Topics: Charlie Stevens, Labor’s chaos on national security; Israel-Hamas conflict;   

09:20AM AEDT
Friday, 1 December 2023


Laura Jayes: Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Birmingham, live from Adelaide today. Simon, this is just a tragedy and we’ve seen the grief in that room last night and it has affected much of South Australia as well. An outpouring of support for Charlie’s family.


Simon Birmingham: Morning LJ. It absolutely has, LJ. It has touched South Australians. But what is perhaps touched people even more is the way in which the Stevens family, in particularly Police Commissioner Grant Stevens, has ensured that the focus hasn’t just been on Charlie’s tragic death, but also on all of the other families impacted by road deaths and fatalities. It just speaks to the enormous sense of service that Grant Stevens brings to our state and the commitment that he has and the compassion there. But certainly, South Australians all have felt, felt an overwhelming wave of sympathy, of love, of compassion for Grant and Emma. They’re both wonderful, wonderful people. And they’re a great family and it has touched so many.


Laura Jayes: Yeah, it certainly has. And just hearing his friends and family talk about Charlie last night, he was certainly a kid that lived a big life in his 18 years, of course, gone too soon. Let’s pivot now to talk about Parliament this week and your portfolio area. First of all, I want to ask you about why the Liberals voted against some of the legislation that Labor put forward today to clean up this High Court mess and do you think what’s going on right now really does threaten to dismantle Operation Sovereign Borders?


Simon Birmingham: I think a couple of things there. Firstly, we are seeing very clearly that there is huge extra attention on Australia from people smugglers. That the Operation Sovereign Borders Command is having to do more and more to try to deter people smugglers from making attempts to get people to Australia. And we have seen reports of boat arrivals, reports of increased activity and that Operation Sovereign Borders are now having to respond in ways to try to create increased deterrence. So, that is all deeply alarming and the chaos within the Albanese Government over the last few weeks around the detainees ruling will be doing nothing to help the work of Operation Sovereign Borders. The reality is all of this chaos from the Albanese Government simply gives the people smugglers ammunition in terms of PR and what they can try to promote. That’s why the Government really should have been far better prepared. What we’ve seen has been an approach where they say one thing one day and then do completely the opposite, sometimes the same day. We had a couple of weeks ago legislation that was the toughest it could be until the opposition proposed six amendments to it, all of which the government accepted. Now, this week we’ve had new different proposals with the Government initially saying it couldn’t entertain preventative detention regimes but is now drafting legislation to do so. That’s why we wanted this week to say, well, the parliament is sitting this week, its back again next week, and we want to try to force the government to get it right this time, rather than the ensuing chaos we have seen.


Laura Jayes: Is there a political element to all of this, though? You know, for the first time, really, the Liberal Nationals have been able to exploit the weaknesses of Labor or perceived weaknesses, and you’re using that to maximum political effect?


Simon Birmingham: Well, LJ, there wouldn’t be any political advantage if the government was handling it, handling it in a competent manner. If they had done their homework and prepared for the possibilities of the High Court finding, then there wouldn’t be the type of chaos we’ve seen. If indeed they had not arguably conceded in the High Court case, there was no chance of deporting the individual who was the subject of that case. When reports suggest the Guardian and elsewhere that there was a possibility that they could have been deported, then who knows, maybe the case itself could have gone in a different direction. But the range of different failings that the Government has had right the way through this, potentially in how they handled the case, certainly in their lack of preparedness to respond to the case, and then the chaotic ad hoc approach that has come to the legislation and the various different approaches and the adoption of government amendments, and, of course, seemingly tragically, having let slip potentially detainees into the community without having put any of the preventative measures in place, such as the ankle bracelets.


Laura Jayes: Let’s quickly turn to Israel. It’s now seven days of a cease fire. It looks any extension of that is going to be fraught. There’s been a killing in Jerusalem, so it’s now beyond Gaza. We see much more violence in the West Bank. Yes, we’re seeing Palestinian prisoners being released. But Israel, according to some in the Palestinian Authority, is locking up even more prisoners as they do that. Where is this headed, in your view, and what is Australia’s role right now? Simon Birmingham.


Simon Birmingham: Well, firstly, we should recognise the attack and murder of Israelis in the last 24 hours, with Hamas again claiming responsibility. So in the middle of a ceasefire arrangement, a pause in hostilities that has enabled for some hostages to happily be released hostages who should all, of course, be released. Hamas has been quite happy to claim responsibility for killing and murdering more Israelis, and that is a reminder of the grave terrorist threat that Hamas poses and continues to pose. And why, when you say, where is this headed? Well, it must ultimately be headed to the removal of Hamas and their capacity to operate as a terrorist organisation out of Gaza, to operate as a terrorist organisation that threatens peace and stability across Israel, and to operate as a terrorist organisation that uses innocent Palestinians as human shields and sets back any chance of peace. What we all want to see is a situation where there is sufficient stability for Palestinian peoples to be able to negotiate their rights fairly with Israel and to be able to achieve a long-term outcome. That can’t happen with Hamas. And it’s going to take, unfortunately, continued efforts to remove Hamas there. For Australia, first and foremost, we have to work to try to ensure that within Australia we are promoting civil harmony and discourse and deeply distressing and shameful to see the types of actions in Melbourne this week, where we saw protesters targeting the families of those hostages who have been held. That is an appalling act, rightly condemned by many. But just a reminder that in those cases, and frankly, elsewhere, where we see teachers, unions trying to take battles into the classroom, we need to remember this is a long and complex and challenging issue, that, of course, people are free in Australia to express their views, but they should do so never in a way that intimidates others. They should do so respectful of the complexities here, and of the fact that there are tragedies felt by all sides in this regard.


Laura Jayes: Senator, thanks for your time as always.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, LJ, my pleasure.