Topics: Huawei Solomon Islands deal; Bali bomber early release; Electrical vehicle conference; Ministerial responsibilities;
Laura Jayes: How concerning is this latest development with Huawei on the Solomons?
Simon Birmingham: Hello, LJ. It’s good to be with you. This latest development does present a number of questions that I think need to be asked in terms of whether the Solomon Islands shared information with this with the Australian Government in advance, and if they did, in terms of what level of detail and whether concerns around security were raised or canvassed at all during those conversations, coming on top of the actions that are occurring in the Solomon Islands to delay their normal elections and therefore defer the normal routine of the democratic process. These are troubling and worrying times in some respects, and that does mean that we need to make sure that there continues to be a very strong level of engagement and particularly real transparency around the type of dialogue and discussion being had about security from a technological perspective and a national security perspective, but also then also the financial security and underpinnings of this arrangement and what exposures it creates for the Solomon Islands too.
Laura Jayes: For the families of victims of the 2002 Bali bombings there’s some pretty tough news around this morning that one of the bombers or the key players in that is going to serve only half of his 20-year sentence. This is not the first time this has happened. Someone one of the perpetrators was released early last year as well. What do you think the Albanese Government should and can do here?
Simon Birmingham: LJ, for 202 families, including those of 88 Australians, their loved ones are never coming home. There is no early release for those families from the pain and suffering that they continue to endure and it’s not at all unreasonable to expect on behalf of them, on behalf of all Australians who are outraged and all of those around the world who felt the pain and the outrage from the Bali bombings nearly 20 years ago, that those who were tried, convicted and sentenced should serve their full sentences and the Albanese Government should be making strong representations to Indonesia, urging that that be the case in the instance here of the bomb maker who was tried and convicted of making those bombs that led to these horrific casualties and loss of life. And they should be making sure that the pain that will be felt by many Australians and by many others around the world is clearly understood in Indonesia.
Laura Jayes: In your experience, does Australia have much leverage here?
Simon Birmingham: Look, there have been occasions in the past and it’s important that whilst we respect the judicial processes of other countries and of partners who we have close relationships like Indonesia, that we also make clear our concerns and that we can do that as good friends, as close partners, that we are also open and honest. And on occasion there has been some success in terms of the type of representations made that can ensure our concerns are heard. On this occasion, I’m sure Indonesia will at least hear those out. And I would urge them to not just hear them, but ideally to act on them too.
Laura Jayes: We are about to take our viewers live to Canberra where there is an electric vehicle conference happening in Canberra today. Sounds fascinating. One thing that we are about to hear from the Labor government is perhaps a new approach, at least a debate over new vehicle emissions standards. Would you support that?
Simon Birmingham: Look, this is part of the economy that does need to decarbonise if we are ultimately to achieve net zero by 2050 and to achieve the types of interim targets that that Australia should be striving for. And we have to make sure that it’s not just in the space of electricity emissions which dominate much of the discussion, but other sectors of the economy, such as transport emissions, that there are changes made and that they’re made in ways, though, that are consistent with the types of promises the government took to the last election so that-
Laura Jayes: Well that’s a point. There were no promises.
Simon Birmingham: means if we are to have new emissions standards put in place.
Laura Jayes: Are there any promises?
Simon Birmingham: Well, there were plenty of promises about ensuring that jobs were created, that costs were kept down, and that industries would be protected. And so the government needs to make sure that if it’s going to act in these areas, they act in ways that are consistent with the commitments they gave to the Australian people to not add to cost pressures for them to keep those costs down, to protect Australian jobs and to be particularly mindful in terms of in this space of the impacts on rural and regional Australia, on particular trades and transport sectors, and ensuring that they’re not adversely impacted by any changes that are made. But I’m certainly open to seeing productive, constructive discussions happening in terms of emissions standards. But it has to be mindful of ensuring that it doesn’t do harm to Australians in terms of their costs, their jobs or the operating of their businesses or farms.
Laura Jayes: Okay. So you obviously support the greater uptake of electric vehicles, but it’s all a cost proposition for you. But do you accept that as more people are encouraged to get into the electric vehicle market, the costs of those would come down. So there might be some short term pain for long term gain?
Simon Birmingham: Look, I think internationally, if you look at what vehicle manufacturers are doing right around the globe, they’re investing enormously in terms of the innovation and the technology to drive, pardon the pun, low emissions outcomes in terms of vehicle fleets. So this is a classic area where the approach our government took of backing technology, not taxes, is precisely what the marketplace is delivering. And we should expect to see, in a sense, regardless of emission standards, that you will see more low emissions electric vehicles, hopefully hydrogen vehicles or others coming onto the marketplace, because that’s where the market is heading and it’s about making sure that Australia is prepared for that transition. And it’s why the previous government did invest in a range of ways in terms of the type of support for infrastructure, and that’s going to be critical moving forward, particularly in areas such as high rise dwellings and the like.
Laura Jayes: Before I let you go, Simon Birmingham, Scott Morrison, your former leader. Is he becoming a distraction for the party?
Simon Birmingham: No doubt the last week there’s been far more attention on the previous government than the current government. And ultimately I think the current government quite enjoyed that. And we need to make sure and all aspects, opposition media, etc., that scrutiny applies to the current government and all they’re doing. Scott Morrison, like all of us, got some things right and some things wrong on the big questions of saving Australian lives, creating Australian jobs, making Australians more secure. He got those big calls right and that deserves to be the main part of his legacy. But on these administrative arrangements around the administering of different departments, he clearly got some things wrong. Most particularly he was wrong in terms of keeping those things secret. And if there’s a clear lesson to learn and to make some changes around, it’s that the arrangements where ministers administer different departments or agencies should be transparent, it should be clear, and the law should require that to be the case. And I think that’s really the simple lesson that absolutely needs to be learned from that, and that we should ensure that’s the case and everybody should get on with it.
Laura Jayes: Do you buy his explanation and justification?
Simon Birmingham: I think in relation to the health and finance portfolios and the timing around those right at the start of the pandemic, I have no doubt about the validity of the explanation, the good intentions that were there in terms of ensuring that we had sufficient continuity of government, sufficient ability to act with speed in those particular areas. Some of the other aspects are a little more curious in terms of the timing or the like, but he has sought to explain that, and that’s for that’s for him to explain. I think we all need to be looking to the future. There’s an obvious change that should be made in relation to transparency and ensuring that in future there can be no doubt about who is able to administer different departments, different agencies at any point in time. That should be a relatively simple change to make, and that’s the one that should be made.
Laura Jayes: What about Scott Morrison’s job or jobs now? I mean, there’s the internet with is awash with suggestions, whether it be the Cronulla captain, whether he be an arborist, join a comedy duo. What do you make of this?
Simon Birmingham: It’s Australia and we’re able to have a laugh at sometimes the most serious of things. There’s serious principles that underpin this. It’s important that everybody remembers that aside from one instance in the resources space, he didn’t exercise any of the authorities that he provided himself with. So it’s really a matter of principle here about what was transparent, what was not. But of course, people are going to have plenty of laughs about it, and it’s good to see he’s able to have a chuckle at it to.
Laura Jayes: Okay, Senator. Thank you for your time.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks, LJ. My pleasure.