Topics: Pelosi visit to Taiwan; Labor’s climate bill; Cost of living crisis
Peter Stefanovic: Joining us live is the Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Simon Birmingham out of Canberra. Minister, thanks for your time. Good to see you. Nancy Pelosi, she’s needling China on this one. Is she right to do that?
Simon Birmingham: Look, it’s up to Nancy Pelosi and the United States in terms of a visit of the US House Speaker to Taiwan. It’s her matter, her decision as the Speaker of the House of Representatives, separate from the executive wing of government in the United States. I think it should be kept in perspective. This is a visit to Taiwan. And so responses to it should be proportionate to simply a visit. And it’s concerning to see some of the enhanced military escalation that is occurring. Military escalation that presents greater risk of misadventure, risk of further escalation, and particularly seeing the extent to which there appear to be crosses over into Taiwan’s economic zone and crossing other lines that do present challenges. Australia’s policy position remains a bi partisan one of support for a one-China policy, but also very clearly a view that there should be no unilateral changes to the status quo in relation to Taiwan. Taiwan is a leading economy in our region, its a valued partner. It’s a vibrant democracy. And on those scores, many Australian businesses and others have good, strong, important and long lasting relations with Taiwan.
Peter Stefanovic: There’s, as you know, there’s a lot of sea traffic that that passes through the Taiwan Strait, one of the more popular channels around the world. Would you be concerned about supply chain issues flow on effects, affecting us here in Australia as a result of this?
Simon Birmingham: Pete, this is certainly where I would urge that any response be proportionate to what is simply a visit of a delegation, a congressional delegation, of which there have been many visits by congressional delegations, and so escalated military action, talk of blockades or other such actions, they would not be proportionate to simply a visit being undertaken. Now from Australia’s perspective, we want to see peace, security and prosperity advanced in the region. The status quo in relation to Taiwan and indeed the reforms China has enacted over decades have led to significant growth of prosperity across the region, and that has been driven in part by trade. And it’s why Australia is so clear and resolute in terms of our respect for the rule of law and the international rule of law as it applies to the sea when it comes to the South China Sea. The previous government was always clear that where we saw excessive military build up or risk of escalation or military misadventure, that we would raise concerns in relation to that. And I trust the new Government will follow that track record.
Peter Stefanovic: Okay. The Greens will wave through the climate bill. It’ll hit the Senate next month and pass. Your thoughts on that?
Simon Birmingham: Look, the climate bill is, as Chris Bowen has said, not necessary to set the targets and as Anthony Albanese has said, is something that they could have lived with it being passed or not being passed. So the Government’s talked down the importance of actually legislating this target. But I welcome the higher ambition. I welcome the fact that Australia is pursuing ambition in excess of targets that we were clearly going to exceed. It was a credit to previous policies that we have as a nation been able to meet and beat our climate change targets. Personally, had this legislation been necessary to commit to the targets, then I would have wanted to support it in a heartbeat. However, it’s not necessary. As the Prime Minister-
Peter Stefanovic: You would have crossed the floor?
Simon Birmingham: Well, it would have been a different debate, Pete, had the legislation been necessary for the target. The target is already committed to. The Government’s done that through the proper processes around the Paris Agreement.
Peter Stefanovic: Bridget Archer is going to cross the floor. Do you support her actions on that?
Simon Birmingham: I have nothing but respect for Bridget. I know she holds these issues very close to her heart as indeed do I. And I can understand her coming to the conclusion that she has come to a different conclusion. But Bridget and I both want to see strong, effective action on climate change. I think there was a message for the Liberal Party and the Coalition parties out of the last election. We do have to be mindful of that and and the test on that is what we take to the next election and the next election. We do need to be taking strong, credible targets-
Peter Stefanovic: How much stronger?
Simon Birmingham: -positions and policies. Well, we’ll work through that over the next couple of years. The previous opposition, now government, the Labor Party took two and a half years of the last parliamentary term to establish the targets that they would commit to and release their policies. We’ve only had a couple of months of this parliamentary term. Let us go through that proper work.
Peter Stefanovic: Can I just close on fuel excise because Peter Dutton seems to support an extension of the fuel excise cut. Angus Taylor wouldn’t answer these questions when I put them to him yesterday. What is the Opposition’s policy on the extension of the fuel excise cuts?
Simon Birmingham: Well, my view is that, of course, this is a matter rightly for the government because they’re the only ones who can address this, and they ought to be mindful of the principles that we applied when we put in place this fuel excise cut. We did so at a time where there was massive disruption from war in Ukraine. That is still happening. Where there were huge spikes in relation to oil prices. As a result of that, there has been some reduction there where of course the cost of living pressures were significant for Australians and they have only heightened. So the Government, when it comes to framing their budget and the end of the fuel excise reduction that we put in place has to explain. If they’re not extending it, what’s their alternative plan to support Australians with the cost of living? It falls on them right now. Peter Dutton is right to highlight the fact those cost of living pressures are real for Australians and the Government’s got to have some plans to respond to them but right now they’re missing in action.
Peter Stefanovic: So you believe it should be extended?
Simon Birmingham: But that’s not what I’m saying, because the government’s got to work through this. If not that, then what are their alternate plans?
Peter Stefanovic: So it should end next month. I’m just seeking some clarification on what the Opposition’s point is on this one now.
Simon Birmingham: The Government should have a plan to deal with the cost of living. It’s their responsibility. We will have our own plans that will take to an election in two and a half or so years time. The Government’s going to hand down a budget in just a couple of months time. They’re the ones who need to make sure they’ve got a clear plan to deal with the cost of living. If it’s not extending the fuel excise reduction, what alternative things are they doing to help Australians through these tougher times?
Peter Stefanovic: Okay. Simon Birmingham, thanks for your time. We’ll talk to you again soon.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Pete.