Topics: PM visit to Papua New Guinea; Australia-China relationship;

12:35PM AEDT
12 January 2023

Gabriella Power: Coming back to our top story this hour, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has just finished addressing Papua New Guinea during a visit to Port Moresby. Joining us live now is Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Birmingham. Simon Birmingham, thanks for your time. What did you make of the Prime Minister’s address?

Simon Birmingham: Well, thanks. It’s great to be with you. Look, this is an important honour that’s been bestowed upon Australia in recognition of the very deep relationship between Papua New Guinea and Australia. Our two nations have a very strong history, of course, of rich engagement. We are Papua New Guinea’s largest trading and investment partner. We are their largest development partner as they are indeed our largest destination for development assistance. So, the range of different ways in which our people, our businesses and our governments are tied tightly together. And the fact that this address has provided an opportunity for us to engage at the highest possible levels is very welcome.

Gabriella Power: He spoke of a two-way trade. You’re confident that this will develop?

Simon Birmingham: We certainly wish to see the two-way trade relationship continue to enhance. We had many discussions as a previous government in my time as trade minister and with others, with Papua New Guinea, seeking to expand upon our trade relationship. It was between our two governments that Australia and Papua New Guinea entered into a comprehensive strategic partnership a few years ago under the Coalition government. The building upon that in terms of trade, relations, security, dialogue and other areas of engagement really is critical. And I welcome the fact that the Government is continuing the momentum generated by the signing of that comprehensive strategic partnership.

Gabriella Power: What does this visit mean for the security in the region and how should the Prime Minister be addressing the issue of China and its increasing presence in the region?

Simon Birmingham: Our continued engagement with all of our regional partners is critical. And we do that as equals, as genuine partners working together with one another. And Papua New Guinea is a key element of that obviously geographically engagement, working with Papua New Guinea and other members of the Pacific Island forums, all of this is critical. In a security context we do hope to see the government able to progress in terms of agreement between Australia and Papua New Guinea and that again is something that was flagged and begun following the signing of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. And we hope that we can see that agreement and cooperation cemented soon.

Gabriella Power: Are you confident that our relationship with China is improving?

Simon Birmingham: Well, the relationship with China is always going to be a complex one. But it is also an important one for the region. We, Australia and China, are major players within the Indo-Pacific region. Australia seeks to have a peaceful, prosperous Indo-Pacific. With China we’ll know whether it’s truly stabilising if we see some actual outcomes. Outcomes in terms of the removal of trade sanctions, especially the tariffs on wine and barley and the release of unfairly detained Australians.

Gabriella Power: How quickly do you expect that would happen?

Simon Birmingham: It’s hard to put timeframes on these things, but we’ve now seen many discussions happen between the new Albanese Government and China. Several meetings between foreign ministers, a meeting between President Xi and Prime Minister Albanese. That dialogue is good. We as an Opposition have strongly welcomed that, given bipartisan support to the Government’s discussions. But now it is a time we would hope to see outcomes coming from that dialogue and the critical outcomes that Australians and most importantly will want to see are the release of those unfairly detained Australians and the removal of those unfair and unjustified trade sanctions.

Gabriella Power: Simon Birmingham, thanks so much for your time.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you. My pleasure.