Topics: 20th anniversary of Bali bombings; Australian support for Ukraine; Labor Government’s test to manage Australia’s economy;

Gabriella Power:  This morning, we reflect on the 20th anniversary of the Bali bombings, one of the darkest chapters in our history. 202 people were killed on that horrible night, including 88 Australians. Today, their memory will be honoured at services across the country as we reflect on all that was lost. Joining us live now is Shadow Foreign Minister Simon Birmingham. Simon Birmingham, thank you for your time this morning. What are your thoughts and reflections today, 20 years on from the Bali bombings?


Simon Birmingham: Well, thanks, Gabriella. It’s good to be with you. Today is clearly a day for reflection to remember to ensure that those whose lives were lost are not forgotten. That the many hundreds, indeed thousands of people who carry permanent scars, be they the physical scars of those who were injured, the emotional scars of family members of responders and others who served in the terrible circumstances of the Bali terrorist attack, but also a day in which we should reflect and remember all of those touched by terrorism throughout the world and make sure that we continue to redouble our efforts to ensure that terrorism is prevented. It’s important on days like today that we not just have those moments of reflection, but make sure that the lessons that were learnt at the time are re-learnt and built upon for the future.


Gabriella Power: You’ll be at the commemoration service in Canberra today. It’s so important, as you just said, to pause and reflect and remember the Australians who lost their lives. Where were you when you heard the news of the attack?


Simon Birmingham: Well, indeed I was at the time working in Adelaide. But it and of course for many people it was a case of waking up in Australia to the unfolding news that was occurring through the early hours of the morning and throughout that day. They were such terrible times in terms of understanding the sheer scale and devastation of what had occurred. And we need to remember this came at a time where it was off the back of the terrorist attacks of 911 increased and heightened concern right around the world. But we’ve seen since then that whilst governments have put in place better, stronger mechanisms to be able to protect citizens in terms of be they domestic security protocols, areas of international cooperation, of which the cooperation between our security services and those in Indonesia or many other cooperative partnerships around the world are such central pillars in our protection mechanisms nowadays. These have evolved in the time since Bali, and it’s a point today where we have to make sure that whilst there are many international challenges that we face right around the world in terms of the strategic competition in our region, Russia’s illegal and immoral invasion of Ukraine, we cannot be at all complacent about the risk of terrorism and we need to make sure that the efforts of those security agencies and all of the partnerships built continue to be strongly supported to make sure that we keep Australians safe at home and as they travel around the world.


Gabriella Power: On the war in Ukraine, should Australia be increasing its support for Ukraine?


Simon Birmingham: This is a critical juncture in relation to Ukraine’s defence of its sovereignty. And it’s important we remember that what we are supporting by supporting Ukraine is a sovereign nation, protecting its territorial borders in accordance with international law. Russia’s illegal, immoral invasion has now taken terrible turns in recent days with the escalation of these rocket and missile strikes across Ukraine with a terrible loss of life, the targeting of civilian infrastructure, civilians generally. And that is a demonstration that we should fall in with G7 nations, with NATO’s nations, and provide additional support to Ukraine that providing that support in terms of any defensive support, as well as the type of assistance that Ukraine is requesting in additional support for military capabilities for them to be able to defend themselves and their borders is essential. Australia has been amongst the leading nations in this regard to date and it really is important that we stay at that forefront in defence of the international rules that we recognise as being so important and in defence of the liberties and rights of Ukrainians themselves. And so I urge the Government to make sure that they step up and do so as quickly as possible. There are outstanding requests made by the Ukrainian government that have been voiced by Ukraine’s ambassador to Australia and those requests deserve to be responded to as swiftly and comprehensively as possible.


Gabriella Power: With the ADF military training that is now being considered to take place outside of Ukraine. Should we have done this earlier?


Simon Birmingham: Well, that is one potential sphere. But I do note Ukraine’s ambassador to Australia has put and highlighted the request that have been made by Ukraine for additional equipment and assistance in terms of the military equipment that they need for soldiers on the ground right now. And so that is where Australia should be putting the priority in terms of its response, assisting in other potential ways such as training, knowledge, information. They’re all possibly valuable, but there are clearly urgent and pressing needs for Ukraine in the short term. And they go to some of those equipment arrangements, be that making sure indeed that the Bushmasters already promised and announced are fully delivered as quickly as possible. But also then other asks that have been made of Ukraine, be they military vehicles or other parts of defence equipment that are essential to their defence and to the continued success of their operations. This has been a heroic effort by Ukraine to date in defending their territory, in pushing back against Russia’s invasion. Russia’s reaction in recent days is in part a result of Ukraine’s success to date. And that’s why we have to make sure that Ukraine can maintain that success and momentum and continue also all efforts to urge nations to apply pressure to Russia to cease and desist. We want to see not war, but peace, peace where the borders are respected, where there is a laying down of arms. And that’s where as strong a message as possible needs to be delivered also through the United Nations processes to Russia that this is unacceptable and that they do need to bring this to an end.


Gabriella Power: Just finally, Simon Birmingham, on another matter, the International Monetary Fund has warned of a third of the world is heading for recession, but are you confident Australia will be able to avoid it?


Simon Birmingham: Well, the government, the new Labor government has inherited a very strong and resilient economy in Australia. We have much lower rates of debt than many other parts of the world, as evidenced today by the Deloitte Access Economics analysis showing that Australia’s deficit and Australia’s net debt levels coming in well below previous forecasts. Thanks to the strength of our economy, we’ve got unemployment at historic lows in Australia. And so the test for the Labor Government is to make sure they don’t blow it from here, that Australia can and should be able to withstand these global economic pressures. Given our low rates of unemployment are comparatively low, rates of government debt are comparatively lower rates of inflation compared with much of the rest of the world. The resilience of our economy has shown itself to be magnificent through a range of international challenges to date, and the government in its budget needs to make sure that they keep that economic strength, that they show restraint when it comes to the extent of government spending, that they also make sure they focus measures to provide support to Australian households, feeling pressures in areas of energy bills and higher inflation coming in from those international pressures.


Gabriella Power: Simon Birmingham, thanks so much for your time.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Gabriella.