Topics: ANZAC Day, Defence Strategic Review; Sudan;
Tuesday, 25 April 2023
Peter Stefanovic: You’re back with First Edition folks, thank you so much for your company this Anzac Day morning. Well, joining us live now, the Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Simon Birmingham. Simon, good to see you. Thanks for your time this morning. I see a good, handsome collection of medals there on your coat this morning. How are you reflecting this morning and who are you remembering?
Simon Birmingham: Well, good morning, Pete. It’s an important day. An important occasion to reflect and give thanks to all of those who served, but particularly those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. Today, I remember indeed many family members, grandparents who have served and those who didn’t come home, including my late nan’s first husband, who’s buried in France and who gave his life defending our country and our values. But of course, there are so many, including those who did come home, who carry the scars, the sacrifices, along with the family members and others. And so, it’s an important occasion to give thanks, to reflect and to remember the price that is paid for, the type of freedoms we have, and also the effort that is required to ensure that we avoid conflict wherever possible into the future.
Peter Stefanovic: Yeah, and again, for those who are watching this morning, thank you for your service, folks. Simon How was the turnout there this morning? We saw some incredible images out of Canberra. 30,000 people were there at the dawn service this morning. And that’s just great to see and your thoughts on that, but also the turnout there in Adelaide today.
Simon Birmingham: A huge turnout here in Adelaide for a wonderful service, including the dedication of a new memorial that includes additional names of those who have lost their lives since the end of World War II, which was unveiled by South Australian Governor Frances Adamson. But great to see such big turnouts around the country. I know that in Canberra in particular a reflection this year, 30 years on from those who served in Somalia. And I spent some time during the course of this week with veterans from that conflict and a reminder that our contribution has been so wide, so diverse, including those on critical peacekeeping operations such as in Somalia at that stage 30 years ago.
Peter Stefanovic: Yeah, and you know, a day like today, you know, we’ve got wars that are taking place, as you know, Simon. And we’ve got the DSR that came out yesterday. It’s a reminder that war is an ever present. It’s never far away. You’ve got one, then there probably will be others.
Simon Birmingham: The Defence Strategic Review is important in terms of the fact that it is about how we are prepared as a country. It’s disappointing, frankly, that the Government chose Anzac Day eve to release this document. There are important points of contest and debate that need to be had around the Government’s decision making and their processes there, but none of us wish to politicise the occasion of Anzac Day. It’s disappointing to see that in the DSR the Government has not provided additional funds but is instead seemingly outlined a series of cuts and there’ll be concerns here in South Australia as well about the fact that there is a further review being undertaken after this review, which was meant to be the main review purpose of the Government’s defence. They’ve instead kicked decisions on surface ships down the road. In doing so created more uncertainty for defence industry, for defence workforce they’re all disappointing and concerning aspects, but today’s not really a day for us to get too far into the weeds of those. There’s certainly plenty of issues that we will be exploring and holding the Government to account for within the DSR over the coming days, weeks and no doubt months.
Peter Stefanovic: Yeah, and the Defence Minister Richard Marles will be coming on the program tomorrow. So, there is that space between the announcement yesterday and the sale of the DSR tomorrow. I’ve got to say, I said on this program yesterday that it was a weird way to do things and you know, today is a sacred day. Anzac Day is a sacred day, as we know. But just a final point on that. You know, were you expecting a figure when it comes to GDP on defence spending? Simon, was there a let down there?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I think look, it is frankly disappointing that the Government, yes, has undertaken this strategic review. But ultimately, what they are doing is either shifting money off of a budget that was created by the former Coalition government. We grew defence spending from 1.56% of GDP, up to 2% of GDP. That was an important elevation and none of the things that are being talked about in the DSR would be possible had we not done that. And we also started the work in terms of the need for Australia to elevate its missile and defence capabilities in different ways and of course the DSR now looks to deliver upon those things. But this is an approach by the Albanese Government that does seem to be lacking in any new or additional commitments in terms of funding new ideas whilst delivering upon areas of long-range capability, areas of space and cyber security, that our government initiated, but also undertaking a range of cuts. And those cuts are things that, as I say, in the coming days and weeks, we will seek to explore and to understand the full implications of and ultimately to hold the government to account for.
Peter Stefanovic: Simon, just a final one here on the events of Sudan. I’m not sure if you can help me out here, but do we have any representatives in Sudan?
Simon Birmingham: I don’t believe that we have any on the ground in Sudan at present. Obviously terribly distressing images and situation in Sudan right now. But I understand that there’s been very clear advice to Australians in terms of not travelling to Sudan for some period of time. Clear advice if there are any Australians there to make sure they make contact with officials as quickly as possible. But ultimately a terrible, terrible situation, a reminder of how difficult it is in those conflict situations then to establish and keep the peace.
Peter Stefanovic: Yeah, okay. That’s the Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Simon Birmingham. Appreciate your time. Simon, as always, we’ll talk to you soon.