Topics: ALP National Conference – AUKUS; Israel-Palestine

0930 AEST
Friday, 18 August 2023


Laura Jayes:  Let’s get back to the conference here because it is not quite a party. But what is being discussed here is certainly important for the direction of where this Albanese Government is going to take the nation. A few little insights for you a little bit later in the program. But let’s talk about AUKUS because this is what the tension is over today – about this AUKUS deal with the British and the Americans. Left faction heavyweights are considering a motion that would take the security pact out of the national party platform. Instead, the Prime Minister is saying there’s assurances around the nuclear submarine program and what that will do for jobs. Joining me now is the Shadow Foreign Minister, Simon Birmingham. So good to see you. Thanks so much for your time, Senator. So, are you worried about what might come out this meeting this weekend?


Simon Birmingham: Well, first and foremost, the divisions we’re seeing within the Labor Party over AUKUS are a reminder that Labor could never have initiated the AUKUS pact; that the Labor Party clearly has such deep divisions here the only way they came to be able to support it in government was because a Coalition government had initiated it, and Labor adopting a strategy of being a small target at the last election, simply quickly folded in and supported what the Coalition had initiated. But now we’re seeing these remarkable scenes and of course so much of it happening in even more bitter division behind the scenes of Labor promising the 10,000 jobs will apparently all be union jobs – I don’t know whether they’re going to force people to join the union or what the terms and conditions of that will be; that we’ve got 32 paragraphs of attachments being put on to the national platform to try to appease different factions within the Labor Party here and to deal with the factions. And it’s a reminder that in the lead up to this conference, we had Labor changing Australia’s position in relation to key issues around Israel; we had Labor junking plans for the low-level radioactive disposal facility; you’ve seen many different bones thrown to the left-wing factions of the Labor Party to try to achieve unity and yet still they’ve got division and still apparently they’re even going to delay further the discussions that may occur at the national conference today.


Laura Jayes: Anthony Albanese is famously from the left faction;, I mean he even referenced yesterday that, you know 15, 20 years ago was out on the floor moving resolutions and you know, fighting the good fight. He’s famous for saying he just wants to fight Tories. But do you think as a Prime Minister, that he has capitulated to the left or would you still say, so far, that he’s pretty centrist?


Simon Birmingham: If Anthony Albanese were not Prime Minister, he’d probably be leading the left-wing debate against AUKUS on the conference floor. So, we’ve got a Prime Minister who, as I said, could not have initiated this himself and has, for political convenience prior to the last election, agreed. We’ve got a Labor Party that has shown it can’t even get agreement in terms of show the commitment and the determination to deliver a low-level radioactive waste facility in Australia. So there are real concerns about the way in which this Government is going to be able to manage this critically important, highly complex program for the future. And the divisions on show in Labor and the fact that even if a deal has been done in the back rooms of this conference, you’ve got plenty of people going out and you spoke to one just before saying ‘we will maintain the fight, we will be bringing this up at future conferences, we’ll be trying to oppose this again and again into the future.’

The Coalition, the Liberal and National parties, are united in our determination to see AUKUS delivered in full – all pillars of it – as a central tenant of Australia’s national security to help ensure our defences in a very challenging environment. The Labor Party is obviously divided and having to contort itself to get through this critical issue.


Laura Jayes: Sure, but you know that for AUKUS to work – for the Australian people to believe in it – you need bipartisanship. So, are you sowing unnecessary division here because you move on from the conference – yes, the left faction get to air their grievances, but nothing really changes, does it?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Laura, we’re not the ones creating the divisions. The divisions are happening there at the Labor Party Conference. We would like nothing more than for the bipartisan support…


Laura Jayes: …you’re highlighting it though, conveniently.


Simon Birmingham: …you’re asking me about it, conveniently. The reality is we would like nothing more than for the bipartisan support for AUKUS to be comprehensive in its bipartisanship and for the Labor Party to be 100 per cent on board. They’re not 100 per cent on board; the divisions are plain and obvious. Now, I hope for the sake of Australia’s national interest that there are no further compromises, and it’s not just compromises around AUKUS; in the end the 32 paragraphs may well largely be a re-statement of what we already know aside from this peculiar throwing in of suggesting they’ll all the unionised jobs, I think they really do need to clarify exactly what they mean there because I think those workers deserve choice about whether or not they want to join a union. But beyond those factors, what’s probably of more concern is the fact that I’m certain that deals in relation to language about Israel and Palestinian occupied territories, as Labor now call them and the like – they’re all part of the backroom deals that have been done to try to make sure the platform does deliver support for AUKUS. So, it’s the other things that have been compromised or sold out, just to try to deal with this issue that show how deep the divisions are and of course it’s not just that this is a Labor Party document we’re talking about; these matters go to Australia’s position and stance given Labor is in government at present.


Laura Jayes: Yeah, absolutely and you mentioned that language change when it comes to Israel and Palestine. What material effect does that have?


Simon Birmingham: Well these are disputed territories and as disputed territories to ensure that they are part of a long-term, two-state solution that has a future Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel, there will have to be negotiations for that. So, using the type of language of occupied Palestinian territories, suggests that there is a predetermination on Australia’s part about all of those territories when in the end to be able to have that two-state solution achieved there will need to be negotiation about those disputed territories to reach an agreed outcome. That’s why it would be more accurate to maintain that type of language and there was no real necessity, need or otherwise for the Labor Government to change its wording in the last couple of weeks other than clearly to manage the factional differences coming up with this meeting happening in Brisbane right now.


Laura Jayes: Yeah, well, Simon Birmingham we’ll have to leave it there, thanks so much for that and just to note before we go to a break that the AUKUS meeting has actually been pushed back. It was meant to happen on the floor in the next hour or so – that’s been pushed back to after midday or around midday. I don’t know whether that has any significance, but there you go.