Topics: AUSMIN talks; AUKUS; Julian Assange; Labor’s political stunt on Housing Bill

08:50AM ACDT
28 July 2023


Laura Jayes:  Let’s go to the Shadow Foreign Minister, Simon Birmingham now. He’s been standing by for us. Thanks so much for your time, Senator. First of all, does any of this talk make you nervous? We know that projects like this, the submarine project, you know, they don’t have a great track record of being on time or on budget. Is this going to be any different?


Simon Birmingham: Good morning, LJ. It’s good to be with you. Look, it is a critical test for Australian diplomacy to ensure that we maintain as broad a possible bipartisan support for the AUKUS arrangement throughout US politics and right across the US Congress. And so it is critical that any concerns that are raised through those congressional proceedings are ones that we are across and that we are engaging and responding thoughtfully to, to make sure that support is strong, is bipartisan and is ongoing and consistent throughout the very long life that AUKUS has.

Now, of course, there are different domestic factors which are matters for the United States to respond to around the rate of submarine production within their own shipyards. But it is important that we have access on time to the Virginia class submarines that are part of the AUKUS arrangement. Because that access is about ensuring that Australia’s capabilities not just to be able to build nuclear powered submarines in the future, but to be able to operate them and operate them in a manner and way in which all of the different safeguards and other concerns are addressed are proven and demonstrated. And so it is a critical step in terms of the pipeline of the Aukus deal to get those Virginia class subs. And we need to make sure that we have the type of bipartisan and broad support across the US that has been there to date and that is well maintained into the future.


Laura Jayes: Do you think that’s solid?


Simon Birmingham: Look, I think it is very, very strong from all of the engagements that I have seen and been party to and the commentary of many, many others shows that there is a very strong and very bipartisan support for the AUKUS arrangement. But clearly there are concerns raised from time to time, and particularly some with some of those domestic elements about the rate of production in US shipyards. We need to make sure that Australia is playing our role and doing as much as we can in terms of our diplomatic effort in the United States for all parts of the Congress, all parts of US politics, all potential presidential candidates and options for the future as well, and potential administrations in the future to understand the different elements and facets of this arrangement, how across the alliance it is going to ultimately increase the productive capability in terms of our defence industry, going to increase the availability and number of nuclear powered submarines that we can deploy and work jointly on together in the future and be good for the US as well as Australia, as well as the United Kingdom in terms of the overall efforts in our defence partnerships and alliances.


Laura Jayes: And we know how important that partnership is. So I want to ask you about Julian Assange, because Anthony Albanese domestically has said, you know, enough is enough and made representations publicly saying perhaps he just needs to come home to Australia and the US needs to drop their case against him. Would it rock the boat for Anthony Albanese to raise this with his counterpart, Joe Biden?


Simon Birmingham: Well, I don’t think it would rock the boat in that sense. The government, the Albanese Government has indicated that they do raise this case as we expect them to raise consular cases and all Australian governments raise consular cases in an appropriate way with, with different partners. But obviously a lot of the delays in the Julian Assange case that has dragged on for so many years have in part been a function of Mr. Assange’s own decisions, including the very long period of time that he chose to put himself in the Ecuadorian embassy in London and avoid any type of legal proceedings. And we have enormous respect for the British justice system and the courts that he is before at present, as well as regard and respect for the American system. And we should be careful in terms of our engagement with all of our partners there to respect that. But I can understand the sentiments that others express in terms of the length that this has gone on as well. And no doubt it would be in everybody’s best interest to see the matters resolved more expeditiously than has proven to be the case so far.


Laura Jayes: Let me ask you about the housing bill. The Government has indicated it will reintroduce it into parliament next week, unchanged. The Greens say they want to negotiate. Labor says it wants to negotiate but not quite sure where either of their red lines are at. Is the Coalition willing to negotiate or would you be willing to chance an election?


Simon Birmingham: Well, on the substance of this bill and this policy by the Government, it’s billions of dollars of additional debt that does absolutely nothing to increase home ownership in Australia and delivers next to nothing in terms of any immediate support for the housing market in Australia. And we’re in a remarkable situation at present where we’re seeing new dwelling approvals going down, real pressure in terms of home ownership and all the government is bowling up is this proposal that will create billions of dollars of extra debt but does nothing to support home ownership in Australia.

In terms of the announcement overnight and in the morning newspapers by the Government that they’re going to reintroduce this bill into the House of Representatives. Well, that is a 110% political stunt by the Government that is all about lining up the possibility of an early election and nothing about the passage of this bill. This bill is actually still on the Senate notice paper. There is no legislative reason why the Government needs to reintroduce it into the House of Representatives. The only basis for the Government to reintroduce it into the House of Representatives is to set up a double dissolution trigger. The claims by Government ministers this morning that this is just about housing policy do not stack up to anybody who understands the legislative process. All the government is doing here is trying to get themselves an election trigger, give them the option of an early election, playing politics with this issue rather than actually looking at how they can help Australians with immediate cost of living pressures and reverse what is the housing dwelling approvals rates that are seeing a decline and risk apply to home ownership in this country.


Laura Jayes: Otherwise known as a bit of leverage? Simon Birmingham will be watching with interest next week. We’ll see you in Canberra. Thanks so much.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, LJ. My pleasure.