ABC Weekend Breakfast – Biden/Putin meeting, Gaza, Biloela family

Wednesday, 16 June 2021

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Time now for my political panel, Liberal MP Dave Sharma, and Shadow Minister for Youth and Early Education, Amanda Rishworth. Welcome to both of you. Dave, I want to start off with this afternoon’s confirmed case in Sydney’s east. It’s in your electorate of Wentworth, you must be concerned?

DAVE SHARMA, MEMBER FOR WENTWORTH: I am concerned. I think anyone who’s from my electorate will be checking their movements over the weekend. Because there’s positive cases who’s connected with the airports and with travellers, went to a number of locations over the weekend, including Westfield Bondi Junction, the main shopping centre in my electorate, but also a couple of local cafes, a cinema too. And so New South Wales Health is urging anyone who’s been in those venues to isolate for now, to get tested, and to monitor for symptoms and await further instructions.

KARVELAS: We’re certainly just waiting for news, let’s park that because it’s too early to really be sure of where that will go. I just want to talk about the story unfolding and stay with you for a moment Dave, and then come to you, Amanda. And that’s this very high stakes meeting between President Putin and Biden. I wonder what you make of it Dave Sharma from Australia’s perspective. What would a positive outcome look like?

SHARMA: Well, I think a positive outcome is that the US and Russia have a channel of dialogue. Obviously, it was a very contested relationship under President Trump for all sorts of reasons. And it meant that I don’t think the US could have a relationship with Russia that didn’t arouse suspicion. It’s normal for any US administration to have interaction with Russia, it doesn’t mean they agree on everything, they don’t agree on many things. But look, Russia is a major power, it’s a nuclear weapon state, it’s a big actor in the Middle East, it’s a big actor in Europe. And some of their actions, frankly, are concerning and destabilising in our view for the rest of the world. But the only way we can communicate those is if there’s a channel, so I think it’s good that President Biden is having a summit with President Putin so early in his term, and I’m sure he’ll be pretty frank in delivering the United States’ concerns, and concerns of G7 and NATO about recent Russian destabilising behaviour, be it in concert with Belarus, be it in eastern Ukraine, be it in any number of other places around the world.

KARVELAS: Amanda, this is obviously a pretty key meeting. And we’ve been bringing those images of that meeting throughout the afternoon. Does it give you comfort that this meeting is happening? That there is sort of a sense of normal relations that are starting again?

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: I think it’s really important that dialogue happens, even when issues are difficult. So I do think this meeting is very important. I think it’s important for President Biden to explore ways that the US can cooperate with Russia, and look at avenues where that can happen. But also, importantly, raise concerns that Australia has shared with the US about the treatment of opposition parties and leaders, but also about the cyber attacks that we’ve experienced. So I think having a full and frank discussion, and being able to do that, is an important step in US and Russian relations, and in particular, on behalf of many of the allies of the United States as well.

KARVELAS: Dave, you mentioned the G7, and on Monday the acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack said coal will be around for many more years to come. But the G7 agreed over the weekend to end government support for coal fired power stations by the end of the year. Where does that leave Australia? That kind of talk from our leadership versus what’s happening here?

SHARMA: Well, I think my understanding of what the G7 agreed is that government support for coal fired power stations should not continue. But they made an exception at Japan’s insistence for coal fired power stations that might be using things like carbon capture utilisation and storage technologies that could potentially make coal fired power net zero in those terms. Now look, the political leaders of the G7 and Australia’s political leaders aren’t going to determine, in my mind, the future of coal. It will be determined by consumers, investors, electricity in the generators, and any number of other things. And to my mind, coal has an important role to play currently in the energy mix. That role is going to diminish over time, I think that’s inevitable, there will still be roles and uses for things like metallurgical coal to make iron ore at least for now, until we re engineer that industrial process. But, I don’t think it’s something we need to panic about or be concerned about. It’s like many other energy transitions that we’ve been through over the course of human history and Australian history as well.

KARVELAS: Amanda, what do you make of the Prime Minister’s commitments at these international forums? Obviously, we’re not officially part of the G7, we’re sort of invited as a plus. But there has been a sort of shift in some of the government’s rhetoric on this. Are they moving in the right direction?

RISHWORTH: Basically the message coming to Australia is you are the outlier here, you are the ones that are not being part of the global solution. And this is an important effort that needs to be made. I think we even when we see Boris Johnson sort of encouraging us, coaxing us, pleading with us to actually do our bit, it is really embarrassing I think for the Australian Government to be left in this position. So while the government’s rhetoric perhaps is inching slightly, what I think that the world wants to see is proper action, because if we don’t do it, I think there are consequences. We will lose the race when it comes to new energy jobs, we will lose the race when it comes to respect in the world, and we will lose the race when it comes, potentially, to our relationships with countries around the world. And so they’re pretty high stakes, and I would be concerned if I was the Prime Minister to be having this pressure put on me, and I hope we see some action from this government.

KARVELAS: I want to talk about the end of the ceasefire in Israel, Dave Sharma, and as a former diplomat too. I suppose the question is was this inevitable? And does the new leadership in Israel shift anything?

SHARMA: I don’t wish to sound matter of fact about this, but I don’t think, whilst it marks the sort of interruption of a ceasefire, I don’t think it heralds a resumption of conflict. These incidents are alarmingly common, where Hamas does something, fires off some rockets, sends some incendiary balloons, infiltrates some fighters, and Israel responds militarily. And it’s well understood on both sides that there’s a cycle of action and reaction, and then both sides leave it at that. So at this stage, I would not be overly concerned that this isn’t an uptick in intentional stress in the region. It’s just part of the unfortunate pattern that exists when you’ve got a terrorist organisation running Gaza.

KARVELAS: Well, it’s obviously, there are two sides of the story as this unfolds, and the behaviour of Israel was widely condemned also, last time several weeks ago. So Dave, when you say you don’t see it as an uptick, we’ll see just more of it, but it won’t go to that full sort of battle we were seeing several weeks ago? What do you mean?

SHARMA: I mean the normal pattern is Hamas does something, Israel responds, and it’s usually left at that. Hamas signalled in advance they intended to do this, or they intended to take action in response to what they saw as a provocative march that was taking place in East Jerusalem, Israel has telegraphed that it would respond, but that the response is now closed, and sort of its account closed. I don’t think we’re going to see further incidents in the coming days because of this one incident.

KARVELAS: Okay. And Amanda, obviously Australia watches this closely too. We’re a close ally of Israel. But we have argued and we still continue to argue as a country for a two state solution. Do you think Australia has been doing enough in this space of advocating for sort of a resolution to these tensions?

RISHWORTH: Well I think that – and I don’t have full line of sight of all the diplomatic relationships out there – but I have no doubt that Australia would be playing its role, and I hope that they would. Certainly I think for long lasting peace, we do need a durable two state solution. And I hope Dave’s right, I hope this is not an escalation of tensions. And we will be watching very closely, it is always concerning when we see these outbreaks. And certainly I hope we will be working with our international partners to continue to work on what has been a difficult thing to achieve, and we haven’t achieved it yet, an enduring two state solution.

KARVELAS: Just very quickly, Dave Sharma on the Biloela family. Would you like them to be returned to Biloela? Because that was the call of many Liberal MPs, not that they just go to Perth, but actually that they were allowed to come back to the community of Biloela permanently.

SHARMA: Well the most important thing for me was that they were released from detention on Christmas Island and allowed to live within the community again, and that they have the full opportunity to continue the legal processes until such legal avenues are exhausted. But beyond that, I don’t have a particular view on where they should be settled within the community.

KARVELAS: Okay, but if the Biloela community wants them so desperately, wouldn’t that be a reasonable thing to do?

SHARMA: Well, it would be, but I guess there’s any number of people that would like to be living within any number of communities around Australia. And we don’t always accommodate that, whilst they’re here having claims to protection or claims to migration outcomes assessed. It’s just not how our system works. And look, I know that individual cases, including this one, they pull on your heartstrings. But in Australia, we have the rule of law –

KARVELAS: We also have ministerial discretion. That’s part of the law.

SHARMA: I guess I’d make the point here, Patricia, that if we said ministerial discretion was available in every case, and it is theoretically, it is legally, there are many more people, many more worthy families all around the world, millions and millions of them who would love to make the decision to resettle in Australia, and I’m sure they’d make a great contribution. But we have a migration program, we have a humanitarian resettlement programme, we have a cap on each of those programs, and it’s important that we meet those commitments, but we do so in an orderly fashion. That’s what having a system that’s based around systems and laws and understood processes is all about. And I don’t want us to relinquish that.

KARVELAS: Amanda, quick response from you.

RISHWORTH: There is ministerial discretion. That is what Labor and Liberal have always supported, because these issues are complex, they’re very difficult. And quite frankly, there is no reason to keep this family in Perth while their legal issues are being sorted out, while their asylum is being sorted out. There are many other migration pathways, and the Minister could choose to settle them back in Biloela and he should do that.

KARVELAS: Thank you to both of you.


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