Subjects: Viewer survey results on Defence; interest rate decision by RBA; Defence spending; Solomon Islands security pact.
In the past week Australia has been told to “prepare for war”, so it’s no surprise the issue of Defence is front of mind for voters. We asked you at home what you think about all this; 54 per cent say improving Defence is extremely important when it comes to their vote – 54 per cent. A large majority want to see more spent on Australia’s Defence capabilities and nearly 90 per cent have concerns about our relationship with China – just over half to a great extent.
Well, let’s bring in Defence Minister Peter Dutton in Lawnton, Queensland and Shadow Defence Minister Brendan O’Connor, who is in Melbourne. Nice to see you both this morning. Just very quickly before we get to Defence spending Peter, an interest rate hike today –how likely? And how is it going to impact?
Well Ally, we’ll have to wait for the decision of the Reserve Bank, but we’re watching what’s going on overseas and when you look at other countries overseas, the experience that they’ve gone through during the course of COVID, their economy has not been in great shape.
So Australia could have been in that position, but we’re not because of the decisions we’ve taken and nobody wants to see interest rates go up, but it’s a reality of a world where there’s inflation. I think Australians understand that they’re at historically low levels, but there’s a lot of pressure – upward pressure – on interest rates at the moment. What we’ve done in the budget is to try and reduce that, reduce that pressure, particularly over the last couple of years, but we’ll wait to see the decision later today.
Okay. A week or so ago, I think was on Anzac Day. You said to us on the Today Show, prepare for war. How likely Peter, is a military conflict with China? Did you overegg it a bit?
No Karl. I mean I cited I think it’s a fifth century Latin proverb, which was “if you want to keep peace, prepare for war” and that is a very important message about making sure that we invest properly, which is reflected in the survey that you just had up on the screen.
The fact is Australians understand that we live in an uncertain time. When you see this relationship between China and Russia, it is concerning and we want to make sure that we do everything possible to deter any act of aggression against our country, but you need to be in a position of strength to do that.
It means investing in our people, men and women of the Australian Defence Force. Labor unfortunately stripped billions of dollars out of Defence and out of ASIO and the Federal Police, which made it harder to keep us safe.
We’ve reinvested that money. The acquisition program is quite phenomenal: $270 billion over this decade and again, as your survey points out, I think more money is going to be required into the future.
So Brendan, just looking at that survey, fewer than a quarter of people who voted say that they trust Labor on Defence. For the Coalition that’s 51 per cent. That is a problem for you, isn’t it?
We’re the party of John Curtin. John Curtin was the Prime Minister who presided over the most difficult times this country has ever experienced in war. We believe – and I agree with Peter – things have changed in recent times. We have to increase our Defence expenditure, but you don’t get to boast about increasing Defence expenditure when in fact you waste it on cancelling contracts and blow-outs of contracts which we’ve seen in recent times.
You look at the Attack class expenditure, the cancellation of that submarine program cost $5,500 million. No sub to be seen anywhere. And the fact is the Government has wasted expenditure. That’s a problem and we have to bring that to the attention of the Australian people. It’s no point spending money if you’re not defending the country.
AUKUS is a better deal for the country though, despite the expense, right?
AUKUS is a better deal and we agreed with it once it was announced. In fact, we agree with the Government we need to do better and provide better capability, although again, we should have handled our relationship with the French in a better way.
I don’t think it’s a good thing that the most significant European state that has the biggest presence in the Indo-Pacific is now at war with the Australian Government as a result of the way in which we handled the cancellation of that contract.
All right. Well, let’s go now to what some of the viewers are saying; Pauline Turzi from Mitcham in Victoria says “Morrison should have been doing more to try to keep China away from the Solomon Islands. They should have sent the Defence Minister to negotiate. Many people like me are really feeling fear of what is going to eventuate now.” Peter?
Well I think, as Brendan just pointed out, the last Labor Prime Minister with an interest in Defence was in the 1940s. So to cite John Curtin is essentially underscoring the fact that every Labor Prime Minister since then has been a disaster for Labor on Defence and for our country. I think Pauline’s view is right in terms of us having a very uncertain region and as a country doing everything we can to preserve that peace and as Defence Minister and Scott Morrison as…
…so Peter, to her question, why didn’t you go?
... to her question, why didn’t you go to Solomon Islands?
Well Ally, we went through the advice and we looked at the problem over a number of months. It’s not just as simple as turning up there, thumping the desk and saying “we’re here to solve the problems” – they’re a sovereign country.
I think we’ve traversed all of this over the last couple of weeks, but we took the advice of the security chiefs, the intelligence chiefs with all of the information that they had.
Labor’s playing cheap politics with it, but the fact is that in our region we have incredible relationships and as Prime Minister Sogavare has pointed out, his problem is not with Australia.
The relationship with China is not because they’re unhappy with Australia, because we haven’t been a good partner with them. Complete opposite. He says in fact that Australia is a partner of choice. But we need to be realistic that China plays by different rules and that’s the reality going forward. It’s what we’ve seen in Africa and elsewhere and I think you’ve got to be realistic about the situation and you’ve got to have a government that’s prepared to deal with the tough issues and Labor is not when it comes to Defence.
Okay. Finally for you Brendan, I mean in reality, would you have had any impact at all on the Solomons signing a deal with China?
We should have sent the Foreign Minister, I don’t think we could have sent Peter because he’s famous in the Pacific for joking about rising waters and climate change. The fact is we need to do better in the Pacific. It was the biggest foreign policy misstep since World War Two in the Pacific and that’s on Scott Morrison’s watch. He deserves…he needs to take account of what he has done there and we need to do better.
We need to engage in the region, invest more. They’re not just our neighbours Karl, they’re our friends and we have to show that we treat them as equal and I don’t think we have and they’ve allowed China to be within 2,000 kilometres of our shoreline.
Alright, good to talk to you both. Thank you. The decision’s up to everyone at home.