Subjects: : Solomon Islands and Chinese interference, ASIO recruitment, Gold Coast campaign
NEIL BREEN: Karen Andrews joins me every Wednesday on the show, how are you this morning Minister?
KAREN ANDREWS: I’m going well, thanks Neil. How are you?
BREEN: Well thanks, but you know, I think Australians would feel frightened today with the talk of war, to prepare ourselves for war. Did Peter Dutton go too hard?
ANDREWS: Oh, look I think what Peter was definitely saying was that we need to be very, very conscious of firstly, what is happening in our region, or what is happening in the Pacific at the moment; and we do need to be prepared. That’s why, for example, we invested – as a Budget announcement – that we would be putting $9.9 billion into cybersecurity and Josh Frydenberg was actually very clear in his speech that that $9.9 billion cybersecurity investment will go towards defensive as well as offensive capabilities. So, I think we need to be very mindful of what is happening with cybersecurity and I think we need to be as prepared as we possibly can be, so that is the key message that Australians should be taking away.
BREEN: How realistic is it, Karen Andrews, that in the next year China says to the Solomon Islands, ‘hey, you know what, we’re happy to give you all this aid with your domestic security but we wouldn’t mind putting a few troops down there for something’?
ANDREWS: Look, it’s very likely that they will proceed-
BREEN: Likely? You think it’s likely?
ANDREWS: Yes, I do. I think it’s likely that that will be the path that China will be taking in the Pacific region. Now I think that there’s a number of things that we should be looking at with what is happening with China in the Pacific region and the one thing that we should be at least taking notice of, and paying attention to, is the timing of the announcements and the deals in relation to the Solomon Islands. Beijing is very clearly aware that we’re in a federal election campaign here at the moment and now we have a significant focus on what is happening in the Pacific Islands, what China is doing. Now, why now? Why in the middle of a federal election campaign is all this coming to light? I mean, we talk about political interference and that has many forms so I think we need to be very much aware of what Beijing is doing, what its plans are, what it’s trying to achieve in the actions its taking in the Solomons, but not exclusively in the Solomons.
BREEN: I agree with you. There’s absolutely no doubt, no doubt if anyone thinks this isn’t right and it’s just some bloke talking on radio that doesn’t know what he’s talking about. There’s no doubt Beijing would rather have Labor in power than the Coalition in Australia, because the Coalition in Australia – and our government are the ones that have taken the fight up to them, there’s absolutely no doubt about it. And there’s no doubt Beijing knows. Beijing would know the names of candidates in every seat, you think they’re not that smart? Then you’ve had your head in the sand for a long time. Karen Andrews?
ANDREWS: Of course, and China would be absolutely aware of the current members of the ministry, what their behaviour has been in the past, they would be looking at what opposition shadow ministers have said in the past. They would be very aware of where their alignment has been so yes, they would be watching very closely what is happening here, and again, I think some of the actions and the timing of that is a cause for concern.
BREEN: Karen Andrews, on another topic, on another topic I want to talk to you about, ASIO is looking for more spies. Now I want to have a bit of fun with this because I watch a lot of spy movies, I read a lot of crime and spy novels. I don’t want to be a spy. Because your whole life is frantic. In the middle of the night something happens, something buzzes, and I’ve got to drop something in a pot plant, someone’s trying to kill me. How hard is it to recruit a spy?
ANDREWS: Well it’s a very extensive recruitment process that ASIO go through but there are a lot of people out there that are very keen to work for ASIO and people find, you know, being a spy to be an exciting thing to do. Now, whether or not they fully understand what is involved in that is an entirely different issue and that’s why the recruitment process that ASIO goes through is so extensive – so that people have a very good understanding because there’s a lot of money goes into training people to do surveillance, to undertake the activities that ASIO does, and to learn the trade craft, so we want to make sure that the people who are recruited there fully understand what they’re getting into and are committed.
BREEN: Yeah, sure, it’s not for me. I’ve got to say, it’s not for me Karen Andrews. Hey, on the Gold Coast, how’s it all going with the election? How’s your seat going? What’s it been like on the hustings? What’s everyone saying?
ANDREWS: Well, it’s been very interesting when I’m out and about talking to people on the Gold Coast. Look, I’d say there’s a much higher level of positivity than what I’ve been in the past. I mean, the Gold Coast was very hard hit by the state border closures. The Gold Coast being a border city – it was very, very difficult for people to be able to get across the border and for a very long time, in fact, people couldn’t. So they were separated from their families and they didn’t understand why, when there’s a whole of Australia, we’ve got state borders being shut. It’s now more positive, there’s a lot more movement. People are seeing the worst of COVID, hopefully is behind us and they’re very positive and optimistic of the future so I think it’s a very positive feeling on the Gold Coast. And what my job is, is to make sure that I’m talking to people every day in the community about what their views are, what they want for the future and basically the things that they’re raising with me really are related to the economy. They want jobs for themselves and their kids, they want the government that they can rely on and trust that we make sure they have a strong economy.
BREEN: We’ll get some news today, inflation data, and we could get an interest rate rise next week. I wonder if Anthony Albanese’s been studying up on the numbers,
ANDREWS: Well, you’d hope so! Should’ve known them in the first place.
BREEN: He should’ve. 0.1 per cent – my daughter’s doing economics in year 12 and I asked her what those two numbers were. She said 4 per cent and 0.1 and she’s 17 years of age. Hey, Karen Andrews thanks for joining us today. Home Affairs Minister.
ANDREWS: It’s a pleasure, take care.