Press Conference, Sydney Commonwealth Parliamentary Office

11 Jun 2022
Prime Minister

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Good morning. I'm pleased to announce this morning that the Australian Government has reached a settlement with the Naval Group to conclude the Attack class submarine program. The former government made the decision to scrap the contract on the basis of advice about the capability requirements for the Australian Defence Force, advice that was accepted by Labor in Opposition. But the way that decision was handled has caused enormous tension in the relationship between Australia and France. France an important ally, an ally that we have a history of fighting alongside in two World Wars and an ally that has a significant presence in the Pacific at a time when tension in the Indo-Pacific means that we need to work with our partners. I want to thank the Naval Group for the positive and professional way that it has engaged with Australian officials to reach this settlement. While some of the details of the settlement will remain confidential because of their commercial nature, I can outline the key points to you this morning. First of all, with this settlement, we will rule a line under the contracts. Secondly, as part of the settlement, Australia will pay the naval group €555 million, which equates to around $830 million AUD. This is a fair and an equitable settlement which has been reached. It follows as well, discussions that I have had with President Macron and I thank him for those discussions and the cordial way in which we are re-establishing a better relationship between Australia and France. It brings the total cost of the former government's failed policy to $3.4 billion. This is a saving from the $5.5 billion that Senate Estimates was told would result from that program. But it still represents an extraordinary waste from a government that was always big on announcement but not good on delivering. And from a government that will be remembered as the most wasteful government in Australia's history since Federation. Tens of billions of dollars wasted across a range of programs that have resulted, of course, in have contributed to the trillion dollars of debt that the incoming Labor Government has inherited. Importantly though, now we can move forward with our relationship with France and this is important for us. France is a key partner for Australia. We share those historical ties going back to the First World War and we're sure we share common interests in a stable Indo-Pacific region because France is of course an Indo-Pacific nation and we share a commitment to a global order, based upon the rule of law and shared principles. I'm looking forward to taking up President Macron's invitation to me to visit Paris at the earliest opportunity and will make further announcements forthcoming about the dates in which that will occur. And I see a personal meeting between myself and President Macron in France has being absolutely vital to resetting that relationship, which is an important one for Australia's national interest. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: So, Prime Minister, are you in a position to say that figure $830 million compensation, was that learned before the election and kept quiet?

PRIME MINISTER: No. This is an agreement that has been settled between the new Government and the Naval Group.

JOURNALIST: And can you outline some of those discussions with President Macron? Was it over the phone? Just go through, step through those please.

PRIME MINISTER: I've had contact electronically, firstly with President Macron very soon after my election as Prime Minister, and we've engaged in a very cordial conversation as well. And I during that conversation, he invited me to visit France. And I have accepted that invitation. Details are being worked through. We have, a critical relationship. France, of course, plays a critical role in the European Union. And President Macron, of course, has recently been re-elected. I am newly elected and it is important that we have engaged. I appreciated his message of congratulations and the fact that both of us want to reset the relationship between our two countries.

JOURNALIST: Does this now negate any chance of any future legal action from Naval? Is that it now—it is completely settled?

PRIME MINISTER: Yes. Yes. Importantly, this draws a line under this issue, and I thank the Naval Group for the way in which they have conducted the relations. This procedure has gone through our appropriate approvals processes and ensures that we can now reset the relationship without this clouding that relationship going into the future.

JOURNALIST: Will that relationship be reset? You did say that you support the nuclear sub deal. What have been your discussions with [inaudible] about that?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that's a decision. We support AUKUS and we support the use of nuclear propelled submarines. That is proceeding in terms of the 18 month review. There's no change in the Government's policy. We supported the shift that occurred. And what there is a change for now, though, is a reset of the relationship and we've been able to finalise these agreements since we came to office.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] said that there might need to be some interim submarines before AUKUS actually comes to fruition. What do you think ...

PRIME MINISTER: Look, we have the AUKUS process that we agreed to included an 18 month review, and we're halfway through that. That's proceeding.

JOURNALIST: So is there any chance to get two submarines from American production lines before then?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, Mr Dutton has made some comments after being presiding over an all announcement, no delivery regime and not delivering on actual capability, but delivering on media releases. I'll make this point. You don't defend your country and our national security with a media release. You defend it with operational capability. My Government intends to concentrate on delivering rather than the statements that Peter Dutton has made that contradict all of the statements that he made while he was Defence Minister.

JOURNALIST: You talk about operational capability we simply don't have that, Prime Minister. We have a massive operational capability gap between now and when those submarines finally arrive. Dutton hinted at an option here to give us some protection through 2043. Is there any truth in what he said?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, he hinted, but he didn't say anything when he was Defence Minister, did he? Peter Dutton needs to recognise that he has a responsibility to put the national interest first, not to always be engaged in short term political interests.

JOURNALIST: So can you confirm you're also looking at that option? The two Virginia class submarines to give us something to get us through the 2040.

PRIME MINISTER: I can confirm exactly what I've said and that I won't be making on the run comments when it comes to our national security and when it comes to our Defence.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, will you seek to meet with Macron at the end of June, around the time of the NATO Summit?

PRIME MINISTER: We will establish the timing of, of, of the visit. The visit will be soon in the foreseeable future and we will be finalising those dates along with our friends in in France and we'll be making an appropriate announcement. And I think it's appropriate that that announcement be made simultaneously in France as well as in Australia about that timing and those details. That's the way to all conduct diplomatic affairs on behalf of Australia.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just on the ADF staff, The Sunday Telegraph will be running for a couple of weeks a uniform justice campaign. So we've told the stories of 10 former ADF staff who say they were sexually assaulted, sexually abused while working [inaudible]. Their complaints were swept under the rug, they weren't taken seriously by senior ADF staff. Is it fair that sexual assault cases are investigated internally in the ADF? Does this system need an overhaul?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, everyone deserves to feel safe in their workplace. Women and men. And nowhere more than in our Defence Forces. My Government has displayed our commitment to supporting veterans. I campaigned very strongly as the Leader of the Opposition for a Royal Commission into veteran suicides. That Royal Commission is taking place at the moment, but my view is very clear that everyone deserves to feel safe in their workplace and that includes the Defence Force.

JOURNALIST: You made a promise, Prime Minister. Will you make a commitment that things need to change? Should these instead be investigated by the Federal Police? Why is it fair that these complaints are handled internally? These victims need help now.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we will have a policy position that's consistent with the view that I've just put forward, that that all people, including our ADF personnel, deserve to feel safe in their workplace and procedures need to be appropriate to ensure that occurs.

JOURNALIST: What opportunities do you see for cooperation between Australia and France in the Pacific, given the power struggle that's going on and given it won't get the subs deal?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, there's significant prospect of course. France is a very near neighbour in New Caledonia, but France also has connections in countries, of course, like Vanuatu and other presence in the Pacific. I see that in terms of the Indo-Pacific, democratic nations need to ensure that the values that we hold are ones that are given support to the sovereign nations of the Pacific. And that's why we think that peace and security in that in the Indo-Pacific is so important. It's in Australia's national interest. It's also in the interests of those sovereign nations who are our neighbours. These have been consistent with the discussions that I had with Prime Minister Ardern just yesterday and the night before, and consistent as well with the positions put forward at the Quad Leaders' Summit that I attended in Tokyo, and also the discussions I had with President Widodo, the large, very large democracy to our north. So we need to foster a cooperative relationship and we need essentially all nations who have a presence in the Indo-Pacific, including France, to be a part of that. This is an opportunity to draw the line under what has been I don't need to, I think, labour the point, that the tensions between Australia and France I think have been pretty obvious and they go from the top. I intend to have an honest relationship with France and one that is based upon integrity and mutual respect. These negotiations have been concluded. It's another step in what my Government has done in a short period of time. I remind you that it's just three weeks since we came to office. We've had positive discussions with our most important ally, President Biden, in the United States, but also with important nations and leaders, including India, Japan, Indonesia and New Zealand on a face-to-face basis. But we've also had a dialogue with our important partners, including President Macron, Prime Minister Johnson, in the UK, Prime Minister, ah, President Draghi in Italy, but also other leaders, particularly in the Pacific, in the Indo-Pacific. This weekend, I'll be meeting with the Prime Minister of the Cook Islands as well, just another step that we're doing and engaging in the region. Thanks very much. Thank you. Thank you.

JOURNALIST: Are you going to comment on Biloela?

PRIME MINISTER: It's done. It's good they're home. Oh, I'll do a quick overview.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible].

PRIME MINISTER: Oh ok, yes, I was foreshadowed. So yes. So that.

JOURNALIST: Can you comment on your [inaudible] with Myanmar?

PRIME MINISTER: Well Sean Turnell should be released. That's the Government's position. We'll continue to make strong representation on that basis. What we've seen is unjustified and we see in in Myanmar a trashing of human rights and of proper legal processes. And Sean Turnell will continue to receive the full support of the Australian Government for appropriate processes to take place. But he should be released.

JOURNALIST: And the future of the Tamil family in Biloela?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it was heartening to see the Murugappan family return home to Biloela yesterday. They received a welcome from a town that is wanted them home. This has been an exercise that I think is something that Australia can't be proud of. A family, including two young little girls who were born here in Australia, taken in the middle of the night and having four years in detention. The youngest girl will celebrate her fifth birthday I think this weekend, soon, and it'll be the first birthday she has celebrated not in detention. We're a better country than that. We can do better than that. My Government will do better than that. And the fact is that in terms of, in terms of that town of Biloela as well, Nades works at the meatworks. We have this massive skills shortage in this country. We have a problem in getting people to work at meatworks and for them to operate. Here we have someone who is doing that job, paying Australian taxes, making a contribution, had these two young daughters, and I think that it is something that is a good day and was welcomed by that local community, that I visited in 2019 after I became Labor Leader and heard first-hand how loved this family are by that community. Thank you.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] visa?

PRIME MINISTER: That those processes will take place. The only way that it could happen is for the way that it has the visa being issued and then that application will go through. But I see no impediment to that occurring. Thanks very much.