Television Interview – Sky News Afternoon Agenda
KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Joining me live in his office is the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese. Thank you very much for your time.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Good to be with you, Kieran.
GILBERT: It’s been a busy few weeks for you, but the last couple of days, the story that’s dominated attention is this incident involving Australian naval personnel and a Chinese Destroyer, some of our personnel injured by sonar pulses from the Chinese ship. How concerned are you by that incident?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, very concerned. This was dangerous, it was unsafe and unprofessional from the Chinese forces. And our major concern, of course, is always for the safety of our Australian Defence Force personnel. And in this case, one person suffered an injury as a result of the actions of China. Be clear, they were engaged in normal activity, maritime surveillance that occurs because of freedom of navigation that exists through the South China Sea. And this is a sort of incident that I’ve spoken about when I addressed the Shangri-La dialogue in June of why we need communication guardrails and we need to avoid a reckless event such as this. And that’s why we’ve made very clear to the Chinese of our strong objections to this occurrence.
GILBERT: Does it make our relationship, albeit with some sort of rapprochement in recent months, does it make it look shaky now?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, what I said when I was in China is that we will cooperate where we can, but disagree where we must. And this is one of those times where we disagree with the action of China. We’ve made it clear that we disagree with what occurred, that we have the strongest possible objection, and that this sort of event should not occur. The frigate involved clearly had out a sign that there were divers below. They were freeing up a fishing net from the equipment that was required under the water. And they should have been allowed to undertake this normal activity without this sort of intervention from the Chinese.
GILBERT: I know you’ve said it many times, including to me and on this program, that you don’t divulge private conversations with world leaders. But given the nature of this incident, and you’re copping a fair bit of flak over it, accusations you didn’t raise it with the Chinese leadership in San Francisco, can you clear that up?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, we’ve raised it very clearly through all of the normal channels. We had, when I was in San Francisco, there was no bilateral meeting with President Xi where you give a readout of what the events occurred. I don’t talk about private meetings on the sidelines, discussions I have with any world leader. That’s how you keep communications open. But I can assure you that we raised these issues in the appropriate way and very clearly, unequivocally. And China, there’s no misunderstanding as to Australia’s view on this.
GILBERT: Sussan Ley, the Deputy Liberal Leader, said via social media, ‘It’s more weak leadership from Anthony Albanese, who appears to be prioritising photo ops with Xi Jinping over speaking up for our people. Disgraceful.’ That is what she said. What’s your response?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I always speak up for Australia’s national interest. And that’s why I’m able to communicate. She was part of a Government that couldn’t get a return phone call for years. During the entire last term, there was no communication whatsoever. Now, what I’ve done is to talk respectfully, but clearly in Australia’s national interest. I do so directly. I do so in a way, though, that is respected, by not leaking text messages, by not talking about private conversations on the side of meetings as well. But I always, without exception, speak up for and engage in Australia’s national interest. I made it very clear in China, Kieran, that we remain with differences together with China. What we need to do is to make sure that we work on them so that a small incident doesn’t become a larger incident, doesn’t become, potentially, with really dire consequences. And that’s why I’ve spoken about the need for military-to-military communication between the US and China, but also with us, between our agencies, so that you can have that dialogue. Because dialogue brings understanding. And understanding is always good. Because the consequences of these events are that they do damage to the relationship. And this certainly is an event that does do damage. And we’ve made that very clear to China.
GILBERT: When you say it does damage, I go back to those comments that you made earlier, and you’ve said it many times, including during the election, that you will cooperate where you can, disagree where you must. It’s the frame of words. And it’s helped get things back on an even field.
PRIME MINISTER: It is the same words that I used in China are words that I use here as well.
GILBERT: But does this episode put strain on that formulation, on that balance?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, it’s something that is a regrettable incident. It’s one where we have put our very strong objections to China very clearly, very directly, through all of the appropriate channels in all of the forums that are available to us.
GILBERT: On the High Court ruling and the fallout of that over the last couple of weeks, the Opposition says the Government’s been asleep at the wheel when it comes to the release of the criminal non-citizen detainees. Should the Government have legislation? Should it have been ready in the contingency that the High Court made the ruling that it did?
PRIME MINISTER: Remember this, Kieran. This was a decision overturning 20 years of law. That this law was written by the former Coalition Government way back in 2004. Peter Dutton was the Minister for six years in charge of this particular area. Did he have legislation ready? It was not anticipated for 20 years that this would occur. As soon as it occurred, we were ready to go with very clear visa conditions that were strict around people and then making sure that the legislation could be got ready, which has been brought in, that allows for the ongoing monitoring, that ensures that people can’t make contact with anyone who is a victim or a relative of a victim, that has strict curfews. We’ve acted within days of this High Court ruling, a High Court ruling based upon constitutionality. And you’ll recall that for day after day, week after week, month after month, the Coalition have stood up in this Parliament here and said that, ‘Oh, once you have a Constitution, then it can’t be out legislated’. Well, what we’ve done is deal with what is an unfortunate position. It’s not one that we wanted. We didn’t make the decision to release these people. The High Court directed that occur.
GILBERT: The Opposition says you should look at the High Risk Terrorist Offender Framework, things like preventative or continuing detention orders for this cohort. Will you look at those options? Are you looking at those options?
PRIME MINISTER: Kieran, we await the decision of the High Court where the reasons haven’t been published yet, so that will have implications as well. But we are doing all that we need to do, everything within our power, to keep people safe. That’s our first, second and third priority.
GILBERT: When it comes to the broader issue, have you got confidence in the response of your Ministers to this? While you said you’ve done all the things necessary and appropriately, has the political and communication response been what it needs to be?
PRIME MINISTER: Absolutely. And Clare O’Neil was on one of your programs yesterday morning, again articulating a very strong position that she’s had. We responded appropriately with the appropriate committee meetings and developing the response. But preparation was done well in advance, even though the advice was that overturning 20 years of precedent was what the High Court decided to do. But in advance of that, there had already been discussions between our agencies and state and territory agencies as well, law enforcement, about a response should the result come down as it did.
GILBERT: Prime Minister, the Optus CEO has resigned after the debacle of a couple of weeks ago. That’s one thing. I guess from your perspective, though, you want to make sure that industry, the telecommunications sector, but more broadly, learn from the mishaps in this case.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, this was a shocker, Kieran, where for many individuals, millions of Australians and so many businesses simply were left without information about what was going on. And the CEO has resigned. That, of course, is not surprising given the circumstances which are there. But we’ve set up, as well, an analysis that we’ll have of what are the lessons from this as well. We’ll be transparent about sending that message through to the private sector as well as to the public sector.
GILBERT: And you want to make sure the triple zero framework is protected as well.
PRIME MINISTER: This was a shocking incident. Michelle Rowland was right on top of it out there giving more information, frankly, than Optus were giving out there to customers. And so this is a really regrettable incident. We’ll be doing further work on the range of issues, including cybersecurity this week, of course, as well. We’ve been working with the private sector for some time, but clearly this was just a complete fail.
GILBERT: I’ll ask you about the cricket in a moment. I’ve got to do that. That was a massive win. But before I do that, and this is not a scoop for anyone watching, but Sky News is on Foxtel and Foxtel has got some issues with something the Government is doing right now in terms of what’s called a Prominence Framework. Basically plans to move free-to-air content up more prominent on smart TVs. Screen Australia shows that free-to-air spends less on Australian drama than Foxtel does, $121 million less in the last year. Is the Government going to consider that? Why would our content providers be treated any differently, say to the free-to-air content providers?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, we welcome every dollar that is spent on Australian drama and Australian content. And Foxtel plays an important role. There’s been some terrific shows, I’ve got to say, over the years and some really good ones at the moment. But we were elected saying that we would look at the Prominence Framework. That’s what we’re doing. We’re out there consulting appropriately. When I turn on my smart TV.
GILBERT: Watching Sky?
PRIME MINISTER: It certainly has the free-to-airs there on the front page of that. That’s appropriate. It is appropriate that people be able to access free-to-air TV. And so, we’re examining that. We’ll consult. And we’ll respond appropriately.
GILBERT: The industry has done a survey, it says over 90 per cent don’t want the Government controlling the apps on their TVs. Do you consider that?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, this isn’t about controlling what people can watch. This is simply about making sure that people can get access and in a reasonable way. But that’s why we’re consulting, to make sure that we get the detail right.
GILBERT: Okay. And are you as knackered as I am? That was a great match, wasn’t it? What an innings.
PRIME MINISTER: Patrick Cummins, too. I mean, what a leader. Someone who was criticised for being woke. You know, there were articles in various publications calling upon him to be cast aside, he couldn’t be a bowler and captain of the side. He is a champion. His leadership was extraordinary. A gutsy decision to make the call to bowl first to India at home. So, the crowd were extraordinary. The Travis Head catch.
PRIME MINISTER: Would have been enough. But then, of course, he had to hit a magnificent ton. Just a pity he didn’t quite get there right at the very end. But Maxi got to come in and face one ball and win the World cup with one ball.
GILBERT: Get the glory.
PRIME MINISTER: And good on him. But really, congratulations. A proud day. That stadium at Amadabad is amazing. The Narendra Modi Stadium. And it is such a fantastic achievement. India were, of course, undefeated before last night in the whole tournament and were very strong favourites. But Australia showed guts and determination and skill. I thought the way they fielded last night, David Warner throwing himself around like a 20 year old, like a sort of young Jonty Rhodes, he was amazing. And all of them just did their bit. Even the part-timers who came on to bowl as well, Travis Head and Mitch Marsh, you know, a couple of really cheap overs. They were fantastic. And a well-deserved victory.
GILBERT: Well, we could spend another hour on that.
PRIME MINISTER: We could.
GILBERT: Maybe I’ll just wrap up the interview and then we can continue our dissection of the Cricket World Cup victory.
PRIME MINISTER: We could show it on FOX Sport as well as Sky.
GILBERT: Let’s do that. Thanks so much, PM. I really appreciate it.
PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much, Kieran.