Karl Stefanovic & Sarah Abo, Today Show

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Former Prime Minister Paul Keating’s comments on the AUKUS deal.

Karl Stefanovic: Welcome back. As the government spruiks the thousands of jobs created in the $368 billion AUKUS submarine deal, there's been some friendly fire from Paul Keating.

Sarah Abo: If you could call it that. The former Prime Minister unleashing, calling AUKUS the worst deal in all history.
[National Press Club of Australia plays]

Paul Keating: For 360 billion, we're going to get eight submarines. Must be the worst deal in all history. There's three leaders stand there, only one is paying. Our bloke, Albo. Running around the Pacific Islands with a lei round your neck, handing out money, which is what Penny does, is not foreign policy. [National Press club of Australia ends]

Karl Stefanovic: Whoa.

Sarah Abo: Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Tim Watts joins us now. Good morning, Tim. I mean, he didn't mince his words on your senior there about Penny Wong. Was he right?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Look, I've got enormous respect for what Paul Keating did in government, as I think all Labor people did. But that's a government that finished in 1996. I was reflecting on this last night, that it's a bit like Michael Jordan. He was the greatest of all time in the ’90s with the Bulls, but when he came back with the Wizards in 2000, things had changed. And things have changed for Australia's strategic environment since the 1990s. We're seeing an unprecedented build-up of militaries in our region and it's important in that context that Australia responds. If we want to maintain stability in our region, in the Indo-Pacific, we need to invest in the capability to deter conflict. And that's what we're doing with this acquisition.

Karl Stefanovic: There's no doubt about how smart Paul Keating is. Are you guys saying now that he's just an old fuddy-duddy or something?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: I would never say that about Paul Keating. But what I do say–

Karl Stefanovic: This is the problem, right? What he's saying is, so far against what the government is doing, it's almost smashing right up against it in a very purposeful way, and none of you have the guts to come out and say, he's lost it.

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Well, as I say, Paul Keating did great things in government in the ’90s. But we are governing today in the 2020s and Australia's strategic circumstances are serious in the 2020s. What we can face at the moment is an unprecedented military build-up. So, this submarine acquisition is the biggest investment in Australia's defence capability in our history. It's a transformational investment that will give us the capability to deter conflict in our region. It's a contribution to building stability in our region. And with the stakes that we face, we can't afford not to make this investment. These nuclear-propelled, conventionally armed submarines will give us the stealth, the speed, the manoeuvrability, the survivability, and the endurance to protect Australia's national interests and to contribute to stability in the Indo-Pacific.

Sarah Abo: But being the smart man that he is, he's obviously absorbed all of that information and he's still saying it's the wrong call. What if he's right?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Look, the people that I talk to in my job as Australia's Assistant Foreign Minister in Australia, in the region, our defence experts, our intelligence experts, counterparts and governments throughout the Indo-Pacific. They understand what we are confronting in our region. They understand that there is an unprecedented military build-up. And if you don't respond to that unprecedented military build-up, if other countries don't acquire the capability to deter conflict, that produces instability in the region and allows one country to dominate other countries in the region. And we can't allow that to proceed.

Karl Stefanovic: Someone's got to come out and just say, “Uncle Paul needs to take a holiday.”

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Look, as I've said, he was the bloke in the ’90s with –

Karl Stefanovic: Ok, I got you, I got you, I got you, I got you. Good to talk to you, mate. Thank you.

Media enquiries

  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555