Topics: Chinese navy incident; Ambassador Rudd interview; Visas for Palestinians

11:12AM AEDT
Thursday, 23 November 2023


Ash Gillon: Joining us with more on this is the Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Simon Birmingham. Appreciate your time. Thank you.


Simon Birmingham: Hello, Ash.


Ash Gillon: In relation to this sonar incident involving the Chinese navy and Australian divers, Kevin Rudd also defended the Prime Minister’s handling of this situation. He was arguing it’s standard in diplomacy not to reveal sensitive content of conversations between world leaders. You’re obviously no stranger to the delicacies of diplomacy, particularly with the Chinese. Does that defence cut the mustard in this case?


Simon Birmingham: Not in terms of what Australians expect, Ash. No, it doesn’t. There’s no suggestion at all that Prime Minister Albanese should be detailing chapter and verse the content of every conversation he has with Chinese leaders or with any other world leader. But it is absolutely normal practice to identify the broad topics that have been discussed, and that if there are issues of sensitivity in relations between two countries, to be clear, that those issues have been transparently raised. The reality is Prime Minister Albanese has not been upfront, he’s not been transparent, and he’s tied himself in knots over this issue by a failure it seems to actually actively address it. He’s said on the record in his own doorstop from San Francisco, that he raised trade issues with the Chinese leadership, that he raised potential future visits with the Chinese leadership. But he won’t say whether or not he raised this disturbing incident that put Australian Defence Force personnel lives and wellbeing at risk. And it’s pretty clear the reason he won’t say it is because he didn’t. And let’s just be upfront about this. If Prime Minister Albanese did not raise this issue, then he should be honest that he didn’t, detail why he chose not to and then the world can manage to move on. Even though it’s an inadequate response and what we should be seeing, particularly given the Chinese denials now, is greater effort from the Australian government to ensure evidence is provided to China that that evidence is presented in detailed and constructive way, and that at the bare minimum, ministerial level conversations are had about this disturbing incident in Japanese economic waters that affected the Australian Navy and its operations and the safety of our personnel.


Ash Gillon: Senator, in that interview with my colleague Annelise Nielsen, Kevin Rudd also defended his own position as Ambassador, dismissing concerns about how he personally could have a relationship with Donald Trump if he wins office again. After some time ago Mr. Rudd described the former president as being nuts, among other things. Would Kevin Rudd’s position as Australian Ambassador to the US be tenable if Donald Trump does win the next US election, which is now, as we know, less than a year away?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Ash, let me say a couple of things. Firstly, it’s strange, I think, that Kevin Rudd has been rolled out to defend Anthony Albanese’s handling of this China incident. Kevin Rudd is there to do the job as Australia’s Ambassador to the United States, not to be an Australian commentator in relation to other incidents. Yes, he has expertise, he has knowledge, but he has a job that he’s been given by the government. And the job of defending Anthony Albanese falls to Anthony Albanese, and the members of his government are not our ambassadors in posts overseas. But secondly, in relation to Mr. Rudd, his task at hand at present is, of course, to make sure he is building relations and networks with the Biden Administration and with any potential future administration. That falls upon him to be in a position to work with any and all future administrations in the US, just as his predecessors and previous Australian governments have done. We managed to work well with the previous Trump administration. I was part of it-


Ash Gillon: Sorry, can he work with Donald Trump, do you think or not?


Simon Birmingham: Can we work with him? We’ve done it before.


Ash Gillon: Kevin Rudd.


Simon Birmingham: Can Kevin Rudd do so? That is a matter for Kevin Rudd to make sure he is positioned to work with any potential future US administration. That is the work that Joe Hockey did to put himself in a position.


Ash Gillon: But Senator, I’m asking you if you think that he is in a good position to do that?


Simon Birmingham: Well, we have to see what the outcome of that election is. I’m not going to prejudge it or the circumstances that will exist in 12 months time. I know that the obligation that falls on Kevin Rudd is one about any potential outcome from that election and being well positioned to advocate for Australia’s interests. And it’s not about Kevin Rudd or any one individual. That job is about Australia’s interests and them being put at the forefront. And of course, the government of the day will have to make sure that whoever is in that job is best able to advocate and get outcomes for Australia. Just like Joe Hockey successfully did, for example, in ensuring that Australia was exempted from the steel and aluminium tariffs that the Trump administration applied on basically every other country around the world but exempted Australia from. We’ve taken that. We’ve built on it and the security alliance with Joe Biden through the Quad and AUKUS partnerships taken to leadership levels, these are all important breakthroughs and now it is up to the Albanese Government and Kevin Rudd to make sure they’re building on that with the current administration and any that follow it.


Ash Gillon: Simon Birmingham, just finally, what exactly are your concerns about the government’s decision to grant hundreds of temporary visas to Palestinians in recent weeks? Can’t we be confident that the usual checks and balances will ensure that this process is managed appropriately?


Simon Birmingham: Ash the reason questions are being asked about the usual checks and balances is because of the speed with which this appears to have occurred, and therefore the need to ensure that those checks and balances have been thoroughly applied. I know this has been a tragic time and a devastating time from October 7th for Israelis, but of course also for many Palestinian families and the difficulties that they are facing. It’s understandable that people would want to get Australian visas. It’s appropriate the Australian government has prioritised support for Australian citizens and their families and immediate relatives. But when you see a very large number of visas potentially processed in a very short period of time, it’s reasonable for my colleague James Patterson and others in that home affairs space to make sure that all of the appropriate security checks and balances have been undertaken to ensure the safety, security and well-being of Australians.


Ash Gillon: Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Birmingham I appreciate you making the time.


Simon Birmingham: Thank you, Ash. My pleasure.