Subjects: Visit to the Ekka; China; Labor’s millions in donations from the CFMEU; Labor’s Jobs and Skills Summit stunt.
I want to say thank you very much to the RNA and to the council who have really done an incredible job again this year. Obviously, it’s good weather here in Brisbane at the moment and today on People’s Day there will be literally tens of thousands of people coming through the gate. It’s a celebration of our agricultural industry. It means that students can come together to put displays like you see in the background here in competitions, they’re involved in cattle showing, and this is an institution, like agricultural shows right around the country, and I’m just really proud that we’re able to turn on such a great show for all to see.
It’s great to see Matt Damon here at The Ekka. Anne, I presume you’re here to see Matt Damon? Maybe if he’s wandering around again today! Everyone I’ve spoken to wants to see Matt Damon, but hopefully he’s had his anonymity and has enjoyed the show in relative peace.
I’m really pleased to be joined here by our Shadow Health Minister Anne Ruston, who is a bit of a show aficionado. We’ve just been to have a look at the work of the strawberry stand and it’s an institution here at the Brisbane Ekka but it provides important money toward a very important cause, and that is Prince Charles Hospital Foundation and the work that they are doing in their research, it’s quite remarkable.
So, it’s really great to be here. Anne, if you want to say a few words and then happy to take some questions.
Thank you very much, and as Peter says, I’m an absolute show junkie. I go to every show that I can possibly find time to go to. But, as much as it would be nice to see Matt Damon, I actually come here because I think for our agricultural produce and our farmers, it really gives them a wonderful opportunity to showcase to our city cousins, what an amazing job our farmers do, how important our agricultural sector is to our country and hopefully educate people in the city about some of the things that happen in our rural and regional areas and the importance, particularly at the moment, of biosecurity. So, if I don’t see Matt Damon I’m just as happy to have seen some of the marvellous cows and other things that we’ve just been able to have a look at. So, it’s great to be here in Queensland.
What’s your response to China claiming the UN Charter has been violated after Australia condemns the military drills in Taiwan?
Look, I just think we have to be realistic about where we are in the world at the moment. Over the last couple of years, we have spoken about our region being in a period similar to the 1930s – and that’s the reality of it. That’s what the intelligence showed to us when we were in government, and it’s clearly the intelligence that the Government is reading at the moment. It’s the intelligence that the French are seeing, the Canadians, the Brits, the Americans and it’s a time for countries to come together to condemn the actions of President Putin in Ukraine which we’ve done collectively. Of course, you could argue that the world could have spoken up more against President Putin to prevent him going into Ukraine. The carnage that we have seen in Ukraine, we don’t want to see repeated in Taiwan. So, I think it’s appropriate to be frank and honest and open. If we don’t shine a light on the activities, on the behaviour of somebody like President Putin, like President Xi, we will find ourselves in conflict in this region.
The Chinese Communist Party has been very clear about their intent in relation to Taiwan, and nnobody is exaggerating, nobody is making this up, and if we were to be frank and honest, then that’s better than a model of appeasement. I’ve always believed that the only way that we can maintain peace in our region is if we call out bullying behaviour and bad practice. If we do that, we can have a prevailing peace and we can have a normalised relationship with China – and that’s incredibly important.
I’ve been at pains to point out – and you can go back to numerous speeches and press conferences that I’ve attended where it’s pointed out – we have an incredible diaspora community of people of Chinese heritage and Asian heritage in our country, and we should celebrate that. They are in a country like ours because they value peace and because they want to be part of a wonderful democracy where we value the rule of law and we call out people like President Putin and President Xi for their activities and their actions. We want, as I say, a normalised relationship with China, they are an important trading partner, but we aren’t going to tolerate the sort of bullying behaviour and the over-the-top reactions that we are seeing to the visit by Speaker Pelosi to Taiwan in the last week. It’s, I think, a frank conversation that we need to have.
Is that a frustration that every time Australia makes a criticism of China, it is slammed by China and yet we are expected to take every criticism other countries are expected to take?
Well, I think that’s a really good point. I think if you look at the reasonable words that I’ve used, that Penny Wong has used, that Richard Marles has used, that Prime Minister Morrison used, that Prime Minister Albanese is using – these are factual statements, they are not provocative statements. The visit by Speaker Pelosi to Taipei is no different to a visit that she would have made to Tokyo, or to other parts of Asia.
We want peace and security in our region – nothing more, nothing less. We want to be treated as an equal. The propaganda that you are seeing coming out is similar to what you would see come out of North Korea, or out of Russia, and it needs to be called out. We’re not going to cower, we are not going to appease, we are going call out bad behaviour – because if the world highlights that bad behaviour, then that’s the greatest opportunity we have of maintaining peace in the South China Sea, in the East China Sea, and, in particular, in relation to Taiwan.
I don’t want to see happen in Taiwan what we’ve seen happen in Ukraine. That’s why we all need to work very closely together with allies and with partners like Japan, like India, Vietnam and others who are calling out the actions as well. The foreign interference, not just the military exercises that we are seeing now, but the covert activity online – cyber attacks, industrial scale cyber attacks, the collection of people’s health records, and aged care records that we are seeing China undertake those attacks online at the moment – we can do that in a respectful way, and to be condemned for it is an absurdity. We should be honest about the situation that we face. If we’re not, we will find ourselves two, or three, or five years down the track on a path that we just can’t correct.
Do you feel at times though, sometimes that yourself and others have made an unclear criticism between say the Chinese Government and the Chinese people? [inaudible]
I just don’t think we have, to be honest. I mean, if you look back to the comments that I’ve made as Defence Minister or as Home Affairs Minister, I mean, we took a decision in relation to 5G in this country to exclude high risk vendors like Huawei and ZTE because we are standing here, you know, I’m looking at a robot which will operate on the 5G network; autonomous vehicles will operate on the 5G network; remotely monitored health devices that will be over coming years remotely monitored by health officials with people who are able to stay at home and to stay out of hospital or to stay out of aged care facilities. But they need to operate on a network which is secure and it was untenable for us – knowing what we knew through the intelligence and the actions that we were seeing from China online – that we would allow that system to be compromised. Now, that’s us standing up for our national interest. It’s not a condemnation of people of Chinese heritage. I’ve spoken up in favour of the rights of Peng Shuai, who as an international tennis star, who should have been at Wimbledon this year, instead was under effective house arrest in China. She is having her human rights abused as we are seeing in China otherwise and we can sit there and say nothing about it, but it wouldn’t be tolerated in our country or in any other modern democracy in the world and we can do it in a respectful way. That particular woman made an allegation of being sexually assaulted. In our country, we wouldn’t tolerate that statement being made and nothing being done about it. I think we have got to be open, frank and respectful and I’ve done that. I’m not criticising the Chinese people – far from it. In fact, the complete opposite. I want the rule of law to apply in our region. I don’t want corrupt practices to take place. I want there to be a respectful relationship toward us, and I want us to have a respectful relationship toward the Chinese Government as well.
Mr Dutton, on Monday, the transcript shows that you called Taiwan an independent country. Was that a slip of the tongue and do you want to retract that?
Madura, I think if you look at what I’ve said over many years and what I said if you read the full transcript there, I don’t advocate a different situation than what you’ve got in Taiwan at the moment. We’ve got, in relation to the situation in Taiwan, you know, Canada, France, if you look at all of the international statements that have been made – people want a continuation of the existing arrangement in Taiwan. We’re respectful of that and I’ve been consistent on that position for a long time and I don’t advocate a change to it.
Mr Dutton, why won’t the Opposition attend the Government’s Jobs and Skills Summit?
Why wouldn’t we attend Jim Chalmers’ Jobs Summit? Because it’s a stunt with the unions. Don’t forget that Jim Chalmers was the Chief of Staff to Wayne Swan. Now, we will support all sorts of good policies from the Government, we have demonstrated that. We will support them on their stance in relation to the Chinese Communist Party, but we are not going to support stunts. The fact that Jim Chalmers wrote to me and then within a couple of hours dropped that letter to Australian newspapers demonstrates it is nothing more than a stunt.
The unions own this Labor Party. The union activity that you are seeing at the moment, the talk of strikes across the country, the activities of the CFMEU – involved in wilful damage, assaults – at a time when they are giving money to the Labor Party, demonstrates the power that the Labor Party has invested into unions like the CFMEU. They completely hold the Labor Party on a string and the outcomes of the Jobs Summit will represent the priorities of the unions. I worry, particularly over the course of the next couple of years, with the economic uncertainty that’s there, that small businesses and other businesses won’t be able to cope with those union demands and, in the end, who loses out? The workers do, because those workers will lose their jobs. So, I hope the Government moves beyond the stunt stage and into the stage where they can deal with the reality of the cost of living pressures that are on families at the moment. This Government’s already walked away from their $275 reduction in electricity prices that they promised at the last election, and I think we should pay on performance not on their promises.
Do you think your language, I guess, on China has been nuanced this entire time or is it something that you will be fine-tuning as we go forward?
I think, again, if you look back at my transcripts, I’ve been at pains to talk about China under President Xi. President Xi has appointed himself leader for life. It’s like our criticism about Russia under President Putin – our criticism is not of the Russian people. When we talk about problems that we have with other countries, our comments aren’t an attack on those people, it’s on that dictatorship. I mean, our attacks on the North Korean dictator, when you talk about that, it’s not an attack on the North Korean people and talk of that is just absurd. So, I think, though, that we need people to hear the reality of what is happening at the moment. The South China Sea could plunge into conflict at any stage. One of these exercises could turn into an incursion tomorrow and we have to be realistic about that because the threat to our peace and stability in our region is very real.
We need to stand up to call it out and we need to do it in a way that the public hears. We have been very supportive of the Government in this regard, and we will continue to do so because our national security is too important to play politics with. We need to be frank about it and – as we discovered in the 1930s – appeasing people who want to go into conflict just doesn’t work. We need to call out that bad behaviour and we will continue to do that.
Thank you very much.