Topics: Purchase of US missiles; Paul Keating speech; 

09:20AM AEDT
Friday, 17 March 2023


Laura Jayes:  Now, this week, Paul Keating lashed out at the government over this week’s AUKUS deal. It was quite a memorable event. And this morning we have confirmation that the US will potentially sell billions of dollars worth of missiles to Australia. Let’s go live to the Shadow Foreign Minister, Simon Birmingham. What what’d you make of that news this morning?


Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Laura. Well, that’s good news. We made clear that it was important for Australia to be securing more long-range strike capability to be able to project power further in defence of Australia and so this is welcome news. We look forward to seeing further details of it in terms of the timelines and acquisition processes around those missiles. But it is critical that we continue to see this type of work and to build upon the growth in defence spending and defence investment that we had undertaken. And it’s critical that we do see as soon as possible the comprehensive response to the Defence Strategic Review. It’s important we saw the response to AUKUS this week and the work of the taskforce report, but that’s also left some significant questions with the indication that the Government is going to find some $3 billion of cuts elsewhere across Defence over the forward estimates period. That doesn’t seem to run consistent with where people had expected the Defence Strategic Review to go. And so getting that comprehensive response to that DSR as soon as possible is important. It’s important particularly to the many parts of defence and many parts of the defence industry who are now living under the uncertainty of wondering whether those $3 billion of defence cuts are headed their way.


Laura Jayes: It’s $3 billion out of a massive budget. What’s the big problem with that being redirected?


Simon Birmingham: Well, it’s $3 billion out of $9 billion of spending in the submarine program over the forward estimates period. So, it is a significant proportion that other parts of defence are being asked to contribute to fund the submarine program. What’s critical here is that it all lines up to a comprehensive strategy. This government chose to undertake the Defence strategic review. They did it with great fanfare in having eminent and qualified people in Sir Angus Houston and Stephen Smith undertake that. They’ve received that review. They’re now sitting on it. Many would have expected that that review, yes, would have some areas of reprioritisation, and that’s reasonable. But also that there was every likelihood it would indicate a need to really focus in on investment in defence in ways that were unlikely to facilitate cuts, let alone $3 billion worth of cuts across the non submarine elements of defence investment. And so that’s why we need that review released in terms of the public version of it and a comprehensive response from the Government so that it’s clear that the government is applying the right strategy to the defence and security of the nation, and so that the parts of defence and the elements of defence industry living with uncertainty at present can get clarity about what projects are going ahead and which ones are on the chopping block, if that’s what the Government’s doing.


Laura Jayes: What did you think of the one and only PJK at Press Club this week? Did you agree with any points that he made?


Simon Birmingham: Well, maybe if I went back over and scoured over every word I might be able to find. But in terms of the high points, it’s hard to hard to think of any that I would agree with. Look, there are a number of points of concern. And can I say, as Shadow Foreign Minister, one of those that really worried me was the way in which he belittled diplomatic activity with Pacific Island nations. The attack on Penny Wong and suggestion that travelling around Pacific Island nations and having leis put around your neck as he called it, wasn’t diplomacy. I think that work is important work. I give the government credit for doing so. They’ve done so as those nations have reopened post COVID. It was the right thing for them to do. And that type of attack on effective engagement with our Pacific Island partners, which I did in part with Minister Wong late last year as a bipartisan mission, is an important part of what we do. Of course, there are many other things that Paul Keating said, and can I say this in response to his attack on AUKUS and the perceptions around that. A couple of points. The first is you have to acknowledge that this government has gone ahead with the Coalition initiative of signing onto AUKUS. That’s a good thing. It’s important for the nation it has bipartisan support. We’re pleased Labor gave it bipartisan support and we continue to give it bipartisan support from opposition. But then when you hear other voices start to chime in from the margins of Labor, people like Doug Cameron or the like indicating their support for Paul Keating, It is also a reminder that the decision we made to change tack and pursue nuclear powered submarines 18 months ago is probably not one that Labor would have been able to make at that point, that the different opinions and divisions within Labor would have flared in a way quite different from them having to agree with the decision of the Coalition. But to actually have to proactively lead and make that decision, I suspect, is one that would have been beyond Labor, given the reticence to engage in any type of nuclear technologies that they have historically shown. So, it was very important that we were in government at the time and able to make that decision. We were able to do so because we had the strength and the will to make difficult decisions and we were able to do so because our increase in defence spending from 1.56% of GDP to 2% of GDP had made Australia a credible partner for countries like the US and UK to engage with.


Laura Jayes: Very interesting indeed. We’re going to be talking about this story for many months, decades to come, I would say. Simon Birmingham Thank you.


Simon Birmingham: Absolutely. Thanks, Laura.