Topics: PM travel to Ukraine; Sri Lankan asylum seekers; border protection

24 June 2022

10:15AM AEST


Laura Jayes: So, do you think Anthony Albanese should go to Kiev?


Simon Birmingham: Look, that’s a matter for him, Ukraine and security officials to navigate. If the opportunity is there, then that would of course be welcome. But what’s more important is the tangible support provided. Our government ensured that there was military assistance, there was humanitarian assistance, there was practical assistance to Ukraine. And it’s crucial the new government continues to build upon that. And so Anthony Albanese, most importantly, needs to take to Europe with him a package of continued assistance and support for Ukraine, whether he delivers that package through the NATO’s summit or through a visit to Kiev. And that’s a matter for scheduling and security considerations.


Laura Jayes: Okay. Let me talk about asylum seekers and Sri Lanka. We saw the new home affairs minister go to Sri Lanka just weeks after she was sworn in. What do you think is going on here with the number of boats and the number of boats that have been intercepted and returned?


Laura Jayes: There’s clearly enormous crisis situations occurring within Sri Lanka and the pressure through the economic calamity that’s been happening there is very real on the Sri Lankan people. The humanitarian assistance, financial assistance that Australia has provided in helping to supply stocks of foods and medicines is exactly the type of thing that Australia should always be doing and that is clearly welcome. But that pressure flowing through Sri Lanka does present further the risk in relation to the movement of maritime vessels. What is critical there is that the new Government makes clear that Australia’s operation of Operation Sovereign Borders remains firm and resolute, that we don’t end up with a situation where people smugglers are able to take advantage of the unfortunate situation that so many Sri Lankans find themselves in. And by taking advantage of those, Sri Lankans place their lives in peril, or jeopardy through the dangerous trips across the oceans. It’s crucial, therefore, that the Government also reconsider its stance in relation to temporary protection visas. One of the pillars that just helps to ensure there is a clarity of message that comes when they present arguments that illegal operations for people smuggling will not result in resettlement.


Laura Jayes: Why does this government need to do that when the measures in place are clearly working as is for the last couple of months?


Simon Birmingham: Laura, it’s still very early days of of the new government there. And we know that people smugglers will seek to exploit any area of weakness in policy. And if they do exploit that area of weakness in policy, at the same time as they’re exploiting the vulnerabilities of individuals in a country like Sri Lanka, then we risk the situation when we see that terrible human toll again through the loss of life at sea. That’s what we should all wish to avoid, to avoid a loss of control over Australia’s borders, but critically to avoid the humanitarian toll that comes through the evil people smuggling trade. It’s a fact that under our government as had been the case under the Howard Government the cessation of the people smuggling trade was achieved through a series of actions of which temporary protection visas were one of them. And that’s why the new government should be very careful about the approach they’ve taken. That leaves a chink in that armour that had to now been so successful.


Laura Jayes: Simon Birmingham, great to talk to you. We’ll see you next week.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Laura. My pleasure.