Topics: Penny Wong speech in UK; $5 note design; Australia-China relationship; Ukraine;

09:25AM AEDT
3 January 2023


Laura Jayes: The shadow Foreign Minister Simon Birmingham joins us now. Simon Birmingham, thanks so much for your time. There was also another speech that piqued our interest and that was a speech from Penny Wong talking about colonialism and not in an abrasive way, but urging Britain to confront its past. What did you think of that?


Simon Birmingham: Laura Look in relation to that speech and I encourage people to read the totality of the speech because there were some very important messages about the Indo-Pacific and the work towards peace, security, stability there. But in terms of those comments, many will ask whether it was necessary to be said. Of course, it is important for us all to be honest about our history and in that honesty about our history, to make sure that when engaging with others and we reflect upon the role that plays in that engagement, just as current engagement and future aspirations should play a role.

But it’s also important if you’re going to reflect upon, for example, the colonial past of the UK to also include recognition of the very positive contribution that British systems of justice, of governance, of democracy have played in so many different parts of the world as well. And there is much good that is being transferred into different systems around the world that underpin more peaceful, more prosperous, more stable societies today too.


Laura Jayes: Do you think they’d be offended by the decision from the government about the $5 note?


Simon Birmingham: Look, I don’t think the Brits care all that much about what’s on our currency or our coinage in Australia. It’s important that King Charles remains on a broad sweep of our currency whilst he is the putative head of state of Australia as our King. And so clearly that’s the case across the different coins, etc.. I expect many Australians will be interested to see, though, what the alternative actually does look like, and no doubt that’ll be a cause for some debate.


Laura Jayes: Yeah, absolutely. Also you know the people to people links, that’s quite obvious. This is a first trip there and all looked very collegiate as you would expect. So a change of government has seen no changes there. With a change of government we’ve also see things improved markedly with China. You’d have to say the trade ministers are meeting next week. This is all on the up and up. Do you give the current government credit here and what do you think it’s down to?


Simon Birmingham: Well, as I’ve said before, I do welcome very much the agreement by China to cease its ban on ministerial level dialogue and it was entirely counterproductive of China to impose that type of ban and to act in ways that meant that it was hard for governments to have a minister-to-minister discussions about difficult issues, sensitive issues. So, it’s much better for China with a change that seems to have been a lowering of the temperature of their so-called wolf warrior diplomacy, not just with Australia, but with many other nations in recent times that they’re engaging diplomatically. These strategic challenges remain the same, though, in terms of ensuring that China hears clear messages about the need to respect international rules and norms, particularly those, for example, on the Convention of the Law of the Sea, that that are important to free transit and navigation through parts of the waterways between Australia and China. It’s equally important that when Don Farrell sits down and has the virtual meeting with his Chinese counterpart, that he is crystal clear about the fact that Australia sees China as having broken both the letter and the spirit of the free trade agreement between our countries and broken its word in terms of its commitment and to the World Trade Organisation around the way it conducts itself and that China should cease what are quite clearly punitive tariffs and sanctions applied against Australia’s wine and barley industries, as well as a range of indirect sanctions applied in relation to the timber industry, the live seafood industry, the meat industry and many other sectors.


Laura Jayes: I mean, it’s quite obvious that there’s the rhetoric and the personalities have a massive role in diplomacy, particularly with China. Do you think and do you think it’s fair to say that the Chinese leadership in a way just really didn’t like Scott Morrison?


Simon Birmingham: Laura, as I’ve reflected before, I think it should be acknowledged there’s been something of a global change of tone from the way in which the so-called wolf warrior diplomacy was being undertaken. Australia wasn’t the only country and hasn’t been the only country to face some of these tensions or challenges.

Now, the resumption of dialogue is a good thing. And I welcome that. And I acknowledge the work that the government has made to do so. But I also stress the former government was always happy to have dialogue. It was China who refused to come to the table and engage in that dialogue. And their decision to now have those talks is welcome. But the talks have to turn into actions to demonstrate that it is more than just an opening of dialogue, but actually a commitment to work on the relationship according to the agreements that have been struck and signed by governments over the years, particularly in relation in this case to trade and market access, where right now Australian businesses are paying a price and a penalty from attempted economic coercion of Australia by China. Attempts that at the time were made when lists of demands were being released by the Chinese Embassy. Lists of demands that would have seen Australia compromise in different ways. Our position as a nation now we’ve been right not to do that, to defend our institutions, our democracy, our critical infrastructure, to make sure we have stronger investment frameworks. And the current government has been right to stand by and maintain consistency in all of those policies, settings and changes applied by the previous coalition government. China should see that Australia has stood firm in the face of that attempted coercion. They should now cease it and they should actually honour the letter and the spirit of the agreement they’ve entered into by removing those trade sanctions.


Laura Jayes: Just one last issue. I do note that Vladimir Putin has given quite a fiery speech in the last couple of hours. He’s compared the Ukraine invasion to the Stalingrad fight against Nazi Germany. He’s also reserved special criticism for Germany, criticising them for helping to arm Ukraine, which is interesting because the West thinks Germany hasn’t done enough.


Simon Birmingham: Well, these are outrageous lies and propaganda coming from Vladimir Putin in a desperate attempt clearly to provide a defence for the illegal and immoral war that he has been waging for nearly 12 months now in terms of the attempted wholesale invasion of Ukraine. And of course, for much longer, if we go back to his so-called annexation of Crimea and the like. So, what we’re seeing from Putin is obviously heightened level of desperation coming with heightened rhetoric that is quite outrageous in terms of the slurs and representation. This war is only occurring because of Putin’s desire for seizing land, for expanding influence, and for waging this type of brutal onslaught.

Now, I hope that his rhetoric only further provides a strengthening and emboldening across NATO countries and other partner nations like Australia, to ensure there is resolve in continuing to provide additional support to Ukraine. It was pleasing to see Australian troops there training Ukrainian soldiers. Pleasing to see the recent announcement around co-operation in relation to provision of artillery with France to Ukraine between Australia and France. But I’ve got no doubt that more will be necessary, should be delivered and our government should continue to engage with Ukrainian officials at every step, along with other friends of NATO’s and all NATO nations, to make sure that this type of rhetoric from Putin is responded to with actions to help Ukraine continue to defend itself and in the defence of itself, defend the respect for sovereignty and international rules and norms right around the world.


Laura Jayes: Simon Birmingham, thanks so much for your time.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Laura. My pleasure.