Topic:   US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visit to China; Government must urgently provide assistance to Ukraine; Housing bill voted down in Senate; 

01:10PM AEST
Monday, 19 June 2023


Kenny Heatley:  Relationship repair has been front and centre of a rare trip by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to China. He’s the highest ranked US official to visit Beijing in close to five years. Agreeing with his Chinese counterpart to expand dialogue during candid talks. Joining me live is Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Birmingham. Good to see you again, Simon. Do you think this five and a half hour meeting between the two will go a long way to reduce the heat between the two superpowers?


Simon Birmingham: Hello, Kenny, it’s good to be with you. Well, look, it’s a positive step. Dialogue is always preferable to stand off, particularly where dialogue can better help to ensure that difficult issues are managed carefully, that communication channels are open to avoid any risk of miscalculation or other problems down the track. Does such a meeting solve all problems, differences, or challenges instantly? Of course, it doesn’t. But the fact that it’s a step is a positive one. Of course, this was the rescheduled meeting following tensions over the Chinese spy balloon earlier this year, and it shows just how committed the United States is to ensuring that they do engage in effective dialogue and try to ensure they’ve got those lines of communication to enable the US and China to be able to work through difficult issues as much as possible, notwithstanding the continued points of disagreement.


Kenny Heatley: Okay. The Opposition will today bring what you say is an urgent motion in the Senate calling on the Albanese Government to deliver a further package of assistance to Ukraine that restores Australia’s standing as a leading non-NATO contributor to Ukraine. So, what’s your thoughts on that? Why are you doing it?


Simon Birmingham: It’s become embarrassing, frankly, to see Ukraine having to resort to public advertising campaigns, public promotional campaigns to encourage Australia to do more. It’s gone on far too long with the Albanese Government having provided no additional humanitarian assistance to Ukraine compared with what the Morrison government did. No additional energy assistance to Ukraine compared with what the Morrison government did and only minimal additional areas of military assistance. It is beyond time for a full and comprehensive package of military, humanitarian and energy assistance to Ukraine to be announced by the Albanese Government. We stand willing and desperate in fact, to continue to give bipartisan support to Labor in actually delivering upon this. It shouldn’t have to wait for the NATO Leaders’ Summit that’s coming up and a picture opportunity for the Prime Minister. It should be done now. The counter-offensive is underway now and we should be joining the US, the UK, so many other European and other partners around the world in ensuring that we continue to help Ukraine fight off the illegal and immoral invasion that they’re facing right now.


Kenny Heatley: The Government says it’s unable to send Australian Hawkei protected mobility vehicles to Ukraine, which is what they want because there’s an unresolved breaking issue and limited supply of parts. So, what should they send?


Simon Birmingham: Well, they should work through those issues and work through them promptly. And I am confident that with the manufacturer and European partners, there are solutions. Let’s be honest, Australian standards required right now in relation to anti braking systems for use of vehicles on Australian public roads are vastly different to what Ukraine needs in the battlefield of conflict. So there’s got to be a practical way to work through those types of issues and to ensure that the Australian Government systematically addresses each of the requests from Ukrainians and does so as comprehensively as we can and as swiftly and transparently as we can as well. We remain very concerned at the fact that there is still no clear transparency from the Government, for example, on the promised Bushmasters as to precisely how many actually have been delivered. The UK is showing much more transparency with their far greater commitments to Ukraine than Australia has to date, and we should be seeing that transparency as well as the further package of support.


Kenny Heatley: Just on housing, Labor’s Don Farrell says the Greens and Coalition voting together to delay the Housing Australia Future Fund amounts to a failure to pass and therefore is the first step to a double dissolution election trigger. Do you agree with that?


Simon Birmingham: Well, if that’s where it ends up being, then that’s what we’ll fight. But we are looking at this through the lens of the policy question. We’ve always thought that adding these billions of dollars extra to government debt for no immediate impact on the housing market was a bad idea, especially so for a policy that has no benefit in terms of addressing rates of home ownership in Australia. We want to make sure we focus as we lead up to the next election on effective policies to help Australians, particularly young Australians, own their own home. Not see this type of chaotic policy making by the Albanese Government, who on the weekend plucked another $2 billion out of thin air it seems, to promise in a move that they hoped would buy the Greens votes, for a policy that has had holes in it all throughout its existence.


Kenny Heatley: But the Coalition has the superannuation policy where people can dip into their super policy. Australia voted that out and that’s what you’re trying to bring back. Isn’t this progression over perfection? Like don’t we just need to get started on something?


Simon Birmingham: We think this is policy that won’t make any meaningful short-term difference to social housing or to the housing market in Australia. It will, though, add billions of dollars of debt. It was meant to be a vehicle that would be off budget. But with each additional rushed announcement to try to buy the Greens support, the Government has completely undermined the off-budget nature of this new entity in housing and instead it will now have a significant impact in terms of additional borrowings, additional debt in Australia without having a similar impact in terms of any positive impacts in the housing market in the near term. As I said, our intention will be at the next election to show very clearly how we’re going to support home ownership in contrast to this policy and superannuation will be a part of that, but we’ll certainly have other elements to really ensure that Australians, particularly young Australians, can see that we are committed not to simply increase social housing stock, but actually to increased home ownership opportunities for young Australians.


Kenny Heatley: Simon Birmingham, appreciate your time today. Thank you.


Simon Birmingham: Thank you. My pleasure.