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Transcript: ABC News Breakfast 18 September 2021

September 18, 2021


SUBJECTS: Submarine procurement; Franco-Australian Relations; Christian Porter; Ministerial Standards; Fowler Preselection


FAUZIAH IBRAHIM, HOST: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. Jason Falinski if I can start with you. Now that we have the French ambassador being recalled, pretty serious, this is a diplomatic stoush, was this deal made without considering Australia's ties to France?

JASON FALINSKI, MEMBER FOR MACKELLAR: This deal was made with one consideration in mind, and that is the safety and security of Australia and its people. The French are about to go through an election season, there is no doubt that this is what the French Government needed to do in terms of sending a signal to their people that they are standing up for the interests of French and French companies, France, sorry, and French companies, so that is important. But the Australian Government is driven by other considerations, primarily, and is the first obligation of any government to ensure the safety and security of the people of Australia.

KIRSTEN AIKEN, HOST: Andrew Giles, Indonesia appears to have cancelled a visit by Scott Morrison on his return journey from Washington DC next week on account of this same deal. Has Australia botched its relations with its allies over this?

ANDREW GILES, MEMBER FOR SCULLIN: We need to hear a lot more from the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Payne about this, the reaction of France is something we have to take very, very seriously. France is not only a long-standing ally, but it is a very significant partner in the Pacific. Indonesia of course is our nearest neighbour and an absolutely vital partner. So we do need to understand, while of course Labor welcomes the strategic opportunities of this expanded partnership, this has got to be in addition to those existing partnerships, not at the cost of them. It is really important that we get a clear message from the Government as to what is going on here.

IBRAHIM: Jason Falinski, you said that this deal was made with Australian security in mind, I want to take you back to a tweet that you published in the last few days or so, and you say that "In the next few decades our region will become more uncertain and challenging, we cannot possibly hope to meet those challenges alone and need all the reinforcements we can be part of". Australia is not alone though in facing the challenge that China gives to this particular region, why the decision to reach out to a declining superpower like the United States, instead of reaching out to our regional neighbours to form a stronger alliance against China's rising power?

FALINSKI: There is a lot in that statement which I think I am going to have to take exception to. Firstly, neither you nor I can accurately predict the future, and I think it is a bit. How do I say this politely, I think it is a bit premature to be predicting the decline of the United States as a significant economic, military and cultural power in the world. I would also probably suggest to you that what you are saying is absolutely right, which is that Australia can be friends with both the United States and Indonesia and South Pacific and Singapore and most of Southeast Asia. And I am not suggesting by the way in my tweets that China is the driver of uncertainty and challenge in our region, but what we do have is a number of emerging powers in this region who are (INAUDIBLE) to ascertain and protect their national interest. All Australia doing is doing in this deal is ensuring that we have the best military deterrence to ensure the safety and security of both this nation and the people who live in it. And that is the primary goal of any government, to ensure the safety and security of its nation and its people, and I believe this week that is what we did in a manner and form that hasn't been done frankly since the 1950s or 1960s.

AIKEN: Jason Falinski, that's the headline, why don't we know how much this new defence pact and the nuclear powered submarine deal will cost? How much will it cost to break the contract, how much for the submarines themselves? The PM says we are going to be spending a lot more on defence, how much will that come to, how much is it all going to cost, and add to the additional debt that there will be over decades to come?

FALINSKI: Kirsten, they are really excellent questions and I have to say to you, I don't have the answers to all of those questions.

AIKEN: Should Australians have more of an idea right now? Should Australians have been given more information this past week than just the headlines of this new defence pact?

FALINSKI: No, I don't think so Kirsten. I think what Australians have been given is everything we know at this point in time. I can answer some of those questions if you are interested, but the fact of the matter is we don't know what the future challenges present both to Australia and our allies in this region.

AIKEN: But we must have a budget for this particular project?

FALINSKI: Sorry, if I might. No we don't. What we announced this week is it will be an 18 month process, where we will be developing the technology and the development roadmap for that, we know that it will be somewhere in the vicinity of $90 billion, so it is a replacement of the current contract we have. What the exact figure will be determined by what the technology roadmap involves. What this will mean is that we will have either the most advanced submarines in the world, or equivalent of the most advanced submarines in the world. Now I am happy to stand anywhere and defend this decision in the interest of both Australia and its people, and ensuring their safety and security. And I defy anyone, frankly, to come on this show or anywhere else and suggest that this agreement that we struck on behalf of the Australian people does not massively advance the safety and security, both of our nation and of this region. But, that is for others to do.

IBRAHIM: There is a lot to unpack in this particular story, and it is a developing story and we will have lots more to talk about.

FALINSKI: And can I say, and I am sorry to interrupt, can I say, it will be developing over decades, not over the next few months but over decades. We don't know what the new structure in this region will look like.

IBRAHIM: We want to move on to another story. Of course Minister Christian Porter made the headlines once again this week - Andrew Giles, I want to put this question to you because I found a tweet on your handle. You tweeted, "Imagine being Prime Minister and needing advice on whether it is appropriate for a Cabinet Minister to accept a million dollars from an unknown source." Why shouldn't the Prime Minister consult with his Secretary and seek advice on the legality of his Minister's actions?

GILES: Well, I think that is a separate issue than the Minister's compliance with either the ministerial standards - that is a matter for the Prime Minister himself. Frankly, this is an issue that shouldn't require any special advice. I think every Australian understands that it is utterly inappropriate for any Member of Parliament to be accepting that sum of money from undisclosed donors. Indeed, Minister Porter when he was the Attorney General, made much of this in other circumstances. It is extraordinary, actually, and it comes down to the nature of the Government that Mr Morrison leads, that a Minister can feel that he could accept such a donation. It is utterly ridiculous that Christen Porter is still a minister today. It speaks to Mr Porter's understanding of his obligations to the Australian community, but far more substantively this is a question about the character of our Prime Minister, and if Christian Porter is still a minister at the end of today, that is an indictment on the standards that Mr Morrison believes are appropriate in public life in Australia.

AIKEN: Jason Falinksi, does the delay on this issue and a response from the Prime Minister's office arise from concern that Christian Porter might quit Parliament if dumped as a minister, costing the Government its majority?

FALINSKI: Kirsten, I think that's an incredibly long bow and one for which there is very little evidence, but what I would say is that the Prime Minister has sought legal advice on this through his departmental secretary. I would suspect, but don't know, that that advice will come from the Solicitor General. I think we should all wait to find out what that advice says and the Prime Minister will take what action he needs to on the basis of that advice.

IBRAHIM: We want to move onto another story and that is Labor Senator Kristina Keneally being preselected for the safe south-west Sydney electorate of Fowler, putting her, of course in the lower house. Andrew Giles, you are the Shadow Minister for Multicultural Affairs. No doubt you would be then in support of diversity. What do you make of your party's decision to sideline a Vietnamese candidate with West Sydney community representative in favour of Kristina Keneally who is basically from the other side of Sydney?

GILES: This is a really important debate, Fauziah, and think two things can be true. I'm really privileged to get to work closely with Kristina Keneally and I don't think there is any doubt that the interests of the Labor Party and the millions of Australians who depend on us are advanced by having Kristina in the Parliament. But it is also the case that we do need to do better that ensuring that diversity in the Australian community is reflected in the Parliament.

IBRAHIM: This was an opportunity for Labor to do better and not to sideswipe a local Vietnamese candidate?

GILES: Indeed, but I'm not desperately close to the preselection in Fowler, but I am concerned about the wider issues and making sure we confront the structural issues that mean that our Parliament and indeed most institutions of power and influence in Australia aren't as diverse as the Australian community. I think when I look at Labor, I think about the efforts we have made to deal with similar structural issues when it comes to the representation of women and indeed more recently with First Nations Australians.

We have undertaken some significant steps, putting in place diversity fellowship, putting in place a platform our commitment to measure and work towards more diversity, putting in place in the Federal Labor Caucus, a multicultural caucus committee to ensure that diverse perspectives are brought to bear on every decision we make. That is not to say that a lot more to be done and I certainly believe there is a lot more to be done, but I don't think having a reductive argument of the merits between two fantastic candidates can resolve this more complicated question.

AIKEN: Jason Falinski all parties do this, right, when it suits them?

FALINSKI: Well, we don't, and...

AIKEN: There was some controversy surrounding your preselection, wasn't there, when some long-standing Liberal Party members spoke out claiming that it was undemocratic?

FALINSKI: How was it undemocratic?

AIKEN: Dick Smith and David Flint spoke at the time, it's been well canvassed.

FALINSKI: How was my preselection undemocratic?

AIKEN: But all parties do this...

FALINSKI: No, Kirsten, you just accused me of being elected to Parliament...

AIKEN: I didn't. I said some long-standing Liberal Party members claimed that the preselection process was undemocratic.

FALINSKI: No, I'm sorry, how? We had a preselection of members of the Liberal Party where I was duly and democratically elected. I'm sorry, you have just made an accusation. Can you please justify that?

AIKEN: It's not an accusation.

FALINSKI: No, no, you've just said that I was undemocratically elected to the Parliament of Australia. I'm sorry, I'm quite offend.

IBRAHIM: I think Kirsten was quoting a couple of Liberal members.

FALINSKI: Dick Smith is not a Liberal member, and as far as I'm aware nor is David Flint.

AIKEN: Not anymore.

FALINSKI: On what basis - well, as far as I'm aware. I'm sorry, on what basis? I will move on, Kristina - I'm reticent to critique Kristina Keneally because she actually is a constituent in the area that I'm honoured to represent. Secondly, I would say that the systemic problems with diversity in our Parliament that Andrew seems to be referring to is the New South Wales right faction and thirdly I would say that what we will focus on in the Liberal Party is getting a locally based representative meritocratically selected candidate for Fowler, so the people of Fowler can have a choice in terms of who they think will best represent them in the Parliament of Australia.

IBRAHIM: Very quickly on that note, Andrew Giles, do you think Labor has lost the seat of Fowler now?

GILES: No, I don't. I'd be very confident that Kristina Keneally will put in a very strong showing in the seat of Fowler, and indeed I think people across Australia, in Sydney and Melbourne, are looking to Labor for the leadership that has been sadly wanting under this listless, tired 8-year-old Government.

IBRAHIM: We are going to have to leave it there. Thank you so much to you both for joining us on Weekend Breakfast this morning. Jason Falinski and Andrew Giles, always good to have you on.

GILES: Great to be with you.