Subjects: France; support for Ukraine; energy crisis; Pacific Island relationships.
The Prime Minister is heading to France next week, do you welcome a reset in that relationship?
I think it’s very good that the Prime Minister is heading to different parts of the world. Obviously, he’s got a very extensive travel itinerary at the moment and to be in France, that’s a good move.
France is a very important partner and friend of Australia, particularly here in the Indo-Pacific. So we welcome very much engagement with France and with other countries in the region. I think the level of awareness of what’s happening, the uncertainty within the Indo-Pacific, I think it’s good that the Prime Minister is highlighting that.
Do you acknowledge damage was done by the previous government?
The previous government made a decision that was in our national security interests. On all of the advice that we had, the submarine that the French provided wasn’t going to provide the security and the defences that we needed.
I don’t make any apology for the decision that we made to go with the nuclear subs under the AUKUS deal because it will be the underpinning of security in our country for the next four or five decades.
We want a great relationship with the French and with every other country. The French obviously were upset about the termination of the contract because money was involved. But we’re longstanding friends, our troops have fought on French soil to protect French nationals, and we have a very important relationship with them.
Ukraine’s President has asked Anthony Albanese to visit Ukraine while he’s in Europe. Do you think he should go?
I think it’s something that he should give very serious consideration to. I think there’s an enormous amount that Australia has done. As Defence Minister we provided about $280 million worth of support, military support to Ukraine, and we’ve formed a special bond with Ukraine.
We’ve got an excellent Ambassador here who has the respect of both sides of politics. I think President Zelensky is one of this century’s great heroes and he’s provided inspiration to his people, but to the rest of the world as well.
And I hope that we can visit in due course, and if the Prime Minister is able to visit, if that’s the security advice that he’s received, that it’s safe for him and for his delegation to visit, then I think it’s entirely appropriate that he would.
Obviously he’ll take the advice from the Australian Defence Force and ASIO and ASIS and Foreign Affairs, etc, but I hope that he can visit because I think the bond between our two countries now will be enduring for many, many years to come.
And what more support do you think Ukraine needs from Australia, aside from what has already been offered, what more needs to be done?
Well, we were able to answer the call that they put out. So they had specific requirements and I’m sure those requests are being made of this government as well.
I hope that the Australian Government can answer those calls because it’s important for the Ukrainian people. The slaughter of men, women and children, the attacks on hospitals and apartment blocks by the Russians needs to be repelled and the Ukrainians can only do that if they’ve got the military aid to do that. I would support any step the Australian Government took to provide support to the Ukrainians.
You’ve criticised the new Energy Minister, saying the legislation is in place for him to take the actions that he needs. Can you please outline exactly what you would have done differently?
Well, I’m happy to take questions from the Labor Party, but not through you. I’m happy to see Mr Bowen exercise the powers that he’s got, the exact same powers as Angus Taylor did. It’s not just about the legislative powers, it’s about what they’ve got in terms of their relationships.
Mr Bowen’s first instinct was not to engage with the companies, with the gas companies and the gas companies and others I think have played him like a fool. I think Australian families are suffering because of that and that’s the last thing I want to see. I don’t want to see families suffer the same increases in their electricity prices that we saw when they were last in government.
We know that when Labor was last in government, power prices went up for families by 100 per cent. When we were in government, by the end of our nine years in government, power prices had gone down by 8 per cent for families, for households, 10 per cent for small businesses and 12 per cent for industry.
Of course Chris Bowen now, has created this situation where you’ve got uncertainty about supply. Pensioners are being told over winter to prepare for blackouts or hospitals being told to not keep all of their electricity running. That’s a dire situation.
I just don’t think Chris Bowen has a handle on it. He was a bad Minister of FuelWatch and GroceryWatch and boats on his arrival. I’m hoping that he’d improved over the course of his time in Opposition, but he hasn’t, and if he’s not up to the job, then Mr Albanese should consider putting somebody in the job that is.
Will you consider meeting with Pacific Island nations, either ahead of the Pacific Island forums or after as Opposition Leader to show bipartisanship?
Well, I’ve met with the leaders and to the extent that we could over the course of COVID – most of it, obviously virtually – but I’ve been friends and met with delegations and spoken with Pacific Island leaders over my time in Parliament.
I’m very, very keen to continue that relationship, to build that relationship, to offer bipartisan support. It’s a very important region to us. We’re talking about family and near neighbours that we need to work even more closely with. So I’d be very happy to support the government in any way.