Television Interview - The Project

16 Mar 2023
Prime Minister
AUKUS; Defence

SARAH HARRIS, HOST: Welcome to the show.
HARRIS: Nice to see you again. But I’ll tell you what, $368 billion is a huge amount of money. How are you going to pay for this?
PRIME MINISTER:  It is a lot of money. But we've been pretty transparent about it, that's over many decades. And if you think of it as this, it's basically 0.15 per cent of GDP or less than 10 per cent of our defence budget. So from my mind, when you think about it, does having nuclear submarines increase our capability, increase our defence by 10 per cent or more? You bet it does.
HARRIS: So can you rule out spending cuts and new taxes to pay for these fancy new subs?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, we don't have hypothecated taxes in this country, but we know there are budget pressures. We've been up front about that, we made a difficult decision about superannuation, but it was targeted and just affects only one half of one per cent of the population. And in terms of spending as well, you know, we can't do everything that we would want to do because we do have to prioritise. But the defence of the country is a solemn responsibility that the Government holds very dear.
WALEED ALY, HOST: What about the stuff you're already doing? So NDIS has come up in discussions. It’s an expensive program that will only get more expensive. Stage three tax cuts that you have pledged to support and legislated in Opposition, that always comes up. Are those things going to be touched?
PRIME MINISTER: We will look at, over a period of time, governments are going to have to look at the Budget, that’s the truth, but all governments have to do that. But we think this is a responsible commitment that we’ve made. You'll see in the Budget in May that we've made space for it. We've also done a Defence Strategic Review that we haven't released yet. And what that does is look at, okay, what are the assets that we need? What are the capabilities to defend this country? And that will mean some re-prioritisation of defence as well.
ALY: So you’re going to find other cuts within defence then?
PRIME MINISTER: What we'll do is find the right priorities going forward to make sure that Australia has the capabilities that we need. And at the same time we're investing in those relationships. We understand that national security isn't just about your assets. It's about climate change, for example. It's about having good diplomatic relations with our neighbours. That's why on the way back I called into Fiji to see Prime Minister Rabuka who was very supportive of what we're doing. That's why I've spent time in India with Prime Minister Modi. That's why in January I was in Papua New Guinea, the first person to speak to the PNG parliament. We understand that it's a matter of diplomacy. We want stability and security in the region. And we see this as an investment.
SAM TAUNTON, HOST: Albo, a lot of people are wondering how we are going to pay for it, right? There's a lot of chat in the media. I wanted to come to your aid, I wanted to help you out, so this morning I jumped on GoFundMe and have made a little GoFundMe for you. I've just got it here if you want to have a look.
PRIME MINISTER: How have you gone?
TAUNTON: There is $50 donated.
PRIME MINISTER: There's $50. That is a start.
TAUNTON: I kicked it in. I wanted to get the ball rolling. But every little bit helps, right?
PRIME MINISTER: Indeed, indeed.
ALLY: Is GoFundMe part of your plan?
PRIME MINISTER: We didn't think that through. But maybe I will take that to Katy Gallagher as the Finance Minister and see what she thinks about the GoFundMe strategy.
JESSIE STEPHENS, HOST: There's been a lot of discussion over the past few weeks about a possible war with China within three years. We had Malcolm Turnbull on the show last week and he was saying it could be less than three years. Is this nuclear subs deal a sign that the threat is real?
PRIME MINISTER: I don't think it is constructive to talk about war. I think what's constructive is to make sure that we have the best defence capacity possible to make sure that we put in place an optimum pathway for that defence strategy. And that's what we're doing. But we want peace and security in the region. That's why, at the same time as we're investing in Defence, we are investing in relationships. I had a very constructive meeting with President Xi last year. We have had our foreign ministers meet, including Penny Wong visiting Beijing in December for the 50th anniversary of relations between our two countries. Our defence ministers have met, our trade ministers will meet soon. We've seen some of the impediments to trade between our two countries be removed. They are our major trading partner. We want friendly relationships, we want to cooperate wherever we can, but we will disagree where we must. We do have different values, we have different political systems, and we take that into account as well.
ALY: But you can't spend this much money on weapons of war and say you don't want to talk about war. I understand the point you are making that it's part of a broader picture.  
PRIME MINISTER: The previous government sought to use some messages about domestic politics. We haven't sought to do that at all.
ALY: That is a different point.
PRIME MINISTER: It is the same point really.
ALY: Why then?
PRIME MINISTER: What we need to do is act diplomatically, act respectfully, point out differences which are there, and they are there. We want the trade impediments to be completely removed. We want Australians like Cheng Lei to receive proper process and we don't think that she has received that up to that point. We will stand up for human rights, we'll continue to do that.
ALY: Sure, but you don't buy weapons of this nature unless you are preparing for the possibility of war, otherwise it would be a total waste.
PRIME MINISTER: Bear in mind, are submarines a good idea for Australia? That is your starting point. We are an island continent. It is probably a good idea to have a decent navy if you are an island continent. What are the best submarines? Do you keep spending on conventional subs? The advantage of nuclear subs are they can go faster, they are quieter, they can stay at sea for longer, they are just better. When you get that assessment from the defence experts then you have a responsibility to act. Yes, they are more expensive but in terms of value for money, having the best that is less detectable, that provides you with more security, that provides a greater deterrent,then that is a good investment. We have made that decision. It is a bipartisan position because the previous government got the same advice, of course, off the Defence experts that we did.
ALY: So one of the criticisms you received is from Paul Keating, former Labor Prime Minister.
PRIME MINISTER: I did notice this.
ALY: Yeah I thought you might have. But just in case you missed it, here is a little glimpse of it.
OLIVIA CAISLEY, SKY NEWS JOURNALIST: What makes you so sure China isn't a military threat to Australia?
PAUL KEATING, FORMER PRIME MINISTER: Because I've got a brain and I can think. What would be the point? They get the iron ore, the coal, the wheat. What would be the point of China wanting to occupy Sydney and Melbourne?
ALY: What's wrong with that analysis?
PRIME MINISTER: I don't think anyone has suggested that China or anyone else seeks to occupy Sydney or Melbourne. The truth is, though, that China's posture internationally has changed. They are more forward leaning, if you look at what's  happened in the South China Sea for example, it is a different circumstance from that which then Prime Minister Paul Keating confronted between 1991 and 1996.
ALY: So the threat's greater, that is what you are suggesting?
PRIME MINISTER: Well the international politics has changed. We have strategic competition in the region. It is my responsibility as the Prime Minister today to respond to the needs of today and that is what I'm doing. Paul Keating is perfectly entitled to his view but the Government is acting on what is needed today.
HARRIS: Keating also says that this is just a bad deal. In fact, Labor's worst decision in history. Did that sting?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, he's entitled to his view. And Paul is known for colourful commentary.
HARRIS: I know, but he must have been a hero of yours?
PRIME MINISTER: Of course, and he remains so. He was a great Treasurer, he was a great Prime Minister, he was responsible for the reforms that Australia needed at that time. This is the reform and the work that Australia needs right now and that's my responsibility.
ALY: Does it hurt? Just at a personal level, your hero's turned around and said you don't have a brain basically.
PRIME MINISTER: I don't take these things personally. If I did that then politics would be a pretty hard business. So, Paul has my respect. I have no intention of engaging in a public argument with Paul. I talk to Paul from time to time, I'll continue to do so. I'll always take his calls, as I always have.
TAUNTON: Now, Albo, I know you have been on this world tour. But I've got a sneaky theory you have actually been stalking Peter Dutton. I have been trawling through some vision and I found this this morning in Adelaide. See, there is Dutton, and then there is a stranger in the background. Is that you?
PRIME MINISTER: That's a bit dodgy, isn't it?
TAUNTON: I think you've got a doppelganger out there.
PRIME MINISTER: That is very possible. I feel sorry for him.
ALY: You didn't say no.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'm not prepared to confirm or deny. Where was it? Adelaide?
TAUNTON: Adelaide.
ALY: Where they happen to be building the subs?
PRIME MINISTER: There you go.
HARRIS: Is that a Newtown Jets shirt you were wearing?
PRIME MINISTER: How many of me are there? I’ve got to say I feel as though there are more than one of me in the last week given the extent of what we've had to do.
TAUNTON: I also want to talk about, I can call you Albo, that’s okay?
PRIME MINISTER: Of course you can.
TAUNTON: How do you go on the international stage? I know Rishi Sunak was pronouncing it, let's have a look at how he was pronouncing your name.
RISHI SUNAK, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Joe, Anthony. Fantastic, Anthony, great to see you.
TAUNTON: Now, I know that is how people in the UK pronounce Anthony. But did you want to correct him?
PRIME MINISTER: No, no. He actually said to me before the press conference, he goes, 'Everyone calls you Albo'. And he's the third UK Prime Minister I've met, by the way. He said, 'Everyone calls you Albo, should I call you Albo?' I said, 'Probably not in the formal setting, you know, it's fine one on one'. Because Joe calls me Albo.
ALY: So you just let him get your name wrong?
PRIME MINISTER: No, it's not, it's the way British say Anthony.
ALY: Joe Biden didn't know Scott Morrison's name last time and now they are mispronouncing. Like, for our $368 billion, do we eventually as part of the deal get someone to say a Prime Minister's name correctly?
PRIME MINISTER: Let's not sledge the way the British talk. They are our friends.
HARRIS: Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, thank you so much for your time.
PRIME MINISTER: See, said the right way because you’re Australian.

HARRIS: There we go.