Topics: AUKUS announcement with our international partners, security in the South Pacific region, Morrison Government’s civil maritime safety security strategy announcement to protect our borders, Safer Communities Fund.
NEIL BREEN: On Wednesdays, I speak to the Home Affairs Minister, the MP for McPherson, Karen Andrews. She’s on the line from Perth. Good morning to you, Minister.
KAREN ANDREWS: Good morning, Neil; how are you?
NEIL BREEN: I’m well, thanks. How’s Mark McGowan going over there? Welcoming you in?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, I haven’t seen – well, I had to fill out a fairly complex form to be able to even come into Western Australia, which, you know, is I guess surprising a bit in this –
NEIL BREEN: You’ve got to be kidding me.
KAREN ANDREWS: Yes, quite an extensive form; you’ve got to upload quite a few documents so anyone wishing to travel to Western Australia, be warned, be prepared, because it takes a little bit of doing to get through the form.
NEIL BREEN: I shouldn’t laugh, but that’s all I can do at this point. Okay, Minister, this morning we woke up to a new AUKUS announcement. It’s all about hypersonic missiles, and this statement was put out by the three leaders, Joe Biden, Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison. Tell us about it.
KAREN ANDREWS: So, AUKUS is much more than nuclear submarines. Now, that announcement was made at the time that we first spoke about AUKUS, but we’re now starting to see the delivery of everything that can and will happen as part of the AUKUS arrangement. So, we talked about previously the nuclear submarines, but we also spoke about AI, quantum computing, cybersecurity and, of course, now we’re working very closely with the United States and the UK in relation to developing future weapons capabilities. So, this is much needed for Australia’s defence. We will work closely to transfer the technology from both the UK, but predominantly from the US, and we will work with them to develop a greater capability for our missiles. I think it’s going to be certainly very important for our defence here in Australia, but it’s also very good as we start to look at making sure we can boost our Australian sovereign capability here, particularly in manufacturing. But this just goes to show the strength of the relationship now between Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom. So, it’s a great further step forward.
NEIL BREEN: It sure is, but then the big problem is why we need to do it. Hypersonic missiles – the Chinese have been testing them, apparently successfully. We’re worried Russia might have them. And if they’re going to have missiles that can fly at five times the speed of sound, we need missiles that can do the same thing and we need missiles that can knock them out of the air, counter ones.
KAREN ANDREWS: Absolutely, absolutely. It’s so important. And that’s why I look at the figures that the Coalition Government has spent on Defence and I compare that to where it was under Labor, and, clearly, a lot of work has been needed to be done. Peter Dutton has done an absolutely fantastic job in his 12 months in the Defence portfolio, working towards the AUKUS portfolio, making sure we are prepared from a cybersecurity sector and now of course with our missile capability. Everyone in Australia is very conscious of the region in which we live and making sure that we are prepared and that we have the capability to defend ourselves if needed. Our missile capability is very important to us and, as you said, we need to be able to make sure that we can defend ourselves. We need to be able to make sure that we can protect ourselves against any of these missiles. Hypersonic missiles – as you said, five times the speed of sound they travel at, so, you know, we’ve got but make sure that we’ve got the capability to knock them out of our way.
NEIL BREEN: It’s a shame that the world – well, we don’t need them. It’s a shame that we need them because they’re in the world, but the question everyone’s going to ask is: why are we behind? The United States, they’ve been our allies forever. Why are we behind in developing these and China’s ahead of us?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, we’re obviously very conscious of what’s been happening in China and other countries as well. I don’t think it’s fair to say we are so far behind at all, because we have been developing capability for our Defence Force now, particularly over the last few years as we’ve become aware of the extent of the threat, particularly in our region here. So, we have been working very diligently to increase our capability. We’ve been looking at submarines, which does have some history here in Australia. Now we’ve moved to nuclear submarines. We’ve also looked at our shipbuilding capacity. We’re doing everything we can to defend ourselves and, of course, we’re working very closely with our Pacific Island neighbours. We know there’s a lot of activity happening in the South Pacific region. This has just heightened the tensions, I guess, in the area. So, it’s right that we are stepping up what our capability is and putting more resources into it, much more effort, because we are facing an increasing threat.
NEIL BREEN: Your portfolio is pretty busy. The announcements are coming thick and fast. You’ve got two today. One is about Australia’s maritime borders. What’s happening there?
KAREN ANDREWS: It’s our civil maritime security strategy. This is the non-military capability that we have. Now, people would be very familiar with Operation Sovereign Borders. People smuggling is clearly part of our civil maritime security, but it’s also working to stop the illegal imports of drugs, of weapons, it’s illegal fishing, which is particularly important off our coastlines not just in Western Australia, but in Queensland and other parts of Australia as well. So, it’s a full strategy that looks at how we can make sure that we are protected. Now, of course, everyone is very, very familiar with the people smuggling issues and we know that there are about 8,000 people that are in Indonesia – there’s people in Sri Lanka and surrounding areas as well. They’re very conscious that Australia is facing an election. They’re very conscious of what a change in Government potentially could mean. We know for a fact that the people smugglers are actively monitoring what’s happening in Australia at the moment. So, it is important that we have our maritime security where it needs to be. Now, I’m very confident, from what I’ve seen of Operation Sovereign Borders, that that capability is well maintained and ready should we need it, because I’ve been so clear in the 12 months that I’ve been Home Affairs Minister that I do not want and will not have people dying at sea on my watch. So, I will do whatever it takes. We all remember the 50,000‑plus illegal arrivals under Labor, over 800 boats and the 1,200 that we know died at sea. But there may well – and there’s likely to have been many more that died at sea. So our civil maritime security is one of the most important issues that I deal with.
NEIL BREEN: Karen Andrews, Minister for Home Affairs, the other announcement today is about the Safer Communities Fund, but I’ve got to leave that there. I’ll pick it up tomorrow after you’ve made the announcement today. Thanks for your time. Have fun in Perth. Make sure you get the forms correct.
KAREN ANDREWS: Will do. Thanks.
NEIL BREEN: There she is, Minister Karen Andrews.