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Politics with Michelle Grattan: Simon Birmingham on the vote, Aston, the Liberals, Uranium


The Liberals have formally decided to oppose the Voice. Peter Dutton has stated he will campaign against it, a high-risk strategy when polls show a majority of Australians currently support a “yes” vote.

Noel Pearson was scathing for the Liberal party, calling the decision not to support the vote “a Judas betrayal of our country”. Moderate Liberal MP Bridget Archer will campaign for the “yes” cause.

In this podcast, Michelle Grattan and Senator Simon Birmingham, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and one of the few remaining moderates in the party, The Voice, discuss Aston’s defeat in the election and “where to now?” for the Liberal Party.

Birmingham wished previous governments had done more, “in the Rudd, Gillard or Abbott years”, to promote recognition of the Indigenous people.

“When we look at the content of Recognition and Voice, there are annoying problems.”

“They are also irritating with regard to how you apply them against certain philosophical features or whether embedding another platform for part of the community in terms of engagement is a liberal or an illiberal concept (…) I think there are serious questions are around that.”

“And unfortunately, looking at it, I think reaching national consensus on this issue has only gotten harder and harder in the many years since constitutional recognition was first actively discussed in the Howard government. And in many ways I wish it had been acted upon back then in the Rudd, Gillard, or Abbott years.

Birmingham does not see the Liberal Party on the wrong side of history in the referendum, but wants an open debate. “Australians will make their own decision and at least that’s the beauty of a referendum – we’re going to get a clear and decisive result one way or another on where Australians stand.”

When asked if a pollster would call him to ask which way he would vote, Birmingham avoids a straight answer but says he is open to “bipartisanship in working out the details in any referendum”.

“I hope that if there is anything that can still be saved for national unity through a clear bipartisan constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians, it will be achieved.”

“I hope that if clear evidence emerges during the parliamentary committee process to narrow the scope of the constitutional amendment proposed by the government that I will listen to that evidence and try to persuade a reconsideration around some of those factors.”

Birmingham admits the Liberal Party has a lot of rebuilding to do, a point reinforced by Aston’s defeat. Areas that need attention include the voice of migrants, women and the younger generations, he says.

“We are dealing with a very different electorate today than that of a few decades ago, and even not so long ago. If you look at some of the rate of change, professional women are the fastest growing segment of the workforce. And urbanization has only continued at an accelerated pace, mainly driven by waves of migration with significant numbers of Chinese Australians, Indian Australians and other cohorts increasing in numbers.

“Those changes do not mean that liberal values ​​are less relevant today than they were in the past (…) modern electorate to which we must appeal.”

“I think that means we need to look at how we can engage younger families and younger voters in effective policies about their economic security and especially with regard to the pursuit of homeownership.”

“That means making sure that in all those cases about job security, homeownership aspirations, the other aspirations they have has to be backed by a strong economy. We also need to ensure that everyone feels involved in those discussions, regardless of their background, migrant background or the composition or nature of their family.”

There is currently a lot of pressure within the coalition to embrace nuclear energy.

Birmingham sees the adoption of nuclear-powered submarines as indicative of a broad change in attitudes to nuclear technology.

He says: “I was frankly surprised when the AUKUS announcement was first made by the Morrison government and of course with the recent announcements (…) how well the electorate accepted and supported the use of nuclear technologies in propulsion . of our submarine fleet.”

“From a South Australian perspective, the reality (is) is that that will mean work on the installation of the nuclear reactor component of submarines taking place at Osborne in the Adelaide suburbs. So I think there’s a certain amount of maturity and understanding associated with these debates, but obviously there are a lot of safeguards that need to be attached to any nuclear consideration.”

“Long ago in my first speech (I) was clear that I thought nuclear technology should be on the table with how we address some of the challenges of our time and how much has happened in the intervening sixteen years. The affordability and growth of renewable energy has changed radically and the energy landscape has changed radically in that time.”

“I don’t think it necessarily makes sense to just ban nuclear technologies.”

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