Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Friday, 25 February 2022
Laura Jayes: Well, the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has condemned the Russian invasion as brutal and unprovoked entirely of Vladimir Putin's making Australia will impose further financial sanctions on President Putin's regime in retaliation for his action in Ukraine. Joining me live now is the Finance Minister Simon Birmingham. Thank you so much for your time. What we've seen in less than 24 hours is the principles that underpin peace completely trampled upon, what more can Australia do?
Simon Birmingham: You're right, Laura. These are terrible times that we're witnessing to see war happening again in Europe, to see a leader in President Putin acting in this way, showing complete disregard for the sovereign territory of another nation, a nation in the Ukraine, which posed absolutely no threat to Russia. And yet these actions are being undertaken and the consequential impacts that has in terms of military movements across parts of Europe, And, the real concern that other nations beyond the Ukraine now have, as well as, of course, the deeply troubling aspects in terms of the expressions of some understanding that have come from nations like China, where instead we should be seeing clear and outright condemnation because the best thing the world can do right now in response to Russia is to completely isolate Russia. That's what Australia is seeking to do in lockstep with our partners across the European Union, across the Americas, working very closely with the rolling waves of targeted sanctions against Russian banks, Russian companies, financial institutions and key individuals to make sure that assets are frozen, transactions stop, ability to engage with the rest of the global economy occurs. And the more comprehensive that can be in terms of its reach, its scope and the number of other countries participating, the more effective it will be in terms of hurting Russia, crippling Russia. And we can already see from what is reported to be around a 40 per cent drop in the Russian stock market today that these actions do have real consequences for Russia.
Laura Jayes: Sure. But Russia is not completely isolated as you explain it this morning. So what is the West waiting for?
Simon Birmingham: Russia is not completely isolated and the problem there is that countries like China who could have such a huge impact in this regard have not stepped up to the plate in doing so now. Any nation that seeks to have respect for its own territorial sovereignty and borders ought to be condemning this and ought to be taking action as Australia has and as we will continue to do, so yesterday we took the steps planned carefully with other allies and partners initially targeting select individuals, extending that to a broader range of individuals. Extending that into different spheres of financial institutions and companies within Russia. And we will continue to work in that lockstep with other nations now. Australia's level of trade investment engagement with Russia is not huge or large, but we are taking these steps because we recognise the value that comes from closing off as many areas for Russian engagement and activity as possible because it is trying to create that isolation. President Biden has put figures in the trillions of dollars on the impact of frozen assets and actions that have been taken by his government. That would be added to, of course, by what's occurred across Europe and by other nations, but we do need to see that clear action and encourage others to follow.
Laura Jayes: Likewise, people are collateral damage here. So what happens in Australia, can you? And are you willing to freeze all Russian assets and money?
Simon Birmingham: Those are the types of consequences of the actions that that we're taking in terms of the individuals and the companies that we are targeting, the consequence of that is to freeze those assets to limit their ability to undertake transactions to essentially put a hold on their activities in terms of any access to financial capital means income flows. All of those types of things, as well as the types of travel restrictions.
And obviously there are further things that that Europe can consider and pursue, particularly in relation to trade and exports and those areas which we encourage them to go again as far as possible to create as much isolation of Russia as possible.
Laura Jayes: What about deportation, starting with the ambassador in Canberra?
Simon Birmingham: Again, all of those measures are things that that we would undertake if doing so in close collaboration and consultation with our international partners. We have made sure that Australia is at the table for these discussions
Laura Jayes: Sorry to interrupt, but what is the trigger point? What's the trigger point for that?
Simon Birmingham: Laura, obviously, for some nations seeking to try to still engage with Russia is an issue. Now what we want to make sure, as I said, that the actions are as strong as we can. Now the trigger points are ones that will be determined through the ongoing dialogue with the United States, with the UK, with the European partners. And that is really where we will assess at what stage we take the next steps. In some circumstances last night when I signed the new wave of sanctions on behalf of the foreign minister who's on her way back to Australia, that at that point we were moving ahead of the US. The US has undertaken further actions overnight. Their time zone differences. But we continue to make sure that each of each other is aware of the steps that we are all taking.
Laura Jayes: Two quick issues is that unrealistic for Australia to step in and supply Europe with gas? And what about swift payments?
Simon Birmingham: So, so it's it is the case that Australia's gas supply here in Australia, domestic prices are around 70 per cent of what is being paid in Asia or elsewhere and that is a factor that the agreement struck between our government and Australian gas companies to make sure that surplus gas goes into our domestic market at a fair price occurs there are constraints in terms of the availability of both production at LNG plants and the ships that the transport LNG around the world, that Australia is unlikely in a short term sense to be able to provide any tangible additional supply to Europe in terms of gas. That what we are supplying to our trading partners in Japan and Korea and so on is fully contracted, fully committed and largely utilising the infrastructure that is that is available there. So we shouldn't expect to see to see massive action in that regard. In terms of payments, those measures are things that are under review as part of that dialogue with other partners.
Laura Jayes: You mentioned China. Just quickly, this tacit support from China of Russia so far talk about isolating Russia. But as long as China maintains the line, it is at the moment, Russia will never be fully isolated.
Simon Birmingham: For both, both the ability to indeed isolate Russia right now and for what it means for our region as well, China's response is deeply troubling. They, whilst at the UN Security Council, have called for restraint. They have not been clear in their condemnation of Russia, in fact, far from it. Their foreign minister has suggested that he understands the territorial concerns of Russia. Well, there is no justification for understanding those territorial concerns. Ukraine was a peaceful, democratic, sovereign nation whose territorial boundaries should have been respected and have been violated in the most obscene and abusive ways by Russia and the military forces and China, like any other nation, if they wish others to respect their territory, their borders, their systems, then they ought to show the same for the Ukraine. It is deeply disappointing that they haven't, and we would urge them to not just make those calls for restraint, but to actually take action alongside the rest of the world in showing a penalty for Russia from what they have done. An opportunity for China in this a real opportunity, it's up to them as to whether they step up. If they don't, then of course they will be judged for the complicit ness of their actions and what that means in terms of their own intentions across the region.
Laura Jayes: Indeed, we are standing by to see what happens there. Simon Birmingham, thanks so much.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Laura.