Topics: Criminal deportation; Australia-New Zealand relationship; AUKUS submarines; Asylum seekers;
Laura Jayes: Joining me live now is the Shadow Foreign Minister, Simon Birmingham. Congratulations on your new role in opposition. Simon Birmingham, first of all, on this issue of deportation, do you think Jacinda Ardern has a point when she says that New Zealanders who’ve lived in Australia their whole lives shouldn’t be deported?
Simon Birmingham: Morning, Laura, it’s great to be with you. I think the important principle here is, of course the upholding the integrity of Australia’s laws and that where we do have foreign citizens who have broken the law in regards to serious, grievous, heinous crimes and actions, then the consequences for that are that you don’t have a right to stay in Australia if you’re not an Australian citizen and you have committed serious crimes. And of course there are occasions where there may need to be sensitivity shown it, and I would hope and trust that the system allows for that in terms of the case by case assessment of those individuals. But as a principle, if you’re not an Australian citizen and you break the law in a serious way in Australia, then there really shouldn’t be a place for you here.
Laura Jayes: It does seem like this particular policy, though, and the inflexibility of it may have affected our relationship with New Zealand under the previous government. Do you accept that?
Simon Birmingham: I think certainly we’ve heard the concerns from New Zealand, but I don’t think it’s affected cooperation in a whole range of ways where Australia and New Zealand are very, very close partners and it’s a partnership that transcends politics regardless of who’s in office on either side of the ditch in that regard. We all get along very well and importantly, we pursue cooperation not just in a bilateral environment, but crucially what is very, very important is how we work together within our region and within the rest of the world. And that importance of our work together within this region, across the Pacific, but also across South East Asia, and in the stance we take towards some of the threats and challenges in our region is critically important and we need to make sure that we work as hard as possible to keep New Zealand working closely with us and with other partners of similar values in that regard.
Laura Jayes: Have they worked closely enough? Because China will be on the agenda today. Does your side of politics still see New Zealand and Jacinda Ardern as too soft on China?
Simon Birmingham: I wouldn’t use that sort of language because I want to make sure that we are working in a cooperative way with nations like New Zealand. We do need to be firm, where required and that requires us to take strong stances which I know New Zealand have joined on a number of occasions in relation to certain areas of China’s actions. On other occasions, perhaps they haven’t. I would hope that when it comes to things such as the trade sanctions that have been applied against Australia and we saw from Jacinda Ardern’s recent visit to Washington some threats and statements come out of China that suggested similar actions could be imposed on New Zealand in different ways by China. That would be of deep concern to Australia. And I trust New Zealand shares the concerns in a mutual way about the way China has treated Australia on such trade sanctions.
Laura Jayes: Let me ask you about submarines. We saw an intervention yesterday by Peter Dutton about the timeline of nuclear submarines and when we could get that kind of capability here. Did that risk damaging our AUKUS agreement and our relationship with the UK and US?
Simon Birmingham: I believe so. Laura, these matters are subject to a lot of different public commentary. And prior to Peter Dutton’s remarks we saw Richard Marles speculating in the media about different options in relation to potential conventionally powered diesel powered submarines. I think it’s important that we can have proper discussion in Australia, but also that we keep the focus on the capability that Australia needs and we need capability in two different ways. We need the best possible defence capability for our ADF and that means getting nuclear powered submarines and doing that as quickly as is feasible. And we also need the capability to be able to build, sustain, operate those, those submarines in Australia. And so what Peter Dutton’s highlight is that there is a way to achieve both of those aims potentially by looking at, as has been talked about prior to his remarks the other day. And the reason why I’m trying to get those nuclear powered submarines earlier through lease agreements, through purchase agreements, through shared operational arrangements. These are things that have been widely speculated since AUKUS was announced, but the potential to lock that in whilst not compromising, establishing the build capability and sustainment that’s so necessary for the long term as well.
Laura Jayes: So Richard Marles has said not to expect nuclear capability in nuclear submarines until well beyond, I think it was 2040. Is that more realistic or do you think he’s managing expectations?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I would hope that Richard Marles pursues all potential avenues of opportunities to have the capability and to establish the capacity with the Australian Defence Force to operate nuclear powered submarines far sooner than that. Now there are different pathways that could be achieved, direct purchase of some earlier or leasing arrangements or joint operational arrangements. These are all different scenarios that should be on the table, should be pursued and discussed so that we aren’t in a situation where we are left waiting for the full aspects of our domestic build and to be complete. And even then, of course, you’ve got crewing challenges and operational challenges to come. So if we can manage to pursue the domestic build as fast as is possible, but at the same time acquire access to boats sooner and therefore train crews understand operational arrangements, build sustainment capabilities that enables us to be far more effective, far faster in getting the submarines, but also establishing that domestic sustainment and build capability too.
Laura Jayes: We’ve just seen another asylum seeker vessel arrive intercepted by Operation Sovereign Borders, and it was a take back operation. This is a second since election day. This is these are the first boats we’ve seen in years. Why do you think that is?
Simon Birmingham: Well they are the first boats in years. Now, I’m sure that the confused language and positions from Anthony Albanese during the election campaign didn’t help in terms of the messaging to people smugglers or others that there was a consistency of policy in Australia. The test now is on the new government to make sure they demonstrate the consistency of policy. Having got the language stumbled and fumbled around during the election campaign. They need to get the actions right in government and those actions require them to be very firm and clear here because the last thing any of us want to see is the human tragedy, the death toll that comes from the evil people smuggling trade and the ultimate loss of life at sea that will ensue.
Laura Jayes: Simon Birmingham, thanks so much for your time. We’ll see you soon.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks Laura. My pleasure.