Topics: Labor failing Australian border security; Murder of Alexei Navalny;

07:45AM AEDT
20 February 2024


Pete Stefanovic: You’re back with First Edition, folks. Thanks for your company. Let’s bring in the Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Simon Birmingham. Now, Simon, good to see you.


Simon Birmingham: G’day. Pete. Good to be with you.


Pete Stefanovic: The screaming headline on the Australian today. More cash coming for Border Force in the May budget. You’re pleased about that?


Simon Birmingham: Well, this is a government desperately trying to backfill problems of its own creation. The last budget saw Labor rip some $600 million out of border protection policies in taking that money away. The Australian Border Force commissioner admitted that it would see Border Force controls stretched, and indeed, that maritime surveillance and the type of surveillance that actually enables us to identify boats coming to Australia had been reduced for a number of reasons. The Government now seems to be desperately trying to play catch up on its own decisions and its own failures. It’s those failures that clearly seem to have contributed to the situation where we’ve had boat arrivals, not just boats detected offshore, boats that weren’t detected offshore and weren’t even detected when they reached all the way through to the Australian mainland. That is a terrible failure that the Government needs to be completely transparent about, and where the Prime Minister needs to show real strength in terms of how he actually responds and how he ensures that our border protection policies are restored into the type of policies and investment, and that can keep our borders secure.


Pete Stefanovic: So, just on the funding, there’s contradictory statements to that. So, you have the Government saying forward estimates shows that funding is actually higher than it was under your old government. Then you had the Border Force releasing a statement last night, Simon, saying that the funding is now the highest it’s been since 2015. So, what are the figures that you’re operating off?


Simon Birmingham: So, these were figures are detailed and scrutinised through the budget estimates process after last year, and in which we clearly demonstrated that in terms of the way in which the government was funding and supporting its border operations, there is a real reduction at play, and that real reduction is estimated at around some 600 million. When questioned around that, the Border Force Commissioner admitted that his resources would be stretched. Now, of course, government leaders and officials will always seek to hold a line as far as they can and when you’ve got one of them actually going so far as to say this is going to stretch our resources, it is a demonstration that there were expected to be challenges and problems, and clearly there are challenges and problems with a degree of surveillance, obviously inadequate. And that’s writ large by the fact that we have these arrivals, as I say, not arrivals that were detected somewhere off the shore. These ones made it all the way to the Australian mainland without any detection at all.


Pete Stefanovic: All right. So, to increase the surveillance, you’re going to have to spend a lot more money on that. How much? Maybe you’ve got a better idea than me, but you also need to increase staff members. So, there’s a big spend that’s needed in Border Force, is it not?


Simon Birmingham: Well, we were able to demonstrate that under the Coalition we could manage the borders effectively. What you saw was the reduction in arrivals that enabled us to progressively get all women and children out of the processing centres in PNG and Nauru and whittle down the numbers dramatically there because of the effectiveness of those policies. So, it’s not just a question of money and resources, although that is important. It is also a question of a demonstration of resolve and competence. And you know that the people smugglers will be taking the type of chaos around the NZYQ case, the release of detainees over the last few months and the flip flopping in government policy and approaches there. And they’ll be using that type of weakness and chaos from the Albanese Government as a sales pitch for their awful, terrible product. That is the people smuggling operation.


Pete Stefanovic: Yeah. Just finally, Simon, do you agree with Alexei Navalny’s widow that he was poisoned? I mean, not handing the body over and him dying of sudden death syndrome, whatever that means. It all seems to back her up.


Simon Birmingham: Under any and all circumstances there’s no doubt that Vladimir Putin and the Russian government are responsible for Alexei Navalny’s death. And what countries like Australia now need to do is ensure that we take all steps to hold people to account for that. I would urge the Albanese Government to be pursuing and looking at any sanctions and use of Magnitsky sanctions they can apply to hold individuals responsible throughout the Russian Federation.


Pete Stefanovic: I mean, just on that point, though, Simon, I mean, the war, the war showed that sanctions don’t work. Putin just dodges everything.


Simon Birmingham: Well, the sanctions have actually had a real impact in different parts of Russia’s economy. And the Russian people, sadly for them are feeling that. That has required Putin to reach points of desperation where he is, of course, now pursuing arms deals with North Korea and other things to sustain his illegal and immoral war. So, these things can apply pressure. They’re not a silver bullet. I don’t pretend that for a second. But in response to an egregious act like Alexei Navalny’s murder by the Russian Federation and murder by Vladimir Putin, it is clear that Australia, acting in concert with our allies around the world, should be applying as many tough, targeted sanctions on individuals responsible for his death.


Pete Stefanovic: Good to have you with us, as always, Simon Birmingham. Thank you.