Topics: Pelosi visit to Taiwan; Defence review;
Kieran Gilbert: Joining me live in the studio is the Shadow Foreign Minister and Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Simon Birmingham. The Prime Minister today said that in relation to Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan that this engagement is a matter for the United States and our Taiwanese counterparts. He says it’s a matter for them. Do you agree with that response?
Simon Birmingham: Well, it is, Kieran, in that regard that Nancy Pelosi’s visit is a matter for the United States and Taiwan is a very important economy, as you were just discussing with Ross Greenwood in the Indo-Pacific region. It’s an important partner of Australia’s. It’s a very important democracy within our region as well. And so on those scores, of course, it’s important that we have a working relationship and that others have a working relationship with Taiwan as well. Our policy overall remains in Australia a bipartisan one in support of a one-China policy, but also very clearly not wishing to see any unilateral action that would change the status quo in relation to the type of things some of those that I just mentioned, that do underpin the type of peace and prosperity that is enabled growth within the region.
Kieran Gilbert: Is it fair to say, though, that this visit was unhelpful, that it was avoidable, the tension that’s erupted off the back of this?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I would urge parties not to create any sense of escalation, not to undertake activities that risk any form of military misadventure or that risk further escalation. Ultimately, this is a visit. Now a visit shouldn’t precipitate from that the types of military activities that could risk misadventure, that could risk and some form of escalation and where there are enhanced military build-ups in the past Australia has expressed concerns about that. But I’d encourage the Government to do as we’ve done in the past, and that is if there is an enhancement of military build-ups, if there are incursions or there are activities that do risk misadventure or some form of escalation, the concerns will be raised.
Kieran Gilbert: The timely announcement of this Defence Review. Do you support the review announced today by the Government to look at the posture and structure of our Defence Forces?
Simon Birmingham: But the new government is within their rights to undertake this work into it will be a very important piece of work and now that they are undertaking it, it’s crucial that an undertaking that it doesn’t cause delays to essential areas of procurement and defence and positioning for Australia. It’s also very crucial that this Government doesn’t repeat the mistakes of the previous Labor government who reduced defence spending in Australia to the lowest level since 1938, who failed to take decisions in relation to major procurements, particularly major naval shipbuilding exercises. The previous Coalition government did take those decisions, did increase our defence spending back up to 2% of GDP. That enabled us to be a credible enough partner in the world for then things like the Quad to be established, for AUKUS and to be agreed upon and for us to actually get our defence procurement activities moving, ships being built and delivered to the Australian Navy, other important procurement activities. And so it’s critical that this review doesn’t cause delays, doesn’t become an excuse for any budget cuts, but does ensure that our Defence Force is well positioned for the future.
Kieran Gilbert: The Prime Minister’s said that it will be at least 2% of GDP, the defence spend, so he’s given a guarantee on that front and far from delaying the projects. It seems from what the Defence Minister said to me just a moment ago on the program, this is all about expediting, speeding up capability. Front and loading the acquisitions.
Simon Birmingham: If they prove to be the outcomes, Kieran, and that’s a good thing. Of course reviews can sometimes see delays as systems wait for the outcome of those reviews and wait to see what occurs and there’s no time to wait or delay. In relation to Australia’s defence posture. It’s critical that we get it right. It’s critical that the types of investments that we’re underway are delivered upon and it’s crucial that the Government be very upfront if it is going to change at all. Some areas of procurement and investment in our defence forces, it’s clear about what that is and where it is reinvesting in terms of those priorities.
Kieran Gilbert: The former chief of Defence, Angus Houston, who is one of the lead reviewers that the Government’s appointed, said that this is the most concerning geo strategic environment he can remember in his career. That is quite a statement. Do you agree with that assessment?
Simon Birmingham: Kieran, we do face some of the most confronting times and I’m unsurprised to hear Sir Angus say that I’ve heard other senior military officials and other experts in intelligence and security echoes similar sentiments. When we look at the more assertive China stance that China has taken over recent years, the increased militarisation that has been undertaken in terms of the build-up of their military and of course, the type of activities in the South China Sea. They present concerns within our region. The actions we’ve seen more recently this year and of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and their previous years, actions in relation to Crimea. They all indicate that authoritarian states are presenting a threat to the type of peace and stability that we could hope to see around the world and is a very different defence outlook and security outlook than people had expected just a few years prior.
Kieran Gilbert: Finally, on the climate bill, looks like it will pass the Lower House tomorrow. In a way, will you be relieved to see the climate bill dealt with that, particularly given the blowback the Liberal Party copped at the election in May with a lot of climate driven, independent, so successful?
Simon Birmingham: Well, Kieran, from my perspective, had the legislation been necessary for Australia to commit to a higher target, then I would have voted for it in a heartbeat. But the reality is Chris Bowen and the Labor Government have made very clear is it’s not necessary to have this legislation for Australia to commit to that target, that commitments already been made in accordance with the Paris Agreement. So that’s been launched at the task now is how Australia achieves and the emissions reduction meets that. And from our perspective, I look forward to us taking to the next election what I trust will be an ambitious agenda on climate change-
Kieran Gilbert: You’re talking about much more ambitious than 28%?
Simon Birmingham: Absolutely, Kieran. I would expect that has to be we are well and truly on track to clearly exceed that based on the policy settings that the previous government had put in place. Australia of course, has managed to meet and beat all of those commitments we’ve made and with that it’s right for us to up that commitment and target and to make sure that we do stretch, but to do so mindful of the impact on jobs and the economy. And I want to see us achieve as much emissions reduction as possible without jeopardising jobs and the economy.
Kieran Gilbert: Simon Birmingham, thank you, as always. Appreciate it.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks Kieran.