Topic:  Former Russian embassy site; 

02:10PM AEST
Friday, 23 June 2023


Kenny Heatley: Joining me live for more on this is Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Birmingham. We just heard you in that story. Simon, thanks so much for joining us. It’s quite a bizarre situation, isn’t it? A diplomat illegally squatting on the site in this small demountable building. Are we certain that this is that man is actually a diplomat?


Simon Birmingham: Hi, Kenny. It’s good to be with you. Look, I am not certain. Again, these are matters for the Government to clarify and clarify them they should so that everybody is very clear as to what’s going on and what efforts are being made to make sure that the law of the land, Australian law, is upheld and upheld fairly and equally to all. What happened is a little over a week ago we worked as an Opposition with the Government to put through the Parliament laws to ensure that piece of land, which is in close proximity to the Australian Parliament and to other agencies within Canberra, does not become home to a new and modern Russian embassy. Now that is now the law and the lease was cancelled under that law that was passed through the Australian Parliament. And if it’s no longer land upon which the Russian embassy holds a lease, then it’s not land that they should be occupying in any way, shape or form. And that’s what should be being enforced and taken seriously by the Government.


Kenny Heatley: And we did get you earlier, some of you earlier press conference to air. But you said in that press conference that the government should be looking at all available legal options. Why can’t the AFP go in and physically remove the man from the site? Is it because the Government is concerned about retaliation on Australian diplomats in Moscow?


Simon Birmingham: Well, first and foremost, you would expect that a request to leave and if need be, in order to leave is given. Now, again, it’s not clear whether even that step has been taken because the government hasn’t been clear or transparent about the steps they are taking and what they are doing in terms of ensuring that the law is upheld. So that really should come first. And whether you are an Australian citizen or resident or a diplomat here, there is an expectation that everyone acts in accordance with a lawful request in this country. And so given that this is land upon which the Russian Federation no longer has any lease or entitlement, if a lawful request is made by the Australian Federal Police or other authorities for this man to leave, he should leave. He should leave peacefully. And if that is not adhered to or obeyed, then of course other steps can be considered.


Kenny Heatley: Yeah, because Russia is clearly has shown that it’s not concerned about following international laws. So is there a particular legal option that would make a difference in your opinion?


Simon Birmingham: Well, say first and foremost, the reality should be you should be being asked to leave. And if that doesn’t work, you should be being ordered to leave. And if that doesn’t work, then you consider other options. And of course, there are options all the way through to if he is a recognised diplomat requiring him to leave the country because of a failure to comply with a lawful request. But that’s some steps away from where we are at present. I do note that that before the last election Anthony Albanese and Penny Wong were happy to talk a big game about the expulsion of Russian diplomats that they called for then. They haven’t acted consistent with those calls post the election and since coming into government. In this case we’re not seeking to rush forward in terms of claiming what should happen. We’re simply saying the Government should be acting first and foremost to uphold the law of the land as passed by the Australian Parliament last week.


Kenny Heatley: The Prime Minister doesn’t think that this man on the site poses a threat to national security. What’s your view?


Simon Birmingham: My view is the Prime Minister should take this seriously. This man is acting in breach of laws that were put through as emergency laws through the Australian Parliament to ensure that our national security could be protected and to ensure that this land goes back in terms of not being held as land by the Russian Federation. He shouldn’t just cast this aside. He shouldn’t consider it to be a joke. He shouldn’t be playing it in a way where Australia is seen to be taken advantage of or played off in any way in a foolish sort of way. This is a matter that should be taken seriously by the appropriate authorities and the PM should be backing in those authorities to do what is necessary within Australian law to ensure that law is upheld.


Kenny Heatley: China’s embassy is just across the road from Parliament House as well. It’s a similar distance away. Should we be concerned about the location of that embassy if there were national security risks with Russia’s embassy being a similar distance away?


Simon Birmingham: So there are some similarities. There are a few little differences as well in terms of aspects of the land and the buildings and of course, the age of the buildings when you’re talking about a potential new and modern building being established, that poses obviously different risks. Ultimately, these are things that we have to listen to, whether you’re the government or the opposition, the advice of the National Security Agencies at the time. We appreciated the fact that in bringing the legislation forward last week in relation to the Russian embassy and this piece of land, the Government did provide security briefings to the Opposition. That was welcome and important to ensure that we could give informed consideration and in this case, informed consent and agreement to the legislation that was put through the Parliament. And we trust that in terms of any other protections that are necessary for Australia’s national security, the Government similarly acts upon the advice of those national security agencies.


Kenny Heatley: Having this person squatting on the site and refusing to leave, it does show that they’re quite desperate to keep this site and it must be of significance to the Putin regime?


Simon Birmingham: Well, it certainly shows that some sort of games or tactics or plots are otherwise being played out in this regard, and all of them are unacceptable. This is Australian land. The Australian Parliament has made the legal position clear. The Russian Federation has no claim that is valid under Australian law over that land. They’ve got no reason to be there. They shouldn’t be there and we should be expecting the Albanese Government to have law enforcement agencies uphold the law of the land.


Kenny Heatley: Simon Birmingham, really appreciate your time. Have a great weekend. Thank you.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Kenny. You too. Cheers.