TopicsAnniversary of invasion of Ukraine; Australian support for Ukraine; Australian deaths in Philippines plane crash; Albanese Labor Government backflip on superannuation;

09:20AM AEDT
24 February 2023

Laura Jayes: Let’s go live to the Shadow Foreign Minister now. Simon Birmingham, thanks so much for your time. Another $33 million pledged for Ukraine from the Australian Government this morning. Simon Birmingham, we’ve already heard from Peter Dutton this morning that essentially we are being targeted for our support for Ukraine, this further support, this ongoing support. Does that put us at risk of more spies, more foreign interference here in Australia from Russia?

Simon Birmingham: Well, we have to be ever vigilant in terms of the risk of foreign interference and we have to make sure that we continue to support our national security agencies. And what we saw this week from the ASIO Director General was that with the resourcing they have, with the support they got from the previous government, they have been able to be very effective in terms of protecting Australia’s national interests, identifying where there are threats and responding to those threats. And it’s critical that that continues. And this is not a time where we can see any type of fatigue in terms of the protection of Australia or our broader interests. And our broader interests include the defence of Ukraine, not just to defend Ukraine and its territory, but most critically, to also defend the principles of sovereignty and the respect for law, the United Nations Charter, and ultimately the types of freedoms and democratic values that we hold dear in Australia. That’s what’s on the line when it comes to Russia’s illegal and immoral invasion of Ukraine. And that’s why we need to continue to support Ukraine to make sure we’re delivering that assistance to them, doing it in as timely a way as possible, but also ensuring that we are building our own defences and national security capabilities in response to these sorts of authoritarian threats.

Laura Jayes: The current Government is doing just that, aren’t they? Is there any fatigue that you can detect?

Simon Birmingham: I welcome the fact that there is additional support being announced today and the previous government put Australia in the position of being one of the leading non-NATO contributors to the support of Ukraine, and it’s important that continues. And so today’s additional support is welcome. The type of pillars on which we built our support initially were military support, humanitarian support, support for Ukrainians who needed to flee the situation, including those who came to Australia, as well as actions against Russia. Now we’ve got announcements today in terms of more military support and more targeted sanctions and actions against Russia. They’re both welcome and we also need to make sure we don’t relent in terms of the human support, the humanitarian assistance, and that we continue to provide assistance there wherever it’s necessary for the Ukrainian people. I urge the Government to do that and also to focus on ensuring as swift and timely a delivery as possible of the type of equipment that is being promised because the promises are important, but the delivery is even more so.

Laura Jayes: Senator, I know DFAT has been really busy for a very tragic reason over the last couple of days and that is after that plane crash in the Philippines that killed two Australians. What do we know about what happened there?

Simon Birmingham: Well, I trust the Australian Government will be offering the Filipino Government all possible assistance in terms of our Air Transport Safety Bureau and others in terms of making sure the technical assistance there to understand what brought that plane down, the circumstances of it, so that there can be the type of investigation that we would expect should occur in relation to an aircraft crash and also provide some sense of closure and understanding to the families involved. I’ve been in touch with the families. I know the government has been in touch with the families, too. This is a terrible time for them as it is with any such tragedy. And whilst sadly, the lives weren’t able to be saved from this crash. Certainly getting answers to what occurred is worthwhile.

Laura Jayes: Okay. Let me quickly ask you about superannuation.

Simon Birmingham: Sorry, Laura, I should just also add, of course, there’s been a tragedy in terms of the Philippines soldiers who were killed in part of the rescue effort, too, and we should acknowledge that and the support the Philippine government has given and extend condolences to those soldiers’ families and colleagues, too.

Laura Jayes: Yeah, absolutely. Let me ask you about superannuation. When I spoke to Angus Taylor earlier this week, he said, you know, it’s up to the government to explain whether tax concessions should be limited for superannuation balances that have over $3 million. He didn’t want to say whether it was a good or bad idea to go down that path. Do you think it’s a good or a bad idea? Is it fairer to limit concessions for those with a balance of over $3 million?

Simon Birmingham: Well, it’s worth remembering that that the Turnbull Government put in place limits on concessions for the treatment of pension or retirement savings accounts of $1.6 million back in 2016. So we acted and we did so in ways that were transparent and clearly argued at the time about the merits of ensuring the superannuation system was treated in a sustainable way and that particularly in that retirement phase, that the degree of concessions available were focused on what people need for their retirement in coming years. Now the government at present seems to be flying different kites. It’s for them if they’re going to bring a policy forward to explain that policy. But they also have to explain why it is they’re doing the opposite of what they promised at the election. Mr. Albanese was pressed on whether there would be changes to superannuation, and he said there wouldn’t be. So this will be a backflip. It will be a broken promise if they act in this area and they’re going to have to be transparent about that. And meanwhile you’ve got to really worry about some of the ideology driving parts of the government on this. Stephen Jones out there again talking in ways like people’s individual savings in their superannuation account don’t belong to them but belong to some sort of broader national interest. Well, that’s of great concern if you’re wanting to collectivise an approach in terms of superannuation and these are the individual savings of individual Australians, they are there clearly for retirement purposes. Absolutely. And those funds need to be empowered first and foremost to protect the savings of those individual Australians and get the best possible returns on them. That cannot be compromised.

Laura Jayes: Simon Birmingham, thanks so much for your time. We’ll speak soon.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks, LJ. My pleasure.