TopicsDevastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria; US-China balloon; Lidia Thorpe split from Greens;

07:45AM AEDT
7 February 2023

Peter Stefanovic: Well, let’s go back to Canberra now because joining us live is Shadow Foreign Minister Simon Birmingham. Minister, good to see you. Thanks for your time this morning. So 3,500 is now the reported death toll. This tragedy in Syria and Turkey just worsens by the minute. I just want to get your reaction to that and what help can or do you hope Australia can provide?

Simon Birmingham: Well, hello Pete. It’s good to be with you. But this is indeed a very enormous human tragedy that is unfolding in Turkey and Syria. What we are seeing from these earthquakes that have struck these regions is an enormous loss of life, a huge destruction of building and of infrastructure. And with that, of course, comes the risk of further grave humanitarian consequences, that with that loss of essential services and critical infrastructure, you have disruption to electricity supplies, to water supplies, to sewage services, to a whole range of things, as well as the availability of clean water, of food, of medicines, etc.. And so, a large and coordinated international response working, particularly with Turkish authorities, is essential. I trust that international agencies are all swinging into action to help provide that. That partner nations across Europe and others nearby would be working in as close cooperation as they can. And of course, Australia, although we are somewhat more distant and remote, should be making sure that where we can, we’re playing our role commensurate with our standing as a G20 nation.

Peter Stefanovic: Okay. And what should that role be? I mean, like you said there, the aid agencies generally have this sort of thing covered themselves. Is there any push that can come from our government or do you just kind of leave it there?

Simon Birmingham: We should certainly be understanding what is needed. If there are any specialist skills that Australia has that are required in the region, then we should be looking to dispatch those specialist skills, but otherwise making sure that we are contributing to the humanitarian and relief effort there will be ongoing not just through a couple of days or so of searching through rubble. This is an effort that is going to require sustained support for weeks and months in a region that will feel this devastation for quite some time. Making sure that we are playing a role in terms of the provision of that humanitarian relief of medicines, of foods, of basic supplies to ensure that there isn’t further unnecessary loss of life following these earthquakes.

Peter Stefanovic: Still on foreign matters. China, as we all know, has changed its tone of late. Then it sends a suspected spy balloon over the US over sensitive military sites. Is this a reminder not to be seduced by its softer language?

Simon Birmingham: Well, the strategic challenges related to China have never changed. Yes, the tone, perhaps the shift in gear away from the so-called wolf warrior diplomacy that had been deployed not just against Australia but against many different nations of the world, has been welcome in terms of it reopening some streams of dialogue. And that dialogue is important and should continue. But the strategic challenges of a country that has not necessarily shown the type of respect we would wish for international rules and norms for the conventions on the Law of the Sea, for the way in which its military build-up has been sustained and continued. And now we see these actions where we do respect the decisions that the United States have taken, a calculated decision in terms of bringing down that balloon. And we urge China to engage openly and transparently with the United States regarding this incident in ways that can seek to try to restore trust that clearly will have been damaged as a result of an incident like this.

Peter Stefanovic: Yeah, not exactly open and transparent sending up a suspected spy balloon, is it?

Simon Birmingham: Well, it’s not. And so the US was right to take the type of actions necessary to protect their sovereignty. We respect those decisions. They did it clearly in a thoughtful, careful, calculated way about how they would bring it down, the retrieval operations underway. But the answers should be forthcoming from China and if they hope to restore trust as part of dialogue, then transparency is critical to that.

Peter Stefanovic: Okay. Closer to home now, and it’s a matter for the Greens, this one but it involves the Senate leader your Thorpe now independent. How do you expect that to unfold in the weeks and months ahead?

Simon Birmingham: Well, Senator Thorpe has shown herself to be quite unpredictable at times and yesterday’s step was another in a somewhat volatile parliamentary career to date. We will, of course, as Liberal and National parties in the Senate work with all Senate crossbenchers where we can to make sure we hold the government to account to try to oppose bad legislation, to improve where we can and to support good legislation through the Parliament. And so, we will work with Senator Thorpe now as an Independent, as distinct from her as a member of the Greens and do what we can in that regard. But it is a reminder that when people vote for the Greens, sometimes they do so with the best of intentions, but they really should look a little deeper at Greens policies, at Greens candidates and sometimes the type of extremism they can get with that.

Peter Stefanovic: So, do you see Lidia Thorpe as perhaps an opportunity for you now?

Simon Birmingham: Well, it’s a slight change to the Senate dynamics. Now, I don’t expect her values or voting pattern to change dramatically. But it does mean that the Government has to stitch together another element in terms of how it gets Senate majorities. That it can’t just rely on the Greens plus one other senator. They now need the Greens plus two other senators to be able to form majorities in the Senate. And we’ll work, as I say, with whoever’s on the Senate crossbench and we do that and to make sure that we hold the Government to account and get the best policy outcomes for Australia.

Peter Stefanovic: All righty. Simon Birmingham, appreciate your time this morning. Thank you. We’ll talk to you soon.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Peter, my pleasure.