colours illuminated on this building.

Simon Birmingham: I don’t think any aspect of the Greens commentary has ever had any credibility, and frankly, I don’t almost don’t really want to dignify it with a lot of commentary at present. They encouraged people to the protests at the Sydney Opera House, which saw anti-semitic actions and language used in the most horrifying and vile terms. They refused to vote for a motion in this parliament, agreed to by Labor and the Coalition, condemning Hamas. Now we have these pathetic stunts and walk outs. They are not reflective of Australian views and sentiments. They are not reflective of the broader will and position of this Parliament. And it is important we will work to try to maintain bipartisan support for Israel and their right, and need to remove Hamas and to disable Hamas from presenting a future terrorist threat to Israelis. And in removing that, it gives them the best chance for some type of stabilisation and down the track that stabilisation to enable Israelis and Palestinians to live a more peaceful coexistence.

Kieran Gilbert: Just quickly on the rate rise, the increase. Do you accept that there is a lot of international pressure here in terms of the forces at play, driving up inflation and the pressures in our economy?

Simon Birmingham: There have always been international pressures, but firstly, Labor always said the international pressures didn’t matter. Secondly, when they inherited the Australian economy, Australia had some of the lowest inflation rates compared to other countries. Now our core inflation is higher than the United States or Canada, than France or Italy or Germany, or than Japan. It’s higher in Australia than all of these other advanced economies. After the second Albanese budget economists said that it was expansionary and that it would cause inflation to be higher for longer. And now Australian homeowners and mortgage holders are going to be paying a very dear price as a result of Labor’s expansionary budget and of their failure through two budgets to get inflation better under control.

Kieran Gilbert: Senator Birmingham, thanks for your time.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Kieran.