TopicsAustralian troops help to train Ukraine soldiers in the UK; Labor’s ineffective gas price cap; Senator Jim Molan; Parliamentary delegation to PNG;

07:45AM AEDT
18 January 2023

Peter Stefanovic: Well, let’s go live to Papua New Guinea because joining us is the Shadow Foreign Minister, Simon Birmingham. Simon, thanks for your time as always. We’ll get to why are you there in PNG towards the end? With our top story this morning, 70 ADF troops will be on their way to the UK tomorrow to help train Ukrainian forces. Is that a mission that you support?

Simon Birmingham: Absolutely, Pete. This is very welcome. It’s important that we continue to do everything we possibly can to support Ukraine in their battle against the illegal and immoral invasion of their country by Russia. The previous Coalition government put Australia at the forefront of giving support to Ukraine amongst non-NATO countries, and we did so militarily. We did so in a humanitarian sense as well. We made sure that Australia was well placed to do what we could and also to help and welcome Ukrainians to Australia. And the Labor Government has continued that in a number of different ways. I welcome that and I encourage them to continue to do everything possible.

Peter Stefanovic: Richard Marles was just on the program and I asked this. I asked him this question as well and I’ll ask you. Our troops won’t set foot in Ukraine, but would you see any scenario in which they would?

Simon Birmingham: I can’t envisage that at this stage, Pete. Right now the Ukrainian people have done a heroic task, a really heroic task in terms of the defence of their country, their homeland. They’ve done it with support from outside in terms of equipment, training, intelligence, financing, support, and we ought to continue to back them through those means that have been working to date in terms of helping them to defend their country.

Peter Stefanovic: Still on Richard Marles, a local issue here on gas too. Simon, retail prices have already hit the Treasury’s worst case scenario. Mr. Marles just then emphasising that the caps need time. But do you think that that time should be given for those prices to come down? Will it work?

Simon Birmingham: This has been a chaotic process by the Albanese Government in terms of gas prices. They didn’t do anything in last year’s Budget despite having had close to six months to come to a policy, they then rushed and rammed something through Parliament with just a day or so notice and next to no scrutiny. And of course real concerns from international investors, from suppliers as to what it would mean for supply. And now we’re seeing questions as to whether it’s really going to work at all. And our real concern was that over the medium to longer term, this would actually be quite a counterproductive measure because over the medium to longer term, it reduces the incentive for people to invest in gas projects in Australia. And by reducing that incentive and reducing the likely investment in gas projects, you’re going to reduce supply in the future and create an environment where the shortages are there, putting price pressures on and really being very counterproductive.

Peter Stefanovic: But a short term fix is what was needed. Was this the best option?

Simon Birmingham: Well, no, it doesn’t look like being the best option because of all of the other problems that it was creating. It would have been far preferable for the government with the ACCC in tow to sit down with the gas companies and work out a means to get more supply in the short term into short term contracts in Australia, as well as more supply generated in the medium to longer term. All of which can work to help drive down prices.

Peter Stefanovic: Just on Jim Molan. Simon, everyone’s been talking about their reflections on him. What’s your reflections of the late Senator Jim Molan, not just as a military man, but as a political mind as well?

Simon Birmingham: Jim Molan was a true patriot in the best sense of that word. He was a serviceman to our country. He gave his all in the military, but also in the parliament. And what I saw in the Parliament over the recent few years that he was there was somebody who put great thought, great analysis, great strategy behind the approaches, was willing to speak up and speak out, even if it ruffled powers that be at the time, because he did so always conscious of what was in Australia’s national interest and willing to make sure he always put that first. And even in these last few very trying months, the number of times that as Senate Leader, Jim, would contact me or I’d contact him and the conversation would be him really focused on the next milestone, the last Senate estimates, where he was determined to make sure he was well enough to appear to ask the questions that he thought needed to be asked and to pursue those, but always in a thoughtful, considered polite manner. He was really the epitome of an officer and a gentleman as well, but one who was willing to go the extra yards wherever necessary.

Peter Stefanovic: It feels a little off to ask so soon. But there is a vacancy now. And as Senate Leader, have you got a preference on who should replace him in the Senate as it’s likely to inflame factional disputes?

Simon Birmingham: Well, I certainly don’t come with a preference at this stage, the focus is on Jim. The Senate has a long convention in terms of respect for pairing arrangements between different parties. And I have absolute confidence that the government will continue to honour that. So there is no need for these processes to be rushed. Right now we should give Jim Molan the respect that he deserves and support to Anne and Jim’s family in terms of their time of grief. And of course New South Wales can work through those processes, which I’ll respect the New South Wales Party doing according to their rules.

Peter Stefanovic: Okay. On the PNG. What are you doing there, Simon? What’s the mission?

Simon Birmingham: So I mean, Goroka in the Eastern Highlands province of Papua New Guinea, here with a parliamentary delegation across the Parliament, we have colleagues from my side of politics, Senator Ruston, Michael McCormack, but also from the Labor side of politics and indeed independents represented. We’re here with not-for-profit organisations such as Save the Children, looking particularly at development programs on the ground in Papua New Guinea with a real focus on the prevention of infectious diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, HIV, visiting a number of different clinics, medical facilities. I met with Papua New Guinea’s Foreign Minister in a one-on-one meeting earlier this week to understand how Australia, as the largest development assistance partner to Papua New Guinea, is doing in terms of the effectiveness of the support we give and what we can do to make sure that is even more effective in the future to prevent childhood mortality, to increase living standards, to reduce the incidence of those infectious diseases.

Peter Stefanovic: Okay, Shadow Foreign Minister Simon Birmingham, live from PNG. Best of luck with the work that you’re doing there. Appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.