01 December 2020

SUBJECTS: China’s offensive tweet; military awards.
PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Stephen, good to see you thanks so much for joining us this morning. I just want to talk to you first of all about China. This has come from China overnight and I quote, this was the response to the Prime Minister’s statement yesterday: “The Australian side is reacting so strongly to my colleague’s twitter. Does that mean that they think the cold-blooded murder of Afghans is justified? The Australian government should feel ashamed of this and pledge such crimes should not be repeated.” What did you make of that response overnight?
STEPHEN JONES, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: A little bit overheated, like this whole affair. Got to make this point, the only reason that Australians and the world know about the alleged crimes that have occurred by a minority of special forces over in Afghanistan is that we had an internal review that produced a report, that published that report so that Australians are the rest of the world would know about it. Now, there's not many other countries around the world, democratic or otherwise, who would have done that and set those standards for themselves. So I think there's a lot of consternation, and I've got to say a lot of shame, about the allegations that have gone on in Afghanistan. But absolute pride in the way this has been handled by the Australian institutions. I think we've done a good job. Yes things have gone very, very wrong over there in Afghanistan, but we're owning up to it, sticking our hands up. And there’'ll be consequence of it. There's no lot of other countries who do that.
STEFANOVIC: When you say it’s overheated, by who?
JONES: Look, I think there's been a steady escalation. I also want to make this point: You know, I've been pretty critical of a bunch of the missteps by the Morrison Government, the failure to deepen the relationships. I think some of the ways they've gone out solo on a few things over the last 12 months. Frankly, I've been critical of them. I don't think it's always been well-handled. But the one thing I've got to say it is inclined to make me put those things aside and build political unity on an issue has been the tweet that went on yesterday and the response to that the last 24 hours. If the intention of that was to sow political division, it’s done exactly the opposite.
STEFANOVIC: Yeah, but I mean that the position that the Government has taken over the past few months, when it comes to foreign investment, when it comes to Covid, I mean this is all this is all fair enough surely?
JONES: Couple of things to say we're not the only country in the world which is encountering difficulties in the relationship with China, which is adopting a different posture. Not the only country in the world. I think they have singled us out in a few issues and they’ve taken the opportunity to play tit-for-tat on some of the comments that have been made by Australian Government members and the Prime Minister. So look, I don't think that's always been well-handled. But like I said, I want to emphasise the fact the tweet that went out yesterday, the message that went out yesterday; deplorable, condemned by all Australians. And it has been an issue that’s brought political unity over this particular issue.
STEFANOVIC:  Do you think it was right that the Prime Minister reacted the way he did? Because some critics have suggested this morning that it was overly emotive, particularly from the Lowy Institute I note.
JONES: Look, what I think matters more than anything at the moment is that we don't unnecessarily accelerate or add to tensions. So I think what needs to occur now is for us to take a little bit of heat out of this. Yes, we can stick by our national values. Yes, we should call something out which is both juvenile and deplorable as that was yesterday. But I think it behoves all of us to try and do whatever we can to get the relationship back on an even keel. Now a big thing, a big challenge for the Government on this I’ve got to say, is that we're going to have to start doubling down on reaching out to a lot of those multinationals for a that we’ve spent the last six or seven years bagging as a Government. I think the Prime Minister, who referred to some of those forums as “negative globalism”, is going to have to recant on some of that and is going to have to be working through those international for a with our allies with our partners to ensure that we can normalise some of those relationships.
STEFANOVIC: How do you do that though? I mean how do you take the heat out of it when the Australian Government and its officials in China are desperately trying to get China on the phone? They’re just not picking up. Meanwhile, they’re getting on Twitter and they’re making these inflammatory posts. It's all one-way traffic.
JONES:  Yeah look good point. We need deep person-to-person relationships. Of course, it should be led by the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister and members of the executive. But we've got extensive business ties, extensive academic ties, extensive civil society ties and they should be activated to ensure that we can do whatever we can to improve the relationship.  Take some of the heat out of it and get things back on track. Repeat again, not the only country in the world that is going through some of these difficulties. Which means that all of those other countries in the world that share our values and share a desire for an international rules-based order, for us to be able to deal consistently with our international trade and other relationships with China and every other country, are able to get that back on track. It's in the interest of Australia. It's in the interest of a stable world. Certainly in the interests of Australian workers and businesses we get that back on track.
STEFANOVIC: Do you fear that there will be tariffs on more Australia goods, particularly iron ore?
JONES: Look, deeply concerned. Australia is the largest iron ore exporter in the world. At any one point in time the absolute majority of iron ore on board ships is flowing out of Australia and into China. Yes, they're reliant on it, but that won't always be the case. So I think it's critical that we are able to take some of the heat out of the relationship and ensure we use every avenue available to ensure that we don't get worse. That it doesn’t spiral further out of control. So much is at stake for Australia and the rest of the world and we need to get this right.
STEFANOVIC:  Stephen, just a couple quick ones before you go. Angus Campbell, he seems to have retreated from his position to revoke meritorious unit citations. That a good thing?
JONES: Look I think it is. I believe in individual responsibility for individual crimes. I think asking the entire unit to accept collective responsibility for the behaviour of what appears to be, what we know at the moment to be, no more than 20 individuals as a bit rich. And I've also got to say the calls for some of the senior brass to take individual responsibility, and some of them need to fall on their sword as well, I think those calls are well-placed. Bit rich for the seniors, for the top brass, to be meting out punishment against innocent people within the special services if they're not willing to take some of the medicine themselves.