Topics: New UK Prime Minister Liz Truss;


09:15AM AEST



Laura Jayes:  Newly elected British Prime Minister Liz Truss will find a series of pressing yet complex issues on her desk. These include international relationships, particularly with Australia. Truss is a welcomed arrival for the Australian Government after her role in the Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement under the Morrison Government. Joining me live is Shadow Foreign Minister now Simon Birmingham. Simon, first of all, Liz Truss, she’s a bit of a chameleon. How should we view her? Is she a conservative? Is she moderate? Is she pragmatic?


Simon Birmingham: G’day, LJ. We should view Liz Truss as a great friend to Australia who will stand up for our shared values and interest that Australia and the UK have on the international stage. Together with Liz Truss, I launched the Australian-UK Free Trade Agreement negotiations back in 2019 and she demonstrated a determination to achieve a high quality trade agreement that opened up more investment ties between our countries, more trade links between our countries, the opportunity for exchanging high technology knowledge as well as greater mobility, particularly for young Australians and young Brits between our two countries. And it’s a great deal that was ultimately done and Liz played a key role in that. As she did in the early stages of delivery once the AUKUS agreement was announced with her most recent visit to Australia being as recent as February this year, where amongst other things she visited the shipyards where BAE are building the future frigates for Australia. A really tangible demonstration of those practical defence links and ties that she championed so strongly.


Laura Jayes: Okay, so what does it then mean for our relationship, getting that free trade deal done? I mean, before the EU ambassador finished his tenure, he was talking about the EU free trade deal done within the next year. Do you anticipate the same with UK?


Simon Birmingham: Well, the UK deal is done, signed and just requires now delivery by both governments. So I urge the Albanese Government to expedite the processes to bring legislation to the Australian Parliament this year so that we’ve held up our end of the bargain and that we can apply maximum pressure on the UK to do likewise. It’s far better for exporters if this deal comes into effect this calendar year and that provides an extra year’s worth of benefits in terms of how the deal works in providing the reduction of tariffs, the reduction or growth in quotas or elimination of quotas in a range of areas, and the other benefits that are there. But of course, we’ll see with Liz far greater benefits as she engages with Australia cooperatively in international relations. She has been resolute in leading much of the world opinion against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in leading the defence of the international rules and norms that are meant to protect countries from that type of illegal act that Russia is engaged in. And I think we can expect to see that Liz will want to lead a government, though it has many domestic priorities to get on with will also be a very strong interlocutor in international affairs and doing so in a way that aligns very much with Australia’s international interests.


Laura Jayes: What can we learn from what’s going on in the UK at the moment? I mean, inflation is high and expected to go higher. They have an energy crisis. I mean we are looking at these kind of things on a smaller scale here in Australia not to downplay them because they’re still really hurting families, but particularly on the energy debate, I mean the UK has been moving towards renewables at a very rapid pace. Is there a lesson here for us?


Simon Birmingham: Well there our lessons that we need to learn. Now, of course, much of what’s happened in terms of the immediacy of some of these shocks relates to the pressure that Russia has put on by depleting or turning off gas supplies in different ways to parts of Europe and the sanctions that have been applied back to Russia in terms of seeking to diminish energy dependency. It’s to the credit of many European nations that they are willing to bear some of this pain to be able to apply those sanctions onto Russia. And we should always remember that Australia has the luxury of having a rich supply of energy, both traditional energy sources and renewable energy sources. And we need to make sure that we continue to harness all of those opportunities to keep energy security in Australia. Our challenges are real, but when you compare them against 10% inflation in the UK, 80% increases. 80% increases in energy prices. It puts in some perspective where we are at. But nonetheless, I know many Australian households today will see the Reserve Bank probably increase interest rates again and be wanting to know what the new Labor Government in Australia has in store to help them with the real cost of living pressures that Australians are feeling too.


Laura Jayes: Nice pivot. I’ll ask you this one final question. Does Liz Truss have our back when it comes to China?


Simon Birmingham: Liz Truss absolutely will be in Australia’s corner in terms of defence of those international laws, rules and norms. She would expect to work closely as she has with Australia through the AUKUS partnership, in ensuring we have the strongest defence technology systems and knowledge available to us possible, and in working collaboratively with all of the democracies and countries with common values and support and respect of freedom around the world, to stand strongly against autocracies, to stand strongly in favour of international laws and norms and the respect for those by all countries, no matter who they are or their size.


Laura Jayes: Simon Birmingham, thanks so much for your time this morning.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, LJ. My pleasure.