KIERAN GILBERT: Joining me now from Melbourne, Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Richard Marles, and from Adelaide, Liberal MP Jamie Briggs. Guys, good to see you.
Richard, the Government says it’s not surprised by the AFP, that it’s made convictions when it comes to people smugglers operating from Australia. But you've got to admit, it’s not a good look at all for the security agencies is it, the reports that we've seen this week?
RICHARD MARLES: Well I heard what Scott Morrison had to say. Like Scott Morrison, I have faith in the AFP and the agencies. And also like Scott Morrison, I understand that the root cause here is people coming to Australia by boat.
But unlike Scott Morrison and unlike the Opposition, we intend to try and do something about stopping that from occurring.
We're committed to that, which is why we've got legislation before the Parliament which would put in place the Malaysia arrangement and which could put in place Nauru.
If the Opposition is serious about these issues, and if they really do have a concern about people smugglers coming to this country, then they ought to turn up to Parliament in two weeks time and support the legislation that we're putting before the Parliament. I mean, that’s the answer to this issue.
But what we heard from Scott Morrison was total disingenuous comment about all of this, suggesting that they really want to see things stopped when their behaviour in the Parliament is precisely the opposite.
KIERAN GILBERT: But Richard, doesn't this undermine confidence in the whole system, that we see the revelations in Four Corners earlier in the week, and then in The Australian newspaper today, apparently another alleged people smuggler arriving at Christmas Island in January this year. Doesn't it — and posing as a refugee. Doesn't it undermine people’s confidence in the whole system, and, I suppose as well, goodwill towards genuine asylum seekers seeking asylum in Australia?
RICHARD MARLES: Obviously, we're concerned with the issues that were raised on the Four Corners program, and, obviously, I can't comment on the individual cases. But people coming to this country are subject to rigorous scrutiny.
As Minister Clare has made clear, there have been arrests made. But I come back to the principal point here: the root cause of this is people coming to Australia by boat in the first place. And if the Opposition are genuinely concerned about this, they'll turn up to Parliament in two weeks time and support our legislation, which will put in place the Malaysia arrangement, which can put in place Nauru, and which will actually stop this from happening.
Now, I heard Scott Morrison say that we can introduce Nauru tomorrow. That’s not right. That completely ignores the High Court decision which has occurred. That’s why we need legislation put through the Parliament. And it really ought to be the Opposition, if they were serious about this, supporting it.
But, you know, we've got two sides of politics who see that part of the solution here is offshore processing, but only one side of politics, which is the Government, has an interest in actually putting that in place, so that we can stop the problem at its root cause.
KIERAN GILBERT: So it’s not — Jamie Briggs, it’s not just about the Coalition hoping to — well, keep this headache, an ongoing one for the Government by not allowing them to try and pursue Nauru or, first and foremost, Malaysia?
JAMIE BRIGGS: Well, it’s reasonably disingenuous isn't it? I mean, you've got Richard Marles, and Chris Bowen, and Julia Gillard who were all voting for in 2008 the dismantling of the solution put in place by John Howard, and now you've got them claiming that they've now magically found this new solution, which is the only way you can possibly solve this crisis, when you know already that there is a solution there that worked during the Howard years. They are just too proud to admit it. That is the real problem here, they are far too proud to admit it.
Richard Marles was in the Parliament the day that they dismantled the Howard Government’s solution to this problem.
Now, what Scott Morrison said, and he’s right, is that when the Rudd Government came to power, they found a solution and created a problem. The Gillard Government has continued that. They've been all over the shop on this issue.
And the point you made to Richard at the beginning, Kieran, is exactly right, this is undermining the confidence in this system, absolutely, and the Australian people are reflecting that.
This is one of the worst policy failures of this failed Labor Government.
KIERAN GILBERT: All right, let’s move on because we've spent a fair bit of time on that this morning.
I want to look at this fascinating story in the Sydney Morning Herald this morning. As the Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Richard Marles, I think it’s appropriate we get your response to it.
Relating to Stephen Smith and his entourage, apparently, leaving their mobile phones and their laptops in Hong Kong to avoid Chinese espionage during his current visit to Beijing.
This is — these are quite incredible reports this morning and relate, apparently, to, you know, the compromised nature of other devices in the — during other ministerial visits, that these sorts of devices, mobile phones and laptops have been compromised by Chinese authorities during official visits.
Richard, has this happened, and has Stephen Smith taken these precautions?
RICHARD MARLES: I've seen the reports, Kieran, but I'm not personally aware of the measures that the Defence Minister has taken in terms of his travel to China.
One of the points I'd make is I travel a lot overseas in my role, and I am very security conscious no matter where I go and no matter which country I visit.
I visited China last year and, for what it’s worth, I took my electronic equipment into China.
But the important point to make in the context of this, is that our relationship with China is growing stronger by the day. China is a very important partner with Australia. It’s now our largest trading partner.
I visited China last year with the Trade Minister leading a trade delegation. We have the Defence Minister in China now visiting the PLA. We have, in fact, arriving in Australia today, Mr Wang Yang, who is the party secretary in Guangdong Province, a member of the Chinese Politburo, a very senior member of the Chinese Government who will be meeting with the Prime Minister during his stay.
All of this is evidence of the fact that we have a close and a growing relationship with China, and we have been very consistent about our attitude towards China.
Now that stands in stark contrast to the Opposition, because you wouldn't have the foggiest idea what their view on China is. On the one hand you have Julie Bishop saying we need to be closer to China, Barnaby Joyce says we're too close to China. The party in Australian politics, which has no idea of what they're doing in relation to our largest trading partner, is the Opposition. We have been very consistent in our approach to China.
KIERAN GILBERT: I want to ask Jamie about that in a moment, but first of all on this — on this report, it follows suggestions at the weekend, revelations that there was a secret chapter in the Defence White Paper relating specifically to China, and now we see this report that the Defence Minister’s left his mobile, or laptop, and his entourage left their devices in Hong Kong to avoid espionage.
It seems beneath that goodwill that you talk about, the arrival of the party secretary of the Guangdong Province in Australia this week, beneath the goodwill, there’s a fair bit of distrust there, Richard.
RICHARD MARLES: As I said, when I travel abroad, I'm security conscious no matter where I go, and no matter which country I go to.
But if you're talking about the relationship with China, it’s a growing relationship, it’s a relationship where trust is growing, you know. We're doing military exercises with China, one of the few countries which have done that. We see China as an important part of Australia’s future, because patently it is. They are now our largest trading partner, and we have been very consistent in the way in which we've managed and grown the relationship with China.
As I say, that stands in very stark contrast to the Opposition, who are all over the shop, when it comes to China.
KIERAN GILBERT: Jamie Briggs, I know that you were a senior adviser in the Howard Government, you obviously would have seen these sorts of visits taking place in the past, were you ever aware of concerns about espionage from the Chinese against the Australian senior officials, the Prime Minister, Defence Minister, and others?
JAMIE BRIGGS: Well I haven't travelled to China, so I don't know what precautions are taken, but I'm sure that, you know, all senior ministers and prime ministers have precautions taken to ensure no matter where they go that the security of information is kept.
However, I just — I'm interested in what Richard just said about the strength of the relationship, because that runs counter to what a former diplomat, former ambassador to China wrote in The Australian newspaper this week, where he said that the relationship has been damaged, very much, by Kevin Rudd and the Labor Party, since they came to Government. In fact he said for someone who claims to understand China so much, it has been a terrible period in our relationship.
Realistically, what’s happened here is that the Chinese are very unsure about our policies, they're inconsistent, like the miners, like other sectors of our economy. The Chinese are bewildered by the Government’s inconsistent approach to so many issues.
The fact is that the Howard Government, and Alexander Downer, as Foreign Minister, had the relationship right. He didn't ever — they never sought to choose between America or China, they were able to manage that relationship, continue to grow the strength of that relationship, they are a very important, our most important now, trading partner, and they'll continue to grow in that sense.
But what we see now is a lack of trust from the Chinese, and don't listen to Richard Marles, don't listen to the Labor Party, listen to a former ambassador, he was the person who made that point just this week.
KIERAN GILBERT: Aren't you worried about — Richard referred to it, some of the rhetoric and the sentiment within Coalition ranks about Chinese investment in Australia?
JAMIE BRIGGS: Well we welcome Chinese investment in Australia, we always have, and we'll continue to support Chinese investment in Australia because it’s good for our economy, we have always been a country who has needed foreign capital to grow, and we know in the coming 20 years the OECD tells us that in our region there'll be nearly three billion extra middle class mouths to feed, our agriculture sector is well placed to service that, and just today, Andrew Robb has written a very good letter to the Financial Review, making the point that that’s why the Coalition has been working on plans to develop Northern Australia, to be able to help service that.
We already grow enough food to feed 60 million people across the world, we hope we can do more, we frankly need to do more, the world is going to get hungry, and in that sense, Australia should be part of, and we will be part of, ensuring that we make the most for our country, of that opportunity.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay, let’s look at one last issue…
RICHARD MARLES: Well the thing — can I just say, the thing Kieran, on that…
KIERAN GILBERT: Just quickly, Richard…
RICHARD MARLES: The thing Kieran on that is that — I mean Jamie’s comments are right. But he clearly needs to go and have a chat with Barnaby Joyce, because they're totally the opposite of what Barnaby’s saying.
KIERAN GILBERT: Alright, let’s look at the interest rates debate…
JAMIE BRIGGS: Well, what Paul Howes — by the way Richard, Paul Howes is saying some very interesting stuff too, maybe you should go and talk to your union mate about that.
KIERAN GILBERT: Well okay, you guys can make those phone calls after the program, let’s talk about interest rates. We've got two minutes left, so just quickly if you can, gents, give me a quick answer on both the big banks, Richard, if they don't pass it on, the Treasurer’s not going to look like his jawboning’s had any effect at all.
RICHARD MARLES: Well, the big banks need to pass on this interest rate cut, that’s very important. But if they don't, consumers should walk down the road, and go to another bank which does. They are now able to do that, by virtue of the reforms we've put in place, which makes it easier to shop around in the banking sector, reforms I might add, despite Jamie’s laughing, that were opposed by the Opposition.
But can I make this point as well? It’s the fiscal discipline of this Government putting the budget back into surplus, which has given the room for this interest rate cut to occur, and that would never have happened under the Opposition, because they have a $70 billion black hole.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay, Jamie, you've got about 35, 40 seconds, mate.
JAMIE BRIGGS: It’s too early for this comedy, seriously, I mean they've spent next to $240 billion of debt, and they're trying to claim they've got fiscal discipline. Come on, give me a break. The bank has taken precautionary measures, and we hope that the banks, the retail banks, pass on the cuts, because consumers do need some relief from the impending carbon tax, which is going to whack every Australian family.
KIERAN GILBERT: Alright, Jamie Briggs and Richard Marles, gentlemen, thank you very much for that, good to see you both.
RICHARD MARLES: Good to speak to you, Kieran. See you, Jamie.
KIERAN GILBERT: That’s all for AM Agenda, thank you for your company as well, we'll see you soon.
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