Topics: Trade Minister snubs US as closest ally; Paul Keating meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister; eSafety Commission action; Housing crisis; 07:32AM AEDT
19 March 2024



Pete Stefanovic:  Trade Minister Don Farrell has caused a stir by claiming the US is not Australia’s closest international partner. Rather, New Zealand is.




Don Farrell: I’m not sure that United States is our most trusted, uh, ally. I would have said New Zealand in the whole history of time. The whole history of time is our. Yes. Yeah. Now I know. No, I would say I-



Pete Stefanovic: The Senator had been asked by the Coalition why Labor resumed funding to UNRWA in Gaza, despite its links to Hamas before the US did. Farrell’s suggestion, though, might be news to the prime minister last year, he said the US is of course, our closest ally. Well, on that note, let’s go to Canberra. Joining us is the Shadow Foreign Minister, Simon Birmingham. Simon, good morning to you. Good to see you.


Simon Birmingham: G’day, Pete.


Pete Stefanovic: So, the cynic in me suggests or wonders if this is timed to coincide with the China visit this week. Am I right?


Simon Birmingham: Well, I can’t get inside Don Farrell’s head to say for sure whether or not you’re right. But what Don Farrell did was quite insulting to the United States, and he ought to apologise for it. He ought to set the record straight. Let’s be very clear. Under the Five Eyes agreement, the United States shares its most sensitive intelligence with Australia. Under the AUKUS partnership. We’re expecting the United States to share its most sensitive defence technologies with Australia. So, we are asking them to put enormous trust in us and we should reciprocate that trust. Every single Albanese Government minister should be crystal clear about that. Not dismissive of it.


Pete Stefanovic: No. And not to not to offend our Kiwi brothers and sisters, but I mean, most of our business-


Simon Birmingham: Who we love very much.


Pete Stefanovic: is done with the United States. Yeah.


Simon Birmingham: Well, indeed. Look, our Kiwi cousins are family. They are absolutely a close and trusted partner. But let’s be very clear about the degree of sensitivity that exists in the Australia-united states relationship in terms of sensitive material and information that is exchanged, and that is only intended to escalate in terms of the level of sensitive information and material being exchanged between our countries. And we are embarking through AUKUS on the closest and most trusted of partnerships and Prime Minister Albanese and the defence minister, Richard Marles, have sought to be clear about that. Why is their trade minister at odds with them, and why is he seeking to talk down the US relationship in this way? That’s why he ought to be pretty quick to correct the record or have the Prime Minister haul him into line.


Pete Stefanovic: Meanwhile, Paul Keating has confirmed a meeting with Wang Yi this week, so the games are being played everywhere. Simon.


Simon Birmingham: Well, you know, you have a look at what Paul Keating’s had to say about Penny Wong and the Albanese government. And he’s been highly, highly critical of them and indeed of anything other than a pretty cosy relationship between Australia and China. Now we welcome Wang Yi’s visit to Australia. It’s an important visit, and it is welcome that China is no longer imposing the type of ban on dialogue that was so counterproductive between the relationship. But it is quite pointed and somewhat insulting towards Penny Wong for the Chinese Embassy to have sought this meeting with such a vocal critic of Penny Wong.


Pete Stefanovic: Okay. Our top political story this morning, Simon. It’s this tech giants. They face tens of millions of dollars in penalties and fines if they fail to act on terrorist, extremist or child abuse material. I mean, I think we all support heavy penalties for inaction here, but as these companies are a law unto themselves, will they cough up?


Simon Birmingham: We’ve got to continue to make sure we apply that pressure and pursue the types of reforms that are necessary. It’s why in government we established the eSafety Commissioner because we recognised this problem many, many years ago and wanted to make sure Australia was at the cutting edge of being able to address it. It’s why we put in place a number of different legal frameworks to give the eSafety Commissioner powers, as well as, of course, pursuing other types of frameworks through the ACCC and elsewhere to ensure that we can try to be at the forefront of regulating tech giants, their role in our society. They do much good in terms of the services that can be provided, but they have great influence and tragically and sadly often let content go through that ought to be restricted and regulated. So, we ought to back and make sure we’ve got the powers for that to occur.


Pete Stefanovic: All right. I’ve just got a final one here to a screaming headline on the AFR this morning to Simon about housing. Basically, there’s no way that we are going to hit our housing targets of 1.2 million by the end of this decade. Is this the fault of all governments that we are where we’re at now with the lack of housing?


Simon Birmingham: Well, firstly, you’ve got to wonder where on earth the Albanese Government plucked its targets from. We at the time they announced with great fanfare these targets expressed doubts that there were the policies in place to back up those targets, and now they’re being exposed as failing and falling short of those grand promises made by Anthony Albanese. Of course, it does necessitate policies and approaches at federal and state level, as well as local government, all have a role to play. In terms of your question, yeah, we will be making sure that we take policies to the next election that are focused very much on home ownership and how we support Australians, especially young Australians, to get into the home ownership market.


Pete Stefanovic: All right. Simon Birmingham, we’ll leave it there. Talk to you soon.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Pete.