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November 25, 2021

BRENDAN O'CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Clearly we have a Defence Minister that's gone rogue. Peter Dutton is making intemperate inflammatory remarks that only increases the likelihood of war, not providing the stability that we require in this region.
My colleague, Senator Wong recently, in fact, this week, identified the fact that the Defence Minister has, for electoral purposes decided to inflame the tensions in our region by suggesting it would be inconceivable that we did not join a war with a superpower and against the superpower, even when they haven't invaded us. Now, that suggestion, answering a hypothetical question that we would be at war with China in those circumstances was irresponsible and reckless. Nobody wants to wake up in the morning, turn on the television and see a Minister of the Government suggesting that we'll be at war with China, and that it's possibly inevitable. That's not responsible. It's not sensible. It's not wise.
The 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt once said, "Speak softly, but carry a big stick". Well clearly Peter Dutton wants to do the opposite. Instead of building our Defence capability, instead of delivering submarines, instead of making sure the frigate contract is on time, instead of delivering the assets that our ADF personnel require we see the Defence Minister using for electoral purposes, the rhetoric of war.
Now, we first identified the purpose behind this was for electoral purposes, but it's becoming clearer and clearer every day that Peter Dutton is elevating heightened inflammatory language for his own career aspirations. This is a Defence Minister who wants to be Prime Minister. What we say to the Prime Minister is this, you must rein in your Defence Minister, you must rein in your Defence Minister's language, you must repudiate the inflammatory language that he is using. And also he has to stop lying about Labor.
Clearly lying in the Government is contagious, because the Defence Minister is suggesting that the Labor Party position is anything than what it is. And what it is, is that we support AUKUS, we support building Defence capability, we support increasing deterrence in the region, so there cannot be or there's less likelihood of a war. That is Labor's position. In the great tradition of Curtin we want to prepare ourselves for, of course, the worst possible scenarios, but do everything we can to avoid it. Now, the Defence Minister has gone rogue. He's obviously got leadership aspirations. He's choosing to invoke war rhetoric in order to elevate his own personal ambitions. That is reckless, selfish, irresponsible, and it must stop. Any questions?
JOURNALIST: What's your response to the selection of the Chinese new ambassador to Australia?
O'CONNOR: I missed that. Sorry.
JOURNALIST: What's your response to China's new ambassador to Australia?
O'CONNOR: I haven't seen the person in question. I couldn't respond to that question.
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that the religious discrimination bill will adversely affect gay students or teachers in the classroom?
O'CONNOR: Well, of course. What we need to do if there's any legislation passed about religious freedoms, and there's some genuine issues at hand there, we have to make sure that people are not victimised, we have to make sure people are not bullied or in any way adversely affected.
JOURNALIST: And just on another topic, there's been some criticism of Labor's opposition to the voter integrity bill. Labor's been criticized that by staunchly opposing this, it shows a lack of confidence in remote and multicultural communities, saying that they will be discouraged from voting.
O’CONNOR: Well, we oppose the bill and you've got the good fortune of having the Shadow Minister here who will answer that question in a moment because we know the reasons behind why that legislation is being proposed. And Don Farrell can answer that question in due course. Any further questions? Thanks very much.