An address by Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese addressed the Lowy Institute on how a Labor government would deliver national security in a complex world.

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Address by Opposition leader Anthony Albanese

The security of our nation is the most solemn responsibility of any government – and the first priority of every Prime Minister.
 
Today I want to take the opportunity to share my vision for an Australia that is stronger, safer and more resilient…more prepared to meet the challenges and threats of a less certain world.
 
Almost 80 years ago, on 14 March 1942, Prime Minister John Curtin gave a speech for broadcast on American radio.
 
He began:
 
“On the great waters of the Pacific Ocean war now breathes its bloody steam.
 
From the skies of the Pacific pours down a deathly hail.
 
In the countless islands of the Pacific the tide of war flows madly.
 
For you in America, for us in Australia, it is flowing badly.”
 
Curtin was not one for doomsaying, or hyperbole. Truly, they were the most fearful days our nation has known.  
Eight decades later, Labor still looks to Curtin. Not just to salute his strength of character, or his sacrifice ... but because Curtin’s famous 1941 declaration that Australia ‘looked to America’ was deeper than a statement of wartime necessity.
 
It was an assertion of Australia’s right and indeed our Australia’s responsibility to act in our own interests, to make our own alliances, to decide our place in our region, for ourselves.
 
And through 80 years of change, that principle of sovereignty has remained at the core of Labor’s approach to our foreign policy and defence policy.
 
Whether in government – or in opposition – we treat national security as the first priority, with our national interest at its core.
 
Under my leadership, Labor offered bipartisan support for the Defence Strategic Update 2020, and for AUKUS and the acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines.
 
We have engaged constructively and supported a range of national security legislation, covering issues such as cyber, critical infrastructure, intelligence, and law enforcement.
 
We have continued our long-standing bipartisan approach to the work of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. 
 
For Labor, national security is above politics.
 
And fundamental to our national security is our national resilience.
 
As all of you at Lowy understand, Australia’s national security is bound-up in so much more than our defence capability, critical as it is.
 
In the complex, interconnected, rapidly changing strategic environment of the 2020s, national security also means:

  • Cyber-security
  • Energy security
  • Economic security
  • Environmental security

Keeping Australians safe means planning for global shocks – be it conflict, pandemic, financial collapse or environmental disaster. And investing in the country’s capacity to adapt to crisis, building the resilience and resolve to ensure we can come through challenging times together.
 
That’s the other vital element of the resilience that underpins our national security – our unity as a country.
 
Our allies and partners around the world are rightly describing Russia’s unprovoked, attack on Ukraine as an assault on the ‘rules-based order’ that has stood since the creation of the United Nations.
 
Russia’s actions are also an attack on the values free nations hold dear: representative democracy, the rule of law, the right to live in peace.
 
Just as we have long viewed it as Australia’s responsibility to join in the defence of those principles and values when threatened abroad, it is also our duty to protect and nurture them at home.
 
The health of our democracy, the integrity of our institutions, the transparency and fairness of our laws, the harmony and cohesion of our population. These aren’t just noble ideals. They are a powerful defence against the threat of modern authoritarianism.
 
Because behind authoritarianism’s reliance on disinformation, crude nationalism and false nostalgia and its insidious appeal to the disillusioned and disenfranchised is the implicit and explicit argument that democracy, diversity and progress have failed us.
 
It’s why measures to strengthen faith in our institutions and our democracy - including our commitment to a National Anti-Corruption Commission - are so important in building national cohesion.
 
In a very real sense, I see our determination to be a government that delivers on its commitments and brings the country together as a key element of ensuring a stronger and safer Australia.

Labor's approach

Three key principles are at the heart of Labor’s national security policy:
 
One, defending Australia’s territorial integrity.
 
Two, protecting our nation’s political sovereignty from external pressure.
 
And three, promoting Australia’s economic prosperity and social stability, with sustainable growth, secure employment, and a unified community. 
 
This means preventing threats to our borders, our people, our infrastructure and our institutions.
 
Protecting the democratic institutions so central to the expression of our sovereignty.
 
Building and maintaining a strong economy, resilient supply chains and the skills, technology, infrastructure and industries to make more things here in Australia, securing our self-reliance.
 
These are all part of our plan for a better future
 
A Labor Government will achieve these objectives and build a more secure, resilient Australia by:

  1. Supporting a stronger Australian Defence Force
  2. Prioritising better and smarter cybersecurity
  3. Shoring-up our economic self-reliance
  4. Strengthening our communities and institutions
  5. Deepening our partnerships in the region and globally around the world
  6. Taking action on climate change

This is the plan Labor will take to the election and deliver in government.
 
But of course, these aren’t theoretical constructs.
 
They operate in a real world of geopolitical tension – and in some cases conflict.

The Complex Strategic Environment

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has trampled fundamental principles which have made the world safer since World War II.
 
Russia has called sanctions an act of war, attacked nuclear power plants, and inflicted terrible injury and death on civilians.
 
They have gone as far as to issue threats of a nuclear response to international support for Ukraine.
 
The courageous resistance of the Ukrainian people, embodied by their President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has rallied the world to the cause of their freedom.
 
And Russia’s ruthlessness has only served to strengthen the resolve of our allies in Europe, the United States, and around the world.
 
But we know Russia is not without friends. One of those friends is China.
 
China has failed in its special responsibility as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, while offering Russia relief from sanctions.
 
Just weeks before the invasion of Ukraine, China signed a ‘no limits’ friendship with Moscow.
 
There are many reasons to be concerned about such a friendship, particularly in light of China’s growing assertiveness in our region.
 
Both at home and in its international posture, the China of Xi Jinping has demonstrated a harsher authoritarianism and more strident nationalism.
 
This has manifested itself most recently in a takeover of Hong Kong, repression of human rights in China and the militarisation of the South China Sea.
 
More broadly speaking, Australia still faces threats such as foreign interference, espionage, terrorism, organised crime, and cyber-attacks – all while the world continues to grapple with the pandemic.
 
These vulnerabilities are often exploited by autocratic countries seeking to increase their power.

Not all threats are external. As ASIO Director General Mike Burgess points out, ideologically motivated extremism is on the rise in Australia, and now accounts for 50 per cent of ASIO priority domestic counter-terrorism caseload.
 
And amid it all, the clock keeps ticking relentlessly on climate change – a threat with serious direct implications for the security and wellbeing of Australians and our region.

A Strong Australian Defence Force

It is more important than ever that we chart a clear, long-term course for Australia that can sustain maximum bipartisan consensus.
 
We need to look to the next thirty years, not just the next three.
 
Our national security interests should transcend the partisan divide.
 
The brave men and women who serve in our Defence Force, our intelligence and law enforcement agencies deserve that stability and clarity from their government.
 
That extends to how we equip and resource our military.
 
A defining characteristic of this Liberal Government is an enduring focus on announcements, but not on the delivery of them.
 
In the 2009 Defense White Paper the Rudd Government outlined the need to change the force structure of the ADF to enhance our nation’s naval capabilities.
 
Yet here we are, nearly a decade after the Liberal Party was elected and still no actual progress.
 
Billions of dollars wasted on the French contract.
 
After a production line of six defence ministers in this Government - and two goes at landing on a model - we now have no contract for any submarine, and a looming submarine-shaped capability gap.
 
And it leaves the next government with another repair job: healing the wounds inflicted on the Australia-France relationship. Not forgetting, of course, the earlier damage to the relationship with our other close partner Japan.
 
The entire episode is the greatest defence procurement disaster we have seen in this country.
 
Unfortunately, it’s not the only procurement fumble.
 
The Future Frigates are $15 billion over budget and delayed into the next decade. There is now concern they might be too heavy and too slow.
 
There are now 30 major defence projects that are running a total of 79 years late. 17 major projects are running $4.3 billion over budget.
 
And some projects that have been completed don’t deliver what taxpayers paid for - such as helicopters that can’t shoot their weapons.
 
The 2020 Strategic Update announced traditional ten-year warning times no longer apply, yet the acquisition of new submarines has been pushed out up to two decades.
 
Labor offered bipartisan support for the Update and the budget expenditure associated with it, including $270 billion of capability acquisition.
 
We have also offered support for the nuclear-powered submarines.
 
We recognise this will mean Defence budgets beyond the 2 per cent benchmark.
 
Let me be clear: Labor will ensure that Defence has the resources it needs to defend Australia and deter potential aggressors.
 
It is unwise to discuss specific defence acquisitions from Opposition where we do not have the benefit of detailed advice from all the experts. I won’t try doing this today.
 
What I can say is that it will be incumbent on us to deliver a frank assessment of our capabilities and pipeline on arrival in government. 
 
For instance, we will consider whether tomahawk missiles can be fitted to the Collins Class submarines.
 
We will review progress of the Frigates project, and explore whether our naval power could be bolstered through upgraded weapons on the Arafura Class offshore patrol vessels or through additional Hobart Class Air Warfare Destroyers.
 
We would also work with Defence and those experts who have identified the need for Government to quickly increase Australia’s strike capabilities.
 
We will deepen our regional defence cooperation with close partners – including Japan, India, Singapore and others – to bolster our joint capabilities, shape our strategic environment and uphold the rules of the road.
 
And Labor will plan for how we address submarine capability in the period until we receive the nuclear-powered submarines.
 
The Morrison Government has been dropping hints about submarines, but offered no clarity.
 
This week also saw an announcement about an announcement, with the Government promising that it would announce the location of a new submarine base in Australia in 2023.
 
No doubt this is driven by an election timetable rather than a full analysis of our overall force posture which has not been done since Labor was last in power.
 
Labor has already committed to a Defence Force Posture Review to consider our long-term posture, particularly our strategically crucial northern and western approaches. In government, this Review will provide a more reliable basis for decisions on the final location of a new submarine base.

Prioritising Cyber Security

I turn now to cyber security.
 
When I was first elected to parliament in 1996, Google hadn’t even launched, let alone become a verb.
 
Fax machines were a main form of interaction.
 
Technology has fundamentally, irreversibly changed the way we work, the way we communicate, the way we shop and bank and learn.
 
As a consequence, cyber attacks represent a threat to our way of life.
 
Australia has already been the target of state-sponsored cyber attacks, aimed at political parties, government departments, universities and corporations.
 
These are attempts to destabilise the foundations of our society, our democracy. But they are also attempts to hurt everyday people – to raid bank accounts, steal identities, rip-off small businesses and abuse private information.
 
Cybercrime costs the Australian economy $33 billion per year.
 
Our security agencies are very good at what they do in this space, but true national cyber resilience is a whole-of-nation endeavour.
 
It’s not just about who has the best offensive cyber tools, it’s about building systemic resilience across public, private and civil organisations
 
It’s also about recognising that sovereign, domestic data security is a modern foundation of national security.
 
And, with nearly every one of us carrying precious data around in our pockets, it’s about recognising that the storage of our data – much of which is offshore - has implications for our sovereignty and security.
 
For some types of data, appropriately securing it may require mandating that it be kept in Australia.
 
Lifting cyber resilience across the nation, across public, private and civil systems requires political leadership.
 
That’s why I kept a dedicated role for cyber security in our shadow ministry, that Tim Watts has performed since 2019.
 
Cyber security needs to be someone’s day job, not the last item on another Minister’s to do list.

Shoring up Our Economy 

Of course, our ability to execute on any of the priorities I’ve spoken about will be enhanced with a stronger, more secure economy at home.
 
Labor’s plan to build back stronger draws on the lessons of the pandemic – namely that the end of a global supply chain is a precarious place to be.
 
Economic resilience is at the core of Labor’s Future Made in Australia plan.
 
Building up our capacity for making things here leaves us less vulnerable to economic coercion and global shocks. By ensuring we make more of what we strategically need, the less we are hostage to global supply chains
 
I’ve already announced several elements of this plan, including its centrepiece: our National Reconstruction Fund.
 
We have also released our Defence Industry Development Plan which will sustain defence supply chains, develop our sovereign defence industry and encourage innovative in both defence and wider industry.
 
Labor’s plan for a National Strategic Fleet of Australian flagged vessels will underpin security of supply for critical commodities like fuel.
 
Labor will elevate trade diversification. Government needs to focus not just on new markets for our existing exports, but also work alongside business and unions to support the development of the future products and services Australia will sell to the world.

Strengthening Our Communities and Institutions

Of course, nation-building is about more than economic strength. Democratic strength is also critical to our long-term stability and security.
 
Our democracy faces new challenges from foreign interference and disinformation.
 
At home, right-wing extremism is on the rise fueled by a mixture of social isolation and online echo chambers.
 
Responding to this trend requires building the legitimacy and trust in our democratic institutions.
 
Unfortunately, the Morrison Government has waged a prolonged assault on accountability, dragging Australia down to its lowest level on record in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.
 
The doctrine of ministerial responsibility has been comprehensively trashed.
 
And the Prime Minister has reneged on his promise of a national anti-corruption commission. I will deliver one.
 
It is not just our institutions that matter, social cohesion too will be vital to an effective response to these threats.
 
In government, Labor will draw on our long tradition of support for multiculturalism and look to unite the country, not divide it.
 
We will do this because it is right, and because inclusion is a vital part of our democratic strength.

Stronger Partnerships Around the World

Labor has always understood the need to work with others around the globe to support our security and economic strength, and to shape the world for the better.
 
Labor also understands creating stronger global partnerships requires rebuilding our diplomatic capability, including development assistance.
 
Of course, our longstanding alliance with the United States is a central pillar of our foreign policy.
 
A Labor Government will be an energetic and trusted alliance partner.
 
This is why we give strong support to AUKUS and why we will make sure the Quad delivers in our region.
 
Penny Wong and I were recently able to underline this in person to Quad Foreign Ministers.
 
We understand that such partnerships are crucial to Australia’s interests, which is why we will strengthen our political, economic and military ties with India and Japan, as well as with regional partners such as Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Vietnam.
 
We are committed to elevating our engagement with the countries of Southeast Asia and ASEAN – building on our legacy as the Party that secured Australia as ASEAN’s first dialogue partner in 1974.
 
Enhancing our bilateral relationships with Indonesia and India will be a priority.
 
We will work with Jakarta to deliver a $200m climate and infrastructure partnership and deliver the economic expansion that the Indonesia Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement promised but has not yet delivered.
 
We also see New Zealand as a central partner in this regional effort – but for too long Canberra has preferred to talk at Wellington rather than realising the potential of our shared experiences.
 
Our regional engagement is also critical to how we manage the China relationship.
 
Our approach to the China relationship will determined by our interests and values: a commitment to international law, rules-based trade, and respect for human rights, and bolstered by our regional partnerships and alliances.
 
Labor’s position on current questions of national security is clear and established.
 
The search for false distinctions between the Government and Opposition on China is not in Australia’s national interest, as both current and former leaders of our security and intelligence agencies as stated so clearly.
 
We have the same position on the South China Sea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and human rights abuses against Uighurs and Tibetans.
 
I was a member of the Gillard Government that brought US Marines to Darwin. And as Shadow Infrastructure Minister I opposed the sale of the Port of Darwin.

Responding to Climate Change

One area where Labor and the Coalition diverge significantly is climate change.
 
Our allies, including the United States and the United Kingdom, understand that the global climate emergency is a direct threat to global security.
 
Without meaningful action, climate change will create major population displacement, drive a surge in refugees, and create new grounds for conflict over ever scarcer clean water and fertile land.
 
Too many Australians have firsthand knowledge of the brutality of bushfires, drought and flood.
 
Climate change is here now.
 
I have announced a comprehensive plan on climate change. As part of this, on coming to government, I will ask the Director General of National Intelligence and the Secretary of the Defence Department to undertake a risk assessment of the implications of climate change for national security.
 
Instead of playing a positive role in the global effort to combat climate change, Australia is seen as one of the recalcitrant nations holding back action.
 
This undermines our status and presence in the region.
 
Our bid to host a future Conference of the Parties in Australia with our Pacific partners would assist our regional standing and credibility as a partner in the Pacific.

Conclusion

To serve as Prime Minister of Australia is a rare privilege. If successful I am determined to restore a greater sense of responsibility to the Office of Prime Minister
 
A deeper respect for the Australian people and for the integrity of our democracy.
 
Real accountability – and delivery.
 
I will lead a government that keeps its promises. I will be determined to bring the country together rather than divide it.
 
Our national security is a national asset which must be nurtured. Strengthening it means:

  • Investing in our ADF and our defence capability
  • Supporting our security agencies
  • Deepening our strategic partnerships in the region and the world.

A Labor Government will always hold these as priorities.
 
Beyond this, investing in cybersecurity, supporting more self-reliance and acting on climate change will strengthen our nation and build shared prosperity.
 
We will be a government in service of Australia’s enduring values: freedom, fairness, democracy and a multicultural society that enriches us all. 
 
This is my vision, my commitment.
 
An Australia stronger in the world. An Australia united at home. A resilient, self-reliant and secure Australia.

Source: anthonyalbanese.com.au E&OE.

 

Anthony Albanese in conversation with Lowy Institute Executive Director Michael Fullilove

Michael Fullilove: Anthony, thank you for those wide ranging remarks setting out Labor's worldview and its agenda for government. They'll be read very closely here in Australia and abroad over coming weeks - so thank you very much. And thank you also for agreeing to have a conversation with me and take some questions from our audience in the room and online and media. Let me go back in time a bit if I can. You've served in Parliament since 1996. You've been in politics for longer than that. You've seen all of Australia's recent PMs up close. From a foreign policy perspective, who among them have you really admired? Is there a foreign policy Prime Minister you'd like to emulate perhaps if you're elected PM?

Anthony Albanese: Well, I did get to see Kevin Rudd up close at the first G20 meeting that was held in London. Context - of course - a global financial crisis. Kevin was able to go between  President Obama, the Chinese delegation, all the countries there, to try to get some common interest. And one of the things I witnessed there was - firsthand - I saw Australia punching above our weight. And I saw as well the context for that was that, I did attend two of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change conferences in 2005 and 2006, and in Montreal and in Nairobi. And the difference in terms of Australia's standing - when we were part of global effort, rather than in the naughty corner refusing to ratify Kyoto - was really evident to me on that frame. I think also that the relationship that Julia Gillard forged with President Obama, in particular, was extraordinary. It led to Julia addressing Washington in what was a celebrated address. And I think a great honour for our country. It led as well to the presence of the, increased presence of the Marines and the United States in the Northern Territory. So I saw them very much up close. I think historically, Australian Labor Prime Ministers have always been interested in the world. It's what we do. Whether it be Bob Hawke and Paul Keating - I saw, from more of a distance, as a young staffer in the Hawke government, and both Bob and Paul have been very generous - Bob while he was alive - with their time, and Paul, I spoke to this week. They've always been generous, they've been prepared to reach out. So they to me are important. But going way back, you look at some of the debates that are now happening in the parliament. The truth is John Curtin, of course, became Prime Minister as  you know, without a without a vote of the people. It was a vote of the parliament. During our darkest hour the parliament turned to John Curtin. And I think his legacy. And as well, something I take from that as well - and we have borrowed some of the terminology with national reconstruction - the fact that John Curtin appointed Ben Chifley as the Minister for Post-War Reconstruction - at the height of the war. It wasn't in 1945. At the height of the war, how do you plan coming out? And that, to me is something that I've looked at, as well in terms of the pandemic in that context. How do we build back stronger?

Anthony Albanese in conversation with Michael Fullilove. Photo: Peter Morris/Sydney Heads for the Lowy Institute

Michael Fullilove: What about international leaders that you've looked at and admired? I noticed you're wearing the colours yellow and blue today. I don't know if that's an homage to Ukraine?

Anthony Albanese: It is indeed.

Michael Fullilove: You mentioned President Zelinskyy. What have you thought about the way he's led his country over the last couple of weeks?

Anthony Albanese: I think he's shown extraordinary courage. And leadership in extraordinarily difficult circumstances. Particularly, when asked about what he needed, he called for arms - send ammunition. And it's very clear that they're up against a much greater military machine in Russia, but they are defending their sovereignty. Their democracy. And it is quite inspirational, I think. And what we're seeing as a result of that courage is some real positives, in terms of the European Union acting in a cohesive way. NATO, Western democracies, all coming together. And the Australian people, I think that they have, because of that, just extraordinary, grassroots support, not just amongst leaders, but I think it is quite inspirational.

Michael Fullilove: You mentioned John Curtin, and you referred to that famous statement he made in the Melbourne Herald in December 1941: "Without any inhibitions of any kind. I make it quite clear that Australia looks to America." If you were elected prime minister, would Australia still look to America? And what does that mean in 2022? What kind of an ally would you like Australia to be for the United States?

Anthony Albanese: It means that America still is the global leader of democracies. And one of the things about the United States is, with all of its faults, which all democracies have, they can get a bit messy. We've seen that in recent times. The institutional strength of the United States in terms of its military industrial complex, its strength for democracies is something quite extraordinary. So I've participated in the Australian American leadership dialogue for a couple of decades. And as a result of that, you forge friendships across the aisle as well with Democrats and Republicans. With people from the defence establishment, security agencies. And I think that is that is important. And I think there's an opportunity as well with the Biden administration, in terms of their views of the world are pretty similar to Australian Labor's views of the world now. In terms of taking action on climate change, for example. And that is something that's important in itself. But it also has a real foreign policy connection to it. In the Pacific, there is no question it is the number one issue that Pacific nations are concerned about. And if you're not seen to be taking that seriously, it undermines your efforts in other areas as well, given that we have a strategic competition occurring in the region. With China seeking to be more assertive and China seeking to exercise more influence. Australia needs to step up in partner with the United States and other like minded countries. I think there's a real opportunity to strengthen that relationship. And that's why in the the commemorative speeches that were given in the parliament for the 70th anniversary of ANZUS, that was a big distinction, I think, between myself and Prime Minister Morrison's speech in that it acknowledged climate as being a central national security issue.

Michael Fullilove: Well, let me take you to that question of differences because there's been a lot of discussion in recent weeks about how similar or different the two sides' policies are. Labor has a distinctive and proud foreign policy tradition. Apart from climate, what would you nominate as differences between Labor and the Coalition? How would you like to do the job of Prime Minister internationally different from Mr. Morrison apart from climate where I think the differences are quite clear,

Anthony Albanese: I think historically, Labor's been more prepared to reach out in the region. Whether it be Paul Keating, in the role that he played in terms of APEC. Whether it be when we were last in government. For example, I spoke today about the Indonesian relationship. When we were in government, I traveled to Indonesia regularly (and) set up ITSAP, the Indonesian Transport Safety Assistance Package. Which is all about assisting Indonesian economic development in terms of infrastructure, but also practical measures. The number of Indonesians who lose their life, particularly at times like Ramadan, in terms of maritime safety is a major, major issue there. And we provided training through the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. We provide - there would be a substantial proportion of Indonesian air traffic controllers - would have been trained here and had some experience with Air Services Australia. Lucas Gosling's in the audience here today. As the member for Solomon, he's very conscious of the relationship with Indonesia, in East Timor, and I gave him a special job as head of a task force to look at that as well. India is an area in which the by Varghese Report was commissioned by this government. But I think it would be a very brave person to suggest it to been fully implemented. There are enormous opportunities for growth in the region. And even if you look at the economic opportunities that are there, where there's a synergy between security - in terms of energy security, action on climate, and foreign policy objectives, and our own national economic objectives as well. A project like powering Singapore with the Sun Cable project from Tennant Creek is an enormous example of whereby we can seize the opportunity that is there, from the fact that we're in the fastest growing region of the world in human history, which has replaced our disadvantage in terms of the tyranny of distance from Europe and North America. We now have a strategic advantage. That's an economic plus, but also has foreign policy and security implications by building up those relations.

Michael Fullilove: Let me ask you about diplomacy because a lot of the Labor achievements you're talking about were hard-won by our diplomats. Over the past few tech two decades, I think most observers would say that DFAT has been marginalised in Canberra. And certainly in terms of funding, funding for our security agencies skyrocketed and funding for DFAT flatlined. We have fewer diplomats posted overseas today than we did three decades ago, for example. How would Labor put a renewed emphasis on diplomacy? Would you commit to spending more money on DFAT? Would you commit to expanding our diplomatic network in office?

Anthony Albanese: Well, Penny Wong has very strong views on this. And they might or might not be exactly the same as our Finance Shadow Minister. But one of the things that we've emphasised is, there is a need to step up in terms of our diplomatic efforts. And sometimes it can be really short-sighted as well. That you withdraw support and make cuts that have been made and you end up then just not having the capacity that you need. To be able to engage in in soft diplomacy is really important as well, not just at a time of crisis, but how do you build those relations over a period of time? DFAT attracts some of the best. You go as a parliamentarian, as a minister or as an MP. The last delegation I went on in opposition was to India. That the quality of our people in India was extraordinary from the High Commissioner down. But there hadn't been a delegation, a parliamentary delegation, from Australia to India for more than a decade. That's absurd, frankly, given our place in the world that that had occurred. So those relationships, building soft diplomacy, support for Foreign Affairs and Trade, respect, as well, for our diplomats, they bring incredible capacity. And they're outstanding. They're our representatives on the global stage. And I think we need to do much better, you will see a much bigger effort, both in terms of quantity, but also in terms of quality. The marginalisation that has occurred. I'm not against political appointments, and some of them have been very good. I think that to give an example, Barry O'Farrell in India is someone who has a genuine interest in India, and is I think, doing a good job. But it might just be possible for someone to leave the parliament as an LNP member and not get a job somewhere. Like that would be a good idea. Like it's reached - it's absurd. And that undermines confidence in DFAT. What is that saying to the people who have worked their guts out, study, develop relationships, and just get someone plonked in over the top of them, who has no experience in that area. So I think respect for our public service in general, is something that we are going to have to do. And senior public servants - who are always pretty discreet - will stop me and introduce themselves to me in airports or business forums, people who've left the public service and just say, it is as bad - it is worse than it has ever been. And it is something - a task - that we are going to have to embark upon if we're successful in May.

Michael Fullilove: I'm reminded by your comments that one of our finest former career diplomats, Penny Wensley and a board member of the Lowy Institute is in the audience today. All right, let me ask you a couple of questions about hard power. Let me ask about AUKUS. When the government announced AUKUS in September 2021, the Labor Party made the decision to support AUKUS within a couple of days. That may not have been straightforward. Probably as a young man, you didn't go into parliament to build a nuclear powered submarine fleet. But actually, I want to congratulate you, speaking personally on that move. Because I do think given Australia's geography and our geopolitics, having that sort of deterrent capability is incredibly important. But let me probe you a bit further on Labor's commitment to AUKUS, and in particular the nuclear boats. And I have a question here from Stephen Dziedzic from ABC News on this topic. This is Stephen's question: several Labor MPs have questioned whether the government can overcome the formidable technical, regulatory and legal challenges posed by the nuclear subs plan. Are you committed, if you win power, to press ahead with the project no matter what? For example, if the 18-month review reveals profound difficulties posed by civil nuclear industry limitations in Australia, are an astronomical price tag well above even the current estimates, will Labor simply press ahead? Or are you willing to contemplate other options?

Anthony Albanese: We're committed to the project. We're committed to the project based upon the advice that we received. We got a briefing. I traveled to Canberra - wasn't sure what for, but got asked to to go, the day before the briefing. We were briefed on the Wednesday afternoon - myself, Brendan, Richard Marles and Penny Wong - received a full briefing from the head of Defence, all of the appropriate authorities that were there. We had a discussion then, about how we would proceed. I convened a full Shadow Cabinet meeting for very early the next morning. I kept the confidence that we were given. It was briefed out that we'd been briefed. But that's a matter for the Prime Minister's media office to explain that. We then had a full caucus meeting on that morning, 9:30am. So by 11.30, I think it was, I was standing up at the CPO here backing in the project. And we did it because of the advantage of nuclear propulsion. Simply in terms of the tasks that we have, in terms of speed, the capacity to stay submerged, all of the the advantages that it has, which were very clear. And the advice was clear. And we took that clear advice. And we made a very clear, sober decision. I think that was an example of the maturity of the Australian Labor Party. I think if you compare that, with the opportunistic statements - to call it for what it is - including on national security of our opponents. I'm proud of what we did in less than 24 hours. We now know as well, that the United States's position was that a precondition of their support for AUKUS and these arrangements certainly was a bipartisan commitment. That it wouldn't have happened without that occurring. So that's very clear. It wouldn't have - the statement wouldn't have been made. So we look forward to - undoubtably there will be some some challenges. And we're aware of them. Not the least of which is the capability gap, which is there, that I spoke about today. That's why again, we would if we're successful in government look at more immediate issues. We need to look at our national security within the 10-year time frame as the strategic update indicated in 2020. But there's a contradiction between that and the statements of policy that are aimed at 2040, including today's.

Anthony Albanese in conversation with Michael Fullilove. Photo: Peter Morris/Sydney Heads for the Lowy Institute

Michael Fullilove: I'm going to come to the audience in in just one minute. But what about defence spending more generally. The government's criticism of Labor is that the last time you were in power government spending on defense sunk to the lowest level since the Second World War. Now, you've committed Labor to spending at least 2% of GDP on on defence. But in government, quite rightly, you and your colleagues would also have lots of other priorities: social justice issues, climate change mitigation, post pandemic recovery. How will you keep keep that that tough commitment of at least 2%?

Anthony Albanese: I make two points there. One is, it's triumph of spin over substance - the criticism of the former Labor government. The difference in spending was 0.03% between the Howard Government period and the Rudd-Gillard government period. From memory, I think it's 1.78 compared with 1.75. It might be 0.77 to 0.74 but it's .03 of a difference. That's the difference between the two. Secondly, in terms of spend: as I said today in my speech, and others have pointed out, including Greg Sheridan. You shouldn't get credit for spending money that doesn't produce anything. And that's what's happened. They've spent money on deals - Japan, France - other equipment that hasn't resulted in defense materiel being produced. So, whilst this government has - it's true - spent money, the outcomes is the problem. The gap that's there between the announcement and the delivery. They're always there, up for an announcement. I mean I find it interesting that there's another announcement today. The Prime Minister was here on this stage how many days ago - two or three? Why is an announcement being made today about defence issues? I think we know the answer. So we actually need to treat national security issues seriously, and to be aiming at outcomes. And that will be what we will do. We are in an insecure world. We do have a change in the posture of China. An explicit change where Xi Jinping will be going to the conference, as you said, seeking an additional term. We have Putin determined to stay there and exercise power and influence. Those issues mean that in a more insecure world, you need to spend more money on national security. And you need to do it in a way though, that is strategic and produces outcomes. And looks at not just what what some would see as traditional defence equipment and personnel, But issues like cyber, like data storage, the issues that I raised in the speech as well.

Michael Fullilove: We have time for one or two questions from the audience in the room. Is there anybody who'd like to ask a question? I can see Paul Kelly from The Australian.

Paul Kelly, The Australian: If Labor wins the election, all the decisions that will need to be taken about a nuclear powered-submarine: type, credibility gap, budget - they'll all be taken by a Labor government. Now, in your comments, over six months, you're strongly supporting the government's decision. But it seems to me while you support the decision, that you're rarely aruging for it. Can you tell us from a Labor point of view, from your personal point of view, why you think Australia needs to get a fleet of long-range nuclear submarines?

Anthony Albanese: Because the advice is - well, I thought I argued it just a bit before - so I'll repeat myself. The propulsion of nuclear fuel, as opposed to the Collins-class subs, can simply stay under for longer. They are less observable. And some of the things we've received in briefing - but  the technical term. The whole idea of a submarine and why submarines are important to our national security is that, unlike a frigate or a plane, they can't be seen. So they act as a deterrent. And the truth is that a nuclear-propelled submarine is much more effective at it than the Collins-class or other options which are available, because they can be less detectable. And one of the briefings that we had in terms of -on that day - in terms of defence went to that. So it's a matter of them being more effective. It's as simple as that. Which is why we were unequivocal in terms of our support. There was no hedging by Labor. And I think that that as a basis will. going forward, we're determined that Australia should have the best defence equipment possible that's available. And the only statements that we made as well, in terms of compliance with the NPT we received those assurances as well. So we were very confident. Which is why I took a clear commitment to our Shadow Cabinet and to our caucus processes. We had NSC that afternoon. Effectively, we then had Shadow Cabinet and caucus processes. But I don't think, with respect Paul, it's fair to say that your characterisation there is fair. I think we've been very clear. And we're being clear why. It's not because we think, you know, it's cooler to have a nuclear propulsion sub. It's because it's more effective.

Michael Fullilove: I'll take one more question from the room. Richard McGregor from the Lowy Institute.

Richard McGregor, Lowy Institute: Thank you, you talked about youralignment with a lot of the government's policies on China, you enunciated the reasons for that. But I wonder if you really think the government has handled this so well, that there's nothing that we could do better. So my question is, what would you have done differently on China? And what will you do differently on China?

Anthony Albanese: Well, in terms of our views on, for example, the 14 points that were put forward, we would have been exactly the same for China or any other country for that matter. putting forward a list of demands. That's an attack on our sovereignty, and was rejected and the government was right to reject it. We will continue to stand up for Australia's values. China has changed. It is not under the Labor government that welcomed Xi Jinping to the National Parliament, and made the statements that that were made at that time during during that visit. But I'm not critical of Tony Abbott for that time, it was a different period. Labor also, if you look at the 2009 review that we did on defence, there was criticism at the time, that that was insensitive towards China. Because of the statements that were made. Not the case now. That review looks like it was pretty spot on at the time. I think Minister Dutton - or one of his comments he's walked away from or stepped back from - he's wise to have done so. I support essentially the similar position that has been put forward by Kurt Campbell and others in the Biden administration - I think he's got it right about competition without catastrophe in the region is what we need to look for. And if there's a criticism I have of the current government, it isn't about any of the substance. It's about some of the political misuse that's occurred. National security issues should not be a play thing to try to secure domestic political advantage. And anyone who's seen, frankly, some of the absurd comments that were made by the government, particularly in the last sitting week of Parliament, and the attempted gestures and looking for a wedge, looking for a distinction. That is not in Australia's political interests. It's just not. And you had the extraordinary circumstance, whereby - to their credit, the foreign minister didn't back in those comments - but nor did the Secretary of the Department of Defence, nor did the Director-General of ASIO, nor the previous Director-Generals of ASIO, ambassadors to Washington, and others, as well. Called it out. Takes a fair bit, for Dennis Richardson to make the comments that he did. It takes more than a fair bit for the current Director-General of ASIO to have to have a couple of conversations about briefings and discussions that we had had that appropriately should be in the vault forever, except that people were calling out something that just wasn't based upon the facts. And I receive briefings and get advice from not just the Director-General of ASIO, but the heads of ASD and ONI and all of these agencies all the time and cooperate with them. But we were forced into a position whereby I asked and it's all on the record now - I asked Mr. Burgess, is it okay, if I say, I consulted with you before I attended an event, for example. Are there any issues here? And that's something as Leader of the Opposition I take very seriously. And I think that taking national security seriously means not looking for partisan domestic advantage, based upon falsehoods.

Michael Fullilove: That's all we have time for today. Anthony Albanese, I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with us today. You're one of the busiest people in the country. And today, you've paid us the compliment of giving a really thoughtful and wide ranging speech, and then taking questions on everything from China, to climate change to nuclear submarines. So thank you very much.

Anthony Albanese: Thanks very much, Michael. I think we scheduled this at least a year ago with with COVID and various things. But I'm glad that we've been able to keep the commitment. Thanks to Lowy for the work that you do, as well. You are part of our national security-foreign affairs landscape that civil organizations like yours are very important in what I was talking about. In terms of our institutional strength isn't just about government. It's also about bodies like Lowy. So congratulations for the work you do.

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