Interview on ABC News, News Breakfast, with Ben Knight

  • Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Providing a Safe Haven for Hong Kongese; Free Trade Agreement with Indonesia; Dan Oakes.
03 July 2020

Ben Knight: Trade Minister, Simon Birmingham, joins us now from Adelaide. Minister, good morning to you. The Prime Minister's given a pretty strong signal that Australia is going to consider, at least safe haven, potentially pathway. What would you like to see?

Simon Birmingham: Well good morning. Look, we have seen some very concerning situations and circumstances, and scenes out of Hong Kong, over quite some period of time now. The Government rightly seeks to be prepared. The Prime Minister, has asked for certain options to been drawn up, for consideration, through all of the proper processes and he’s right, as anybody would expect for us to be prepared for any circumstances that may unfold.

Ben Knight: So, what options are there on the table today?

Simon Birmingham: Well, look, we're just working carefully through scenarios, in terms of what could occur, what we may need to respond to and they include scenarios around whether or not there may be individuals who need safe haven or circumstances, where they might seek to move their base or the locality.

Ben Knight: So, we've seen that the UK has offered, essentially, a pathway to citizenship and we've also seen there has been a pretty swift and not very happy response from China. So, if the Australian Government, follows, at least partway down that road, we can also expect a similar response? Especially at a time when the relations between the two countries are really not at their peak. So, is the Government going to consider, perhaps, talking to the other members of the Five Eyes alliance? The US, Canada, New Zealand, as a way of perhaps broadening the project, to divert some of that anger?

Simon Birmingham: We have been working very closely with key partners, especially the United Kingdom and Canada, in terms of our positions here. We have very similar positions and perspectives, when it comes to Hong Kong. We support the One Country, Two Systems structure, that was put in place. We want to see respect for the basic law that underpins the way in which Hong Kong works, as a unique but very important part of China and we want to see that supported in a way that enables the strengths of Hong Kong, as an investment center, a commercial center. As a place with its own clear rule of law, to be respected and to continue to provide the success that has supported the Hong Kongese, for so long.

Ben Knight: The last time the Federal Government offered some kind of special safe haven to a group of foreign nationals, was I think, with Syrian refugees. Something like, 12,000 were brought to Australia. Are you considering something on that scale, perhaps even more?

Simon Birmingham: Look, I don't want to get ahead of what any final decisions by Cabinet may be. As I said, this is about being prepared for eventualities, for circumstances. But, what we really would like to see and what our position remains most importantly, is one of support and respect for the One Country, Two Systems approach, for that basic law in Hong Kong and our desire to see Hong Kong continue to function, with its own independent operations in terms of that rule of law, in terms of a system, that continues to support it, as an investment and commercial hub that has been so important to our region for so long.

Ben Knight: Well, whatever decision is taken, presumably, it's not going to, as I say, you know, add to the relations between Australia and its biggest trading partner. Is that why the Government, has brought forward, the beginning of the free trade agreement with Indonesia this weekend?

Simon Birmingham: We haven't brought it forward. This is a date, we've been working to for a very long period of time and it's such an exciting opportunity for Australian farmers, exporters, businesses, investors. That finally, after decades of attempts, our Government is bringing into force a free trade agreement, with Indonesia, a market of some 260 million people. A growing economy within the South East Asian region and the biggest country amongst our near, near neighbours. And so, this is a huge potential for us to work more closely together, to grow our exports into Indonesia, to grow investment in two way terms and to ensure that both countries our recover from the economic stresses of COVID, as quickly as we possibly can.

Ben Knight: Just finally, Minister. You'd be well aware that the Federal Police has asked the Director of Public Prosecutions to consider charges against the ABC journalist, Dan Oakes. This is over the factual reports of potential war crimes committed, by Australian Special Forces in Afghanistan. Are you comfortable with the situation, as it is, at the moment? Are you comfortable that the AFP has referred that to the DPP, to consider charges?

Simon Birmingham: The AFP have a job to do; but I would note that this is the first case, I think, of its kind, where the new provisions that, before the DPP takes any action, it requires the approval of the Attorney-General. And I think, the Attorney has made very clear; that he would view very seriously, any attempts to prosecute a journalist and that's why he's put in place those provisions, to make sure that we continue to protect the freedom of the press and investigative journalism in Australia.

Ben Knight: But even by getting this far, it raises some pretty serious questions about the freedom of the press. A factual report. The accuracy hasn't been disputed. Are you comfortable that it's got to this point?

Simon Birmingham: As I say, the Australian Federal Police have their job to do, in terms of the laws of the land and that includes respect around confidential information. But, the Attorney-General, under our Government, has taken action to ensure there are additional safeguards there for journalists, for the freedom of the press and that he's outlined very clearly the very cautious way in which he will act to make sure that that is protected into the future.

Ben Knight: Okay. We'll leave it there. Thanks for your time, Minister.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you, my pleasure.

Ben Knight: Trade Minister, Simon Birmingham in Adelaide.

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