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The Hon Peter Dutton MP

Minister for Defence

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20 February 2022


This morning the Australian Defence Force is calling China out, condemning Beijing for a laser attack on an Air Force plane with 10 personnel on board. The ADF says the attack over Northern Australia on Thursday was reckless and put lives in danger.  


The Defence Minister Peter Dutton joins us live now from Brisbane. Thanks for joining us Minister. Let's start with asking you this; this couldn't have been an accident; it was obviously a deliberate act?  


Good morning Chris. Definitely a deliberate act. This is not, you know, a sort of a laser you would see from time to time that, you know, kids might have or a pointer somewhere. This is very important to understand, this is a military grade laser. So this is designed to destroy radar equipment. We know that our personnel can be blinded by the use of this laser, and it was a deliberate aggressive act and I think we're right to call it out.  


And this incident could have ended really badly, couldn't it?  


Well absolutely Ange. It's a problem that is, you know, from time to time something that is used as a weapon, as a tool and these two Naval ships, the Chinese Naval ships were coming down through the Arafura Sea, the top northern approach of Australia to head across the Torres Strait and then southeast from there. So we don't normally see activity there either and it would be normal given that they were in our economic zone in Australian waters that a surveillance plane would be up there just to see what they were doing.  

For this laser to be used on the RAAF plane, as I said before, some of our people could have been blinded as a result.  


Okay. So the next step is what? We've issued the statement condemning that action. I'm assuming that in the back channels of diplomacy you'll be liaising with Beijing and making the feelings of the Australian Government known. But what else can we do? Does it stop there? Can we do anything more significant?  


Well Chris, I think we're right to call it out and to shine a light on this sort of behaviour. There's a lot of aggression going on by China at the moment on the China-India border where we've seen Indian troops killed just within the last few years. We're seeing acts of aggression by China in the East China Sea against Japan. We're seeing acts of aggression by China in our own region, including economic coercion, the cyber attacks that are taking place and it's really concerning that they've formed this alliance with Russia, a very close friendship as they describe it.  

So, we need to I think not cover our mouth and our ears. We should be frank and open and honest about it because the Chinese Government is heading in a very different direction under President Xi than it was even just five years ago. So I think there's more chance of keeping peace and stability in our region if we're open and frank and honest with the public, and hopefully that resolves it and allows China to move on to a different course. But so far, you know, that's not the reality.  


You mentioned Russia. Do you see any significance in the timing between what we're seeing happening in Ukraine to what we've seen here?  


Well obviously there's coordination between Russia and China on the timing here. The Chinese wouldn't have wanted Russia going into the Ukraine during the course of the Winter Olympics, so that conversation clearly has taken place. There are many countries, European countries, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, many others around the world who have called for peace and for calm and for President Putin to negotiate and to not continue on this act of war.  

China was really the major country, probably the biggest country that could have the most influence on Russia. They didn't call Russia out. In fact quite the opposite, they support their claim to going into the Ukraine. I just think it's completely unacceptable and I don't want to see, nobody wants to see the bloody scenes that will be inevitable in the Ukraine; women and children who will be the victims of a senseless war and I hope that President Putin at the eleventh hour can change his direction. 

But at the moment war looks inevitable there and that would be a tragic outcome for the Ukrainians, for people in the region, but also economically, on gas prices, on fuel prices etc. There are many ripple consequences right around the world and Australia won't be exempt from any of that.  


As the Treasurer said the other day, the impact on, just as the world's recovering from COVID and looking for some sort of economic stability it's certainly going to push all of those buttons.  

But look, coming back to the Chinese laser attack. I mean the cynics and the critics are going to look at this though. It's not often that the Defence Department would release something and make such a bold and strong statement and release these details as we're seeing today. The cynics are going to say you're only doing this because you want to fuel this tension between China and Australia and zero that target back towards Anthony Albanese. What would you say about that claim?  


Well obviously I would reject the claim, Chris. I mean we're not manufacturing the circumstances that we're reporting on today. We haven't seen a laser attack like this on a RAAF flight. The Chinese ships are within Australian waters and it's perfectly reasonable for Defence, firstly, to make representations to the Chinese to express our displeasure, but it was an unsafe act. It could have resulted in significant harm to the Royal Australian Air Force personnel, and I think we're right to call it out.  

But like in any circumstance, you can't deal with a bully in the schoolyard or a workplace from a position of weakness. You need to stand up and to push back on that aggression. As I said before, pretend it's not happening and it'll go away and that they'll change their behaviour; frankly, that was the view over the last decade and we've now got China with 20 points of military presence in the South China Sea when they were telling President Obama 10 years ago that that was really just about, you know, reclaiming those islands.  

Well they've turned into military posts and we're seeing that at ports around the world. They're amassing nuclear weapons, conflict with literally over a dozen countries and that's the path that they're on. We need to stand up and push back because we value human rights, we don't want to see the sort of behaviours that we're seeing in the region that we've seen with this military grade laser attack on the P8.  


Okay. Defence Minister Peter Dutton, thanks so much more joining Weekend Sunrise.  


Thanks guys, thank you 


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