Melbourne Press Conference

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Friday, 11th February 2022

Melbourne Press Conference

Press Conference on the meeting of QUAD leaders.

SUBJECTS: Meeting of QUAD leaders; foreign interference.
 
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much. This morning, the Shadow Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, and myself met with Dr Jaishankar, the External Affairs Minister for India. Ours is a relationship that is growing in importance. Two great democracies, a strong shared commitment to democracy and to peace in the region, but also, a growing economic relationship. One that has enormous opportunities going forward. Of course, the diaspora here in Australia is one of the great assets of our country. And we spoke about the prospect of enhancing that relationship, including through the QUAD, which we regard as particularly important. I've had the opportunity to visit India as both a backpacker and as a Member of Parliament. And this is a relationship between our two great nations that will increase in importance in the future.
 
We also had a meeting with the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken. It was a great honour to meet with the Secretary. And also, to catch up with old friends such as Kurt Campbell. I have a relationship with the United States that goes back a very long period of time since I was a guest on the State Department on a visitation program that they had, where I spent a month and a half in the United States, really getting a deep understanding of their political structures, of their social structures, meeting with everyone from Washington, DC, through to New York, LA, San Francisco, Seattle, Dallas, a range of people across the spectrum. Meeting everyone from Planned Parenthood to the National Rifle Association. It was a great way, as a young man, to really get an understanding of the United States. We talked about the importance of the relationship, of Labor's position, which began, of course, in terms of the two periods of relationships with the United States I think can be drawn pre-1942 and after 1942, when under John Curtin, we turned to Washington for our defence at our darkest hour during World War Two. It was also pointed out that in 1986, the role that now Governor Kim Beazley played in making sure that the US Alliance remained pivotal to our relationship, and of course, under Prime Minister Gillard, we saw an increased presence in our north from US Marines, something I was proud of as a Minister in that Government. We spoke about the AUKAS relationships. And I confirmed Labor's strong support for AUKUS, including the shift towards nuclear propelled submarines as a result of the advice that is there from Defence going forward. We spoke about the range of other issues in which we can increase our cooperation. Issues such as the vaccination program in the region and in the Pacific, our shared economic links as well.
 
I also reflected, of course, on Labor's concerns about the changed posture of China and the need to stand firm in Australia's interests in the interests of all of those who hold democratic values dear. I look forward to continuing to strengthen Australia's engagement through the QUAD, but also through direct relations that we will have. And I indicated that if we are successful in the election, I look forward to reacquainting myself with President Biden, who I've met on a couple of occasions through the Australia US Leadership Dialogue, an organisation which has been critical in strengthening the relationship between political, defence, business and civil society leaders between our two nations, and one where I've participated in everywhere from Washington, to New York, to LA, to San Francisco, to Seattle, to Hawaii, as well as Sydney, Perth, Melbourne, and in Canberra. So, it was a very successful meeting that we had. I look forward to, soon, I will have to leave to meet with the Japanese Foreign Minister, who's also visiting here as part of the QUAD.
 
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, on the ASIO's warning of a plot from foreign actors to interfere in the Federal election, there are now reports that it was Labor that were being targeted by Chinese spies. When were you first made aware of this? Have you sought clarification details from the ASIO boss?
 
ALBANESE: Well, the ASIO Director General has publicly stated that if he had concerns about attempts of foreign interference in political parties, he'll raise them directly with the party leader. I meet with the ASIO Director General frequently, including just prior to the speech he gave at the Ben Chifley building. And he has never raised the sort of reports that are there, other than his public comments which are there in the speech. In that speech, and I draw your attention to it. He said this. 'Attempts at political interference are not confined to one side of politics. And you'd be surprised by the range of countries involved. It's also important to put it in context. While attempts to interfere in our democratic processes are common, successful interference is not. Our democracy remains robust, our parliaments remain sovereign, our elections remain free. And the overwhelming majority of our politicians remain thoroughly resistant to even the most sophisticated and subtle approaches.' He then went on to say this. And I'd say this to those people in the Government, I understand the Government's desperate for distractions at the moment, but I say to them that national security is too important to engage in game-playing, such as what we saw on the floor of the Parliament yesterday, however much the Government needs a distraction. This is what the Director General said. 'It is critical that we do not let fear of foreign interference undermine stakeholder engagement or stoke community division. Were this to happen, it would perversely have the same corrosive impact on our democracy as foreign interference itself.' That's a warning from the Director General of ASIO in his speech a fortnight ago at the Ben Chifley building. Can I say this, also? That I also met, just this week, with the Head of ONI. I have regular security briefings. I don't talk about the detail of those security briefings, because we shouldn't talk about that. That is the nature of it. But I say this. I have total confidence in all of my candidates. And the Director General of ASIO has never raised a concern about any of my candidates. And I have spoken, and I asked him. Could I indicate that I've spoken to Mr Burgess today. And he has reaffirmed that he has not raised concern about any of my candidates. I can't be clearer than that.
 
JOURNALIST: Did he confirm (inaudible)?
 
ALBANESE: The idea that we engage in a public discussion about national security briefings is entirely inappropriate. It is entirely inappropriate. And it would, itself, be a breach of the law and would, itself, endanger that national security and the capacity of our agencies to operate clear of political interference. You can ask the agencies themselves for comment. It's up to them if they do.
 
JOURNALIST: What do you say to the Government's claim that China would prefer you to win the election? Are there any grounds at all where Labor would be different to the Government on China?
 
ALBANESE: Well, it's just desperate, isn't it? It's desperate. And we saw, quite frankly, an attempt a couple of weeks ago in an article that was, frankly, some of the people mentioned in the article are a bit embarrassed by it. Because my position at the National Press Club was very clear. I spoke about sanctions being inappropriate for resources, agriculture, wine, for all of them as being inappropriate. I spoke about our common position on Hong Kong, Taiwan, Uyghurs, the issue of the South China Sea, issues of foreign interference, cyber security issues. I've had a consistent position over a long period of time. But I'm not going to sit back and cop the sort of nonsense that's been put forward from a Government that sat back while the Port of Darwin was sold to interests of a company directly engaged with, directly connected to, the Government of the People's Republic of China. I'm not going to cop that. The fact is that this is a desperate Government which is looking for a distraction. Thanks very much.
 
ENDS

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Electorate Office

334a Marrickville Road
MARRICKVILLE NSW 2204

Phone: (02) 9564 3588
Fax: (02) 9564 1734
Email: A.Albanese.MP@aph.gov.au

Parliament House Office

PO Box 6022
CANBERRA ACT 2600

Phone: (02) 6277 4022
Fax: (02) 6277 8562

Phone: (02) 9564 3588
Fax: (02) 9564 1734
Email: A.Albanese.MP@aph.gov.au

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