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The Hon Peter Dutton MP
Minister for Defence
Defence Media: email@example.com
5 April 2022
Australia is going to spend three and a half billion dollars upgrading its defence forces. This covers the Navy, the Army and the Air Force. One billion of that is a whole series of new hypersonic missiles. Joining us on the line now, the Defence Minister Peter Dutton. Mr Dutton good morning.
Good morning Tom.
Well, these long-range strike very fast missiles, are they all about China?
It's certainly about making sure that we can deter any act of aggression against our country from China or anyone else and I think the circumstances in Ukraine have been, frankly, a wake up call to the world. We're living in a very precarious time in the Indo-Pacific as well. So it's about being realistic of the threats that might be on the horizon and bring forward the acquisition of this capability.
Now, when you say on the horizon, it was reported last week that the Solomon Islands in China have signed some agreement which will allow a Chinese military base to be built just 2,000km from our shores. Is that again, the sort of thing that this upgrade now, defence
capabilities is aimed at?
Well Tom, I think if you look at the actions of China, not just in respect of our country, but the land border clashes that they're having with India, the activity in the East China Sea against Japan, the 20 points of militarisation now within the South China Sea that the Chinese Government has – which is in complete contradiction of the assurances they gave President Obama at the time – the economic interference, the bribery payments, their activity otherwise, the ability to acquire porting facilities in Sri Lanka for example, looking at what they could do in PNG; I just think we need to be realistic about the leadership of President Xi and what's happening with China in recent years.
And again, nobody a couple of years ago could have predicted what happened in Ukraine and there's no sense in us being blind to the reality of what's happening in our own region; the amassing of nuclear weapons by China should cause anyone concern and that's why we need to make this investment and it'll keep our country safer.
Well we hope so. But again, going back to the Solomon Islands because it worries me. Did we drop the ball on that? Because it seems to have come as an enormous surprise to policymakers like you that suddenly the Solomon Islands is now jumping into bed withChina?
Well, it hasn't come as a surprise to us and obviously there's a lot we work on behind the scenes and conversations that we would have with a sovereign nation like Solomon Islands –and we wouldn't make that public – and we have those discussions with a number of countries where we think there's Chinese activity and interference.
And again, there's no sense in just closing your ears and not saying anything and pretending that the issue is not there and that it'll go away. It's not. And we have to be realistic about the times in which we live.
And with the Solomon Islands, we have been working with them very closely. There's a very close relationship that we have with them that we want to continue into the future, but we are concerned about China's motivations and the activities and the power imbalance that they bring to the relationship with the Solomons.
Now, what about the hypersonic missiles that were buying? What will they do? They launch from ships? They launch from planes? How do they work?
It’s a combination. So it's about replacing the harpoons that we have on our naval fleet at the moment – and so we get additional range and capability and accuracy – and it's also about replacing or enhancing the weapons that we have on our fast jet fleet as well – so on the Super Hornets and then into the F35’s as well. So there's a much greater range, but a much greater capability.
So we can acquire that by 2024, which dramatically brings forward the date that we wouldhave otherwise achieved that by, and again, I think that's just reflecting the times in which we live.
And these missiles are sourced from America?
Predominantly missiles for our country are sourced from America, but we're also announcing today a partnership with Raytheon, with Lockheed Martin and a number of other companies to develop that sovereign capability so that we can build up our own industry, the skill here, the jobs that go with that and we can, I think, work closely with partners to achieve the short-term capability that we need, but in the medium to longer term, we want to be able to develop that sovereign capability here. It also probably gives us the ability to export those missiles back into the United States and elsewhere.
Now, you mentioned Ukraine before, and some hideous pictures have merged over the past few days of mass civilian casualties, of graves, of children being targeted by Russian snipers. I mean, just terrible stuff. A) have war crimes being committed and if they have, B) is Vladimir Putin a war criminal?
Well Tom, on all of that evidence and you’ve seen scenes this morning with President Zelenskyy going out to meet his people, more crimes have taken place, it's not just the Russian forces, but the reports early on about foreign fighters being brought in by Russia to fight in Ukraine. They don't know any boundaries at all. And I think President Putin has a case to answer here. I think the allegations of war crimes will be investigated by the ICC, and they should be; but the most important element for us to consider now is how we bring this barbaric action to an end as quickly as possible; and that the Chinese Government is the only one that has the influence over President Putin to pick the phone up, to tell Putin to get out of Ukraine and allow people to resume their lives. It's horrific scenes that we're seeing and it's not stopping yet.
What about India? I mean, we've just signed a free trade agreement with India, but India has refused to condemn Russia because they're buying a lot of military hardware from them. Could we lean on the Indians to say something to Vladimir Putin?
Well, it's a very different situation for the Indians than it is for the Chinese, Tom. So the Chinese are nuclear superpower, and the Indian Government has over a course of time – I mean go back to the 1960s when there was a war between India and China on their land
border. Within the last three years, there have been Indian troops that have been killed on the border. There's disputed territory now where the Chinese are building, built structures on that disputed land. The Chinese presence and the impact that that’s had on India is probably something that we can't appreciate because we don't share a land border with China.
So that has given rise to a different relationship between India and Russia than what we would otherwise want to see, but Russia has provided, I think a ballast, and I think India has used that relationship to try and push back against China as best they can over the decades. So it's a very different scenario for India than it is for China, and the relationship with Russia is as a direct result of that.
Finally, I read on the weekend that Australian Bushmaster armoured vehicles could be sent directly to Ukraine via RAAF C17 Globemasters. Is that happening? And if so, how soon?
Yes it is. It'll happen within days. We've got a number of Bushmasters that we've identified and are being painted up at the moment, and they will be dispatched on the C17’s. We can send four at a time on a C17, so we'll be able to cycle through a number of those and we'll make further announcements about the number and how quickly they'll be there. But it's been a request, as you know, of President Zelenskyy, that we send the Bushmasters.
We've already sent five C17 plane-loads of equipment and provided the humanitarian support, medications, winter clothing etc, as well as the lethal defence material request that they've made. They've been met. So it's about providing support to people who are in their darkest hour and we just want the conflict to be over and done with as quickly as possible. And in our own region, we don't want conflict to commence. We want the peace to prevail and we're want to stare down those acts of aggression from China and others.
That goes without saying, thank you so much for your time. Peter Dutton, the Defence Minister.
Other related releases
Joint press conference with Ambassador of Ukraine to Australia Vasyl Myroshnychenko, RAAF Base Amberley
Interview with Allison Langdon and Richard Marles, Today Show, Channel 9