Interview with Ray Hadley – 2GB

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The Hon Peter Dutton MP

Minister for Defence

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22 April 2021

Subjects: Indonesian submarine incident; Belt and Road Initiative; Anzac Day; Meritorious Unit Citation; Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide.  


Minister, good morning to you. This terrible tragedy off Bali, can you update us on what’s happened with Indonesia seeking our help in relation to the 53 people on board this missing submarine?


Yes Ray. It’s a terrible story. I was advised by the Chief of Defence Force yesterday in relation to the matter and I’ve got a call scheduled with Indonesia later this morning. So Australia obviously will provide whatever assistance is possible and we’ll work with other partners in the region to provide whatever assistance we can, but the only reports that I can confirm at the moment are those that are public – and that is that there looks like, obviously, a terrible tragedy and it’s in a very deep part of waters – 700 or 800 metres deep potentially – and it makes it very difficult for the recovery or for location. There’s some assistance that potentially we could apply, and the Chief of the Defence Force obviously reached out to his counterpart to say whatever Australia can provide we will.


Okay. Terrible. The Belt and Road Initiative; Marise Payne made a decision, along with of course the Morrison Government, the Victorian Government will not proceed with this idea that never made any sense either. Although, to be fair to them, I think there have been varying opinions dating back the last eight or ten years about these various initiatives and cooperation with China, but the Chinese have changed dramatically – I’m not talking about the people, but, rather the government, more specifically over the last three or four years.

They’re looking for a footprint into Pacific, and of course there are susceptible Pacific Island nations who, you know, want help and they get plenty, but there is a cost for that help. I’m glad that Australia decided that we’re not going down that path anymore.


Well Ray our sovereignty is incredibly important to all Australians and we want to make sure that we act in our best interests, and we’ve done that here. As you rightly point out, we have a wonderful relationship with the Chinese people, with the Chinese community here in Australia who have been amongst our most successful migrants. Our problem is with the values or virtues or the outlook of the Chinese Communist Party.

The Communist Party has militarised ports in our part of the world. There’s an elevated level, as we know, as the Director-General of ASIO has pointed out, of foreign interference, and not just in our country, but across the region as well. We’re worried about cyber attacks and we’re worried, obviously, about state governments that enter into compacts with the Communist Party against our national interests.

Marise Payne’s done exactly the right thing here, and the Government’s very keen to make sure that we don’t have counter messages. The message of the Australian Government in relation to foreign matters is solely an issue for the Commonwealth Government and the federal Labor Party has pointed that out as well. We can’t allow these sort of compacts, these sort of arrangements and friendships to pop up because they’re used for propaganda reasons and we’re just not going to allow that to happen.


Are you expecting as a federal government another severe reaction from China in light of the decision by Minister Payne?


Well I don’t think there’s an argument for that and I would be very disappointed if that was the case. So we, like China, exert our sovereign rights, and as a proud country we’re not going to allow our policies, our principles, our values, to be undermined and if you are involved in that activity, then there is going to be pushback by the Australian Government. We aren’t going to be bullied by anyone; we are going to stand up for what we believe in and that’s exactly what we’ve done here.


Now your first Anzac Day obviously as Defence Minister. I consider Anzac Day to be our most important national day for a whole range of reasons. You and I have discussed it previously – in fact as recently as last week. I’ll get a decision from the AFL and the Victorian Government some time today on whether they’ll increase it from 75,000 to 100,000. They ungraciously increased the number of marchers yesterday, or the people participating in the march overall from five and a half to 8,000. It just seems incongruous that a government can allow between 75,000 and 100,000 people to go and cheer their football teams on, on Anzac Day, but to honour the Anzacs we can come up with 8,000. It just doesn’t seem right.


There’s just no coherent argument here Ray. Veterans rightly are disappointed and a lot of RSLs are shaking their heads at the hoops that they’ve got to jump through. Fair enough if they said at the footy game you can only have 5,000 or 8,000 people and there was a logic to that, well, you’d see that there was some argument that they could hold, but at the moment it just doesn’t make any sense.

I agree with you; I think Anzac Day, particularly this year, I really want it to be a day to celebrate the contributions that we’ve made in recent conflicts, particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq because I think the 39,000 men and women who have fought in our name in the Middle East have stopped countless terrorist attacks from taking place in our country or other parts of the world. We haven’t had – touch wood, that God – a 9/11-style attack in 20 years and it’s because of our efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have a lot to commemorate – the 41 soldiers who were killed – and we have a lot to thank for those that have returned – and this Anzac Day should be celebrated with as many Australians as possible attending services.

But for a lot of people, again this year, they’ll be standing out on their footpath; they’ll be a commemoration privately at home for those that don’t feel comfortable going out. In whatever way it’s commemorated, I think it’s important that our veterans know that there’s incredible overwhelming support for them across the community.


Okay. You didn’t take long to put your own stamp on Defence. A couple of decisions, and most importantly, you decided at the start of the week that these unit citations in response to the Brereton Inquiry, you wouldn’t be stripping 3,000 special force soldiers for the allegations against a few – and if they’re sustained they will be stripped of those few – but without anyone ever being charged. So there’s been no one charged, there’s no one facing a judge and jury or a tribunal, it was a decision that was, I think, certainly a mistake, and you’ve corrected that, and I congratulate you on correcting that mistake.


Well thanks Ray. I thought it was important for the 3,000 of those that were recognised to send a clear message to them that we think their acts of bravery and their acts of valour and the way in which they fought in our name, needed to be recognised, and as you point out, there are some people that face very serious allegations, and they’re being investigated by the police at the moment and if they’re found guilty by a jury then they lose their recognition.

But for the vast majority they have done the right thing and our country wouldn’t be in the position it is today but for our SAS soldiers over generations who have done incredible work, work that most Australians wouldn’t ever be aware of, but it’s the reason that we can go to bed each night in relative safety. So our men and women across the ADF do incredible work. They’ve done it in Middle East; they’re doing it now at COVID at hotels; they’ve done it in the bushfires, in floods; they’re up in Fiji, they’re working right across the region and they’re advancing our interests and we should recognise those that deserve recognition, and that’s why I took the decision I did.


And then following on almost immediately the Prime Minister announced a Royal Commission into veteran suicide, which of course, is a very important decision and gives some comfort to those who’ve lost loved ones in the most dire of circumstances.


It does. Look, for over 500 families and friends and associates of those that have taken their own lives, there are lots of answers that still haven’t been provided and a lot of grief that mums and dads will never get over – you can completely understand that – or children or spouses etc. So the Royal Commission is the right thing to do and hopefully we can find a better way of providing support to our veterans. Every conversation I’ve been involved in has been about how we can provide, you know, more counselling services. We’re spending more money each and every year on providing support to veterans and we just need to understand how we can do more and do it more effectively so that we don’t have any more suicides and that has to be the aim.

But obviously there are a lot of factors involved, not just people’s time in conflict or their service in the ADF, but also other natural life issues that they need to deal with – grief, loss of a relationship, estrangement from children, existing mental health conditions – there are many, many aspects when you look into these individual cases, and we just need to work as best we can with those families and the Defence community.


Okay. Best wishes for your first Anzac Day as Minister. Thanks for your time. We’ll talk next week.


Thanks Ray. Take care mate.


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