AFTERNOON BRIEFING, ABC NEWS CHANNEL
17 FEBRUARY, 2022
SUBJECTS: National Security; Eraring Power Plant
GREG JENNETT, HOST: We're joined now with our political panel, Liberal MP Julian Leeser and Labor's Stephen Jones. Welcome back to the studio. Both of you. Julian, I might start with you as a figure who I think to this day is still heavily engaged in the intel community. You would accept more than most, wouldn't you, that intelligence, national security, should have its limits in political debate. So, to that extent, how comfortable are you with what you've been sitting back and hearing in the chamber?
JULIAN LEESER, LIBERAL MP: We are a vibrant democracy. It's one of the key values that we want to defend. And one of the democratic actions that we're going to be taking place later this year is a free and fair election. And in elections, you make choices. And what the government has been seeking to do is remind people that there is a choice in relation to national security. Last time, Labor were in office they cut national security. They cut defence and security spending. We've restored it to record levels. We saw 50,000 people come by boat. We've got the leader of the Labor party, who said that he won't turn back boats. We had Labor in those days stepping back from the quad. There is a choice that people are going to have to make. We want to remind them of our very strong position on defence and national security.
JENNETT: But when you hear someone like Dennis Richardson and saying enough and no further, this only plays to Chinese Communist party's advantage, it must give you pause for thought about where those limits are.
LEESER: Well, I think we've been having a debate where we need to remind people that there is a difference, a choice. And we need to remind people about the Labor Party's record in government and contrast it with our own. And I think you only need to look at the defence and national security spending, you only need to look at what we've done on borders, you only need to look at what we've done in relation to the quad to see a real difference between our party and the Labor Party.
JENNETT: Well if that's all it is, Stephen Jones, follow the money trail, stack up the dollars and Coalition's comes out ahead, then it can't be that damaging can it? Labor can wear a debate about budgetary expenditure on Asio and national security, nothing to see here?
JONES: Thanks Greg. I think, 24 hours ago anybody making the sorts of statements that Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton made in the parliament and elsewhere could just be excused for being ignorant. Okay, they're just being ignorant. Reckless with our national security, but mostly they’re just plain ignorant and dishonest about what Labor stands for, because there's no difference. And Scott Morrison actually acknowledged that in a letter to Anthony Albanese late last year.
JENNETT: Which is the conventional position which is bipartisan.
JONES: Exactly. But I have to you had the head of Asio and one of the most respected national defence and security people in the country come out and say, actually this is not in our national interest, the only person that benefits is China, it’s not reckless and ignorance, it's treacherous and treasonous. So if the Prime Minister is coming out and saying this stuff in the full knowledge that it's against the national interest, it's treacherous and treasonous. I agree with Julian, actually. I agree we should look at their record. You have a choice between the party that sold the Port of Darwin to the Chinese and tried to extradite, tried to get a bill through parliament to extradite Australian citizens back to China, which we blocked. Their legislation. We blocked. You've got the choice between the party that wanted to do that and the party politically desperate, which is confecting this outrage, which is just not true.
JENNETT: Well treacherous and treasonous are enormous called to be making. How does that in itself not play back in? How do you know that's not going to lead to yet another Global Times editorial? Both sides are giving as good as they get here right now. I suppose the question is, is there not a time to draw a line on all of this?
JONES: Scott Morrison has been warned. We want a fight the election on our plan for the future of the country. Our plan for energy. Renewing our manufacturing system. Ensuring we have proper childcare. Ensuring that our kids have jobs and training for the jobs of the future. That's what we want to fight the election on. If Scott Morrison decides that he doesn't want to fight the election on those sorts of things, instead he wants to have a confected, dishonest, treacherous argument about national security, he can do that. But he’ll doing it in the face of the national security advice which says China wins.
JENNETT: It can be powerful, though. And is this in your calculations, Julian? National security can be a powerful vote-winner, or turner, flipper if you like. We only need to look back to Tampa and the Howard years to assess that.
LEESER: I think it cheapens Actually the role of national security is playing in Australia and the key issue that it is in our country today. I mean, we are living in a difficult neighbourhood. We are facing difficult times. Scott Morrison has been very forthright in standing up to the Chinese Communist Party. Australia has been a test case for western democracies. He stood up to the level of economic coercion. He stood up to the level of foreign interference. It should surprise no-one that the Chinese Communist Party would like to see the back of him and see Anthony Albanese there as the Prime Minister, as the Global Times suggested this week.
JENNETT: That's their belief. I mean, is that your belief?
LEESER: Well, you only needed to look at the Global Times to see it. But it's my belief that we haven't had a prime minister like Scott Morrison that’s been prepared to stand up. In fact, when you look around the world today, given the level of interference and coercion the Chinese Communist Party is exerting in a whole range of democracies, it's hard to think of a leader who's been more forthright in calling it out. And that's what we have to do to maintain the liberal democracy that we all enjoy in this country.
JENNETT: Can you heighten this is as an issue, though, with any comfort that your own party is squeaky clean when it comes to infiltration attempts, money, based on what Mike Burgess the Asio Director-General has put into the public sphere? No voter is entitled to assume, are they, that the Liberal Party's credentials here are any better or cleaner than Labor’s?
LEESER: I was at Mike Burgess’s speech last week. It was a very good speech. Mike Burgess has been very open with Australians about the about the challenges that we face in foreign interference. All parties face that challenge. He's made that point very clearly. And it's a case of ensuring that parties have in place robust systems to deal with it. But the question is, which is the person who is best able to with China's aggression and foreign interference more broadly? And I would suggest it’s Scott Morrison.
JENNETT: Right, and expressed like that …
JONES: How do you square that up against the fact that he sold the port of Darwin to the Chinese …
LEESER: He never sold the Port of …
JONES: … he tried to get Australian Parliament to agree to legislation which would enable, which would require the Australian Government to extradite Australian citizens back to Chinese courts to face Chinese justice system? You tried to make that happen. How do you square that with a guy who says he's tough on China when h anted to extradite Australian citizens back to China to face the Chinese justice system? It doesn't square up. Which is why we have to be cynical about his motives that it is all about politics.
JENNETT: Julian, I take it you're not going to respond? You're entitled to. Then I want to take it over to another thing to do with the character test bill that parliament dealt with. But well, since Stephen’s thrown it out there …
LEESER: I'll deal with the character test in answering. We've got to play legislative chess here. I mean, you know, you only need to look at what Labor’s done with the character test as an example of them being yet again soft on national security and borders.
JENNETT: But they’ve passed it and supported you in a bill that may or may not make it into law.
LEESER: Having opposed it twice and they haven't been clear as to whether they would support it in the Senate or not. And I mean, we call Anthony Albanese each way Albo and there's a reason for that because he tries to have a bet each way. In the house he passed it. In the senate there’s no guarantee.
JENNETT: Yes, the character test bill (indistinct) is about the right or greater powers to deport convicted criminals who are permanent residents. Why did Labor adopt such a small target on that when it went through very quietly the House of Representatives last night?
JONES: Look we’ve said if the Morrison Government has found a new problem that didn’t exist last week, we’ll have a look at it. We’ll have a look the merits of the legislation. We’ll let it through the house. We’ve spoken to the minister, sorry we’ve called the minister and said we’re open to having a discussion. If you’ve got a new problem that hasn’t been dealt with by any of the previous bills that you’ve brought before the parliament, we’ll have a look at it and we’ll look at it on its merits. But you’d have to forgive us for being a little bit cynical about saying we want to give extraordinary discretion to a minister in the Morrison Government about who does get to stay and doesn’t get to stay in this country. Particularly when you might be dealing with somebody who came to Australia at the age of six months old …
JENNETT: Yeah it goes back a long way.
JONES: … and it goes back a long way. So we want to just ensure that we're not doing stupid things here. This government's got form on doing stupid things.
LEESER: This is about deporting violent criminals …
JONES: It’s about more than that. If that was all it was about, you’ve got our agreement.
LEESER: … there are a whole range of people who engage in child exploitation and so on. We want to ensure that those people who are not Australian citizens leave the country.
JENNETT: Let's see what if anything happens with that in the Senate. Finally, on a thoroughly domestic matter, Origin Energy with the Eraring power plant in New South Wales is voting with its dollars and moving to close down a coal-fired power station there much earlier. This is the sector voting with it shares, voting with its feet, isn't it Julian, against all of the noises that we've heard from the Coalition government in recent years about fossil fuel coal-fired power stations?
LEESER: Well, it's a great shame that Origin’s decided to give a minimum notice about the closure of this station. And we want to make sure that they look after their workers and they tell us their plan for dispatchable power. But this is the reason why we've been bringing on things like Snowy 2.0. It's the reason why we've been making investments in the Battery of the Nation in Tasmania and in Victoria’s Big Battery. It's the reason that we have made a whole range of gas Investments, including the Kurri Kurri gas plant, which Labor has opposed. And that opposition looks particularly silly now, given that we've got another coal-fired power station (indistinct).
JENNETT: And this is largely in line with expectation and prediction, isn't it Stephen Jones? These are exactly the sort of commercial decisions that these generators said they would be making.
JONES: They have been signalling to the market for a long time that they would be closing. Want to send out a message of support and solidarity of the over 400 people up there in the Hunter Valley who are going to lose their jobs as a result of this. Labor is calling on the company to ensure that they’re redeployed and looked after and ensure that, you know, alternate jobs are found for them within the community. You can't be surprised for two reasons. We've known for a long while that these heritage, you know, end-of-life coal fired power stations were going to be closed down at some stage over the next decade. That's why we've been calling for so long for stability and certainty in energy policy. Julian's crew for the last decade of had 20, that's almost two a year, different energy policies. Which means business can't invest because they've got no certainty. All of the things that Julian mentioned about Snowy 2.0, Battery of the Nation. Yep, all good. It won't work unless you get the distribution system sorted, which is why our Rewiring the Nation is absolutely critical to ensuring we can connect power from where it's generated to where it's going to be used in.