Topics: Russian escalation on war in Ukraine; Australian support for Ukraine; China influence; Defence support of Ukraine; US policy position on Taiwan; National Integrity Commission; AFL grand final;
Tom Connell: The hardworking Simon Birmingham is here in the studio with me now as well. Thanks for your time.
Simon Birmingham: Good to be with you, Tom.
Tom Connell: I know you couldn’t hear yourself then, but I’m sure you’ll remember calling for the Albanese government to make sure they keep giving as much assistance as they can. There’s every indication they are. Would you agree with that, that there’s helping out with Bushmasters, with other lethal aid, with non-lethal aid, that we’re certainly doing our bit compared to world standards? The biggest non-NATO contributor, essentially.
Simon Birmingham: We are the biggest non-NATO contributor. The previous government set Australia up in that sphere and the current government has been delivering. We want to make sure they deliver as quickly as possible and that now, some seven months after the commencement of Russia’s attempted full-scale invasion of Ukraine, that the government also looks as to how it can add to that commitment. We’ve seen significant additional commitments in recent weeks come from the United States and some other partners. Australia ought to be looking at what else we can do too. Bushmaster, as we have promised, need to get there as quickly as possible. The requests from Ukraine for more support should be responded to as swiftly and generously as possible, and we ought to be considering what else Australia can do to make sure we help Ukraine continue to be as successful as they have been in repelling this invasion and ultimately in succeeding in defending their sovereignty and their territories.
Tom Connell: It seems like another announcement is imminent. We’ll see and perhaps respond. As I said, so far, both sides to be in lockstep on this. The Russian nuclear threat was an interesting one. There’s a perverse reality that the best chance to bring Vladimir Putin back from the brink on this or other moves might be China. Is this a big moment for China on the global stage to do the right thing? It has so much power over Russia now.
Simon Birmingham: China certainly has a unique opportunity to be able to potentially influence Russia in ways beyond that which others can do. The world many countries took significant steps in terms of sanctions and measures against Russia at the outset of these horrific actions from President Putin. And we should be considering what further sanctions and measures countries can do in concert. China wasn’t part of that coordinated effort. China should be delivering clear messages to Russia that this invasion, this war has gone on too long, that it should come to an end, and that China will join efforts to try to discourage Russia from continuing it. And if China did that, it would be warmly welcomed and applauded.
Tom Connell: Peter Dutton has said that there’s too much red tape within Defence slowing down Ukraine assistance. What did he mean by that?
Simon Birmingham: Well, the promised Bushmasters is a promise made prior to the election by the previous government are getting there, but they haven’t all been delivered yet. The types of things we’re seeing-
Tom Connell: But what are you saying specifically is the issue is that the Australian Government’s fold in some way and if so, how?
Simon Birmingham: Well you would think that in terms of getting vehicles to Ukraine that have been promised, that are now accounted for in terms of the delivery that we would be pushing through as quickly as possible to get them there because-
Tom Connell: How do you know that we’re not?
Simon Birmingham: Any delay that occurs only ultimately plays into Russia’s hands and hurts Ukraine. They are clearly making the appeal for more from Australia. The Ukrainian Ambassador did that weeks ago. He did that publicly. He probably did it privately even before that, the Ukrainian president made an appeal to the world again in his United Nations speech this week. And so first task for Australia should be to make sure that what we’ve already promised, what we’ve already committed to is delivered as quickly as possible without delay.
Tom Connell: But the comments being made from Peter Dutton, there’s too much red tape. What are you saying is the issue here specifically?
Simon Birmingham: Well, Peter has insight, having served as Defence Minister up until the point of election and clearly there would be processes that Defence expect to go through in terms of the dispatch of that support. But those processes should be expedited as quickly as possible.
Tom Connell: How do we know we’re not?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I think it would be surprised to think that having made the promise back before the commencement of the election campaign, before going into caretaker mode, that that promise hasn’t been fully delivered upon. And so that’s where we should be seeing maximum effort to get that done, as well as to look what else can be done.
Tom Connell: Okay. We’ll see from Labor. I mean, I’m still not quite sure on the claim that they’re deliberately slowing it down?
Simon Birmingham: While I’m sure there is no deliberate effort to slow down, I think anybody would impugn the motives-
Tom Connell: One too many public holidays?
Simon Birmingham: – of Australia. All of our defence officials would want to support Ukraine as much as possible. They should be looking at how they can expedite these processes, get the promised support delivered as quickly as possible, and look at what else can be done.
Tom Connell: Is it in your thoughts on Joe Biden. He said for a fourth time and pretty emphatically the US will defend Taiwan if attacked by China. Is this the right call from the US President?
Simon Birmingham: Australia, like the US, is being crystal clear that we oppose any unilateral change to the status quo in relation to Taiwan. And so and that is a very clear and consistent message that I’ve said, the Government has said as a bipartisan held position in Australia that we wouldn’t wish to see an invasion or any other steps that unilaterally change the status quo in Taiwan, and particularly that did so without regard to the views and wishes of the millions of people who live in Taiwan. President Biden’s remarks demonstrate that in the hypothetical of what could occur if there were an invasion, as he’s been asked at this point in time, the US is indicating that at this point in time they would respond.
Tom Connell: Do you welcome that?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I think it is a situation where the world would probably expect the US to show that sort of support if that type of unilateral action were to occur right now.
Tom Connell: But does it does Australia or do you welcome that as the Australian Opposition him saying that support will come?
Simon Birmingham: Not so much for me to welcome per se, but I acknowledge his remarks and I think that that in terms of the situation or scenarios painted to him, they’re understandable remarks.
Tom Connell: Understandable. Why do you say that?
Simon Birmingham: Understandable in the context of that policy position that is held very firmly by the US and by Australia opposing any change-
Tom Connell: Well we oppose it but it was the strategic ambiguity from the US, which is since while there is a general strategic ambiguity now, there’s a clear call that they’ll defend Taiwan if they’re attacked. That’s a change, isn’t it?
Simon Birmingham: There are changes there. But we’ve also seen changes in terms of the way China has reacted to, for example, mere parliamentary or congressional delegations visiting Taiwan elicited huge-
Tom Connell: So because of China’s because of those military responses, the US has had to say, by the way, we’re not going to be ambiguous anymore, we will defend Taiwan. If you take it to the next step.
Simon Birmingham: I’ll let the US give reasons for their statements. That’s for their system to explain.
Tom Connell: But you would argue China’s actually changed, its ratcheted things up by those recent exercises. It’s taken the next step up.
Simon Birmingham: On a range of levels the increased militarisation of China, the way in which they’ve engaged across the South China Sea. The more authoritarian approach is taken in a number of ways, but especially then the growth of military operations, not just the most recent ones, but particularly in most notably the most recent ones, do all signify a more assertive, even aggressive posture.
Tom Connell: Okay, so that’s a US response to that. Just finally, National Integrity Commission, your planning government was for no public hearings and no reports issued on corruption. Are you open to those two questions as the legislation is brought to Parliament next week?
Simon Birmingham: Tom, we will look at what the Government brings forward and I trust we will work in a cooperative way with the government where we can and where there is scope to do that.
Tom Connell: But you’ve previously said no to those two-
Simon Birmingham: I want to be clear. I don’t think it is in Australia’s interest to see a New South Wales type corruption commission that destroys reputations first in too many instances, and ask questions later-
Tom Connell: It that what that constitutes-
Simon Birmingham: Care has to be taken around construct of any public hearings and care taken to make sure that anybody involved in those processes has due process accorded to the case-
Tom Connell: So you might be open to public-
Simon Birmingham: -reputations aren’t destroyed until findings are actually made.
Tom Connell: You might be open to public hearings?
Simon Birmingham: Extreme care needs to be taken to make sure that you aren’t destroying reputations before findings are even made.
Tom Connell: We’ve got to leave it there. Grand Final Parade. A South Australian. Do you care what happens down there in Melbourne this weekend?
Simon Birmingham: I had great fun watching a one point result in the SANFL Grand Final where the Norwood Redlegs got home. I hope it’s as cracking a game as that one for us.
Tom Connell: Very diplomatic.
Simon Birmingham: Well, I don’t really have a horse in this race.
Tom Connell: Simon Birmingham, thanks for your time.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Tom.