Topics: Australia-China relationship; War in Ukraine; Labor breaking promises;
Gabriella Power: Well, joining us live now is shadow foreign minister Simon Birmingham. Simon Birmingham, thanks for joining us. Firstly, do you agree with the former Prime Minister’s comments about AUKUS, the Quad and China?
Simon Birmingham: Well, good morning, Gabriella. Certainly the Quad is an incredibly important strategic partnership between India, Japan, the United States and Australia. And in doing so, it has significant influence across the Indo-Pacific in terms of the countries that are involved. It brings together nations that share a commitment to democracy, share a commitment to the international rules based order, and are able to work very importantly with other partners then across the region. It is those other partnerships as well that are so critical with the continued engagement of each of us as quad members, with our ASEAN partners. Australia as the longest standing dialogue partner with the ASEAN nations. And that again is a crucial pillar in terms of the types of regional peace, prosperity and stability and that we seek to bring. AUKUS is another pillar in our security alliances and partnerships and certainly a very significant achievement of the previous government in terms of ensuring that in terms of Australia’s defence positioning, we will be in the strongest possible position to access the best defence technologies and to do that in a cooperative way with our closest partners and allies in the United States and the United Kingdom.
Gabriella Power: Well, Scott Morrison’s speech provoked a sharp response from China. What can we expect?
Simon Birmingham: But it shouldn’t. It is simply highlighting the importance of those partnerships now. Equally, we wish to see a strong partnership with China. The Comprehensive Strategic Partnership that Australia has with China is one in which China should engage, as Australia should, in the type of mutual dialogue and commitment to work in the areas where we have common understanding. There’s no doubt that some of China’s actions in recent years, the more assertive stance that they have taken, has been detrimental in terms of the relationship, particularly where they have acted in means of economic coercion against Australia. And there’s no doubt that the increased militarisation and particularly some of their actions in relation to the South China Sea have been unhelpful in terms of regional peace and security. But ultimately we would wish to see China engage in a manner that enables us all to enjoy a peaceful, prosperous and stable region.
Gabriella Power: China has warned the US not to play with fire over Taiwan. This is in a phone call with President Joe Biden. How concerning is this?
Simon Birmingham: Threats are never helpful. And the type of threats that have been briefed out in relation to that, that conversation is not something that I think is conducive to trying to ensure the type of peace and prosperity that we want to see in the region, as we were just discussing. It is positive that the two presidents, President Xi and President Biden, had a long conversation. And that type of dialogue is really important in terms of the ability of these two major powers to be able to work through differences and to be able to work to cooperate across the rest of the world. But the stability and peace, including across the Taiwan Strait, is very important. There ought not to be any disruption to the established arrangements there that that are providing right now and have provided for economic growth and growth in prosperity in Taiwan, as we’ve seen economic growth and growth in prosperity in recent decades in China. And that is being for the good of the peoples living in Taiwan, for people living across China. And the best thing for the world and for those peoples is for that peace to remain and that stability to remain.
Gabriella Power: Moving on to the war in Ukraine. Ukraine’s President has suggested that pace can’t be achieved while Vladimir Putin still leads Russia. This is in an exclusive interview with Piers Morgan. He does believe, though, that his country won’t be defeated. What do you make of what the Ukraine president has had to say?
Simon Birmingham: The Ukrainian response to Russia’s invasion, to the illegal invasion, the war that has been undertaken has been nothing short of heroic. And so much of the rest of the world looks on with admiration for what the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian leadership has been able to achieve. And we should have confidence that they will be able to continue to withstand Russia’s advances, and we should be willing to continue to back them with all of our support. The previous Morrison government made sure that Australia was the largest non-NATO supporter of Ukraine in terms of providing financial assistance, military assistance and weapons, vehicles, etc.. And I urge the Albanese Government to ensure Australia remains at the forefront of helping Ukraine in its defences. The actions of Vladimir Putin are reprehensible. They deserve the strongest condemnation. He ought to see the type of message the world has sent and the type of resistance that Ukrainian people have shown. And I would urge other countries, such as China, to do more to get him to cease and desist from this war on Ukraine.
Gabriella Power: Just finally looking at Australia’s economic situation, Treasurer Jim Chalmers says that the new government inherited these challenges and it has to fix the mess that the former government created with the benefit of hindsight. Is there more that the former government could have done to better prepare Australia’s economic position?
Simon Birmingham: Well, let’s firstly remember that that the previous government successfully saw Australia through COVID 19, the global recession. Our economy performed more strongly with lower impacts from from COVID 19 of a health or economic nature. We managed to come out the other side meeting the tests that Labor had set for us. Dr. Chalmers and the Labor Party at the time were all arguing at that stage that the test for the Coalition Government would be what happens to unemployment. Well, in fact we managed to get unemployment down to 50 year lows below 4%. We did that ensuring that Australia kept its triple-A credit rating, one of only nine countries in the world to do so and had stronger economic growth than so many other nations. So we left a very strong position in that regard. Labor went through the election campaign claiming that everything was easy, that they’d be able to achieve real wages growth, stronger economic growth and all of these things would miraculously happen with the change of government. What we saw yesterday was clearly the laying of the foundations by Mr. Chalmers, the Labor Treasurer, for them to back away from that. He’s now saying there won’t be real wages growth. He’s now saying there won’t be such strong economic growth. This is a back pedalling and it’s unsurprising when you look at the early policy decisions of this government that a decision such as the axing of the ABCC and will only make a challenging situation worse drive up costs in the construction sector, add to inflationary pressures, hurt productivity, exactly the opposite of what the country needs right now.
Gabriella Power: Simon Birmingham, we have to leave it there. Thanks so much for your time.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks Gabrielle, my pleasure.