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E&OE TRANSCRIPT TELEVISION INTERVIEW ABC TV WITH FRAN KELLY

April 08, 2022

FRAN KELLY: That's Defence Minister Peter Dutton. Well. Brendan O'Connor is the Shadow Defence Minister. Brendan O'Connor, welcome to afternoon briefing.

 

BRENDAN O'CONNOR , SHADOW MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Good afternoon and welcome back, Fran.

 

KELLY: Thank you very much. Do you support the Defence Minister's pledge there, that Australia will be there as part of the coalition to help rebuild Ukraine?

 

O'CONNOR: I do. Whatever differences we have with the government, we have no difference when it comes to responding to this illegal violent invasion by Russia of Ukraine. And we support the lethal and non lethal aid that's been provided, and any subsequent support, and indeed I think the reconstruction of that city that's been under siege, clearly, they will need help from not just its European friends, but friends around the world.

 

KELLY: In terms of subsequent spending. We've seen Australia coming now with a number of pledges. We're about to head into an election campaign, therefore caretaker mode, and as Shadow Defence Minister, would you be expected to be consulted on any new decisions in terms of, you know, what Australia might offer in terms of support or what's what's needed?

 

O'CONNOR: I would. Certainly through caretaker mode, where the decisions made in that period, we would have to be briefed, that's consistent with parliamentary convention and the Westminster system. We will also hope to be briefed, even if the decisions have been made before the election was called because if it's a significant decision, and it goes to national security, then the Labor leader and the Shadow Foreign Minister and myself and others should be briefed.

 

KELLY: It was revealed today that Russia has now imposed sanctions on 228 Australians, I think they're government MPs, basically all of them, including the Prime Minister, are you on that list, do you know, and are you concerned about it?

 

O'CONNOR: Well, I haven't seen the list. I'm not surprised that the retaliation by Russia but what we have done is to stand up for sovereignty, independence and democracy. And we had no choice but to do that. If Russia wants to retaliate, well, again, it's not surprising, but I don't think we're in any position to do anything other than stand with NATO, with the European Union, Great Britain, United States, Canada and others, in defending Ukraine's right to exist.

 

KELLY: While talking about standing with our allies. China's responded angrily to the AUKUS announcement this week, that the US UK and Australia will develop hypersonic weapons, accusing the three hours of quote "trying to build an Asia Pacific version of NATO". Does Labor back the development of these hypersonic weapons?

 

O'CONNOR: We do. We do need to have sufficient firepower to deter potential conflict. We also need to increase the firepower on existing platforms now, not just in 2038. So anything that can be done to increase our capacity and which will act as a deterrent to conflict, we will be wanting to do. From government, we'll certainly be examining that, as Anthony Albanese has made very clear. As for AUKUS, it’s about deepening our relationship with traditional allies and aligned countries, and it's a good thing, as is the Quad. But what is its goal? Its goal is to ensure the maintenance of peace and stability. And that's why of course, we're very concerned about the Government dropping the ball on the Solomon Islands as what might happen there in relation to the agreement it might strike with China.

 

KELLY: Well, the AUKUS agreement, of course, made reference to 2038. I think that's a reference to when the nuclear submarines agreed to under ... that  Australia is going to get under the AUKUS agreement are likely to be delivered. Scott Morrison is today accused of watering down his promise that those nuclear subs would be built in Adelaide. Whenever they're built, they'll be built in Adelaide. This is a big issue in South Australia heading into election campaign. What's Labor's commitment?

 

O'CONNOR: Well, our commitment is we want to build defence assets here including submarines. Labor is the only political party when in government that built submarines in this country. And we want to do whatever we can – there will be components of any proposed nuclear-propelled submarine that could not be built here - the nuclear component. But what we should be doing is ensuring if it can be built here it is. And if it can't be built here, we increase our capability over time. 

 

KELLY: What's the definition of "can't"? I mean, is it not the best or it's not the cheapest, not the fastest?

 

O'CONNOR: No, no, if we literally don't have the capacity, if there are some elements that where we are deficient, we need to build that capability. But the other important part is we need enforceable provisions in the contracts. The problem with even that $5.5 billion contract that was scrapped with no subs, there was no provisions, sufficient provisions that compelled the prime contractor to include local content. So you need mandatory and enforceable provisions in such huge, very expensive, very long defence contracts.

 

KELLY: Just to veer away from Defence for a moment. So news today that all the MEDIVAC refugees have been released from Australian detention - that hotels detention - that most of them were in. You're a former Immigration Minister, why do you think the Government's done this now? They've been letting them out in dribs and drabs over the last few weeks without any notice particularly?

 

O'CONNOR: Well, it is surprising. I can only imagine that there are some electorates in Victoria and New South Wales, which are traditionally Liberal held seats, which they're worried about, particularly where independents are running. I don't want to be so cynical, but this is after nearly a decade in government, they're releasing certain refugees. It's a very expensive thing to keep them there - $50 or more than 50 thousand a night as I understand it. And if there's no security issues and safety issues, then of course, they should have been released earlier. 

 

KELLY : Brendan O'Connor, national security will be a key issue in this election - the Prime Minister and Peter Dutton will make certain of that. Voters will want to know before they cast their votes, who will be their Defence Minister in a Labor government, will it be you?

 

O'CONNOR: Well, that's entirely up to the Labor leader. I was asked to undertake this role, Fran, in January last year. I've been in the portfolio longer than Peter Dutton - at least in the shadow portfolio. And I've enjoyed it. I've come with some national security experience. I sat on the National Security Committee of cabinet and I was, as you say, Home Affairs Minister and Immigration minister. So I think I've got the experience and expertise to work in this area but it is entirely up to Anthony.

 

KELLY: Have you sought assurances from Anthony Albanese?

 

O'CONNOR: No, no I haven't.

 

KELLY: You're going to be in a hot seat in this election campaign. The Opposition is putting pressure on the government to say who's going to be the health minister. The reverse is true, isn't it?

 

O'CONNOR: No, no, look. The remit is with the Labor leader. That's as you know, that's how it operates. Obviously Anthony has confidence in me. That's why he's asked me to undertake this role. I'll be very happy to do that. And I will be very happy to do it in government and I think I've got the capability to do it. But that's the discretion of the Labor leader. As for Scott Morrison, he made commitments to people before the last election, and they didn't end up being ministers in those portfolios. So whatever he says, I'm not sure you can entirely believe him.

 

KELLY: Brendan O'Connor, thank you very much for joining us. 

 

O'CONNOR: Thanks very much, Fran.

 

 

ENDS

 

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