February 6, 2024
KIERAN GILBERT: Live in the studio now with me is the Shadow Home Affairs Minister, James Paterson. Thanks for your time. A real setback in relations with China, this suspended death sentence handed to an Australian citizen. How damaging is it?
JAMES PATERSON: Well, first and most importantly Kieran I think it's devastating for Doctor Yang and his family and for all Australians who are concerned about his welfare. This ongoing and continued mistreatment of him as an Australian citizen by the Chinese government is deplorable. I think it is a reality check about the state of the bilateral relationship between Australia and China. On the surface, things appeared to have changed with the lifting of sanctions and other changes. But really, beneath the surface, nothing has changed about the fundamental nature and character of the Chinese Communist Party and its ambitions for the region and the world. And so they’re just going to continue to do things like this, which fundamentally clash with who Australia is and who our values are, and we have to be very clear eyed about that. I think there are some people who've got really carried away, who think that things have gone back to normal, that it's possible to have normal bilateral relations with a government that behaves this way, but the only way it would be possible to have normal bilateral relations is if we conceded on things which are fundamental to who we are.
GILBERT: Do you think we're seeing as well this paradox between the Foreign Ministry in China that wants to engage and have a better relationship with Australia, and then the State Security Department, which basically, according to Richard McGregor, who we had on from Lowy earlier, he says they're just flexing their muscles more and more, and this is a symptom of that.
PATERSON: Authoritarian systems are not absent of politics, just like democracies. They're just less visible and less obvious. So I think there's no doubt that there is tension within the Chinese system and contradicting aims and objectives which sometimes clash into each other. But Richard's absolutely right. If ever forced to choose between a view of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of State Security, you can bet that the Ministry of State Security is going to win almost every day of the week. They've been really empowered under Xi Jinping, they have a very significant role, not just in national security, but in foreign policy and there's no way they're ever going to choose something that appeases a friend or trading partner or another nation like Australia over what they perceive to be their own national security interests. They're going to choose those every day of the week. And we have to be honest and accept that reality and deal with China as it is, not as we might wish it to be.
GILBERT: Senator Paterson, do you agree, and do you welcome the fact that the government is saying it's not giving up on Dr Yang Hengjun, that they're going to keep making representations at the highest possible levels? They brought in the Ambassador to speak to the Secretary of DFAT yesterday. Do you welcome their response on that?
PATERSON: Of course, but that is the bare minimum that any Australian should expect of our government to fight for the rights of our citizens overseas, particularly when they're being so obviously mistreated, as Doctor Yang is. Let's remember, he's been in solitary confinement for five years. There is no transparency about what he's alleged to have done. We were not allowed to observe his trial. He has had very limited access from a consular point of view. From a legal point of view. From a family point of view. From a medical point of view, and his health is deteriorating. Let's be clear about this - the death sentence, although it can be commuted after two years and converted into a life sentence, is still a death sentence. He will die in prison unless this is changed. And that is an unconscionable thing for the Chinese government to do to an Australian citizen.
GILBERT: He is already very unwell, isn't he?
GILBERT: According to these consulate meetings that you touched on. Let's look at the tax change now. It's going to dominate Parliament only 15 minutes away from Question time in the lower house and in the Senate. What's your overall assessment has the coalition been wedged into this position where you're forced to endorse Labor's plan or at least wave it through?
PATERSON: Well, we're never going to stand in the way of tax cuts for Australians. We are the parties of lower taxes; lower, simpler, fairer taxes. And at every opportunity we will vote for that. But that doesn't excuse Anthony Albanese from his broken promise. This wasn't just any promise. This was something he took to two elections, the Labor party took to two elections. He promised it on more than 100 occasions. It was only two weeks ago, he said he was still going to deliver them and we will continue to hold him to account for that, while we also develop a much better tax package to take to the next election that will apply real cost of living relief for Australians and deliver a system that actually lives up to the principles and the objectives of stage three, which is to make it simpler, to make it fairer, to make it flatter, to mean that most Australians don't have to jump up a tax bracket when they take on a bit more work. That's what Anthony Albanese has reintroduced. He's reintroduce bracket creep. He's reintroduced disincentives to work.
GILBERT: James Paterson, appreciate it.
PATERSON: Thank you.