Sydney Press Conference

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Interviews

Thursday, 16th September 2021

Sydney Press Conference

Discussing the AUKUS alliance, national security and more.

SUBJECTS: AUKUS alliance; nuclear-powered submarines; national security; Australia’s role in the Indo-Pacific; Christian Porter legal fees & blind trust. 

ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Labor welcomes the Australia-UK-US agreement to maximise the interoperability of our defence and security arrangements. A US alliance is our most important. And the UK, of course, is our old friend. So, it makes sense in terms of efficiency and in terms of maximising the positive output that we engage across our three nations to make sure that there is maximum interoperability available. 

The first thing to say about today is that we are concerned at the mismanagement of the Future Submarine Project that has occurred. After eight years, three prime ministers, six defence ministers, and billions of dollars of sunken costs in this program, this is the most expensive example of something that has characterised this Government: its ability to promise but its inability to deliver. This Government has stood up for years, in Parliament, in the community, continually saying that everything was on track. ‘We're on track in terms of jobs, we're on track in terms of delivering defence capability.’ And now we have, with today's announcement, beginning at the beginning, after considerable costs. And we will be pursuing transparency from the Government about exactly what the cost of this is. We know that the cost up to now has been up to $4 billion. We know there are contracts in place already that will be breached. And we know there will be substantial compensation costs payable. And Australian taxpayers are entitled to know, given that under this Government they began with arrangements with Japan, then arrangements with France, and now we have these arrangements with the United States and potentially the UK as well.

This decision, of course, comes in the pre-caretaker period. We will be facing an election in coming months, but there will be an 18-month period of further consultation and processes in order to move forward and to finalise any future arrangements. It is appropriate that the Opposition, given we are in pre-caretaker, be involved in all of these processes. And I have suggested, as a mark of good faith to the Prime Minister this morning, that we establish a joint mechanism between the Government and Opposition senior members so that we have oversight of this process. It is up to him to show, I think, the goodwill for bipartisanship on this matter that it requires, given that we have been through three terms and we're now in the last period of the third term of the Government, given they have left it until now to change direction, I think it is only reasonable that we ensure that we're able to move forward as whoever forms government after the next election. And I commit as well, if the Government agrees, to set up an appropriate process that, if elected Prime Minister, I would include the then Opposition Leader and appropriate people in such a forum going forward.

Can I say that we will take as well a calm and measured approach to this announcement. We will always act in the national interest. We were briefed yesterday, and we kept those confidences there. But many questions remain outstanding. We need to know the full cost of the abandonment of the existing program. But we also need to know what the cost of the proposed program would be. What the precise time frame is, given that the proposal is that the new submarines would not be in the water until 2040. What are the proposals for job creation? And in particular, where those jobs will be located. How we maximise Australian procurement in this process, and Australian jobs. What are the skills that will be required? And how do we ensure that those skills can be provided by Australians? In short, we need to maximise our national benefit from our national defence system. And that's consistent with the announcement that I made as part of my Budget Reply for a Future Made in Australia.

Labor has three conditions for the support of nuclear-powered submarines, which we have sought assurance on. Firstly, that there be no requirement of a domestic civil nuclear industry. Secondly, that there be no acquisition of nuclear weapons. And, thirdly, that this agreement would be compatible with the non-proliferation treaty. All of those conditions, I believe, can be met. It's very clear that the next-generation technology, in terms of nuclear-powered submarines, has very clear advantages over the submarines that were commissioned by this Coalition Government and that so much money has been spent on. There are advantages for capacity in terms of depth and length of staying under sea. There are advantages in terms of speed. But importantly as well, there are advantages in terms of stealth that helps to improve the national security outcomes of the purchase of such a submarine capacity. 

We do note, of course, that our advice is that the submarines won't enter the water until 2040. So, we will continue to examine the detail of these proposals. We'll examine them constructively. And we'll examine them in the light of our commitment to putting Australia's national interest first, which is something that Labor has always done.

I spoke just a short time ago now on the 70th anniversary of the ANZUS Treaty. ANZUS grew out of Australian Labor, under John Curtin, turning towards the United States during our darkest hour in World War II. It is something that the Australian Labor Party has consistently provided support for. And we've consistently also put our national interest before any short-term political considerations. We will do that in examining the detail of these proposals going forward, which is why I have sorted a structure in which we can participate given that we are in the period in which we are in the lead-up to an election.

Can I make some comments before I take questions about Christian Porter? Christian Porter’s position is untenable. The fact is that the Coalition are a living, breathing reminder of the need for a National Anticorruption Commission. It is simply untenable for a minister of the Crown to receive up to a million from sources unknown in order to pursue a private legal matter and then say that he doesn't know where the money came from. That declaration, through his pecuniary interests, is an admission that he has a personal interest. You can't just take money, as a Cabinet Minister, from persons unknown and not declare it. And why the Prime Minister needs to have an inquiry on this is beyond me. Because it's the Prime Minister who established prime ministerial guidelines. They're his guidelines. He doesn’t need another inquiry. And yet again, a Prime Minister who doesn’t seem to know what happens in his own office needs to ask someone else to do the right thing and to give him this advice. There is such a stench around this and around Christian Porter that all that is missing is a cloud of blowflies. This stinks. They have flipped around John F. Kennedy's dictum, given we are talking about the United States today, they don’t ask what they can do for their country, they ask what their country can do for them. It is about time we restored faith in politics, which is why we need a National Anticorruption Commission. But in the meantime, Christian Porter should go and he should go today.

JOURNALIST: Opposition Leader, just back to submarines, you mentioned there are advantages of nuclear-powered submarines. Can I get clarity if Labor supports the move to tear up the $90 billion contract with Naval Group?

ALBANESE: Well, we are concerned about the waste that is there. This is waste that firmly is in the lap of the Coalition Government. This is a $90 billion program that will not produce anything. And I noticed Scott Morrison, in his press conference, just said it was a worthwhile investment. That says everything about this Government and its attitude towards waste. We have wasteful programs with everything from Sports Rorts to commuter car parks when there are actually no train stations. All of that paled into insignificance compared with this. I thought the $13 billion that has gone to companies for JobKeeper payments that increased their profits would be the topping out of waste under this Government. But I was wrong, because quite clearly, the costs of this will go into the many, many billions of dollars and will exceed the waste that we've seen in that program. So, the fact is that this Government needs to explain why it is that it has gone down this track for eight long years and is now starting again and why it is that even when Parliament has been sitting in recent weeks and months, they have continued to have answers from ministers speaking about their expenditure on these programs and on the benefit of these programs that have now been scrapped by the same Government.

JOURNALIST: How do you think China is going to interpret this partnership? And do you think it will heighten the tensions in the Indo-Pacific?

ALBANESE: Well, I would hope that Australia will engage throughout the region, as certainly, when we were briefed yesterday, there were phone calls taking place with leaders in our region. We need to make sure that we continue to engage with our friends, including in Indonesia, in Japan, in India. We have, of course, spoken with New Zealand and we have had contact with our friends in New Zealand as well today. We certainly believe that Australia must stand up for our own national interest. It is in our own national interest to have robust defence arrangements, but also to engage with our partners. And that diplomatic effort needs to be undertaken. And it needs to be undertaken, as well, in a way that is not a partisan way. And Labor stands ready to act in the national interest and to provide whatever support we can to make sure that Australia's national interest is served.

JOURNALIST: Labor's most recent platform states that nuclear-powered vessels can only visit ports which have been determined as being suitable for those vessels and provided also that all other safety precautions are complied with. Is the transition to nuclear subs consistent with the ALP platform?

ALBANESE: It is absolutely consistent and not in breach of the ALP platform. And hence the conditions that I read out for the three conditions for our support for such a program - no requirement of a domestic civil nuclear industry, no acquisition of nuclear weapons and compatibility with the NPT, they can all be met. Because a part of new technology that has been developed, the new technology, of course, that will, in simple terms, mean that the fuel cell can be provided into the sub will be able to operate for the life of that sub. And so that new technology means that, I believe very clearly, that such a move is not in breach of the ALP platform, which I take very seriously.

JOURNALIST: The Greens are calling nuclear submarines 'floating Chernobyls'. Do you think there's a public fear about the use of nuclear technology in Australia?

ALBANESE: My job is to speak on behalf of the Australian Labor Party. My Shadow Cabinet met this morning and fully endorsed the position that I've outlined here today. And this afternoon, I'm convening a full meeting of the Labor Party Caucus. My job is to speak on behalf of the Australian Labor Party as the alternative Prime Minister of this country. And it's to speak, not just as the alternative Prime Minister, but to also speak, regardless of the outcome of the next election, where I'm very hopeful that we will receive the support of the Australian people, to speak in the national interest. The national interest requires us to maximise the defence and security of our nation. I take that very seriously, which is why I was briefed in full yesterday. And I must say, I didn't let any of the media know that had occurred. I think it's unfortunate that was briefed out last night, but that's a matter for others. But I will always take the national interest seriously. And I will always take our national security seriously. That is a responsibility that I have. And I will continue to undertake my duties.

JOURNALIST: Do you expect opposition from grassroots members of the Party and parts of the union movement in response to Labor's support for this move?

ALBANESE: We will have debate. And I would expect that there will be debate out this. Bear in mind that we have circumstances whereby for eight years the Government has said that they're going in a particular direction. And they've said that it was all going fine for question after question in Parliament and outside, the Government have gone down in one direction and it appears that has led to an abrupt stop, an abrupt end. So, Australians are entitled to examine this. Much more detail needs to be given as well. And we're seeking that information. Be very clear, there'll be no tick without information from us. We want to know what the costs are, what the timeframes are, what the implications are for jobs and skills. What we will say, though, is to convey the advice which has been conveyed to us for a period of time, about capacity and about what is in our best national interests. And it is important, given that we're talking here about a program that won't go between now and the next election, this program we're talking about are subs entering the water in 2040. There are questions to be answered as well about the extension of life of the Collins-class subs, about what the cost of that will be, what the job implications of that will be, about jobs for South Australia in particular that was expecting to be dealing with the attack-class subs sooner than this proposal which has been put forward. But some of these items haven't been resolved yet. We left a number of questions with the appropriate officials yesterday. And we thank them for their advice. And on some of those matters, they have said they will come back to myself, Penny Wong as our Shadow Foreign Minister, Brendan O'Connor as our Shadow Defence Minister and Richard Marles as our Deputy Leader.

JOURNALIST: On the AUKUS partnership, Paul Keating has warned of a dramatic loss of Australian sovereignty. Does he have a point?

ALBANESE: Well, we will always stand up for Australia's sovereign interest. But there's nothing new about a partnership with the United States. That was forged under John Curtin during World War II. It's something that's an important relationship. That important relationship has stood the test of time, including under Labor prime ministers, including under Paul Keating. 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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