‘Farcical’: PM mocks China plan
Scott Morrison has branded a Labor plan to push back on China through boosting the ABC’s reach in the Pacific as ‘farcical’.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has mocked Labor’s “farcical” plan to push back on China’s influence in the Pacific.
As concerns mount over the Solomon Islands’ security agreement with China, Labor will announce what it says is a “comprehensive plan” for Australia improve its diplomatic, security and strategic ties with its Pacific neighbours and curtail Beijing’s growing influence.
The first element of the plan involves establishing a new $6.5m Australia-Pacific Defence School which would provide local training for defence and security forces.
The second involves doubling Australia’s funding for aerial surveillance of illegal fishing to help 15 Pacific Island countries, who are estimated to lose about $150m a year in lost access and licensing fees.
An Albanese government would also put an extra $8m a year towards the ABC over four years so it is able to boost content to the Indo-Pacific, promoting Australia’s values, identity and interests.
Shadow Minister Foreign Affairs Penny Wong accused Scott Morrison of creating a vacuum in the region that was now being filled by China.
“Labor’s plan will restore Australia’s place as first partner of choice for our Pacific family,” she said.
“Scott Morrison has dropped the ball in the Pacific, and as a result Australia is less secure.
“The vacuum Scott Morrison has created is being filled by others – who do not share our interests and values.”
But the Prime Minister slammed the Labor’s “solution” which he claimed proved the opposition did not understand the issues the region faces.
“They think the way to solve the problem with the Solomon Islands is to send in the ABC,” Mr Morrison told 2GB.
“I mean, it‘s farcical when their answer to solving the Solomon Islands program is to have Q&A in Honiara.
“I don’t think that’s a true reflection or an understanding of the challenges that we face, and we’ve been very focused on investments in the Pacific to keep Australians safe.
“No Australian government has stood up more firmly to the Chinese government’s coercion of our region and Australia and our government will keep doing that.”
However, Labor said the new defence school would expand and improve on existing Australian Defence Force Pacific training activities.
Participants could include the PNG Defence Force, the Republic of Fiji Military Forces, Tonga’s Armed Forces and the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force.
“Rather than just talking tough, we will provide practical support for our neighbours to improve their security and protect their economies,” Shadow Minister Defence Brendan O’Connor said, noting Labor would put an extra $12m a year towards stopping illegal fishing.
“Training for Pacific Island nations to strengthen their own security forces, and doubling aerial surveillance of their economic zones means they avoid losses to illegal fishing.”
In expanding its broadcast reach, the ABC would be asked to focus on building audience engagement in the Pacific and southeast Asia.
Labor’s policy is being unveiled after Defence Minister Peter Dutton warned Australia should be prepared for war amid the threat of China and Russia.
Speaking with Nine, Mr Dutton issued a frank assessment of the situation, encouraging Australians to accept the “reality of our time”.
“We shouldn’t take for granted the sacrifice that was made by the Anzacs,” he said.
“We have to be realistic that people like Hitler and others aren’t just a figment of our imagination or that they’re consigned to history.
“We have, in President Putin at the moment, somebody who is willing to kill women and children. That’s happening in the year 2022.”
He warned China was on “on a very deliberate course” and the only way to “preserve peace is to prepare for war and be strong as a country”.