Topic:  Prime Minister Modi visit to Australia; Prime Minister Albanese visit to China; Australia-China relationship; G7; Australian support for Ukraine;

Tuesday, 23 May 2023


Danica De Giorgio: Welcome back to the program. Well India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has landed in Sydney as he begins an official visit. Joining me now live is Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Simon Birmingham. Thank you so much for joining us. It’s been dubbed Modi Mania. There’s no doubt that he has a huge supporter base here in Australia. How big of a deal is this visit, in your view?


Simon Birmingham: Well, this is an important visit and I look forward very much to being part of the Australian welcome of Prime Minister Modi coming here. The events that he’s undertaking and tomorrow, together with Peter Dutton, to sitting down and having the chance to meet with him where we’ll acknowledge the big step up in engagement that’s occurred between Australia and India. Under the previous Coalition government, we enhanced defence cooperation. We sealed a trade agreement between Australia and India and we also ensured that our dialogue was stronger. Particularly cooperative dialogue, such as through the Quad security arrangement, where we now come together with Japan, the US, India and Australia at a leaders level which was achieved during the Coalition era. So these advances have been critical to deeply strengthen our relationship with India and putting it on the strongest ever level. And we look forward to giving full and bipartisan support to the Albanese Government to make sure we take those advantages in the relationship and drive them even further in terms of our mutual interests with India in ensuring a peaceful and prosperous region.


Danica De Giorgio: A big couple of days ahead, that’s for sure. Let’s move on now. I want to talk to you about China. Australia’s Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, has reportedly said this morning that Anthony Albanese will not travel to China unless continued progress is made to resolve trade and consular disputes. And you’ve already said that the Prime Minister should not accept Beijing’s invitation until trade sanctions have been lifted. Does this comment by Penny Wong allay your concerns?


Simon Birmingham: Well, this is welcome. It was in response to Senate estimates questioning that Minister Wong made those comments. We need to be very clear here that China is continuing to apply a punishment, a form of attempted economic coercion on Australia and it’s done that because it didn’t like domestic policy decisions that Australia made in our national interest. It’s acting in breach of the commitments that China made to Australia through our free trade agreement. And so we should expect that all of those forms of punishment, all of that attempted economic coercion are removed and that China, like Australia, agrees and complies fully with the terms of the free trade agreement between our nations that all voluntarily entered into. And so Prime Minister Albanese and the Government should have absolute confidence that we are going to see that type of outcome before he commits to undertaking such a visit. Such dialogue is critical and important and we’ve given bipartisan support and welcomed the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Trade Minister, all resuming dialogue. It was really counterproductive of China to cease having dialogue with Australian ministers and as a good thing that it’s happening. But we’ve seen many, many rounds of meetings now a prime ministerial visit takes on an additional level of significance and that’s why we should have confidence that these trade sanctions are going to be removed for the Prime Minister to be undertaking such a trip.


Danica De Giorgio: It was a key theme throughout the G7 over the weekend. It was this distrust of China as a trading partner, but also the leaders discussed Ukraine and the determination to help that country. Are you satisfied with the outcomes of the meeting?


Simon Birmingham: The G7 meetings were really important and yes, the discussion being had from many different partners around the world as to how to de-risk in relation to the impacts of China across the world. And that’s not to decouple as leaders have stressed from Europe and elsewhere, but to de-risk. And that’s where our relationship with India, particularly economic and trading relationships, is such an important part of diversifying Australia’s position.

In relation to Ukraine I think there is an increasing level of concern about Australia’s level of support for Ukraine. We have seen the majority of our partner nations provide significant additional commitments and yesterday there was a piece in the Sydney Morning Herald written by retired Major General Mick Ryan, which basically said Australia has moved from being a key supporter back in 2022, under the Morrison government, of Ukraine to now being almost a bystander. And I think the Albanese government needs to take that sort of criticism seriously and ensure that when Prime Minister Albanese goes to the NATO Leaders’ Summit, which he seemed reluctant to commit to do, that, he goes armed with a full and comprehensive package of support for Ukraine. Additional military support and assistance, as well as additional humanitarian assistance. There’s been no extra humanitarian assistance provided by the Albanese Government to Ukraine and they should be making sure it’s a comprehensive package to help Ukraine to defend not just its country but the types of international rules and norms that we all rely upon.


Danica De Giorgio: The Prime Minister, though, over the weekend unveiled new sanctions on Russia. Are you saying that that in itself does not go far enough?


Simon Birmingham: They’re welcome, but they are a long way behind the type of additional support that we’re seeing coming from other nations. Other nations who share our values and who share our interest in ensuring that international rules, respect for sovereignty and standing up against tyrants and autocrats when they undertake this type of horrific warfare, targeting civilians, the invasion of Ukraine. We’re seeing our partners do more. Australia should ensure that we are maintaining a consistent beat of support alongside those partners.


Danica De Giorgio: All right, Simon Birmingham, we’ve run out of time. Thank you very much for joining us this morning.