INTERVIEW WITH KARL STEFANOVIC,
TODAY SHOW, CHANNEL NINE
Subjects: Anzac Day; China; Indo-Pacific.
As we commemorate those who have fallen in wars gone by, there’s the possibility of conflict close to home that’s been dominating this election campaign as tensions with China reached an all-time high.
Defence Minister Peter Dutton joins us now from Samford Valley in Queensland. Good morning to you. It’s always such a big and important day, isn’t it?
It’s a great day of commemoration for our country and I think our country should be proud of the way in which we do it. Right across every small town, and every capital city, services and the numbers, aren’t dwindling. I was at Kallangur RSL this morning, and even in the pouring rain, people were coming out with their kids and their grandparents, and they were honouring a fine tradition.
We’re not a lucky country by chance, people have fought for it and they’ve sacrificed, and many of those soldiers and those that have served in conflict are still living with those scars today Karl. So pay tribute to our original Anzacs, but also to all of those men and women who have served or are serving in the Australian Defence Force at the moment.
What does it mean to you?
I just think it’s a reminder that what we’ve got shouldn’t be taken for granted. That we should really, as a people, live up to being the best that we can and as a country, making sure that we never forget and that we always honour their service and also for the families, the sacrifices that they’ve made. The diggers who have been in for 20 years in Afghanistan and in Iraq, their kids, their families, their spouses, they’ve all paid a price and that’s true of generations before them as well.
The Prime Minister this morning – and you’re a hundred percent right about all that – the Prime Minister this morning in Darwin also mentioned this new threat; the arc of autocracy he called it, when he addressed the huge crowds that were in Darwin. Tell us about that and your main concerns in regard to that on this Anzac Day.
Well Karl, I just think that’s the reality of our time and we have to have a proper understanding of it. We have to have a conversation and really be frank about the intelligence and the advice that we’re receiving and reading.
As I say, we shouldn’t take for granted the sacrifice that was made by the Anzacs or those in World War Two or in Vietnam, in the Middle East, in every conflict in between, that somehow that will see us through to eternity without conflict in our region.
We have to be realistic that people like Hitler and others aren’t just a figment of our imagination or that they’re consigned to history. We have in President Putin at the moment, somebody who’s willing to kill women and children, and that’s happening in the year 2022.
I think Europe’s really been startled by what’s happened there. It’s a replay in part of what’s happened in the 1930s. You don’t need to over-egg it, the Chinese are – through their actions, through their words – on a very deliberate course at the moment and we have to stand up with countries to stare down any act of aggression to make sure that we can keep peace in our region and for our country.
How are you going to handle that? Because, look I know it’s difficult to talk about this on Anzac Day, but it is happening. You’re setting up a red line in the Solomons. I’m sure our diggers it sends a shiver down their spine when they look at the potential of all of this, but how will you possibly stop it?
Well Karl, the only way that you can preserve peace is to prepare for war and to be strong as a country, not to cower, not to be on bended knee and be weak. That’s the reality. We are a country with a proud heritage that we commemorate today – the most important day on our calendar – and we’re determined to make sure that we can have peace in our country. So you invest into the men and women of the Australian Defence Force, you give them the capabilities, the arrangement that we’ve entered into with AUKUS – and particularly with the United States the United Kingdom – and now with Japan and India; these are all countries that want peace and the preservation of that peace in our region, and we’ll work shoulder-to-shoulder with them to make sure that that’s achieved.
But curling up in a ball, pretending that nothing’s happening, saying nothing, that is not going to be in our long term interests and we should be very honest about that.
Prepare for war is pretty provocative.
Well, I just think that’s the lesson of history. If we look at the 50,000 Anzacs that were there in Gallipoli, there were 8,700 who died and 18,000 who were injured Karl. Every conflict since then, Australians have been…that we’ve been in, we’ve stood up for those same values and we do exactly the same today.
It’s not a day for politics. Today is a day to commemorate and to respect those that have kept us in the free spirit that we are today. Our democracy has been preserved; our respect for women; our respect for every person and to treat them equally across our society – they’re some of the values that we commemorate and celebrate today. But we only do that because we stand on the shoulders of those that have fought to keep our country safe, and if we think that that is going to last us forever, then we will repeat the mistakes of history.
We’re in a period very similar to the 1930s now, and I think there were a lot of people in the 1930s that wish they had spoken up much earlier in the decade than they had to at the end of the decade. I think that’s the sobering reality of where we are. It’s a sobering reality of the intelligence that we receive, and we owe it to the men and women of the Australian Defence Force to provide them with every support that we can. We’ve done that and we’ll continue to do that because they keep us safe.
They’re involved in actions this very day, right around the world, to keep us safe from terrorism, from any act of aggression. The intelligence that they gather, the collaboration that they have with their allies, that’s what keeps our country safe and we should never take it for granted.
Your US counterparts, how concerned were they about what happened in the Solomons, about you being the eyes and ears in the South Pacific and not knowing?
It wasn’t about not knowing Karl. We’d had lots of intelligence, and we worked through that intelligence with our partners and it points to a disturbing development, but it’s not our country that’s changed. We have a very strong relationship – you’re not hearing the Solomons Prime Minister say that he has any problem at all with Australia – he says that we’re the most important partner, but the Chinese operate by very different rules and they do it here, they do it in Africa, they do it in other parts of the world.
We’re seeing in Sri Lanka, you’re seeing now 20 points of military presence in the South China Sea, an amassing of nuclear weapons by China, they’re building more on a tonnage rate in their navy every 18 months than the entire Roya Australian Navy. So yes, the Americans are concerned, the Brits are concerned. In the South China Sea the Chinese militia are bumping up against the Japanese coast guards on a on a daily basis – it’s not Japan that’s changed. In India on the land border, as you know, Indian troops have been killed at the hands of Chinese troops over the last three years.
So this is a very concerning period and Australia will stand proud and strong. We want a normalised relationship with China as quickly as possible, but these acts of aggression that we’re seeing at the moment aren’t acceptable to our country or to countries that stand for what we stand for.
One final thing, how are you going to commemorate Anzac Day today?
Well Karl, I’ve been at the Kallangur Dawn Service this morning, speaking with the diggers there. I’m at Samford RSL now and we’ve got another service later this morning at Dayboro. One of my nephews, Archie, is in the local cadets here. He’s incredibly proud to be part of that, and I’ll give him a big hug afterwards.
But it’s a day to reflect on…it’s a very somber day because you’re reflecting on people who have died and people who have sacrificed, but I just couldn’t be more proud as Defence Minister of the work that our people in uniform do. They keep us safe and we should never forget that, never take it for granted.
Defence Minister Peter Dutton, thank you on this Anzac Day. Appreciate it.