Topics: Türkiye-Syria earthquake response; Alan Tudge resignation; Michelle Rowland donation saga; safeguard mechanism legislation;

09:20AM ACDT
10 February 2023


Laura Jayes: Time to provide relief in the aftermath of those two powerful earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria. Joining me live now is a Shadow Foreign Minister, Simon Birmingham. Thanks so much for your time. This is obviously a bipartisan effort. Some of our best Australian Defence Force personnel experts going over to the disaster zone. Simon Birmingham, do you understand that obviously this will be in Türkiye, but will we also provide some of this expertise in Syria or given the circumstances there would it be too difficult?


Simon Birmingham: Well hello, LJ. Firstly, of course, this is a huge humanitarian disaster. We’re now looking at more than 20,000 lives that have been lost as a result of these earthquakes. On top of that, we know there’s massive destruction to buildings, to infrastructure, to essential services, and that then means huge other potential humanitarian disaster that unfolds in terms of access to clean drinking water, to sanitation and sewerage services, to essential food and medicines. And that’s why the humanitarian effort from around the world needs to be coordinated and needs to be as strong as possible. And it does need to support those in affected areas of Syria as well as in affected areas of Türkiye. Now, in terms of where the Australian personnel operate, that would be a matter for liaison between governments and ultimately coordination with those international rescue agencies and disaster relief agencies that are coming together to operate there. I would hope that we can provide support wherever it is sufficiently safe for our personnel to provide that support for Australians who are going into this region to make sure that they are doing as we would wish them well to do, and that is to help save the lives of other people in such a disaster zone.


Laura Jayes: Yeah, that plane departs Sydney in about an hour from now with 72 personnel on board. Back to more immediate domestic matters. We saw the resignation of Alan Tudge yesterday. Again, there’s a spotlight on how tough politics is on families. He spoke of his daughters getting death threats just one last week. Is it still really that bad for parliamentarians?


Simon Birmingham: The age of social media, in particular the way in which people will throw commentary and threats around, often behind cloaks of anonymity is a brutal business. Now, Alan Tudge made some mistakes. He publicly acknowledged that some time ago. There have been consequences that have flowed from that and ultimately he’s choosing to leave the parliament. But it really doesn’t matter who you are, or what the circumstance is, clearly those types of actions have no place in decent democracy. And the way in which people do engage, they should think about it. They’re free to disagree with me. They’re free to dislike me as they are any other politician. But that shouldn’t flow on to people’s families and it shouldn’t result in vitriol abuse, let alone threats.


Laura Jayes: Who should replace him in Aston?


Simon Birmingham: Well, he should be replaced by a highly capable and skilled woman. If the Liberal Party is to show that it is heard some of the messages and learned some of the lessons given to it by the electorate at the last election, where we did lose comprehensively, then we need to make sure that we increase the diversity of candidates that we have, that we get more women into the parliament and Aston presents a great chance to do that. And that’s precisely what I hope and trust the party members in Victoria who will undertake this preselection understand, and that they do think about the bigger picture and heed the message there. I see and hear some names of highly qualified women being tossed around and I hope that a number of them do decide to contest that pre-selection so that we can get a great new candidate and MP there.


Laura Jayes: Who are those women, Those names being tossed around, as you say, Senator?


Simon Birmingham: Well, look, I’m not going to recite them and start to then try to pick amongst them. I’m pretty clear that as to- I think we need to make sure this is a chance to take the steps necessary to increase women’s representation in our parliamentary ranks and that we need to demonstrate we’ve heard the lessons there. As for who it is, well, I’ll let that fall to the preselectors, but I am sure that there will be some great qualified options putting themselves forward.


Laura Jayes: Fair enough. And look, staying on that theme really of politics being tough and really ugly at times. I want to ask you about Michelle Rowland and these calls for her to resign, because the only reason we know about this donation from Sportsbet is because it was on her register. So she followed all the rules there. Sportsbet is not an illegal company. In fact, a lot of people use it. Do you think there’s anything to see here?


Simon Birmingham: Look, I think it is really for her to front up and explain. I saw the clips before of Murray Watt suggesting that that because of all that she’s doing in relation to online gambling, there should be nothing to see here. Well, I’m not sure of what she’s doing in relation to online gambling, so I don’t know what he’s referring to, but I haven’t noticed any great reforms coming out from the government or focus or attention there. But indeed, following the rules is first and foremost what matters. But obviously questions have been asked and she should be open and upfront in terms of addressing those questions.


Laura Jayes: There’s no grey area here, is there? It’s a legal company. There’s no evidence of her being influenced by them. If this is a precedent setting move, I mean, this could spread to many other areas of donation, couldn’t it?


Simon Birmingham: And so that’s why I’m not seeking to prejudge anything. But nor should she avoid scrutiny or avoid questions. She should front up answer the questions. If everything’s been done by the book, then all well and good.


Laura Jayes: Okay. Let me ask you about the safeguard mechanism. Did you support calls to block any changes to that?


Simon Birmingham: Well, I’m not going to go into shadow cabinet conversations in detail. Look, I want to see and it’s well and truly on the public record, that I want to see strong action in relation to climate change. I think it’s in Australia’s interest for us to try to have greater policy certainty in the long run there. There are elements of the safeguard mechanism for which, in terms of the proposed reforms by the Government, in which I have concern that the uniform application of reductions at a linear drop-down rate applied consistently essentially to all companies, all sectors, does present concerns for those who have high levels of trade exposure, does present concerns for some of those sectors where the technology to reduce their emissions profile just isn’t possible yet. So I don’t think the government’s got this perfect or got it right by any means. But I do also think that we need to be making sure that we are as a country leading in terms of our work around emissions reduction, that we are as a Parliament trying to provide greater certainty for Australian business for the long run, and that we should be using mechanisms that don’t put greater burden on taxpayers, but do try to achieve positive outcomes.


Laura Jayes: You say as a as a Parliament trying to achieve that, but you’ve dealt yourself out of negotiations essentially here and you’re leaving it up to the Greens. You’re really comfortable with that?


Simon Birmingham: Well, look, I certainly would implore the government to be sitting down talking to some of those industry sectors. I’ve had a number coming through the doors of my office who do face some of the challenges that I just spoke about in terms of they don’t yet have the technology available to be able to reduce their emissions in terms of the manufacturing processes-


Laura Jayes: But shouldn’t the Coalition be pushing Labor? Surely you’re in the best position to apply that pressure? But instead, you’ve dealt yourselves out.


Simon Birmingham: Well, I’m seeking to push right now by highlighting some of these issues. And indeed, I think what is often missed in terms of a lot of the public debate about emissions profiles in Australia, is the media, the people sort of tend to focus and almost fixate on the electricity market. But here we are talking about a number of industrial companies in Australia, people who make cement, people who make chemicals, people who make steel or aluminium. And in these different sectors, the technological process of manufacturing causes emissions to occur. And within that, they have challenges that you can’t just change the way that you make those products to reduce the emissions. There are certainly efficiencies that many of them have already pursued. There’s more that they should do where they can. But government does need to actually sit down, talk and listen to these sectors and make sure that there is a little bit more horses for courses in the policy they’re taking rather than something that could actually hurt industry and jobs.


Laura Jayes: Too right. You’re right on that one. Senator, thanks so much for your time, as always.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, LJ. My pleasure.


Laura Jayes: Well, the ABA will release its quarterly statement on monetary policy this morning, which could give the market some.