Topic: Australian support for Ukraine; Former Russian embassy site;
Monday, 26 June 2023
Kieran Gilbert: We’re live to Adelaide and the Shadow Foreign Minister, Simon Birmingham joins me. The Ambassador quite positive. The Ukrainian Defence Minister also welcoming the Government’s support plan. Isn’t it fair to say that the Government is just adding to an already very generous package of support from the Australian military?
Simon Birmingham: Hello, Kieran. Well, there’s no doubt that the Albanese Labor Government started with a very generous package of support, some $285 million of military assistance that had been committed in just the space of a couple of months by the previous Coalition government. On top of that, a further $65 million of humanitarian assistance and indeed energy assistance for energy relief in terms of coal shipments and the like, too. So there was a very strong base which positioned Australia as the leading non-NATO contributor in support of Ukraine. But since then we’ve seen slower movement from the Albanese government and indeed the package announced today has been one that not only the Opposition but many other parties have called for quite some months. It was frankly embarrassing that Ukraine themselves had to resort to running a public communications campaign around some of the things that they were urging the Government to provide. And now we see this announcement today. And of course, it’s welcome and it has complete bipartisan support. But we are concerned that it took too long to get to this point, that it does appear to be too lacking in terms of the types of support that Ukraine itself was asking for. And in that regard, that the Government really does need to take another look again at some of those things Ukraine was asking for, particularly the Hawkei vehicles, the Abrams tanks, de-mining equipment and the reopening of Australia’s embassy in Kyiv.
Kieran Gilbert: While there are the wish lists and as you articulated correctly, those things like Hawkeis and tanks and so on, do you accept what the deputy Prime Minister said earlier on this show, that it is all a balancing act, that our military also have to ensure that they have the wherewithal to defend the nation and to have what they need.
Simon Birmingham: Well, it’s certainly an important consideration and disappointing aspect there is that under the Albanese Government the defence budget has had $1.5 billion cut, when you take out foreign exchange adjustments. It’s got $1.8 billion worth of further unidentified cuts and savings that they have to find to meet budget targets. And this support for Ukraine is actually not additional assistance, as the Government likes to stand up and pretend, it is simply taking resources from within the existing Defence budget. Now, other countries, like the United Kingdom, have committed to a replenishment strategy for their defence forces so that as they are giving to Ukraine and providing that support, the UK is also working through their treasury to ensure that the defence budget is replenished, the defence acquisitions and resources are replenished. And this is the type of consideration that now more than a year after this war started, should be being given by the Albanese Government as to how we ensure Australia can be providing support without eroding our own defence capabilities. One of the things that concerns me and the Opposition more generally is that because of that lack of budget support for defence, then the Australian Defence Force may have areas of hesitancy in terms of the scale of commitment provided to Ukraine, whereas if they weren’t facing these budget cuts and budget pressures, if there was instead a commitment to replenishment and then you might see a more open mind, greater levels of support in terms of delivering upon more of Ukraine’s actual requests of Australia.
Kieran Gilbert: That Russian diplomat is now gone. The squatter that was on that plot of land, the high court saying that he had no right to be there. The Ukrainian Ambassador, Vasyl Myroshnychenko, repeated today just a little while ago that he’d like to see a Ukrainian embassy built here, that there’d be a plot of land for Ukraine. Would that suit? Would that be one that’s appropriate for Ukraine?
Simon Birmingham: I think the Government’s right to have taken heed of the security advice in relation to sensitivities on that land and to tread cautiously in relation to that land. And let’s be very clear, the Australian Parliament has made its will clear that Russia is not welcome on that land. Now the High Court has been clear in upholding the law that Russia has no place on that land and it’s important from here on in that the government does everything within its power to ensure that Russia doesn’t make fools of anybody and use any other means to put people or any further assets on that land and that it is fully reclaimed for Australian purposes. But completely separately, the Government should be prioritising finding an appropriate site for Ukraine to be able to establish a permanent embassy and presence in Australia. Clearly this conflict has brought our two countries closer together. There are other factors in the past, particularly our work in response to the downing of MH17 that brought our countries closer together and the importance now of us working with fellow democracies, especially European democracies, means that we should give that support and priority to Ukraine having that permanent home in Australia, as well as critically giving support to reopening Australia’s embassy in Kyiv and having an ambassador resident in Ukraine.
Kieran Gilbert: Simon Birmingham, thanks as always. Talk to you soon.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Kieran. My pleasure.