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The Hon Peter Dutton MP
Minister for Defence
Defence Media: email@example.com
3 February 2022
Every Thursday, of course, I speak to the Minister for Defence and Member for Dickson, Peter Dutton. He’s actually I think back home today. He’s on the line. G’day Mr Dutton. How are you?
Good morning Ray. How are you?
Not bad. How is the weather, speaking of weather for Brisbane. They’re saying it’s going to bucket down a bit later. It looks like it’s not far away.
I was just having a look at BOM before, so there’s a bit coming through from the west. Some of it might ease out by the look of it before it gets to the coast, but I was out in Oakey and Toowoomba, sort of Darling Downs region yesterday, and there was pretty good crops in the ground, and some of the farmers there were pretty happy; some others, it’s too wet to get their crop out. So it’s a mixed story, as always, but they’ve been in drought out there for a while, so they’ll welcome that rain out in the west.
Okay. Well, I dealt with this yesterday with the Prime Minister and the National Press Club. As I said, there were plenty of galoots outside the National Press Club and a few inside the National Press Club. My problem with this is always the case: there are certain things put to a Prime Minister from a conservative, I guess, background, as opposed to what they say to either Labor prime ministers or Labor opposition leaders, and I can’t help but draw the conclusion that many within the National Press Club are there as a cheer squad for the Labor Party and those of the left of politics, am I wrong?
No, I think you’re dead right. I mean there’s always been a criticism about the bubble in Canberra. Canberra is, Ray, a very affluent city. If you look at house prices, you look at the lifestyle that people lead in that circle within Canberra – the media – they’re paying big dollars for some of the journalists to be down there – in some cases they’ve been there for decades – and I just don’t think they get out and mix with people in the suburbs, regardless of what state you’re in.
My assessment is that they can continue to pile on whatever they want to the Prime Minister, but he’s a resilient person. Like any human being, like you and I and every listener, he’s not perfect, but I tell you what, when we had the first briefings on the COVID situation here, we were talking about setting up morgues, and we were talking about positioning Army personnel at hospitals where people would be turned away, we were looking at all sorts of dire situations which we have avoided in this country and I think people, as I say, can continue – whether they’re a Premier or whether they’re part of the press gallery – to try and heap whatever rubbish they can on the Prime Minister, but I think most people out in the suburbs get it.
I do think there’s a big difference in the experience that Scott Morrison brings to the table and Anthony Albanese brings to the table at the next election. I mean if you look at what colleagues think – if that’s what interests people at the moment – Anthony Albanese served under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard – four leaders I think in total – probably Mark Latham. Over 20 years, not one of them saw fit, knowing Anthony Albanese well, to put him into an economic portfolio or a national security portfolio. He’s never sat around the national security table. He’s never delivered a budget and if you contrast that to the Prime Minister’s experience, then I think this contest will sharpen its focus over the next few weeks and I think people are not going to risk the economy and our national security, particularly given the uncertain prevailing conditions in both the economy and in terms of national security over the course of the next five or 10 years. So we’ve got a contest on our hands, but there’s a lot of at stake for our country.
Well, just leave Mr Morrison and Mr Albanese aside, the Prime Minister made the point with me yesterday how the teams compare, and that’s been documented today in The Australian, Josh Frydenberg – Jim Chalmers. Peter Dutton – Brendan O’Connor. Karen Andrews – Kristina Keneally. Marise Payne – Penny Wong.
Now, I’ll concentrate my efforts – I’ll leave you alone – I’ll go to Kristina Keneally. Can you imagine where we’d be with Kristina Keneally being a key member of a government in relation to our borders, our economy, our dealings with other people?
And then you throw into the mix Chris Bowen and then the failed leader Bill Shorten. I mean, it’s a Melbourne Cup field of failures.
Well I’m not sure what the collective is for average, but it’s a gathering of pretty average contributors. I mean if you look at Chris Bowen’s record, not only was he the one that came up with the retirees’ tax and with the general taxes that Bill Shorten took in the last election, but he also – don’t ever forget Ray – that when he was immigration minister or border protection minister, 398 boats arrived on Chris Bowen’s watch.
I mean my opponent, the man that would be the defence minister in an Albanese government, Brendan O’Connor; he was a bit better than Chris Bowen – he had 184 boats arrive on his watch and then you’ve got Tony Burke – 83 boats. I mean you’ve just got to pause for a second and think what would happen.
There is pressure – we don’t talk publicly about it – but we are dealing with pressures of boats and people and those coming out of Afghanistan and the uncertainty now in the Ukraine. There will be people movements and we’ve stared down – both Scott Morrison and I, if I can be honest about it – have stared down people smugglers over the last few years and we haven’t had boat arrivals. But those boats are still out there. The people smugglers are still trying to put people on boats, and Anthony Albanese, who’s been the leader of the left of the Labor Party for decades, has openly said that he could not take the decisions that we took to keep the boats stopped or to stop the boats in the first place.
Do you think that Chris Bowen has the will? Well, he’s demonstrated that he doesn’t and Brendan O’Connor would be the defence minister; it’s a comedy show. So scratch below the surface a bit and, yes, you can take your personnel attacks against the Prime Minister, but I’ll tell you what, he’s stood up for this country over the course of the last couple of years and we’re in a much better position than almost any other country in the world.
We’ve got a concern with inflation – seven per cent in the United States, six per cent in the UK – interest rates going up. They will always be higher under Labor. So you don’t have to think back too far to what they were like to understand what they would be like again, and they can only govern if they’re in coalition with the Greens. It’s a recipe for disaster. I hope people really consider the decision when it’s due to be made in May or something like that.
By the way, while you were talking, I had a quick look. The collective noun for a group of owls is a parliament. A parliament of owls. So we’d have a parliament of average.
Well, I tell you, I just think you always look at what Bill Shorten and Anthony Albanese and Mark Latham and these people, look at what they do when they’re in government, don’t look at what they’re promising to do in opposition.
This was Kevin Rudd’s great ruse in 2007, that ‘I’ll just continue to manage the economy like John Howard did and we’ll keep the boats stopped.’ The fact is, they can’t because they don’t have the will or the experience or the guts to make the decisions that we’ve made to keep our country safe and the borders secure.
The threat of China in the Indo-Pacific is a reality and our country is going to have to deal with that reality. We have to do everything within our power to deter any conflict in our region, to stop China going down the path that they’re going down at the moment and I honestly believe it’s only the Coalition that can make those decisions and act in our country’s best interests.
With the unions running the show again, as we’re seeing in Queensland, it’s a pretty dicey environment here in Queensland where they’ve run out of money and the union bosses are essentially running the show.
We’ll come back to Queensland in a moment. But back to your portfolio, HMAS Adelaide. We spoke about the 23 cases of COVID and now we’ve got other people in quarantine. Tonga had one case, now they’ve got, I think, five from a dockworker, But news is the virus… the dockworker did not work at the wharf where the Adelaide docked, he got the virus from somewhere else.
But we’ve got the other problem with the Adelaide with this power outage. It’s apparently causing great, great problems and we’re talking about, you know, heat exhaustion, 12 to 14-hour 50 degree engine rooms and all the rest of it. What’s gone wrong with the power of the Adelaide?
Well Ray, firstly in terms of the Covid situation, we’ve been very careful and taken every precaution because we don’t want to obviously introduce the virus. Tonga had all of this weighed up when they allowed not just the equipment that’s come in from Australia, but Japan and the United States and the UK and elsewhere.
There’s been a lot of support from their near neighbours as well, so there are different ways in which it could have got in, but we’ll do everything we can to support them not only recover from the natural tragedy, but also from COVID as well.
In relation to the Adelaide, they’ve made some repairs in the electrical system. There’ll be, I’m advised, a period of outage that’s required today to finalise the electrical switchboard repairs. So that takes place and they’re difficult conditions on board, and I want to see it rectified as quickly as possible, but these are major systems, they’re complicated systems, and it takes time to repair them.
Anybody who is sick or unwell will be evacuated from that ship, and the medical assistance will be provided otherwise, but I mean there’s been a bit of breathless reporting in relation to it, so hopefully it’s resolved shortly.
Defence obviously wants to get it back up and running as quickly as possible and the crew on board have had cases of Omicron as well, as we’ve pointed out before. Some people are in isolation as well, so again, you’ve got tight confines and you would expect the virus to spread, even though everybody has been triple jabbed and they’ve been checked and tested before they got on board. So every precaution has been taken, but that’s just the reality of COVID at the moment.
Now, the other problem is this Hunter Class frigate. Reports said they’d be slower than originally planned, vulnerable to detection by enemy vessels. You’ve stuck with them I noticed in a report this week. So just how different are the Hunter Class frigates – $45 billion worth – as opposed to what we thought we were getting, what we will get?
Well Ray, BAE is a very important partner to us and they’ve rectified issues that have been drawn to their attention. The decision to acquire the Hunter Class was made a few years ago now in 2018, so I had a look at it when I came into the portfolio and there are some difficulties in…essentially the problems arise where there’s an immature design.
Australia historically has had I think a culture of wanting to bespoke and change things to the Australian way. Some of that’s appropriate, some of it is completely unnecessary and we will undo some of that, but the issues that have been raised have been raised, frankly, in sort of a low-level document. There’s another part which wasn’t reported, of course, which says that these issues, having been raised, will be addressed and the Chief of Navy has given me the assurances that the vessel will be suitable, it will be best in class and it will be a pretty phenomenal capability.
We don’t want to see them delayed or cost overruns, but there are literally millions of points of componentry and decision-making and engineering ingenuity that goes into these things. It’s not like putting together a four-wheel drive or even a tank. There’s a lot; the weapons systems, the electronic systems, all the rest of it, these are very complicated builds.
So if we don’t want to accept any risk then we don’t build them, and that’s what Labor did. I mean they ran down and cut money out of Defence spending because they had to spend it on putting kids and women into detention and running the detention centre network, which cost them $16 billion.
We’ve ramped up the amount that we’re spending in Defence and we’re ordering these frigates and submarines because our national security demands that we do. So we want to get it right, and it will take a bit of extra time, but I want to make sure that we’re getting the best value for money and the best equipment that we can for our people.
Okay, back to domestic stuff. Queensland. Integrity problems, highlighted again by my colleague Neil Breen on 4BC this morning in relation to the archivist commissioner. Annastacia Palaszczuk has a major problem with integrity. The Integrity Commissioner has gone. They’ve now appointed a bloke in charge of the CCC who comes from New South Wales as the Ombudsman, and I don’t know that he covered himself in glory in New South Wales, Bruce Barber, but all of a sudden he’s the first pick to replace Alan MacSporran. And I don’t know whether he’s been picked because the Premier thinks that he’ll give the sort of answers that she wants to hear in relation to any investigations. I’m not sure.
But she can’t keep stonewalling. I mean, it appears the media in Brisbane are being far more robust than they have been previously in relation to these probity checks and the integrity of the Queensland Government and the integrity, in fact, of the Premier.
Well Ray, I just think this is a huge and compounding issue for Annastacia Palaszczuk. It goes to her own credibility, her own integrity and the integrity of her government and if people in senior positions within the Labor administration here are saying that reports are being doctored, that information is being redacted, that the information is being withheld at the request of ministers and other senior public servants, then, I mean, that is corruption. That’s what it is.
David Crusafulli, I think to his great credit, has called for a broader inquiry. Tony Fitzgerald has been appointed to look at just part of it and Premier Palaszczuk has been very tricky here where the terms of reference are effectively just allowing Mr Fitzgerald to look at only part of the problem – there needs to be a broader look.
I mean we went through a huge upheaval in the late 1980s and the Fitzgerald inquiry was, I mean, revolutionary, it was necessary at the time and it put Queensland on a path that I think it probably gave us more integrity in the intervening period, than even what we’ve seen in parts of New South Wales and Victoria. It’s obviously now time for another commission to conduct an inquiry. I think Mr Fitzgerald or somebody else could be appointed to look more broadly at these issues that are being discussed.
There’s no sense the Premier, as she’s done in the last 24 hours saying, ‘Oh, well, we’ll conduct an inquiry, but it will be conducted by, you know, somebody who’s a key part of the Palaszczuk government’s, you know, senior bureaucratic cohort. Like, that’s a nonsense. People won’t speak frankly if they think there’s going to be retribution. They want the protection of an inquiry. They’ll be frank and they’ll give the advice and the evidence that they’ve got, and that will, you know, I think dig up a lot.
I think the stonewalling at the moment by the Premier is what is driving journalists in Queensland crazy because she’s just not being honest in the way in which she’s answering questions. There should be integrity and there should be a royal commission and we should look at the claims that are being made by senior public servants.
These are very serious claims and they go to the heart of the integrity of the Labor Government here in Queensland and again, you look at the conduct of a minister like Mick de Brenni, the CFMEU involvement, all directors resigning from the Building Industry Superannuation Fund here in Queensland, it’s really, I think very concerning. We need to have a proper look at it, and Mr Fitzgerald should be given the powers to look more broadly without limitation at the allegations that are being made.
Okay. As always, thanks for your time. We’ll talk next week.
Pleasure Ray, thanks mate.
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