Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB

01 July 2020

Ben Fordham: The PM will announce today we're forking out $270 billion over the next decade, and this will include the purchase of several long-range, anti-ship missiles. They'll travel up to 370 kilometres, which is the distance you drive from, say, Sydney to Dubbo, and the new missiles will be used by Australian fighter jets. They're meant to be fired upon enemy ships. Other parts of the plan include funding our first land-based, long-range missile defence systems. Those would be missiles that would fire from land and potentially travel several thousand kilometres. On the line, Foreign Minister, Marise Payne. Minister, good morning.

Marise Payne: Good morning, Ben.

Ben Fordham: Do you agree that we haven't seen a time of instability like this in nearly 100 years?

Marise Payne: I think the Prime Minister has set that out particularly well, and he'll have more to say on that today, but any analysis of the strategic environment in which we find ourselves – both related to COVID-19 at the moment, but also a number of other factors – would certainly affirm that.

Ben Fordham: Why do we need missiles to fight COVID-19?

Marise Payne: Well, we don't, Ben. What we do need to do is to protect Australia's national interests and to equip the ADF with what they need to address a changed strategic environment, whether that is the introduction of more capable military systems in so many corners of the world, growing strategic competition that we are seeing between the United States and China and also increasingly aggressive 'grey-zone' tactics. Those are the sort of coercive measures which fall below the threshold for conventional military response, but they are still very, very serious.

Ben Fordham: Does the breakdown between China and Australia in diplomatic relations, does that also add to that instability?

Marise Payne: No, I don't think that that is the sort of context in which the Defence Strategic Update comes forward. It comes forward in a much more focused way in terms of what we are seeing in our security environment and since 2016. We had a Defence White Paper in 2016, which predicated a number of the steps which are being taken in the strategic update today. But as I've said, we have coercion in the region, we see more capable and active regional military forces, and we see an expansion of capability that is out there against us. So, expanding the plans during the White Paper to acquire maritime long-range missiles, the air launch strike, and anti-shipping weapons and additional land based weapons – they are a very practical and important step for the ADF and for Australia's national interests.

Ben Fordham: When it comes to conflict we do have our hands tied behind our back somewhat, don't we? China spent $280 billion on defence last year. We'll spend the same amount over the next decade.

Marise Payne: Well, we equip the Australian Defence Force, and we equip Australia, with what we think we need to do to protect ourselves. There are, I think, three focuses in this document, in this defence strategy. It's about shaping Australia's strategic environment. It's about deterring action against Australia's interests and it's about responding with credible military force when required. We obviously also work with partners and allies across the region and a number of those are part of very important engagement as we do work together.

Ben Fordham: Greg Sheridan, the foreign editor in The Australian, writes today, we are now for the first time since the Vietnam War living in a region with a strong chance of major power conflict. Do you agree that we are on the verge or at least in the midst of a possible conflict?

Marise Payne: Ben, everything that we do is predicated on avoiding conflict and I strongly believe that that is the overwhelming preference of all of the countries in the region. And I would reiterate that everything we do is predicated on avoiding that. But what we do say in relation to this Defence Strategic Update, in relation to our strategic posture, is that Australia has to be best prepared to address the most extreme circumstances, and that is the work that has been done by the Defence Minister and her team. And the Prime Minister will present that in greater detail today.

Ben Fordham: We look forward to the details coming up on 2GB news. Marise Payne, the Foreign Minister, thank you so much for coming on.

Marise Payne: Thank you, Ben.

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