Interview with Natalie Barr and Michael Usher, Sunrise

17 Sep 2021
Prime Minister

NATALIE BARR: Good morning to you. Both sides of government …


BARR: … not mincing their words in Washington this morning. How worried are you about the repercussions from China on this?

PRIME MINISTER: Oh, we're just taking the necessary actions that we need to take to keep Australians safe, to have a peaceful and stable region in which we live. I mean, the world is changing significantly in our part of the world. Our deep friends and partners, the United States and the United Kingdom, understand that, as do many countries in our region. And so this is seen, I believe, across the region, in the conversations I've had with regional leaders, as a very positive, stabilising and peaceful initiative that is very much in Australia's interests and very necessary for Australia to undertake.

BARR: Well, look, we know we need it, but they've blocked and restricted our wine, our beef, our barley. Our exports are a huge amount to this country - $150 billion a year. You'd expect something, wouldn't you?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I expect Australia always to do what we need to do to to stand up for what we believe in, to take actions that protect Australians and Australia's interests, and to do that in partnership with our great friends and partners across the region and, of course, in the United States and the United Kingdom. And this is an historic partnership. This is a forever partnership. This is a partnership where we're accessing the technology and the support that only one other country in the world has ever been able to gain access to with the United States, and that was the United Kingdom and it was in 1958. So this, I think, demonstrates a level of cooperation and partnership designed for one simple thing - that is, to keep Australians safe and to do that with our best friends and our deepest partners.

MICHAEL USHER: Prime Minister, I wonder if you could share some more detail of the deal, because it's going to take a while for these submarines to be built, to come online. In the meantime, does it mean that perhaps America will station some of its nuclear submarines here to fill that gap in the region?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, already, AUSMIN - that's the meeting between the defence ministers and foreign ministers, you've heard from Peter a few minutes ago, Marise is there also - they're already at work on this, on these arrangements. They’re, they had their first meeting since the AUKUS arrangement was announced just overnight. And they're there working on these these very issues about future cooperation, whether it's air, land or sea. But, it's also about the other additional capabilities, the things that we'll get access to. I announced Tomahawk Missiles yesterday, also missiles that can be launched from air platforms. All of this is part of having a secure and strong defence force, and Australia playing its role here in the region with our partners to have a more stable and safer region. I mean, the world changes. Of course it does. We've had to deal with this over many, many years, and it's changing again. And we're responding to that, I think, in a positive way, and in a way that looks well ahead into the future.

USHER: Now that we are getting nuclear submarines coming online, it means we'll be able to submerge them, sail them into the region, have them undetected for quite some time, and in close to China. Do we just have to expect then - China already has nuclear submarines - that they'll be doing the same to us and bringing them into our waters undetected?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I mean, I mean, all around the world we're very aware as, of China's nuclear submarine capabilities. We're very aware of of the growing level of military investment that's been taking place around the world in that part of the world. We're interested in ensuring that international waters are always international waters, and international skies are always international skies, and that the rule of law applies equally in all of these places, and that there are no no-go zones where, you know, international law applies. And that's very important - whether it's for trade, whether it's for things like undersea cables, for for planes and where they can fly. I mean, that's that's the order that we need to preserve. That's what peace and stability provides for, and that's what we're seeking to achieve.

BARR: Paul Keating said if the US military, with all its might, couldn't beat a bunch of Taliban rebels with AK-47s in pick-up trucks, what chance would it have in a full blown war against China. What do you say to that?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I don't agree with it. And I know there are many in Labor who have those views. And I'm pleased that the official view that is coming forward is to support the agreement that was announced yesterday. But, I know there are many people in Labor have those views, but I don't share them. I respect all my, all the former Prime Ministers, but they had to, they had to govern for the times they were in, and deal with the issues that they faced at that time. And I'm certainly doing that as Prime Minister now for the times we face, and and we perceive into the future. And that's why this is, I think, is such an historic agreement, because it is the biggest step up we've seen in our relationship with the United States and the United Kingdom in 70 years. And this is exactly what Australia needs, and that's why we're so committed to it as the Liberals and Nationals.

USHER: You've been working on this deal for quite some time. More details of that released today, Prime Minister. Was there a moment where you thought this would not happen, or to you what was the biggest stumbling block to get it over the line?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the, I think the biggest change in the technology we learnt, and and what would be required, was that we wouldn't have to have a civil nuclear power industry here in Australia. That has always been a key impediment into the past, and when that was no longer a requirement, and the reason for that is is how these nuclear submarines are built now. And I should stress there'll be no nuclear weapons on these submarines. We're committed to Non-Proliferation. I've been having those discussions, particularly with Pacific leaders, over the last 24 hours. I was speaking to the Papua New Guinean, the Fijian Prime Minister. The New Zealand Prime Minister was my first call about these arrangements. And we are very sensitive to those issues, especially in the Pacific, on Non-Proliferation. But, it was that ability to do this and and not have to have a civil nuclear industry here, which enabled us to go forward. The other thing that was very important in all of this is the changing environment in which we're in. And that meant the submarines that previously we were planning to build - conventional submarines, as good as those submarines were, and they were the right conventional submarine - but a conventional submarine was not going to do the job that the strategic circumstances now required. So, that decision was solely solely driven by what our interests were and what we had to do to serve them.

BARR: On that nuclear industry question, the AWU says we should now seize the opportunity for a domestic nuclear industry. Many nations around the world are doing it. Is this opening the door to that?

PRIME MINISTER: No, and those two issues are completely separate. And and that's why we've been able to pursue this purely in its own lane. They're they’re separate issues, and and there's a very clear policy on that. And our Government has always had the view that unless there's bipartisanship on those issues, then that's not something that the Government is pursuing. And the Labor Party's view on that is very clear.

USHER: Yeah. Prime Minister, we know your nickname's been ScoMo for quite a while. How are you happy being called ‘that fella from down under’ by the, by the President of the United States?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it was an interesting moment in the media conference at a very-, but he always usually just when we speak privately, he refers to me as his pal.

USHER: Right.

PRIME MINISTER: So, there you go.

USHER: So, he’s forgotten your name for quite a while, has he?

PRIME MINISTER: No, but I'm looking forward to seeing him next week. We'll be catching up there in Washington. And that will be another important opportunity. Of course, we had that very important meeting in Carbis Bay, which I know some were critical of at the time. But, I think now people can see that that was probably one of the most important meetings that a Prime Minister has had with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and and and the United States in a very long time.

BARR: Because you were starting to do the deal then?

PRIME MINISTER: Oh, of course. I mean, we've been working on this for over 18 months. I mean, so it's been a very long process and it's been very careful process. And and we've greatly appreciated the way that both the United States and the United Kingdom have worked through us, through this with us. I mean, this is not something you can do overnight. This has taken many, a very long time. And, of course, it should. I mean, this is one of the most complex military build projects anywhere in the world. And you don't go into it lightly. And it involves a very significant commitment, not just today, but forever. That's why I refer to it as the forever partnership. It is, it is one that will see Australia kept secure and safe into the future. And it is, it is probably the most significant thing we've done in Australia's security interests, certainly in our Government's term.

USHER: Alright, pal, that fella from Down Under, thank you for your time today. We appreciate it.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, pals.