Topics: Retirement of Senator Marise Payne

12:42AM AEST
8 September 2023


Tom Connell: Welcome back. Marise Payne, of course, the former foreign minister, has called it quits on her time in politics. Liberal senator, of course, after the last election wanted a less of a role in opposition, has now decided to call it time. Joining me now is Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Birmingham, a colleague and a long time flatmate as well here in Canberra. Thanks for your time today, Senator. Reflecting, I guess, first of all, on Marise Payne’s career, she was a quiet figure in terms of how she conducted herself, perhaps wasn’t always one doing a million interviews, but behind the scenes was able to get things done. Is it sort of a victory for people that still want to be understated in politics?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Marise indeed was quiet but impactful, always thoughtful and driven to get the best outcomes and she leaves having made a very historic mark on the Australian Parliament and a real contribution to the nation’s policy and best interests. Marise will finish her time in the Senate as the longest serving woman in the history of the Australian Senate. She, of course, was Australia’s first woman to serve as Minister for Defence, as well as being Foreign Minister and Minister for Women as you’ve identified, and her contribution through some tumultuous times. Helping with the regional response to Covid 19 and making sure we got vaccines and other health and medical supplies to Pacific Island and South East Asian nations. Her work in the initial responses to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, her engagement in terms of the Pacific Step-Up, where we saw the opening of six new high commissions and embassies across Pacific Island countries as a result of Marise’s initiatives and others in the Pacific step up, such as significant new climate financing, infrastructure financing. There’s a big mark that’s been left and she is held in high regard, not just in the Liberal Party or the Senate and the Parliament, but internationally as well, with many of those she served alongside around the world.


Tom Connell: Yeah. And so, you know, behind the scenes, getting a lot of results, I suppose, because, look, we in the media always thought, oh, why can’t we get more interviews with Marise Payne? But that was where she was more effective, in your view? It’s a pretty tough environment, isn’t it? You go into a lot of meetings. There’s an incredible amount of information. Even just all those new names, you’ve got to memorise on the other side of the table. That would that would terrify me.


Simon Birmingham: [Laughs] Look, there are many challenges to the foreign portfolio, to the defence portfolio. Marise dedicated much of her parliamentary career in total to that space, having served for many, many years on the parliamentary committees in Foreign Affairs and Defence. And what was really notable, I remember during Marise’s time as Defence Minister and all of her subsequent engagement with the Defence Forces was the high regard with which Australia’s service personnel held her in that whilst she had nothing but respect for those who wore a uniform and served our nation, they reciprocated that. And that was a result of her willingness to listen, to quietly engage and to try to get outcomes that saw the defence budget rise to the 2% of GDP that had been promised, big new areas of investment as well as significant work at that time in areas of counter-terrorism response to Daesh. These were all important measures at that stage. I know that that for many, such as yourself, Tom, you frequently wanted more interviews with Marise, but it was always the case that when she did do the big interviews, people were impressed by the fact that she was across the brief, really making a solid impact on behalf of Australia and indeed, more of that was always going to be welcome. And perhaps it’s a lesson for all of us to leave people always wanting a little more too.


Tom Connell: No terrible lesson. Say yes to all my interview requests. That’s the real lesson out of this. How do you reflect on her as a friend? She was a flatmate, a mentor, I’m sure. And, you know, was she cleaning up the dishes? Always, if you got home after she’d gone to bed, maybe?


Simon Birmingham: Marise would always be the prompt to make sure that. That we got the place cleaned and tidy. There’s no doubt about that. She has been a dear friend. Marise is a Liberal through and through philosophically and politically in terms of her party engagement. And so, we have worked very closely on so many issues over the years. Be it, of course, difficult reforms such as same sex marriage and how they were navigated through our party as well as the parliament, as well as the many areas of portfolio responsibilities. I had the honour of being trade minister while Marise was foreign minister, so we shared a department for a period of time and that can often break friendships. But in our case I think we managed to send a real signal into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as to just how effectively we could work together.


Tom Connell: So just finally, what about this vacant Senate position? Because on the math, there are two genuine moderates, if you like. Holly Hughes, who’s sort of centre right, is the mathematics that this will be a conservative filled position?


Simon Birmingham: Well, that’s very much a matter for the New South Wales division. I’ve got no doubt there’ll be some quality candidates who will put their hand up to serve as a Liberal Senator for New South Wales and I look forward to the democratic processes playing out there and working with whomever the party ends up selecting.


Tom Connell: All right. The sort of straight bat that Marise Payne would have been proud of. Simon Birmingham, thanks for your time today.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Tom. My pleasure.