Thursday, 4 August 2022
Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers
I can list them for you, like Senator Birmingham can, if I have time at the end—lifting the share of trade covered by FTAs from 27 per cent under the previous Labor government to over 70 per cent now. That is what you call a commitment to promoting Australia's interests and supporting Australian jobs. What I question is Labor's commitment and ability to protect and promote our interests overseas. Let's look at that.
Prime Minister Albanese recently visited Indonesia and said he wanted to strengthen ties between our two nations. I don't know what he said in those meetings, but it was only a couple of weeks later that President Widodo flew to China to meet with President Xi in Beijing. Clearly, what the Prime Minister was offering was not good enough. Compare that to when the coalition was in government. In February 2020, the same President of Indonesia visited Australia and addressed a joint sitting of parliament where he described Australia as 'Indonesia's closest friend'. We are simply not seeing that sort of commitment or effective engagement—despite Senator Farrell's little powwow this morning—by the Labor Party to support and develop our international trade.
Now, we know Labor like to criticise the coalition government over our handling of the French submarine contract as a rebuttal to that point about how we handle international relations. However, let's not forget that Labor are on the record, in the Hansard, stating that the French program was not keeping Australians safe. In Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade estimates, we heard Labor senators criticise that program over and over again. It was incessant. I won't name all the senators from that side who were doing it, but it was incessant. And, when we did do something about it which acted in the national interest, they criticised us for that. Unfortunately for you lot over there, you can't have it each way. In Senate estimates, Senator Wong—it's a shame she's not here—criticised the French submarine deal quite heavily herself. She said:
That's not keeping Australians safe.
So we see that Labor's criticism of the submarine deal was just a form of cheap political pointscoring, which truly came at a cost to our national interest. And that's what has impacted the EU free trade agreement—nothing that we did when we were in government. The coalition government acted and took the necessary steps to keep Australia safe, and, out of that, the AUKUS agreement was born. Those in government now like to pretend that they would have handled it better; however, there is no truth to that, and it's on the record from Senate estimates.
The reality of the situation was that we recognised that the French were not delivering on the submarines, and, when Senator Reynolds was Minister for Defence, she initiated monthly phone calls to try and get the program back on track. When the French could still not deliver, we did what was best for Australia and our national security and made arrangements to acquire capability that would protect Australians. Those opposite would not have been able to accomplish such a feat. And we still worry that they're going to screw up the AUKUS agreement. They're making horrible noises about defence and how they're going to change it. A review from a previous defence minister has all the hallmarks of just shifting a few things around on the noticeboard. Let's see what they can actually do. So far it's clear to everyone that their record is far from stellar.
Question agreed to.