Topics: UK Prime Minister resignation; Labor’s shambolic handling on Israel capital decision; Lidia Thorpe conflict of interest;

09:08AM AEDT
21 October 2022


Laura Jayes: Simon Birmingham, thanks so much for your time. When you woke up this morning was your reaction? What the?


Simon Birmingham: Well, look, they’ve been perhaps a bit of speculation over the last few days, so I wasn’t completely taken by surprise, Laura. Let me say, firstly, I count Liz Truss as a friend from her time as UK’s trade secretary in my time as Australia’s Trade Minister. And I know this will be a very difficult time for her personally and for her family. So, at that level my thoughts go out to her. But even friends can make mistakes. And clearly she made a number of them politically and economically during the last few weeks. And she’s done the honourable thing by stepping down, by providing a passageway for certainty to be restored, which is important in terms of the place of the United Kingdom in the world. It’s important in terms of the economy of the United Kingdom. And I’m sure that this leadership process, which will be resolved, thankfully in a much-truncated way compared with the last one, will provide a pathway for that certainty and from Australia’s perspective, the certainty then to get on with working with a new British Prime Minister and to do so as successfully as we have with all of the predecessors to that office.


Laura Jayes: I mean, this really reminds us of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years in many ways, especially if Boris Johnson comes back. I guess the only difference between Boris and Rudd is that Boris wasn’t, you know, leaking from her cabinet because he wasn’t in it. Do you see that comparison?


Simon Birmingham: Look, there’s perhaps some parallels that that it’s a little bit like some of those years put on fast forward. But look who comes back is a matter for the Conservative Party, whether it is Boris Johnson coming back or whether it is a fresh face. We will see. I don’t think from an Australian perspective that’s going to matter terribly much. From our perspective I’m confident that the new government here will work closely with whomever is in Downing Street UK because that’s the way our two countries always get along.


Laura Jayes: What about Boris Johnson, though? He was pretty good for Australia. I mean, put aside know Partygate and what happened within domestic British politics. Would you agree that Boris Johnson was really good for the Australian relationship? They seem to be big fans of us here Down Under.


Simon Birmingham: No doubt Boris Johnson is a huge fan of Australia and remains so. He was a big, big driver in sealing ultimately the free trade agreement and being able to push over and through any of the residual difficulties that always come at the end of those sorts of negotiations. He was a huge supporter of AUKUS and instrumental to securing that deep and security partnership. He importantly upholds and shares the types of values that both our nations take into the world stage in terms of support for basic human rights and liberties, upholding the important role that democracies play in the world, support for other nations in terms of their defence of those human rights, those democratic values. And so, he is in that sense a known quantity for Australia. But if it’s not Boris Johnson, it is somebody else, then I’m equally confident that we will see somebody that Australia can work very closely and successfully with.


Laura Jayes: Okay. We will see in a week that is or perhaps just over Saturday, a week from now. Before I let you go, I just want to ask about Israel. The decision by Labor to no longer recognise the capital in West Jerusalem. I know how the Coalition feels about this move, but what should happen now? Simon Birmingham, would it be as damaging to reverse that decision or do we just live with what they’ve done?


Simon Birmingham: Well what should happen, first and foremost is Prime Minister Albanese should be picking the phone up to Israeli Prime Minister Lapid and apologising for the hapless way in which this was handled. On Monday of this week, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was leaking that this decision was going to be made. On Monday night Penny Wong’s office was denying there was any change. On Tuesday she announced a change and then in the last couple of days, she and the Prime Minister have said that they handled it in a terrible way and that they acknowledge there were problems with the way it was handled. I mean, it’s been a calamity throughout the course of this week in terms of their handling of it, to announce it on a Jewish holy day, to announce it two weeks prior to an Israeli election. It was just the ultimate in showing that there was clearly no consideration given to the timing, regardless of the fact the decision itself was not necessary. Now, from the Coalition’s perspective, yes, our view is clear that this was an unnecessary decision. We would not have taken it. We do believe that West Jerusalem, which operates as the capital for the Israeli government and under virtually any peace process discussion is recognised as remaining part of Israel is logically the capital there. If elected to government, clearly we would not make the types of mistakes we’ve seen Labor make this week in terms of just blundering our way through without having proper dialogue and discussion around these matters.


Laura Jayes: And Lidia Thorpe, are you trying to cancel her?


Simon Birmingham: Ah well. Lidia Thorpe, there are serious issues and questions raised about this particular issue in terms of her participation in sensitive parliamentary briefings and processes without making appropriate disclosures. They may well give rise to privileges investigations and inquiries, and we will be pursuing those thoroughly in Senate proceedings over the course of the next week. But there is also, I think, a broader message here. Lidia Thorpe has time and time again demonstrated appalling behaviour in the chamber in her approach to public life. But she is also representative in some ways of an undercurrent in the Greens that is not widely reflected and known across Australia. Many well-meaning Australians go and vote for the Australian Greens in elections thinking they’re voting just to send an environmental message. But this is an example that if you vote Greens you get extreme and that is really a cause for many Australians I think, to need to reconsider the way they see and view the Australian Greens. It’s a big test for Adam Bandt here. If he doesn’t take more serious action in response to this matter, then it really is a message to the Australian people that they should think again about Greens and really make that decision carefully whether it is the Liberal party or indeed the Labor party.


Laura Jayes: What do you mean their do you think he should force her to quit politics? Should he suspend her from the party because he can’t kick her out in the Parliament, he doesn’t have that kind of power, but he can kick her out of the party, I suppose.


Simon Birmingham: He can kick her out of the Greens and that is certainly one option open to him. He also needs to be transparent about the processes or the process failures that seem to occur in his office. Lidia Thorpe’s own staff thought there was sufficient cause for concern to raise these issues with Adam Bandt’s office, and yet it seems as if that’s where they died. Where the information was just tucked in a bottom drawer and forgotten about. Rather than real action being taken.


Laura Jayes: Simon Birmingham, always good to talk to you. Thank you.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks Laura, my pleasure.