|Subjects: Solomon Islands, China
NATALIE BARR: I’m joined by Defence Minister Peter Dutton. Good morning to you. Is it a Pacific stuff up and is your government responsible?
PETER DUTTON: Well, it’s not a stuff up at all and I think the language of Anthony Albanese and frankly Penny Wong in the last 24 hours, has been reckless to say the least. I think they’re damaging our national interest and for whatever reason taking China’s side over Australia’s side. I don’t understand how Anthony Albanese can draw a conclusion that’s where you’ve got military ports in Sri Lanka, in Africa, 20 points of military presence by China in the South China Sea, that somehow that is of Australia’s making.
I mean it’s not Japan, it’s not India, it’s not the United States, it’s not New Zealand, it’s not Australia that’s changed; China is a very different country and we are entering into a dangerous phase. But Nat, the other point is that China operates by different rules and we should be very frank and very clear about that.
Now they can answer questions as to what they are prepared to do in relation to negotiations, but there are many aspects that China, you know, rolls into a negotiation that Australia never can and never will and that’s the that’s the big difference.
But I think Anthony Albanese’s comments last night demonstrate that he hasn’t had the intelligence briefings. He’s out there trying to make a political point. Fair enough. But if you deal with the facts, we are in a difficult time. We’re in a difficult region and this relationship now between China and Russia, I think should cause great concern, to not just Australians, but to the world over.
BARR: So are you saying there was absolutely nothing we could do? Is that why we sent a junior Minister instead of our Foreign Minister? Nobody went because you just put your hands up.
DUTTON: No, not at all Nat. There’s months of work that goes into this, there are countless National Security Committee meetings – without going into that detail – but we’ve taken the advice of the Chief of the Defence Force and the head of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and we’ve taken advice from the head of ASIS and ASIO, our intelligence agencies and it’s been a very deliberate strategy the way in which we’ve approached what is a very sensitive situation.
In the end, the Solomon Islands isn’t Tasmania, it’s not a state of Australia, it’s a sovereign nation and we need to deal with them respectfully. We’ve done that. We’ve expressed our views very firmly, very strongly over a long period of time and to suggest somehow that, you know, this is about climate change, or it’s about any other reason is a complete nonsense.
And as I say, they’re shooting from the hip because they haven’t had the intelligence briefings. We’ve had those briefings, we’ve gone through all of what we’ve known and what’s been available to us, in what has been a very delicate period and the very deliberate decision to send Zed Seselja there over Marise Payne – there’s good reason for that – and that was discussed within the NSC and with those intelligence chiefs and our military chiefs.
BARR: One of the rumours swirling this morning is that China is paying individual Solomons Ministers to get this deal over the line. Is that true?
DUTTON: Well Nat, it’s obviously not something that I can publicly comment on. As I said before, China operates by very different rules than Australia does. We’ve seen that in Africa, we’ve seen it in many other countries around the world. Australia is a respected partner with the Solomon Islands. We provided support to them. We’ll continue to do that because they’re family, but we operate by a different set of rules. We provide support for roads and for infrastructure, for schools, for helping to build capacity and there are many things that we’ve done and we’ll continue to do with the Solomon Islands.
BARR: That does sound like a yes Minister. Is that a yes?
DUTTON: Well Nat, as I say, it’s not something I can comment on, but it’s a question for China to answer and as I say; President Obama sat there with President Xi and President Xi looked him in the eye and said that they wouldn’t be a military presence in the South China Sea. There are now 20 points of military presence. China is amassing nuclear weapons. There’s no sense pretending that we’re not going into a dangerous time. We are. And I think Mr Albanese’s demonstrated over the last 48 hours, that frankly, he and Penny Wong aren’t up to the task.
BARR: Peter Dutton, thank you for your time this morning.
DUTTON: Thanks Nat. Thank you.