SUBJECTS: AUKUS; Submarines; Relationship with the French; Peter Dutton in South Korea.
KARL STEFANOVIC, HOST: Fresh fallout from the defence pact with high level talks this morning boosting American presence here in Australia. Taking part in those talks in the US, Defence Minister Peter Dutton who joins me now from Fort Meade, along with Deputy Opposition Leader Richard Marles in Geelong. Good morning guys, nice to see you. Peter, it’s been a busy morning for you. A new deal with American troops based here. When, how many, where and what about weapons and intelligence?
PETER DUTTON, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Well, firstly, good morning, guys. Nice to be back with you. It’s been an historic visit here and we have got a huge commitment from the US, our most important ally. It is all about keeping Australia safe, and our Indo-Pacific is a very uncertain place, there is no doubt about that. So, having troops based – and already we have thousands of troops based in the north of Australia, in Darwin, but there is more that we can do, in the maritime space, in the air space. And there is also a big opportunity here for Australian industry, the sustainment of all of that, you know, personnel, and the equipment that they bring with them. There are opportunities there for Australian businesses. So, you know, there are many, many elements to it but really it is all about trying to keep us as a country safe, and that’s the first objective.
STEFANOVIC: When will they start to roll in? Are we talking about a significant development here or is it more of just the same?
DUTTON: Well, Karl, it is more about obviously the subs, which is the most significant announcement, and then it is about people rotating through. So, some might be on a permanent basis, but we will work through the numbers, and there is obviously an opportunity across the north of Australia, where people can be based, but in the southern states as well, at airfields. The United States is talking about bringing through all sorts of planes, bombers and different surveillance planes, etcetera, sustaining them through Richmond or Amberley, different airports, and there is a big opportunity.
STEFANOVIC: Okay, so when will the first sub hit the water, because the danger is clear and present.
DUTTON: Well, Karl, we will work that out over the next 12 to 18 months with the United States and the United Kingdom. We will look at the platforms that they are using at the moment. The beauty about this sub is that for about 35 years, through the life of it, you don’t have to change the reactor. Many others need to be refuelled. So, I’m hoping that we can get a better picture of that over the course of the next 12 to 18 months. But it will be some years off, and it is a huge investment, but it will give us superiority in the region, and that’s what we need to maintain. We need to be able to protect the approaches through the water ways, through the top of Australia in particular, and that’s what this sub will deliver.
STEFANOVIC: The point is, though, Pete, in relation to China, the danger there is present. Are we talking 15 years, 20 years to build these things?
DUTTON: I think you are looking at, you know, the end of the 2030s, and hopefully before that. But that’s what we want to explore now, and we have also announced that we are going to extend the life of the Collins Class. They start to be refurbished in 2026. So, that will push the existing subs that we have got into service beyond 2040. So, there will not be a capability gap. But it is clear, as the technology improves, and there is a greater detection of submarines and any water – any surface craft, we have to have a platform that is really stealth- like, that can’t be detected, and that’s what the nuclear sub does.
STEFANOVIC: Richard, that is a long wait. What would you do to plug the gap in the meantime?
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, firstly, we support the deal that the government have done. This sort of arrangement enjoys bipartisan support, but the reason we are in this situation is because the government completely botched the Future Submarine program with the French. And Peter has just now explained that what this is going to mean is that we are going to have to extend the life of our existing submarines. I think when people get over the first flush of excitement about having nuclear submarines and they realise we are not actually getting these for the better part of 20 years and that our existing submarines, that were built in the 1990s, are now going to have to operate through until 2050, well, that doesn’t make me feel a whole lot safer. And what we have seen is eight lost years in the handling of the submarine program, thousands of future jobs in Adelaide being destroyed, billions of dollars being spent on nothing. I mean, really, the handling of the Future Submarine program over the last eight years by this government is an appalling failure of Australia’s national security. And, that is actually the story that comes out of this.
STEFANOVIC: But let’s look – Richard, let’s look at the positives. I’m glad you are on board. Here I was thinking Labor is antinuclear and here you are rolling over faster than the Cats. Low blow.
MARLES: I’m very aggrieved that you’ve raised Geelong in the context of this interview- you have completely thrown me there, Karl, that was not nice. We accept that this technology is the best option for Australia’s future submarine capability. But the issue here, is that we’re in this situation because the government had completely botched the handling of our submarine program over the last eight years. And it is an appalling failure of Australia’s national security.
STEFANOVIC: I promise not to raise the Cats again, that was a low blow and my sincerest apologies.
MARLES: Thank you.
STEFANOVIC: Let’s go back to Peter. French authorities are blowing up deluxe this morning and understandably. This morning they say they found out about our $90 billion dollar deal with them being ripped up, in the media. Here they are;
PHILIPPE ETIENNE, AMBASSADOR OF FRANCE TO THE UNITED STATES: We were indeed very much upset by the fact that we learned that this new contract – first we were upset because Australia, as you said, has terminated this contract, where we had all invested so much effort, and also because we were completely- we were not informed until the – we seen the first news yesterday morning in Australia and also in the US.
STEFANOVIC: Pete, that’s a pretty shabby way of treating a partner.
DUTTON: It’s just not true, Karl. I spoke to my counterpart, the Defence Minister. The Foreign Affairs Minister spoke to hers. The Prime Minister had written to President Macron. So, look in the end, I don’t make any apologies for making a decision that’s in our country’s best interests. We do live in an uncertain time, and the advice to me was very clear that the nuclear sub was a much better platform for us than what the French were offering, and that was the decision that we made. And it gives us the best protection against whatever happens over the coming years. And just to go back to one of the points Richard made- part of this agreement is making sure that we have visits to our ports and regular visits, from the UK and from the US, of their submarines, and that will supplement what we are doing with the Collins Class. So, you know, there is a lot of activity. We are a much safer country now because of this decision, and we will work with the French. We understand their disappointment, but my job is to make sure that we keep our country safe.
STEFANOVIC: What is it going to cost? $2 billion.
DUTTON: It is going to cost much more than that, Karl, even more than what you have got in the bank.
STEFANOVIC: No, I mean in terms of compensation?
DUTTON: Oh, really? Well, it is going to cost I think of that order, but probably north of that.
DUTTON: But we’ll work out what that fee will be. There is a lot of sunk cost in the shipyards, which obviously at Osborne in South Australia will be turned to building the new sub, and it is an expensive business. I mean, you don’t get peace and stability and security for free. I mean, let’s be very honest about it.
STEFANOVIC: It is an expensive break-up though.
DUTTON: It is an expensive break-up, but we don’t go there, Karl. So, I think it’s a- sorry, that one was for Richard. I’m just giving you a little bit back for Richard. You mentioned the Cats. We really wanted a unity ticket, alright-
STEFANVOIC: You’ve wronged both of us.
DUTTON: Yeah, that’s right. Let’s move right on. It is going to be costly.
STEFANOVIC: Righto, Richard, I’m going to go to you-
MARLES: [inaudible] relationship with the French, let’s be clear.
STEFANOVIC: Exactly, he has got a bit full of himself over there with all of those nuke announcements. Now Richard, the one thing is, I will say to you is that Peter Dutton has completely and utterly jammed your COVID election.
MARLES: Well, there’s – what’s clear here is that we have got an incompetent government, right. So, if we want to put this in the spotlight, their failure in the last eight years to manage the single biggest project – the single biggest purchase Australia has made in any context ever, that puts into light how incompetent this government is, and that is a point that we are going to be making really clear, and that has compromised Australia’s national security. That is the fact of the matter.
STEFANOVIC: Alright. Just finally before we go Richard, on behalf of you and myself, it is time to jam Peter Dutton. Let’s have a look at Peter Dutton in South Korea, trying to do the bump.
MARLES: I don’t get this. Can I say, I’ve hugged Peter on this show and I don’t get why he didn’t give his Korean counterpart a big old embrace. He can do it.
STEFANOVIC: He has had a big couple of days, Peter.
MARLES: He has got the emotional range!
ALLISON LANGDON, HOST: It’s like he tried to fight him.
STEFANOVIC: I can’t love you more this morning, Peter Dutton.
DUTTON: Hey Karl, I’ve seen you at-
STEFANOVIC: Here we go.
DUTTON: – on bad nights out, mate. I’ve seen you at the Logies, mate. I’ve seen some very bad moves from you. That’s all I can say. There was a language difficulty there. It was South Korea, the interpreter didn’t come in quick enough. But you know, I’m glad to be here for your entertainment.
STEFANOVIC: Look, it has been a monumental couple of days. Guys, we appreciate your time and thanks for being with us on this Friday. Appreciate it.