Topics: Resettled ISIS families in Western Sydney; Morrison ministries; World Cup protests; Sanctions on Iran;
25 November 2022
Laura Jayes: The Shadow Foreign Minister, Simon Birmingham joins us. Thanks so much for your time, Senator. This is something that your government dealt with at the height of the risk, if you like. I know you understand the concerns of these mayors, but what can be done now?
Simon Birmingham: Well, Laura, what’s desperately been needed and lacking during this whole process is engagement by the government with the communities concerned and affected. Now, in government, we put in place stronger laws and regimes to make sure that our security services, police forces and others had powers in relation to monitoring surveillance, to other activities to handle difficult and challenging circumstances such as these. We’ve had concerns all along in terms of the way the government has handled this. The leaks that occurred about a sensitive ASIO operation right at the outset and which appear to be under some investigation, but for which the government is not being transparent. But fundamentally what you’ve had is for weeks and weeks now, communities in Western Sydney wanting to hear from government, wanting to engage with government, and yet government ministers ducking and dodging from that engagement. So it’s welcome that finally that’s happening. But it’s long overdue.
Laura Jayes: But what can be done now if the Assyrian community and some of these areas in Western Sydney aren’t happy about it. Is it foreseeable? And would you endorse moving these resettled ISIS’s brides and children, or is that just too hard?
Simon Birmingham: Well, Laura, it’s for the government to explain how they’re going to reconcile some of the concerns that exist and the difficulties that are there. It’s understandable that in in these communities, people are worried about the safety implications. They’re also concerned often in cases where they have lost loved ones or been directly impacted by the activities of those fighting for ISIS and are worried about now finding themselves in a situation where they are potentially sending their children to school alongside families who have been on the side of ISIS in these disputes. So the concerns are real. It’s for the government to work out how they’re going to reconcile the very difficult circumstances here, both to give confidence in terms of the safety and security settings, but also to ensure that people feel comfortable and secure in their own communities.
Laura Jayes: Well, what would you do?
Simon Birmingham: Laura, we wouldn’t have handled it like this from the outset. To have not engaged with the communities until this stage, to have kicked the can down the road as the Government has-
Laura Jayes: When you say you wouldn’t have engaged. I mean, your government had a lot of opportunity to bring these families home. Is this why you didn’t do it? Because of what we’re seeing now?
Simon Birmingham: As Peter Dutton’s made clear as Home Affairs Minister, he listened very carefully to the security advice and acted on it in terms of the actions that we took as a government.
Laura Jayes: Okay, let’s talk about this report that is about to drop in Canberra. That is the report into Scott Morrison’s multiple ministries. I expect it’s not going to be complimentary. Would you expect the same?
Simon Birmingham: Well, look, I expect it will probably largely repeat much of what was in the solicitor general’s report that’s already been handed down. I trust that it will, like the Solicitor-General, have some recommendations about actions to ensure transparency on any such determinations of responsibility for different government departments in the future. And the government and the opposition has been very clear We will support transparency measures, we will support legislation, and the government should should act swiftly on any recommendations there.
Laura Jayes: And Josh Frydenberg, what amazing timing this morning has spoken to The Sydney Morning Herald says it was ‘gross overreach’ and he’s pretty disappointed. I’m sure you’ve read those comments this morning. Is that pretty much the sentiment shared by most of Morrison’s former colleagues?
Simon Birmingham: Look, I think there’s probably a common degree of feeling there. I think there’s always been an understanding that the initial decisions in relation to the health department and possibly even the finance department, which were taken very much at the height of initial concern about COVID when extraordinary powers were being used across government and when there were genuine concerns about whether ministers could become incapacitated or unable to perform their duties and the challenges of border closures, including across state lines, all of those different factors. It’s understandable in terms of those initial ones. Although transparency still would have been preferable across them. In terms of the latter ones, I think many people still wonder why that occurred.
Laura Jayes: But you would also use the term gross overreach?
Simon Birmingham: I think the concern about why it is that that other departments were ensnared in in similar decisions, there’s not clear as to as to what that is and without clarity around the reasons why it would appear to be overreach. Yes.
Laura Jayes: Yeah. It’s interesting to see Josh Frydenberg make these comments. Now, of course, there’s a book and, you know, the timing of books is always pretty interesting. But is there a feeling now hindsight’s a beautiful thing. Should he have rolled Scott Morrison for the leadership when he had the chance?
Simon Birmingham: No, I don’t think that would have been helpful for Josh or the government. Ultimately, I think the Australian people weren’t about to reward another period of prime ministerial change or instability at that stage. Going to the election stable as we were was important. Josh’s emphasised in his comments that whilst on this issue he clearly has concerns, he’s expressed them publicly, he’s expressed them directly to Scott. There were far bigger and other issues at play and Josh and Scott and the whole government worked very closely and cooperatively to manage those and to manage those in a circumstance where Australia came out of the COVID19 pandemic with some of the best health outcomes in the world and some of the strongest economic outcomes in the world too.
Laura Jayes: Just on that. That’s really interesting because we had these period of revolving door prime ministerships. There were, you know, leaders were being rolled up and in Labor then, you know, there was a period of time where it seemed to happen every couple of years in the Liberal Party as well. So are you saying that essentially because of that Morrison was safe, that history and people were just sick of it? So Morrison remains safe, even though a lot of his colleagues thought that he was doing the wrong thing.
Simon Birmingham: Laura, I don’t think there were ever any particularly serious conversations that progressed on questions of leadership. We were busy getting on with the job of implementing policies that on the whole served Australia very, very well in terms of coming through some of the most challenging times we’ve seen in the world and coming out of it in some of the strongest positions comparable to other nations.
Laura Jayes: Okay. I just want to ask you about the World Cup because, wow, it has been a spectacle certainly on the field, but we’ve been talking about a lot of off field issues. I think one of the bravest protesters was from the Iranian players. But we’ve also seen protests when it comes to the rainbow flag from all manner of western countries as well. What do you think about the World Cup being a platform for this kind of protest?
Simon Birmingham: Prominent public figures used their platforms to express views around the world all the time. And that happens obviously in politics, but also happens across entertainment and sport. And that’s just a reality and the statements being expressed, particularly when you look at the Iranian team, it’s courageous. It’s also right in terms of what they’re standing up for, the rights of women and girls, the fact that we’re seeing outrageous and appalling murder, imprisonment, abuse occurring in Iran. So I welcome very much the fact that the Iranian football team at the World Cup has shown this strength, this solidarity, and the world needs to continue to put more and more pressure on the Iranian regime to stop the violations of human rights and the actions that are occurring there. And Australia should be doing more in terms of stepping up and applying targeted sanctions and other actions that are more comparable to likeminded nations across Europe and elsewhere who have-.
Laura Jayes: Do we have more leverage here? Because I remember Julie Bishop did impose a number of sanctions when she was foreign minister. I assume that they are largely still in place. Do we have a lot more leverage?
Simon Birmingham: There is more that Australia could do. You’re right, there continue to be sanctions in place from previous violations and actions of Iran, but certainly with the passage of the Magnitsky style sanctions legislation late in the term of the previous government, that provides the new government with a range of additional powers and options. They asked and supported those new measures being put in place and so we would encourage them to use those measures and to use them in ways comparable to how Canada has or Germany has or many other nations.
Laura Jayes: Okay. We’ll see where the government intends to go with that. Simon Birmingham, Shadow Foreign Minister, thanks so much for your time.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks, LJ.