DOORSTOP, PRESS GALLERY
WEDNESDAY 15 MARCH 2023
JOURNALIST: What do you make of China's reaction to the AUKUS? deal? Do you believe this has made Australia more of a target?
SHADOW MINISTER FOR DEFENCE, THE HON. ANDREW HASTIE MP: No, I think it's made Australia more secure and sadly, China's response to it overnight is becoming more typical. There's a lot of disinformation out there and we have made a modest investment into our military capability relative to theirs. They are undergoing the biggest peacetime military expansion since the Second World War, which includes nuclear weapons. So to lecture us, I think is rather ironic.
JOURNALIST: The PM is going to be meeting with the Fijian PM. Today, some Pacific leaders have expressed concerns over the deal, what do you think they need to be told?
ANDREW HASTIE: Well, I think we have been very transparent and, you know, this is a bipartisan moment. So I want to acknowledge the work the Government has done engaging with their regional partners. I think the Deputy Prime Minister said he and his team had made more than 60 calls over the last week or so. So this is an important part of maintaining our relationships, particularly in the Pacific, and being as transparent as possible. We're not hiding anything, we've been quite open with what we're doing through AUKUS and we actually see it as an investment into the balance of regional power which will uphold the peace, prosperity and security we've enjoyed for the last 80 years.
JOURNALIST: Richard Marles says that there are savings to be made in the Defence budget, particularly looking at planned capabilities that are no longer going to be needed to help fund AUKUS. Is there anything in the defence budget that shouldn't be touched in your view?
ANDREW HASTIE: Look, that's a decision for government but we do want to know, and soon, what cuts will be made, which services will be affected, which capabilities and which programs will be impacted and how it will actually impact Australian defence industry. There's a lot of uncertainty with industry and I think it's time the government made clear exactly where they're going to be making cuts. There is always area for reform and again, we're open to a discussion on that. What we want is transparency and that's what we're asking for.
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned, just on China, obviously the government has been very transparent making those 60 phone calls. China though, hasn't been interested in picking up the phone. You say that you don't think that this will be an issue going forward but it's certainly going to be an issue in terms of diplomatic relations with China going forward.
ANDREW HASTIE: Sure, and that's a task for the Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister to manage that relationship with the People's Republic of China. But certainly, they were offered a brief and they declined that brief. That's for them and that's their decision.
JOURNALIST: China says that this partnership is leading towards a new Cold War. Is that concerning?
ANDREW HASTIE: That language is concerning, but we want to maintain a relationship. We enjoy trade with China, we want to maintain peace and prosperity in the Indo Pacific region. And the strategic forecasts over the next decade, sadly, that we are going to see increased strategic disorder and what we're doing is investing in our hard power so that Australia can negotiate our way out of a crisis and punch our way out if necessary, as well.
JOURNALIST: Do you think this is a step back in that relationship?
ANDREW HASTIE: No, I don't.
JOURNALIST: Just with the nuclear reactors, obviously, should communities yet be well versed on exactly what that will look like? I know it's 30-years down the track but is this something that communities should be concerned about in terms of disposal?
ANDREW HASTIE: By early 2030s, Australia needs to be sovereign ready which means we need to be able to own, operate, regulate and maintain nuclear reactors that are onboard the Virginia class submarines. We also, as nucleolus stewards, have to have a process for disposing of waste and so that will all be done over the next five to 10 years. I have confidence that there will be a plan for that. We of course, as the Opposition will ensure that local communities are engaged and that there is a clear process going forward. But I think it's absolutely necessary. I'm ambitious for my country and I think this is the right step forward. Thanks very much.
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