Transcript – ABC QLD Regional Drive with Annie Gaffney - 5 November 2021

Subjects: Submarines, COP26, Cleo Smith

ANNIE GAFFNEY: Gee, it's been a spicy week in the news. And here to add a bit of mango chutney as we chew over the events of the week are QUT Political Analyst and former Beattie-Bligh Government Minister John Mickel is back. G'day, John, nice to have you with us.
JOHN MICKEL: Good afternoon, Annie.
ANNIE GAFFNEY: And Central Queensland comedian Jodie Van Der Wetering is here as well. G'day, Jodie.
ANNIE GAFFNEY: Nice to have you here. And Queensland LNP Senator Amanda Stoker is with us this week as well. Welcome, Senator. Great to have you with us.
AMANDA STOKER: Thank you so much, Annie. And hi John and Jodie.
ANNIE GAFFNEY: Let's start with Australia's rapidly deteriorating relationship with France and the explosive allegation laid by French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday against Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, in an interview with the ABC's Andrew Probyn.
Now those five words - I don't think, I know - kicked off this really intense week of back-and-forth you simply don't see between nations, and especially between allies.
Scott Morrison's initial response was to accuse the French President of maligning the Australian people.
Except that Emmanuel Macron have been pretty clear, his comments were directed specifically at Mr Morrison, not the Australian people.
Now, from there, things just got worse. The Prime Minister continued his strident denials of having lied, saying he'd made everything clear to the President at a dinner in Paris back in June.
And then he levelled up with Mr Morrison's office, apparently leaking a text message sent by Macron in September, just before the AUKUS announcement, saying, should I expect good or bad news for our joint submarine ambitions? Which itself prompted outrage from the French Ambassador to Australia, who described it as an unprecedented new low.
Now, that sounds like a message directed as much to the rest of the world as it is to the French and Australian people. Amanda Stoker, let's start with you. How damaging is all of this to reputation in the international community?
AMANDA STOKER: Look, I'm not overly concerned about it. It reflects, to my mind, the French playing up to domestic political considerations, quite frankly. They've got an election coming up, and it helps the president to look as though he's fighting hard for French firms, and you would expect him to. But if we put this in perspective, we're not married to France. We're not in a situation where feelings should take first place. We've had a commercial contract with a French firm. They weren't on time. They weren't running on budget. We'd made it clear that we weren't happy. They couldn't be surprised. And so for it to escalate in this way reflects, I think, the earlier petulance we've seen around the decision to go to the nuclear subs. Australia is never going to do anything other than acting its own interests, and that's what we have done in the AUKUS subs deal. And the fact that it didn't work in France's favour should not have been a surprise to them at all.
ANNIE GAFFNEY: I mean, things don't work out all the time at a political level and between different countries over agreements. We can't always come to the same page, so to speak. But never before have I heard one ally leader call our Prime Minister a liar on a global stage.
AMANDA STOKER: Look, nor have I. I've never seen a country retract its ambassador over a firm from their country not having a contract with the Australian Defence Forces, or any other Australian firm. And I've also never seen a Prime Minister have to defend his honour and integrity in the way that this has generated. But to me, that reflects a mismanagement of the initial response at the French end rather than anything else. Australians in these roles should be expected to robustly pursue Australia's interest, and that's exactly what the PM has done.
ANNIE GAFFNEY: John Mickel, we still don't know whether Scott Morrison lied to Emmanuel Macron or not, but at this point, does it even matter?
JOHN MICKEL: No, it doesn't. It's probably the most incompetent performance by an Australian Prime Minister in living memory. What we've got- France is now, and has been for some time, the most important European power in the Indo-Pacific. With the departure of Angela Merkel in Europe, Macron will emerge as the leading spokesman in Europe. What that- you've only played part of the leak. There was a leak against Macron, that is true. But equally, there was a leak against the US President, Mr Biden, which found its way into the national daily, The Australian. Now what has happened here is this: the Prime Minister initially said there'd be no issues with the contract. When the matter blew up, he said there were issues; cost blowouts, and you've heard the Senator say that. The trouble is with that; the people handling the contract told the Senate Estimates last week that there were no such issues at all with the contract. Regrettably- and Labor will play with this - and whether it has a lasting, domestic, Australian political impact is another thing - but you will play to the narrative that Labor is saying Morrison will never claim responsibility. Some journalists, as a result of this, and even a former Liberal prime minister, has said that Morrison lies. And certainly, this whole thing, he has disassembled. He- in the part you played, it showed Macron had never cast doubt on Australia. He'd cast doubt on the Prime Minister. And yet, in the disassembling that Morrison is now getting a reputation for, what you heard on the part that you played, is a disassembling. You heard Minister- the Finance Minister today say that it was the journalist who had caused the trouble. The journalist only asked the question. At least that's been my encounter with you, and he simply asked the questions. And what they are now playing as a narrative of, oh, we'll move on. Well, they're going to have to move on, but - and here's the big but - Australia's reputation for confidentiality has been torpedoed by this event. And in diplomatic circles, they can argue that Macron may have overstepped the mark. They can argue that maybe Morrison had to answer back. What you can't get away from is that confidentiality at a diplomatic level with Australia has now been torpedoed.
ANNIE GAFFNEY: Jodie, former foreign minister Julie Bishop says all of this does matter, and if we're worried other nations won't trust us in negotiations, she maybe has a point.
That would be an unprecedented diplomatic move, Jodie. Is it realistic, do you think?
JODIE VAN DER WETERING: Probably not, and shouldn't be necessary if everybody involved would just act like grown-ups. This whole thing sounds like a bunch of teenagers having a big squabble in a group chat. You said so. No, I didn't say that. You said that. No, well, I said. Well, I heard from him, and well, I'm going to take a screen cap of your text and share it in the group chat. It's like, really, guys? Can we have a little bit of steak from Shipley's? Like, it's embarrassing. Like, come on. I'm not saying I could do better, but that's why I didn't go into politics and try to become Prime Minister either.
ANNIE GAFFNEY: The Prime Minister, Amanda, has said that we all just need to move on.
Is that even possible, Senator, do you think, after what's happened this week?
AMANDA STOKER: Look, I think it is possible. And I think that statement from the Prime Minister reflects an attempt to do exactly what Jodie has just suggested, and that is to try and elevate this beyond the weeds and get on with what matters. And the best way we can do that as a country is continue to act in the interest of Australians all the time, and that will mean acting with consistency and with strength in our leadership role in the Indo-Pacific region in which the French also, as John has observed, have a keen interest. Our interests align. Those are opportunities to rebuild the trust. But look, no one, I think, is perfect in this story. But the message that says it's time to move on is, I think, an attempt to get back to behaving with the kind of elevated method that we expect in diplomatic terms.
ANNIE GAFFNEY: John, US President Joe Biden has been dragged into this mess as well, with some claiming he effectively through Morrison under the bus by telling France he had no idea Australia hadn't discussed the cancellation of its contract with them, which is something relevant ministers across the Australian Government have flatly rejected. Could the US President have a case to answer here?
JOHN MICKEL: It's quite possible that his advisors didn't advise him. That is possible. But the US President is going to throw Australia under a bus to preserve NATO and an alliance with France if that is the case. It is possible that the Australian media have misread what Biden was saying. It could have been that Biden was firing a salvo at his
own advisors. It may well be also that he was firing a salvo at Morrison. I'm not sure on that one. But you can't walk away from the fact that Australia's reputation has been damaged by this completely and utterly inept performance. I can remember being on this show several weeks ago, and I can remember saying to you, I sure hope that the only communication with the French President wasn't via a text message. Well, it seems that it was.
ANNIE GAFFNEY: Now, Jodie, finally, the submarines we were getting from France were actually nuclear subs that were being converted to diesel because we hadn't wanted the nuclear option. Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who also seems to enjoy speaking unkindly of the Prime Minister, pointed out that if it was just a matter of wanting nuclear subs, we could potentially have done that without shafting the French. Here's a little of what he had to say earlier this week on that. And I'm sorry, I'm just going to have to zip through to that little piece of audio here. But here's what he had to say on that.
Does he have a point, Jodie?
JODIE VAN DER WETERING: An interesting thing. I was reading up on this today, trying to get my head around what on Earth is going on, and there is a, apparently, a diesel-powered option we could have gone with in the first place. So now I'm baffled about why you would order the nuclear-powered option, but then ask it to be retrofitted into a diesel if there was already a diesel version we could have gone with. So I'm sure there's a good reason for it. I mean, people with training in military strategy make these decisions, I hope. But from a layman, just sort of sitting here trying to figure it out as it comes across my timeline, I'm baffled. I'm so baffled.
ANNIE GAFFNEY: 4:20. You're listening to ABC Radio Queensland. Jodie van der Wetering there, comedian and our former ABC colleague; Senator Amanda Stoker, LNP Queensland Senator; and former Labor MP John Mickel in the Bligh and Beattie Government years. He's also a political analyst. Are all chewing the fat with us over the big news stories of the week. All right, let's head to Glasgow now. And of course, the reason the Prime Minister was overseas getting his nose bloodied by the French President, it seems, in the first place was because world leaders were supposed to be saving the planet from climate change at COP26 in Glasgow. There've been a few notable agreements there. One that Australia is a signatory to is one to end deforestation. That's an agreement Indonesia and Brazil have both agreed to. Amanda Stoker, how important do you think that agreement is?
AMANDA STOKER: Look, it is important. But what I think is even more important to take away from the COP meeting is the fact that ultimately while there were no big agreements struck by world powers on the kind of drastic setting of targets that
cater to the extremes of this debate instead, there was a real interest in all of the side chats about the use of technology and how to invest in it in a way that will allow nations to improve the rate at which they produce emissions in a way that doesn't harm the existing and traditional industries. What's interesting about that is that is exactly the Australian plan. It's about using technology and not taxes, about expanding the choices in the market, not forcing government mandates, and it's about driving down the cost of new energy technologies. So the very fact that the rest of the world, once we got out of the room with the journalists, was focused so much on new technologies tells us we're actually leading the world pack on this front.
ANNIE GAFFNEY: You may be leading the world pack on that one, Amanda Stoker, but what about fossil fuels, John? Australia hasn't signed up to some big agreements over fossil fuels, around reducing methane, for instance, ending coal and ending the financing of fossil fuels. Those sound like big, grand plans that have been made there at Glasgow. But we're not the only ones who haven't signed up of course; China, the US, India and Russia have also refused to back the end of coal. And the UK, which is trumpeting its support of that, remains reliant on offshore gas and coal. So how much of this is progress and how much is just political posturing, John?
JOHN MICKEL: The- you're quite right. The big players, China and Russia, weren't there. India has committed to something out at 2060. The document that Scott Morrison was waving around had- really wasn't anything other than something to wave around, because it was a nod to the inner city that they were doing something, but it was also a nod to Queensland that everything will stay the same. There are actually no market signals in any of this to change any behaviour. The one thing- there were two take-outs from this: keep your eye on the New South Wales Environment Minister - I think he's now Treasurer - Matt Kean. An interview he gave recently, he is probably the leading proponent on this if you're- if the environment something where you want an intellectual discussion, I think Matt Kean is the politician in Australia to watch out for. The other interesting point was the shift by the previous finance minister in the Morrison Government, Mathias Cormann, who's now got a job in Europe and is now advocating everything that he wouldn't advocate for while he was a politician in Australia. So we got two divergent things. Matt Kean, Liberal Party Treasurer, now, I think, leading voice in Australia. And the interesting shift has been the one from Mathias Cormann. But in terms of shifting on fossil fuels, Australia, I left out the United States. Biden has not been able to get through the US Congress any change in fossil fuels either. So don't beat up too much on Australia about that, because the leading players in the world did not shift on that particular issue either.
ANNIE GAFFNEY: Climate activist Greta Thunburg, Jodie, was denouncing the whole thing just a couple of days ago.
Is she right, Jodie?
JODIE VAN DER WETERING: I think she's got a point. They're com- I mean, we've been talking about things for so many years, and we've heard so many grabs from so many people in suits and so many people with- but what- nothing's actually changed. It doesn't- we're still getting dire predictions from scientists and projections showing that we're heading towards a very bad place climate-wise. And we're taking our sweet, sweet time doing anything about it. I think the fossil fuels thing always is- fascinates me, because regardless of your stance on climate, regardless of your sense of whether or not you want to leave a habitable world to your kids, we're going to run out of them. They're not making any more. So it- the smart money has to be on planning what are we going to do when we run out of coal and gas and oil and all the things that are currently keeping our comfortable 21st century existences ticking over. It can't not be front of mind, surely.
ANNIE GAFFNEY: And finally-
AMANDA STOKER: Jodie, can I-
AMANDA STOKER: Sorry, I beg your pardon. I was going to say, Jodie, it's great that you are thinking about that in the long term, but there actually has been a lot of progress. Our emissions are now more than 20 per cent less than they were on 2005 levels, while our economy has grown 45 percent over the same period. We have done more in terms in emissions reduction, than Canada, Japan, New Zealand, the US. We're doing, actually, in Australia, a really good job. And the fact that we're investing in technology is how we prepare for a world in which there may not be fossil fuels. So I want you to have confidence that that long-term planning is happening, and it's happening as a part of this strategy.
ANNIE GAFFNEY: Let's move on to a miracle…
JODIE VAN DER WETERING: We've also got the-
JODIE VAN DER WETERING: Sorry. Go ahead. I was just going to say, we've also got the senator driving around Rockhampton in a ute with I love Coal written on it. So, it's going both ways.
ANNIE GAFFNEY: Alright. Let's move on to our final story, which is a good news story. It was a miracle, in fact, when Western Australian Police found Cleo Smith alive and well weeks after she was abducted from her family's tent at the Blowholes Campsite near Carnarvon was.
It was the best words to hear ever. Cleo seemed healthy, she seemed happy, she was untraumatised. And this is not how stories like this usually end. John, how did you react when you heard that Cleo had been found?
JOHN MICKEL: Like any parent would. I've got a little granddaughter, and of course, it's absolutely a miracle, as you said. And part of the miracle is the outstanding police work, that forensic detailed analysis that those police officers went through. I mean, who couldn't be thrilled at what was achieved there and the reuniting of the little girl with her parents? Fantastic, fantastic and great news at every level.
ANNIE GAFFNEY: A man has now been charged over Cleo's abduction, and WA police say finding Cleo has been very much the result of good police work. But some Indigenous advocates say the effort putting into finding her isn't replicated with First Nations children when they go missing. That might sound farfetched, but the numbers bear them out. A University of New South Wales study in 2021 found First Nations children make up 34 per cent of all missing children, but those kids don't get the same level of public attention as white kids. This is the auntie of a 10-month old indigenous boy named Charlie, who was tortured and then killed in 2013 after being kidnapped by his mother's former partner.
Amanda Stoker, what do you think? Do we? And by that, I mean our whole society, not just police, the media, the politicians, the public, do we pay less attention to a missing baby if they're Indigenous?
AMANDA STOKER: I'd very much hope not, because every child is precious and quite frankly, skin colour shouldn't come into it. My heart breaks for the family of Charlie, not just for what they've experienced, but if they feel as though they didn't get a fair go at the time, well, that's not good enough. But I don't actually know the ins and outs of how that case was run. I'd hope it's not so, but if it is, I'd encourage everybody who bears the important responsibility for investigating these things to treat every child as precious. And I like to believe that they do. I haven't seen any evidence to suggest anything but that.
ANNIE GAFFNEY: Jodie, how do we fix this situation if that is true? And clearly, the family of that little boy believe it is.
JODIE VAN DER WETERING: I think if you look at social media, social media was- it swung into action when poor little Cleo was missing, there were people sharing things out the wazoo and there was so much sharing and passing that information around and making sure everybody knew. And yes, there are a few social media experts who really need to take a seat as well, but do posts sharing kids who are from different backgrounds or facing a minority- part of a minority or facing different challenges, do they get shared as much? Do they get a million likes? Do they get passed around? I think you're absolutely right. It's not the police thing. It's an all of us think about actually making sure we're amplifying it, wherever it happens. Yeah.
ANNIE GAFFNEY: Yeah. And with those words will finish our Friday afternoon panel. Many thanks to John Mickel, Jodie van de Wetering, and Amanda- Senator Amanda Stoker. Thanks so much to all of you for joining us and sharing through the big stories of the week. Appreciate your time.

Media Contacts:
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Authorised by Senator The Hon Amanda Stoker, Liberal National Party, Queensland