Release type: Transcript

Date:

Interview — Sky News Live Afternoon Agenda with Kieran Gilbert

Ministers:

The Hon Stuart Robert MP
Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business

Topics: Australia-France relations, AUKUS, Cleo Smith

E&OE-------------------------------------

KIERAN GILBERT:

Let’s go live now to the Employment Minister, Stuart Robert. Minister, thanks so much for your time. The Prime Minister says it’s time to move on with the French. But clearly, the Ambassador is not of that view. How do you move on? What can you offer them to try and cool things down?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Thanks, Kieran. Can I first of all, agree with the Ambassador about our shared history that goes a long way back, including militarily. The Ambassador and I are of one on that account, and the importance of our history. I understand this issue has got a lot of salience. I understand that the French are disappointed. And it’s always difficult to disappoint friends. 

But in our national interest, Kieran, we cancelled a contract, with a company. We didn’t cancel a friendship. We didn’t cancel a nation-to-nation. We just cancelled a contract because our national interests warranted it. 

Now I understand people are disappointed, but we have to stand up for what’s right for Australians. Indeed, the opposition joined us in support at the time, almost a bipartisan decision, if you like. Therefore the Prime Minister is quite right. Whilst disappointed, we worked through our disappointments, because relationships are bigger than that. 

KIERAN GILBERT:

But it goes to the very core of the problem, I think, here. You’re saying, and the Government says it’s a commercial deal cancelled. The Ambassador and the President say this is a strategic partnership that was building, and trust building, that’s been severed. They’re two very different prisms. 

MINISTER ROBERT:

I think Paul Kelly’s article in The Aus is an excellent piece today, Kieran, in understanding the geopolitical issues and ramifications that exist across this. It is a commercial deal. But it’s a commercial deal that involves one of the most sensitive and complex systems that nations hold dear to their heart. Being submarines. So there’s always an interplay between the commerce of the transaction and the national secrets that lie with submarines. So I understand the disappointment, but it’s still a contractual basis. We were operating in line with a contract. The contract has been cancelled because our national interest warranted it. 

KIERAN GILBERT:

[Interrupts] And the Prime Minister lied to Macron, according to both the President and the Ambassador. Was that a necessity? Was that a lie that had to be made out of national security reasons in terms of the deal being stitched up with the UK and the US?

MINISTER ROBERT:

I don’t accept that the Prime Minister lied at all, Kieran. The Prime Minister can’t announce a decision until the National Security Committee of Cabinet, the National Security Investment Committee, and indeed, there’s a ship-building committee of Cabinet, has gone to the issue and then brought it fully to Cabinet. At that point, a decision’s made, and the Prime Minister, through collective Government, can act upon it. At no point before that decision process occurs can the Prime Minister act with absolute confidence.

KIERAN GILBERT:

[Interrupts] But he’s encouraging the French along the way to say, oh, you've still got hope. You’ve still got hope in this. Revise your plans. They were of the view that they still had a chance.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well the Prime Minister has to operate- well, until such time as Cabinet’s made a decision, the existing contract remains. So the Prime Minister is absolutely right in honouring the contract that was signed between Australia and the French company.

KIERAN GILBERT:

[Talks over] So no lie?

MINISTER ROBERT:

The Prime Minister has not lied at all.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Finally, before you go, there was some good news, finally, some great news actually, out of Perth, out of Carnarvon in WA. The little four-year-old found by police there. You must share the joy of so many around the nation watching that.

MINISTER ROBERT:

I think I share the relief. It's every parent's nightmare, Kieran. It's almost unimaginable, and I'm incredibly relieved. Can't even begin to imagine what those police officers thought and felt.

But it's distressing to think that a child can be snatched from a campsite. Now there will be an investigation. We're not going to jump to conclusions in where it sits, and the judicial process will follow. 

I think there's enormous relief and I'm so glad for the parents and for the police, and what the community has done right across the country. But it's harrowing that parents can lose children so, so quickly, and I think every parent will be tucking their children in extra tightly tonight, Kieran. But praise God for the Western Australian police and every other force that assisted.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Well said. I think they will be doing just that. Minister, thank you. I appreciate that today.