Interview with Peter Stefanovic, Sky News

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The Hon Peter Dutton MP

Minister for Defence

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1 April 2022


Well, joining us live now is the Defence Minister Peter Dutton. Minister, good morning to you. So as we just saw there President Zelenskyy thanked Australia for our help that was provided, but he's – he wants a bit more. He wants our Bushmasters. Will you give those up?



Good morning Pete. Well as you know, we announced – the Prime Minister announced yesterday – an additional $25 million worth of military aid; that brings our total commitment so far to $116 million and then we've also got $65 million worth of aid and 70,000 tonnes of thermal coal that they asked for. And we will do more.

We've had four C-17s land into the region and that military equipment go into the Ukraine. We have another trip planned, and we're just assessing the stocks of the Bushmasters overnight and what they've asked for, and what's practical just in terms of deliveries, the quickest time lines, getting things there by ship – which is going to take, maybe the number that they need – obviously takes longer than what would be ideal.

So we'll just see what we can land there by the C-17s and we might only be able to upload three or four Bushmasters on to a C-17 at once. But we're just going through that logistics at the moment. So we're very much open to whatever support we can.



Okay. So you're open to it. So you're going to press ahead with that and provide some of our Bushmasters? From what you said there three or four?



Well, we've identified Bushmasters that we could send and we're just going through the logistics of that now –whether we could get them there quickly enough. The other option is to try and source something out of Germany, out of France or elsewhere in Europe and maybe that's a more practical way of getting them there more quickly because the urgency is obviously there. But as I say, we've already delivered four plane loads of support, and they've been very grateful for that.

I think yesterday was one of the proudest moments in Parliament that I've seen in 20 years. I think the inspiration that President Zelenskyy has provided, not only to his own people, but to the rest of the world, he's galvanised Europe in a way that wasn't possible before this conflict started, and I hope it's a turning point because we don't want these autocrats challenging our institutions, our way of life, threatening, massacring young women and children. We don't want history to be repeated and that's why our country, along with many others, is stepping up.



Yeah, and during that speech he did nod to threats in our own region if left unchecked. And I want to ask you about the Solomon Islands, which is looking like it will ink a deal with China despite our protestations. Do you believe that Sogavare, when he says that it doesn't necessarily mean a Chinese naval base will be established, and how concerned are you about that?



Well Pete, I think you've just got to look at the history of President Xi here. Under President Xi China has headed in a very different direction. The unbreakable bond now that's been described between him and President Putin is quite remarkable. At a time when almost every other country in the world is telling Russia to leave Ukraine, China's providing support to them. They're helping them with wheat exports and talking about military aid to Russia. I mean it's a disgrace really, and it's only China who can pick the phone up and call the Russians to tell them to stop this ridiculous slaughter of people in Ukraine.

In relation to China's own track record in our region, don't forget the Chinese Government gave President Obama no less the assurances that when they reclaimed the islands in the South China Sea, that they wouldn't be militarised. And today we know, that the Chinese have 20 points of military presence in the South China Sea. They want a military port in PNG. They've got one in Sri Lanka, and they're looking obviously at other places where they can put them.

So I understand and respect Prime Minister Sogavare's perspective, but I think we need to be very cautious here because the Chinese are incredibly aggressive. The tactics that they're deploying into small island nations is quite remarkable and Australia's done more and more each year, but China is certainly on a pathway here, and I think President Zelenskyy understands that. He's seeing what's unfolding in Ukraine now that people didn't predict a couple of years ago, and we should never take peace for granted in our region. But everything we're doing is designed to deter aggression and maintain that peace.



Well China's been very crafty here because what this basically means is that the sea lines of communication between Australia and the US will be interrupted if they push ahead with this deal, which it looks likely. So what is it going to mean for our air and sea security assets in the region if they go ahead with this deal?



Well Pete, obviously it's a very different scenario if we've got military bases starting to pop up very close to Australia and close to our neighbours and partners and family within the Pacific. So I think we should be calling it out and we should be really shining a light on what's happening here with China.

As President Putin was aggressive in Europe, we're seeing President Xi being very aggressive in our own region and I don't think President Xi is worried about the reputation or risk to China. I don't think they're worried about sanctions, otherwise they'd be condemning and walking away from Russia, but instead they're closer and closer to Russia each day.



But what is that going to mean in terms of shifting assets around the region if China does look like setting up a base in Solomon Islands?



Well for us, in terms of the deployment of our own assets, it will mean a much more significant undertaking and it poses a threat to all countries within our region – and that's why many of the neighbours and dear friends of the Solomon Islands have said that, you know, this is not the right decision. All of us want to provide support, and we have done, for the Solomon Islands most recently, but over many years.

And as the Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw pointed out yesterday; we have done a lot in the Solomon Islands and we will always be there to provide support and we want that relationship to continue. We don't want it to be disrupted by the aggression of China, and we're right to call it out because we want to protect and defend peace in our region, as I've said.



Just a quick one here, Minister, because I know you've got to go – in 30 seconds, is this new port going to be built in Darwin that's going to sit off Landbridge, and what will its function be?



Well Pete, in this budget we've provided the biggest investment into the regions, really, in our country's history. It does look at ports and particularly what the Government can do with those ports through defence and through other agencies and also obviously the main function – to see how quickly we can get product exported because that means a huge win for our country – without those exports we can't afford to pay for the medicines and schools and the roads that we invest in within the cities.



Okay. That is the Defence Minister Peter Dutton on a busy morning. Thank you Minister. We'll talk to you soon.



Thanks Pete. Thank you.



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