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The Hon Peter Dutton MP
Minister for Defence
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23 February 2022
Let's cross to the Defence Minister Peter Dutton now. He joins us from our Sydney CBD studio. Thanks for joining us Peter. Look, Australia's got to do its bit and jump in line with these sanctions, but we don't have a lot of trade with Russia, and it's not going to have a great impact and of course, this is not in our sphere of influence, this is an issue for NATO and the countries of Europe primarily backed by the US. Are you disappointed at the lack of resolve from NATO and what they've done in the preceding months to try and warn of Vladimir Putin?
Chris, good to be with you. Firstly, thank you very much. Look, as you say, we're a long way away from the Ukraine. I mean it's the reason we've taken the decision not to send troops into that part of the world. We've got enough issues, as we know in the Indo-Pacific at the moment, but it's important that we join with other like-minded countries, including our allies, in announcing the sanctions and whatever other steps we might take from here. That's all I think best done in a coordinated way and it sends a very clear message to not just Russia, but to other authoritarian states who might be thinking that they just see what happens with Russia, how far they can push it, whether there are any red lines and whether they might follow suit.
So it's important for us to stand with people of similar values and a belief in adherence to the rule of law. That's the approach that we've taken. I think it's sensible and there's been a varied approach by some European leaders, some disappointing, some who I think have been very strong and that's probably as you would expect.
I agree that Australia has done all it could be fairly expected to do and has said the right thing, but you're talking about NATO countries, and even the US posture in recent weeks has essentially made it clear to Vladimir Putin that all he would suffer as a consequence is financial sanctions, is economic sanctions. Now, nobody wants a war, but there's been no effort to deter him with military might.
Well again Chris, as you point out, nobody wants any conflict and not with a nuclear power, not with anybody. So the deterrence has been put in place and we'll see now, it seems – probably on a path that nobody wants to see – but we'll see if there is an 11th hour reprieve and whether Putin arrives at a position of common sense. But many people argue that regardless of what happened, short of a military intervention by the United States or allies, Putin was always going to head down the path of invading Ukraine and that seems obvious through all of his actions, and I think there's only so much the world can do.
I think President Biden has done a great job in working with Germany to make the decision they have in relation to the gas pipeline. That wasn't going to be the decision or it wasn't the position of Germany only a couple of weeks ago – and that's a very significant impact on Russia – but you're right, it's difficult unless you're prepared to go to full scale war, which nobody wants; it's not in the world's interests at all, hopefully the deterrents and the sanctions make Putin think twice as to how far he goes and the actions that he undertakes when he goes into the Ukraine.
Let us hope that that happens. But what you must have been briefed on is what could occur in Ukraine with resistance from the Ukrainian military forces. I don't think a lot of people have focused on the fact that they're the second-largest army in Europe. So it could be quite a horrible battle within Ukraine, couldn't it, if that country continues to resist?
I think that's a fair summary. I think there's no doubt that the might of the Russian military forces, particularly given the number of troops that they've amassed, the ships out on the Black Sea, their cyber attacks etc, that they could overtake airports and ports and military significant assets otherwise pretty quickly. But where they could get bogged down very easily is in that urban warfare and there will, I think, be a significant resistance movement.
It'll differ and vary across the country, but that's the likely scenario and the Russians will be very conscious of that, because whilst it may take them only a couple of days or several days to overtake a particular city or region, the question is how they can hold that and whether they've got the staying force, particularly if Ukraine forces are supported by outside forces. We don't know what military power they've got, what weapons they've got at their disposal etc. So there are a few calculations that Putin would have to make that would at least create a sense of doubt in his mind about how successful the whole operation could be.
I want to bring you back to our region, and there is a direct link, and that is that what Vladimir Putin is doing is effectively thumbing his nose at the international rules based order. Do you worry that will only strengthen the resolve in Beijing for them to continue to do the same on a range of issues?
Chris, I was really concerned, disturbed actually, to see the announcement by President Xi and Putin that they were going to have this sort of close, unbreakable bond together. I don't think that's in the world's best interest. It's not in our region's best interests, and obviously it's not in our country's best interests.
We've seen cyber attacks on our country by Russia, by Iran, by North Korea, by the Chinese Government, by other organised criminal syndicates who are working in concert with those countries. That can cost jobs. It can cost the personal information of individuals when there's a theft of those files, a theft of IP etc, the list goes on and on and that's just the start of it. So a significant consequence for our country because of the alliance between those two countries, and the world really needs to continue to pressure China to speak out against the acts of bullying, and to do it in a sensible way.
We want nothing more than peace in our region to continue, but we aren't going to have peace if we're arguing from a position of weakness and this was Labor's great weakness during the last period of government. They stripped billions of dollars from the defence force and from ASIO, from the Federal Police and our other intelligence agencies. They would do it again because they have higher priorities, particularly with the reality of them having to go into government with the Greens after the next election – if that's how the numbers fall – they can't really govern in their own right and the Greens have been very explicit about their desire to strip money from defence. You can't argue for peace from a position of weakness.
Yeah, that's one point. So you're saying Labor can't be trusted on defence spending. Now, I don't buy this argument that it's wrong to point out what Labor has been doing. I think it's a very important debate, and you've been right to raise it because Labor say they have a bipartisan approach on China, but they often blame the Coalition Government for increasing tensions, in which case they're joining Beijing and saying it's Australia's fault. So they're trying to have a bob each way.
But given the Labor Party says they support the Australian position on the South China Sea, they support our stance over The Quad, they support going on with The Quad, they support standing up to Beijing over the pandemic origins and the rest of it. What is it that you believe Labor would or could do in government that would weaken our stance on China that would be welcomed by Beijing?
Well a couple of points Chris. When you go back and have a look at the track record of all of the key players on the front bench of the Labor Party, led by Anthony Albanese, who has been the leader of the left, the extreme left within the Labor Party his whole career in Parliament. If you think that their statements have just been left behind and somehow there's this epiphany at the 11th hour, a couple of months away from the election, all of a sudden they've abandoned everything they've believed in their whole careers, their soft approach on border protection, their economic management disasters when they were last in government, Anthony Albanese's lifelong belief in an inheritance tax; if you think that they've forgotten all of that and that they wouldn't default back to all of that, well, nobody has learned the lessons of history because that's exactly what Kevin Rudd did in 07.
He said look, on borders, no difference between John Howard and the Rudd government.
On the economy, no difference between the two leaders. He would be an economic conservative. The trouble is when they get into government, they can't hold their positions.
They lost control of our borders and Anthony Albanese, he was the Deputy Prime Minister to Kevin Rudd. He was trained by Kevin Rudd. He would be a disaster as prime minister and they would walk back the positions that we've got because they would think that an appeasement approach is going to be the best approach.
They talk tough when they're in opposition. They always do. When they get into government, particularly when they're trying to work with a Greens partner in Adam Bandt; that is a disaster for the government of the day, it would be a disaster for them, it would be a disaster for our country as well.
So I just take a look at their track record, don't look at what they say in opposition, look at what they do in government and you can't draw any other conclusion other than they would be weak, whereas we have been strong and standing up for our national interests and we will continue to do that. There's a lot that we've done in defence already to protect our country and there is a lot more that needs to be done over the course of the next few years to secure that peace and security for our country in our region over the course of the next five years, 10 years and the decades beyond that.
Peter Dutton, thanks so much for joining us.
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