Topics: Voice to Parliament; Trump indictment; Australia-US relationship; Sofronoff inquiry;

09:25AM AEST
4 August 2023


Laura Jayes:  Joining me live now is a Shadow Foreign Minister, Simon Birmingham. Thanks so much for your time. The Voice debate, it’s getting messy, It’s getting more acrimonious, more divisive. Where is this all headed? Simon Birmingham.


Simon Birmingham: Well, LJ. Ultimately, it’s headed to a referendum. Now, when that is, the prime is not saying so Australians are going to have to wait and see there. I think the Prime Minister did show this week that trying to give tricky and evasive answers around questions of treaty and so on only made a difficult situation worse. And so this lack of transparency, which has been a consistent part of the way the Labor Party has approached this issue, not wanting to provide further details in relation to Voice, not wanting to be clear and transparent in relation to treaty. It’s all actually hurting the case that they’re trying to to advance and is making the situation in relation to the referendum much, much harder for them than it might otherwise have been.


Laura Jayes: Do you think talk of treaty is something that would encourage Australians to vote no?


Simon Birmingham: Well, I think an evasiveness from the government and a seeming trickiness in terms of not wanting to give a straight answer is only going to further undermine Australian confidence in this process. Now, as for whether treaty itself, I think, again, people would want to hear details and understand just what the Government meant by that. And so this sense from the Government that they are seeking to simply not say the word, avoid the topic completely, kick it off until after the referendum is not going to help their case at all.


Laura Jayes: Let’s talk Trump for a moment, because he is hard to avoid, especially when he’s been indicted for a third time. How does this affect Australia? I mean, it’s messy in the United States. We have a former president wanting to be president again. He’s facing jail time. His opponent, Joe Biden. You cannot ignore his age. How does this affect our alliance?


Simon Birmingham: Well, there are two things that everybody, whether you are Donald Trump, Joe Biden or any other commentator or observer of this, needs to remember two things that are far more important than Donald Trump or any other player in this. And that is American democracy and American justice. And and their systems are systems that have stood the test of time so far, provided models for much of the rest of the world and must be respected and protected at all costs in terms of the democratic and the justice systems of America and ensuring that democracy and justice are respected, are observed is critical through all of this. There’s obviously a lot of sideshow element attached to it. There’s a lot of commentary around what the political implications are. And for Australia, we need to have confidence and continue to reinforce that it is for us about the maintenance of the alliance, the maintenance of the bipartisan support in the US as in Australia, for the strength of that alliance, regardless of who is in the White House, who is in the Congress, that we want to make sure we keep that strong bipartisan support.


Laura Jayes: With Trump, if Trump did return to the presidency, I know this is a big hypothetical at this point. Does that make our alliance stronger or weaker?


Simon Birmingham: I don’t- I think we’ve demonstrated before that we can have a very strong alliance with the Trump administration. The previous government did that. And it would be a test that the Albanese government would have to step up to make sure that they equally had a strong relationship with the Trump administration and kept the alliance strong. Clearly part of that is being able to urge and encourage the administration to do the things that we see as being in the broader strategic interests for our Indo-Pacific region, including continuing the type of momentum we’ve seen recently of deeper engagement by the United States with Pacific Island nations where they’ve followed the lead Australia set a number of years ago under the Morrison government of opening more diplomatic missions and embassies across those Pacific Island nations, as well as deepening engagement with South East Asian nations and particularly pursuing further trade and investment ties there. And they’re the types of linkages that we have to make sure, again, whoever is in the White House that we see the US do more of and pursue that momentum to make sure that our region remains free and open.


Laura Jayes: If I could just end by asking you about the Sofronoff inquiry, that too is difficult to ignore. We have questions about the DPP, Drumgold’s conduct. We have Bruce Lehrmann threatening to sue the ACT. We also have Linda Reynolds suing Brittany Higgins for defamation. Do you support her right to do that, sue Brittany Higgins?


Simon Birmingham: Well, she has every legal right and I certainly don’t question that at all. These are legal processes that again, in our system need to be respected, just as I urged them to be so in the US system, a few moments ago. In terms of what we’ve seen around the ACT justice system and I’ve not seen the report, only the media coverage of the report, but that media coverage shows some remarkable findings that really do bring into question the way in which justice appears to have been administered and applied within the DPP’s office in the ACT. They are things that deserve a comprehensive response from the ACT government and obviously real effort from the ACT government to make sure that people have confidence in the way justice will be applied within that jurisdiction.


Laura Jayes: Well, it should be pointed out that we do not have this inquiry. It has been leaked. What we know from the leaked inquiry so far is that, yes, there were these adverse findings against Drumgold, but also it found that the prosecution, the way it was brought against Lehrmann was justified. Just on the leaks, not only do we have the leaking of this report, but it appears that the entire contents of Brittany Higgins phone and her text messages have been leaked and they’re being dripped out through various media reports. Do you have any concerns about that, Simon Birmingham, that a victim could have her contents of her phone leaked in this way?


Simon Birmingham: In short, yes, LJ. I mean, I think, again, there are things that ought to be investigated and understood in relation to how such leaks have occurred or where they have come from. And that’s perfectly reasonable for people to seek to have understood, I mean, right through various instances of this case and these allegations, there have been various points of leaks coming from within parts of ACT systems and seemingly elsewhere as well. And they are all of concern and at its heart we have serious allegations that were made. They should have been pursued within a justice system that respected the seriousness of those allegations and accorded natural justice to the accused as well, and provided a fair outcome for all. And it’s terrible that the politicisation of this occurred in the way that it did, and that, of course, fed into a scenario where there’s been so much by way of media leakage and within that potential undermining of of elements of those rights to justice. And that’s where the ACT government from this latest report really needs to make sure they are comprehensive in addressing it and in ensuring that they give far greater confidence to people in future to do what ultimately is the right thing, and that is to report any crimes and do so first and foremost to the police.


Laura Jayes: Well said, Senator. Thanks so much for your time.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks LJ. My pleasure.