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Television Interview - Flashpoint WA

Radio Interview – ABC Radio Melbourne Drive

RAFAEL EPSTEIN, HOST: Good morning, thanks for joining us.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Good morning Raf, words that I don’t usually say. So I hope you’re enjoying getting up earlier.

EPSTEIN: I am. Paul Keating ruined your week didn’t he?

PRIME MINISTER: Paul is someone who has used colourful language before, I’m sure he’ll use colourful language again. My task is to lead Australia in 2023 based upon the advice that we are given, based upon defending Australia’s national interest, that’s what this deal is. There’s bipartisan support for it and I do note that it has the unanimous support of my Cabinet and my team. We have all come to the same conclusion that this is the right thing to do.

EPSTEIN: It’s a lot of money. Paul Keating mentioning it might be the biggest transfer of wealth from Australia to another country since the gold rush or ever, is that worth it?

PRIME MINISTER: It’s just not right. The fact is, this will create directly 20,000 jobs here in Australia directly, but many tens of thousands on top of that with a multiplier effect. Just as Curtin and Chifley during the Second World War, Chifley was appointed the Minister for post war reconstruction while the war was already going on and they made the decision about the automotive industry that lead to manufacturing jobs not just automotive, but throughout the economy. What this will do is highly sophisticated manufacturing will lead to a renaissance of high value manufacturing in Australia. That money, that economic activity stays right here.

EPSTEIN: We would all like that. But the proportion of money, I don’t know if you know, $328 billion or something the estimated upper limit. What proportion of that gets spent here, what proportion of that gets spent in Britain and America?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, overwhelmingly it will be here.

EPSTEIN: 80 per cent?

PRIME MINISTER: Overwhelmingly it will be here. What we’ve done is be very transparent about the cost, we could very easily have said ‘well, the costs across the forward estimates is $9 billion’, we could have just left it there. We haven’t done that. The 30 year costs that we’ve put out represent around about 0.15 per cent of GDP. Or to put it another way, it is under 10 per cent of our national defence budget. Now, the assessment that has to be made is, does the purchase and then us building our own nuclear-powered submarines increase the capacity for us to defend ourselves by more than 10 per cent? You bet it does. That’s why it represents good value, that’s why it’s the right thing to do. To spend more, sure, but get a better product. And the truth is all of the analysis says that if you’re going to have submarines and for an island continent such as Australia, submarines are a critical part of our defence. If you’re going to have submarines, then nuclear-powered submarines are faster, they can stay under for longer, they don’t have to snort as much – that is come to surface, they are less detectable, they are a far superior product and that’s why we, along with the former government had the same view that this was the right thing to do for Australia.

EPSTEIN:  Prime Minister, I want to ask you about having the same view. You were very upset in May last year, Scott Morrison, this is not a conversation about Scott Morrison, but you were upset that you had not been briefed. You were upset you hadn’t had a chance effectively to have the debate before Scott Morrison signed up to it. This is what you said just before you became PM in May last year.

PRIME MINISTER: It is extraordinary that the Prime Minister broke that faith and trust with our most important ally by not briefing Australian Labor. No Australian Prime Minister should do that. When the request came in I should have been briefed.

EPSTEIN: That line Prime Minister, ‘I should have been briefed’, I think that might be how a lot of people are feeling, why didn’t the nation get a chance to debate this?

PRIME MINISTER: Seriously? This has been debated since then…

EPSTEIN: Do you think it has?

PRIME MINISTER: For over a year, Raf. I went to the election clearly committed to this, we’ve got the details right. I was asked, and indeed then I was asked, probably part of that interview would have been the context, ‘do you support nuclear-powered submarines?’ I did at that time, and did in every single interview since. And I’ve been asked about it on dozens of occasions between now and then whether we supported AUKUS. It was a major issue during the last federal election campaign, I was certainly asked. And the context of the comments that you just played are that the United States requested that both the Liberal Party, they asked the government that Labor be asked, and that did not occur. That did not occur which was a breach of faith to our American friends. Just as the other breach of faith that was there was that they were told that the French had been briefed and the French had signed off. And we know that that wasn’t the case either and France withdrew its ambassadors, not just from Australia, but from the United States.

EPSTEIN: I don’t want to go too much into history, Prime Minister, if I can just ask you…

PRIME MINISTER: The point here though is that there needed to be bipartisan support for this to go ahead. There is bipartisan support for it because this is in the national interest. And is more important than politics as usual.

EPSTEIN: Just on Paul Keating’s behaviour, I appreciate that as one Labor Prime Minister to another you’ve got every right to respect him. But he gave some very sneering answers to some very fair questions. A young female journalist really copped it, your foreign minister was derided. That was essentially an older man treating women with derision. I’m wondering about if you think there should be an apology, and I’m wondering what you would say if John Howard had said those things?

PRIME MINISTER: I think people will draw their own conclusions. What I’ve said is that Paul Keating is someone who has my respect and I don’t intend to get into a personal argument with him. People will make their own judgements about his comments, I clearly don’t think they were correct. And they certainly weren’t correct in what he said about the person that I think will be regarded already as one of Australia’s greatest ever foreign ministers and could grow into being Australia’s best ever foreign minister. And my deputy who is an outstanding defence minister and did a great job of pursuing the optimal pathway for this in Australia’s national interest. This arrangement didn’t just happen, there was hard work. The National Security Committee have been meeting sometimes two and three times a week to deal with this since we came into government, but particularly over the last six months. And the amount of work that Penny Wong has done as well in repairing our relationships internationally has been quite extraordinary.

EPSTEIN: Prime Minister of Australia, Anthony Albanese is in Melbourne because of course there is the Aston by election. So that’s suburbs like Knoxfield, Rowville, and Scoresby. Two weeks from tomorrow, it’s on April Fool’s Day which I’m still enjoying.

PRIME MINISTER: And they can vote from Monday in pre-poll by the way.

EPSTEIN: I’m sure they can, that’s great. I’m sure the candidates will enjoy being on the pre-poll queue. Prime Minister, people in Aston might have listened to what you said about electricity prices and power prices last year. Did you raise false hope about how much you could bring prices down?

PRIME MINISTER: No, what we did was we produced a policy at the end of 2021 and we released the costing for that policy and the economic modelling that was done by RepuTex, who are Australia’s leading energy economists. What they didn’t take into account, and no one did at that time, was that the Russian invasion of Ukraine would lead to the extraordinary global spike in energy prices and because we’re not immune from that, that has had an impact here as it has right around the world.

EPSTEIN: There’s always unforeseen events but did you, were you too optimistic? Did you over promise?

PRIME MINISTER: No, we released the economic modelling which was there for all to see. We released it. Not a bit of it, we didn’t release the summary, we didn’t release the figure, we released the entire modelling. And that stands in stark contrast to what the former government had done.

EPSTEIN: When do you think people will start to notice, ‘oh, actually my electricity, my gas bill, I’m doing okay’, because they are a bit eye watering at the moment.

PRIME MINISTER: There is real pressure on, but that is something that is happening globally. I mean, here you saw the price of gas go to $35 for some contracts. Overseas in Germany, it was hitting triple figures in European economies and that was having an enormous impact. We’ve seen double digit inflation in advanced economies around the world, that’s something that we need to deal with.

EPSTEIN: How long are people going to buy that argument though, that it’s better than it could have been, it’s worse over there. For how long will people say ‘oh okay, I accept that’. How long do you think people will cop that?

PRIME MINISTER: I think people do understand that Australia isn’t immune from the impact of the war that has gone on in Ukraine. What we have done is intervene. We haven’t sat back and done nothing about it. And our intervention at the end of last year, with one and a half billion dollars additional of support that will give in energy price relief for families, as well as for businesses will have an impact in lowering the price from where it would have been if that hadn’t have occurred. We’ve seen wholesale prices essentially be half of what they would have been and what was predicted at the time of the October budget. And that intervention has been successful, but we recognise that this is people doing it tough and that it is having an impact. But we’re being straight with people as well and I think people do understand and do want politicians to be upfront and that is what we are being.

EPSTEIN: Can I end on this question, Prime Minister, you wouldn’t have heard but when we spoke about the submarine deal a few days ago a woman rang in incredibly distressed she was almost crying on air saying she couldn’t get her teenage son the mental health help he needs. She was clearly worried about the risk of self-harm or worse and she could not understand why there was no money for him but there was money for submarines, Anna was her name. What would you say to someone who has that concern.

PRIME MINISTER: That the two issues should be dealt with separately and people who need mental health support should receive it. We have given record funding in in mental health support, particularly for young people. And I feel for anyone in those circumstances. Separate to every other issue of health, and education, and infrastructure, and community services. Separate to all of that there is a solemn responsibility on myself as the Prime Minister and on the Australian government to do what we need to do to keep Australians safe and to look after our national security interests. We take that seriously that responsibility, we are doing that. But we’re also, it’s not either or, we’re also putting considerable money into strengthening Medicare. We’re also putting out fee free TAFE, additional University places, additional support for early learning with the most significant childcare reforms making childcare cheaper from July one of this year. But whilst we’re doing all of that, if we’re not doing what we need to do on national security then we’re doing the country a disservice.

EPSTEIN: Prime Minister thanks for your time.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much, Raf.

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