SUBJECTS: Resignation of U.K. Prime Minister; Prime Minister representing Australia overseas; Australia-China relationship.
SARAH ABO: Well, just a week after being gifted a Bunnies jersey from our own Prime Minister, Boris Johnson’s time is up, resigning overnight. Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles and Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Birmingham join me now to discuss. Richard, is Mr Albanese going to ask for his Rabbitohs jersey back? I mean, that’s what we all want to know?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I mean, you look at what’s playing out with Boris Johnson and you obviously see the brutality of politics. But this is the democratic process that’s going on in a country which is obviously a very close friend and partner. And it doesn’t change our relationship with the United Kingdom. And, you know, to that end we thank Boris Johnson for his service. We obviously wish him well in the future, but we also know we’ll be getting another PM from Britain who we will work closely with.
ABO: He’s already suffered tumultuous times. Simon, Boris Johnson clung on to this job for dear life. But in the end, he just couldn’t dodge those controversies any longer. How do you feel about him stepping down given the era we’re currently in?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Look, the reasons for Boris Johnson stepping down are overwhelmingly domestic political factors in the United Kingdom. Boris Johnson will be remembered in part for his eccentricities, but also from an Australian perspective, we should remember him for the fact that he was the UK leader who sealed the Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement, who brought us the AUKUS security pact providing access to much deeper defence cooperation and technologies in the future, and who helped Australia out with Pfizer vaccines in the middle of the pandemic when we needed them.
So he’s been a great friend to Australia. But no doubt the next UK Prime Minister will also be a great friend, as we’ve seen throughout the years. And that relationship is so important. It survives changes of government, changes of Prime Ministers, and I’m sure it will again.
ABO: I mean, Richard, obviously with the change of government here in Australia there is some adjusting, but we specifically need stability in Europe right now. With Boris leaving what kind of repercussions, what kind of impact will this have globally?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Look, I think that stability will be maintained in Europe. I mean, the point here is that this is the democratic process playing out. And it’s all happening in accordance with that. And Britain will maintain its governance structure as we go through all this. It will obviously continue to participate in all the international fora. So, I don’t think really this has much impact in terms of those issues of stability. Simon’s right – it’s really the domestic issues which have given rise to what’s playing out with Boris Johnson. So, you know, in terms of our relationship with the United Kingdom, it won’t be changed, and I don’t think it really changes the UK’s relationship with Europe, its place in NATO, and all of that will continue.
ABO: Would you have liked, though, to have seen a new PM sooner than in a month’s time?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, it’s just how it is in Britain. And, again, I don’t think it will matter that much. They’ll have caretaker arrangements in place in terms of who’s in that chair. The Cabinet processes will continue. So, I don’t think it really will change the way in which Britain engages with the world and the way in which it engages in Europe. Obviously, the war in Ukraine is a critical issue which is facing the world but is facing Europe. Britain is deeply engaged and supportive of Ukraine in that. And all of that’s going to continue. So, I actually don’t think it will make that much difference.
ABO: Okay. Well, back home now, and our Prime Minister is on home soil checking in on the flood communities. But he’s soon to take off to Fiji, and that’s next week. It’s a busy schedule, Richard. Should he be staying down under?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Look, it’s really important that we are engaging with the Pacific. You know, we’ve seen the consequences under the former government of not paying enough attention to the Pacific and our close region. And so, you know, we have put an emphasis on that from the very beginning. And the Prime Minister’s participation in the Pacific Islands Forum is really critical.
Anthony has been deeply engaged in the question of the floods. As soon as he was able to make contact with the New South Wales Premier he did. As a government, we have been working really closely with New South Wales, been on the front foot, made sure that there is the support through the Australian Defence Force and the like for the communities in New South Wales. And, of course, the Prime Minister has been to those communities over the last few days. So, all of that work will continue. The Prime Minister is very focused on it. But it’s important that we are taking our part in the Pacific as well.
ABO: Simon, we’d love to ask Peter Dutton what he thinks about Airbus Albo, but he’s on holidays.
BIRMINGHAM: Well, Peter is taking a break post the election. And look, Anthony Albanese should put a priority on the Pacific Islands Forum, just as Scott Morrison put a priority on attending and participating in the Pacific Islands Forum. However, you’ve got to recognise that also the Labor Party tore down Scott Morrison through relentless cheap shots that they made against him. So, it’s unsurprising that some are making similar types of shots back against Anthony Albanese. But I recognise these are bigger issues in the national interest. And so, despite Labor’s hypocrisy, I expect them to get on with the job, and that means, of course, dealing with those international relations, meeting with other leaders in the Pacific, but also delivering the support to flood-affected communities. And earlier his year we got record numbers of payments out to record numbers of households affected by floods in those circumstances. And so, I trust that the current system will see now payments made swiftly and effectively to those people who need them and the support they require.
ABO: Yeah, and of course, we saw the PM touring some of those flood-ravaged areas, and everyone was sort of watching this space. There was a lot of finger-pointing happening when the last government was in power. So we’ll see if there is more swift action taken.
But, Richard, just to move on to Penny Wong quickly now, and she will, of course, be meeting with the Chinese Foreign Minister in Bali today. There is a lot of bad blood. Is it realistic to think that this is a relationship that can be repaired?
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, there are going to be a lot of challenges which continue in our relationship with China. And we’ve made that clear. And we will continue to advocate very strongly for Australia’s national interest. And there’s no backward steps in relation to any of that. But we are going to go about our business in the world in a way which is professional, which is sober, and which understands the power of diplomacy. And that’s what this meeting is about today. And what you won’t see from this government is the kind of chest-beating that we saw from the former Coalition government, which actually did nothing to advance our national interest at all. Now, diplomacy we think, is important and we’ll see how far it takes us. But it’s really important obviously that we continue to advocate our national interest, which we will do. And we’ll see what comes from the meeting today.
ABO: Indeed, we will. We’ll be watching closely. Especially with Russia being there. That will be an interesting time. Thank you both for your time today.
MEDIA CONTACT: KATE HANNS 0497 208 966