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The Hon Peter Dutton MP
Minister for Defence
Defence Media: firstname.lastname@example.org
5 April 2022
Defence Minister Peter Dutton joins us live from Garden Island Naval Base in Sydney. Minister, nice to see you this morning. So, have you been napping?
Thanks Ali. I don’t think so. I think we’ve been flat out, and I think the world’s really been shocked by what we’ve seen in Europe, and nobody was predicting that even two or five years ago. We’re also very worried about what’s happening in the Indo–Pacific. The Chinese Government is on a course in relation to Taiwan. They’re amassing nuclear weapons and we want to make sure that our country has the capability to deter any act of aggression against our country, but it’s a very real and serious situation. We need to be realistic about what is going on to happen over the next few years or the next decade.
I think all of this was unthinkable before Ukraine, but what do you think is potentially going to happen over the next few years, and are we prepared for a potential war in our region with a nuclear-powered enemy?
Well Ali, everything we’re doing is designed to try and deter any act of aggression, as I say, and the last thing we want is a conflict of any nature in our region. We want peace to prevail, but we do need to be realistic about what we’ve seen with an autocrat in Russia and what we see with an autocrat in China. This is a very serious situation. The interference, the activities that we’re seeing in the South China Sea where there are now 20 points of military presence, the amassing of huge numbers of vessels and ships within the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy – these are all worrying signs – and so working very closely with allies like the United States, the United Kingdom, with Japan, with India, is more important than ever.
This is not something we’re talking about in the 2040s. There’s a potential of conflict within our region within just a couple of years, and we should be realistic about that threat; and that’s why we’re bringing forward the acquisition of these missiles, both for our destroyers, for our ships and also for our fast jets.
But Pete, if you look at our track record on Defence spending, look, it isn’t great. Previous projects have been scrapped at huge cost, a lot of them run years late and billions over budget, so what faith can we have in this deal?
Well, there are a couple of points Ali. Firstly, there are a lot of projects that get delivered and people just don’t hear anything about; they go on budget, go on time, and they’re part of the great capability.
If you look behind me, you’ve got a destroyer which is a part of the fleet, a very important part of the fleet, but we want to upgrade the weapons system and provide the new missile technology. Now, we can get that by 2024, and that’s by dealing directly with our partners – both in particular in the United States, but there are a couple of partners where we can buy things off the shelf now – and then we want to over the coming years, invest in and grow up a missile defence industry here and create that sovereign capability, which is important so that we can keep the stocks and supplies going to a ship like this or to our fast jets.
So there’s a combination of things that we can do, but I think we’ve made some pretty tough decisions in the last 12 months to face reality, and as we’re seeing in Europe, conflict could spread to the Indo–Pacific and we should be very alive to that.
All right. Look, there’s been three polls in the last two days, all pretty grim for the Coalition. Are you running out of time?
I don’t think so. I think we’re just about to get into this race, and we’re not that far off the election starting and I think people will then start to focus on the difference, the huge difference between the Morrison Government when you look at what we’ve been able to do over the course of COVID, managing the budget, putting ourselves in a very strong position, the biggest turnaround of a budget in seven decades – I mean it’s quite remarkable given the predictions at the start of COVID – and an Albanese government who strip money from Defence. I mean Defence spending Ali, was dropped to the lowest level since 1938 as a percentage of GDP when Labor was last in power. They always cut money from Defence and at a time of great uncertainty, I just don’t think people want to risk going to an unknown Anthony Albanese who wants to protect and himself and hide from scrutiny.
But once the campaign starts, there will be a difference. It’s a two-horse race at that point, and I honestly believe that Australians won’t risk going to an Albanese government, particularly in terms of national security and dealing with the realistic threats that might not be too far away. And also the headwinds. I mean inflation is very high in the United States, and we have to be again realistic about what’s happening economically over the coming years. I mean I think Scott Morrison is a much safer bet for our country in that race.
But I mean, you talk about turning around a budget and all. We’re looking at or staring down a trillion-dollar debt at the moment, and I think a lot of people are focused on ‘what’s this election going to be about?’ It’s going to be about character. When you’ve got leaks in your own camp that Scott Morrison is a racist and a bully, is the Prime Minister a problem for you?
No he’s not. I mean he’s dealt with that. There’s a messy situation with pre-selections in New South Wales at the moment, but that’s in the background. I mean people are worried about keeping our country safe, they’re worried about making sure they can pay their mortgage, that they can provide for their families and that’s what the Government is focused on as well. We’ve got an unemployment rate which is the lowest since the 1970s, and if you look at us compared to every other country, stronger growth, and the underpinning, the strength of our economy is quite phenomenal.
And yes, there’s a debt, but without that, tens of thousands of businesses would have gone broke over the course of Covid; 700,000 jobs were saved because of JobKeeper and the decisions that we made to close the border early on, they were all the right decisions for our country.
When Labor was last in Government you had, you know, pink batts and school halls and cash for clunkers and all those disasters.
We haven’t had any of that. We’ve managed the economy really well. We’ve steered our country through tough times.
That’s a really interesting point you raise there Pete, that your Government got our country through Covid better than a lot of other countries. So why is it then that so many people don’t like Scott Morrison?
I think Ali, it’s a pretty unforgiving business in the modern age. There’s always when you provide support, people say, ‘Well thanks for that and appreciate you saving our job, but what’s next?’ It’s hard to meet that expectation, but I can tell you, during the course of the pandemic, the Prime Minister worked day and night to take our country through it.
When you look at what’s happened overseas, tens of thousands of more deaths than we would have experienced in this country, similar to what they experienced, had we not taken the decisions that we have and I honestly believe that in terms of national security, there’s no way in the world that Labor can put forward a compelling argument at the next election that they would keep our country safer than what the Coalition can.
All right. Well, good to talk with you Peter. Just really quickly too, because Charles and I have a bet going. He thinks the election is going to be called tomorrow. I’ve got my money on Sunday. Care to place a wager?
No, I don’t actually Ali. It’s a very kind offer. I’ll let you guys thrash it out.
Thought you might say that.
What are you putting up Charles?
We haven’t discussed that.
Big cash, five bucks each, aren’t we?
Huge money, yeah.
Big money, big money.
Nice to talk with you this morning Pete.
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