BRENDAN O’CONNOR MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR DEFENCE
MEMBER FOR GORTON
MADELEINE KING MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR TRADE AND RESOURCES
MEMBER FOR BRAND
TUESDAY, 8 MARCH 2022
SUBJECTS: Labor commits to a veterans hub for South West Perth; China; Ukraine; Large vessel dry dock; Federal election.
MADELEINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR TRADE AND RESOURCES: Welcome everyone here to the Rockingham Navy Club today. It's a great opportunity to meet Brendan O'Connor, if you've not met him before, our Shadow Minister for Defence, to talk about a veterans hub that we are going to have somewhere in the electorate of Brand to serve all the veterans that live in the southern suburbs.
As we know, there are 4500 ADF personnel that live around Rockingham, and its surrounding suburbs to the south and the north, and 5500 vets, also that live around this place. And what we know is that people come to Rockingham to serve HMAS Stirling and then they love it, fall in love with the place, and they stay.
It's important that we have a veterans’ hub like the one Labor is committing to today to make sure these veterans and existing personnel are well serviced for their mental health and wellbeing, employment services, also homelessness services, as well as many other things - wellbeing centres and family friendly spaces for veterans and their families to connect with others. So with that, Brendan, you might say a few words.
BRENDAN O'CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Thanks Madeleine, for the invitation. These are really important events, because it's investing in veterans, investing in people who have put themselves in harms way to defend the country. And it really is, of course, great to be here with Madeleine who's not only a shadow cabinet colleague, but also a really important local advocate for this area. This area has a huge defence presence and as a result, it's ideal that we look at this location or certainly around this area to place a one stop shop hub for veterans. And as Madeleine said, looking after the services, ensuring they can access services, whether it's to cater for their health needs, possibly to help them with employment, help them with housing.
We know at the very worst, people in the veteran community have suicided. We've seen too often people self-harm when exiting the ADF. And it is for that reason why Labor called for a Royal Commission into this terrible blight that we're experiencing across the country.
We support the Royal Commission and its work. We want to see concrete recommendations arise out of that inquiry that will lead to direct action to protect the interests of the veterans community. And this decision today of federal Labor, if elected, to place these resources in this area to ensure the thousands of veterans and their families can be provided with such important services, I think is a really important one.
So thanks Madeleine for the invitation. It's great to be here to make this announcement. And we do look forward to be able to turn the sod of the hub if elected, I think that's important part. But I just want to also thank of course, the RSLs and the locals that are involved and pushing for this announcement. It's really vital. I want to make clear too that if elected the federal government, the Albanese Labor government, would work with the local organisations, the RSLs about how we would dispense these services and where they would be placed.
Thanks very much. Any questions?
KING: And the Navy Club.
JOURNALIST: I've got some questions on news of the day, I'm from The West by the way, Peter Law.
O'CONNOR: G'day Peter, how are you?
JOURNALIST: Good thanks. The Prime Minister yesterday effectively called out China saying they can do more than any other nation to halt the invasion of Ukraine. What would Labor like to see China respond?
O'CONNOR: Well, I think Russia is the country that's most likely to be able to stop this war, not China. I mean, it is really the decision of President Putin an autocrat who has violently invaded an independent sovereign state, and he is the one that's accountable for this gross misconduct. Not any other country. What we'd expect from other countries, of course, is supporting Ukraine, supporting NATO, the United States and others in responding to this violent attack on Ukraine.
Insofar as China, of course we'd want to see other sovereign states express their condemnation for this unlawful act. And therefore we'd be calling on the Chinese government to do exactly that. I don't think they're primarily responsible. I think we would like to see them express their condemnation and effectively convince Putin to withdraw his troops from Ukraine and stop this unprecedented violent action.
So I think that's what we'd say. I think to level the blame at China's feet is not appropriate. But they certainly could be condemning it. They certainly should be expressing their condemnation of this action.
JOURNALIST: China also appears to be helping to soften the blow of the economic sanctions from the west by closening their ties with Russia. Does that need to end now?
O'CONNOR: Well, I think China should rethink its position in relation to providing any support or succour to Russia and President Putin.
JOURNALIST: On China, Peter Dutton and Andrew Hastie well before the invasion of Ukraine were talking up the prospects and potential invasion of Taiwan by China. Is that unhelpful? Or do you think that's something that a future Labor government actually needs to prepare?
O'CONNOR: My concern with the Defence Minister was his remarks that we would automatically be engaged in some conflict as a result of what may happen. I mean, the one thing we should not be doing is answering hypothetical questions about engaging in conflict with nuclear superpowers. I don't think that helps anybody.
Clearly, we would want to see a peaceful and stable region. That's what Australia's focus is on and we support the government in its actions to stabilise the region. That's why we support the announcement of the AUKUS arrangement. We support President Biden's leadership and re-enlivening the Quad. We should be talking to our regional partners through regional bodies like ASEAN. It's really important that we make clear that we want to see a stable and peaceful and democratic region. And that's the way you do it. Not talking about hypothetical wars.
JOURNALIST: The Coalition's obviously trying to make national security front and center of their re-election campaign. We're seeing the prospect of a new nuclear submarine base in New South Wales or Queensland. The WA Labor government say it's another snub for WA. But did the coalition really have no other choice but to base on the east coast?
O'CONNOR: Well, we haven't even been briefed on the announcement of yesterday. Firstly, the communities of Brisbane and Port Kembla and Newcastle haven't even been consulted, in terms of possible locations. And indeed, Western Australia was not consulted, given its strategic importance in currently looking after the Collins class submarines. I would have thought there would have been some direct engagement between the federal and West Australian governments, but there wasn't. So we will wait to be briefed properly by the federal government. And then we'll have more to say about that proposition.
JOURNALIST: It obviously comes after the full cycle docking decision. It was long awaited, again, that was portrayed here is a snub of WA. Is that something that a Labor government could revisit?
O'CONNOR: It's very hard to know what decisions we could make that would change or alter decisions made by previous governments. And the only way we know those types of things has been by being briefed in government. But I'll just say this, WA not only has had an important role to play historically in housing defence assets, it's going to play an increased role because of what's happening in the Indo Pacific. Labor, if elected will have a defence force posture review, which will involve a full root and branch examination of where our assets are. But I can say without even the review being fully undertaken, that WA and Northern Australia will play a greater not a lesser role in housing defence assets. And for that reason, an incoming Labor government will be working with the West Australian government on those matters.
JOURNALIST: Paul Papalia again in response to the big submarine base announcement, he called out the Coalition for their failure to make a decision on whether to base a large vessel dry dock at HMAS Stirling, is that something that Labor will commit to?
O'CONNOR: We will certainly examine this. We're on the eve of an election, we've got a government that says there may be three locations that may have a base in over a decade. There's been no consultation with those communities. There's been no consultation with the Opposition. There's been no consultation with any state governments from what I understand. And we'd have to examine the proposition. And the first thing we need is a briefing from the government as to the reasons why they've proposed those sites. Until that time, we cannot definitively respond to the announcement that was made.
JOURNALIST: Madeleine, do you want to see your party commit to a large vessel dry dock in your constituency?
KING: What I really just want to recognise before I get to that specifically is the HMAS Stirling is what it is, the largest naval base in this country because of the work of Kim Beazley, the former member for Brand and leader of the Opposition. Then when he was Defence Minister, who, along with the leadership of Bob Hawke, develop the two oceans policy in 1987.
So This is why we stand here today with this navy club with its amazing, well respected base for all our partners and their ships and their boats that visit is an important part of Australia's defence capacity, but also relationship with navies across the world that come and visit here. So that is a very important Labor legacy. And announced in 87, it actually happened. This is base existed before then, but it got improved and it is the status that it is because of the work of the former Member for Brand and our Governor of Western Australia Kim Beazley and his colleagues. It is important that Western Australia has the critical naval and shipbuilding infrastructure to support the ships that we have here. A lot of it is already here, Henderson and that's very important. Any extra infrastructure is as Brendan has said, it does become a matter for government, because that's when you know, the truth. You get the briefings, you get all the information required to make those decisions. They are very hard decisions to make from opposition, but I do think it is very important we have the infrastructure that supports the Royal Australian Navy and the base of HMAS Stirling.
JOURNALIST: And last one more broadly, do you think the geopolitical situation and conflict out of the blue is going to completely reshape this this federal election campaign?
O'CONNOR: Well, I mean, again, it's another hypothetical.
JOURNALIST: It's not because we do have international conflict now that we didn't have.
O'CONNOR: Okay, not within the region. I think that firstly, can I just express my sympathies for the tragic consequences as a result of a violent act by President Putin in Ukraine. We should stand together and condemn that action. That's the first thing we should say. And of course, because it's not within our region, we should help but we will help proportionate to what would be expected of us. So that's why Labor has supported the government's announcement of over $100 million of lethal and non-lethal support. And for Ukraine, that's really important.
Obviously, we would like to see this terrible conflict end. As to how that plays out, I can assure you Labor thinks that national security is as an important issue for a federal government as any. Whether we're in stable or unstable times, I mean, we're the party of John Curtin, we don't have to be lectured to by a government that's had six Defence Ministers in eight years about how important defence is.
I mean, Kim Beazley served as a Defence Minister longer than five of those Defence Ministers combined. And that lack of continuity and constancy in national security has undermined us to the point we have now problems with major contracts, including frigates. We had the Attack Class torn up, well we know why. We looked at the Japanese option for submarines, and then that was cancelled. We have massive blowouts. We have massive delays and these huge defence asset contracts. And one of the reasons for that is a lack of focus and political will by the current government. So we don't really need any lectures from the government given its failings in this area about national security or defence.
JOURNALIST: But do you think the increased anxiety has opened up an unlikely path to victory for Scott Morrison?
O'CONNOR: I think when people look at the performance of the government in relation to the defence and defence assets and delivery of defence contracts, my answer to that is no. As I say they've had six Defence Ministers in eight years. I mean, Scott Morrison's had four Defence Ministers in less than four years. That is not someone who takes defence seriously. They've had defence blowouts. They've had defence delays because of a failure to focus on these issues. And if they just talked less, and delivered more, the country would be safer.
Thanks very much.