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Read all the latest news from Brendan O'Connor MP


September 02, 2021

KATIE WOOLF, HOST: Welcome to the show Brendan.


WOOLF: Very well, Brendan. We were just talking about how the Northern Territory is such a great place to be at the moment and you were meant to be here, but unfortunately you're stuck in Victoria.

O'CONNOR: I know. In fact, I was really hoping to participate in the Run with Dad you've got on Sunday, isn't it? We'd scheduled all of these work events and we're wanting to be part of that great, great initiative that I know you're very, very much part of in terms of creating. And it would just be lovely to get out of the cold climes of Melbourne. But unfortunately the pandemic has restricted our movement. But I wish everyone who participates on Sunday all the very best and have a great time. I'll be watching with envy from afar.

WOOLF: I know. And then you've got Luke Gosling, your colleague, your Labor colleague, he's stuck in Howard Springs at the moment quarantining. He's going to be running on the spots on his balcony he told me.

O'CONNOR: That would be right. He's pretty enthusiastic. Look, it's really good that he's at Howard Springs obviously with those that fled Afghanistan and Kabul. Obviously he's a former ADF personnel. He really feels for the Defence force personnel and those Afghan nationals who worked so closely with our Defence forces, and was very much involved working with the Government I might add, to try and make sure we did whatever we could to get those people out. Now, wish we could have done more, but I think there's been a great effort by people in the last stages to get people out.

WOOLF: Brendan, as Shadow Minister for Defence, what have been some of those conversations that you've had, you know, with servicemen and women who served over in Afghanistan following on from what's happened in recent weeks?

O'CONNOR: They've been quite harrowing. Can I just say the extent to which former Defence personnel have been involved working with the Government and the Opposition federally to identify, locate and assist those Afghan nationals and Australian citizens, I might add in some cases, to be evacuated from Kabul has been remarkable. Because of course, some of these who work so closely with those who worked with the ADF, have personal mobiles and have the ability to contact them. So the combination of Defence personnel working with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, working with the Ministers offices and the Shadow Ministers offices has certainly provided great support to this really important attempt to ensure that we are able to have those leave the very dangerous city Kabul.

Now of course, there are considerably more people that have yet to leave Afghanistan, and of course, whatever we can do in the future, through any diplomatic means, if we can assist in providing support for them in the future, then of course, we'll look to do so. And I think the Government generally is on board with that. Obviously, we need to make sure that there are security clearances and the like, but we know that there are some very good friends of Australia, and that not everyone was able to get out of Kabul in the last days, from the end of the war formally.

WOOLF: It has been such a difficult situation. And I'll tell you what, for all of us in Australia, watching on our TV screens through the news and hearing about it, it's been pretty distressing. And we are glad that we think about 200 people arrived overnight on one of those flights and are now in quarantine at Howard Springs. Brendan, we also know though this week, the Federal Labor Party has actually said that it would launch a new Force Posture Review, to evaluate how the military is positioned to meet the country's strategic threats. That is what Labor will do if elected at the federal election. What exactly does this mean and what would this review include?

O'CONNOR: It will be assessing effectively where our Defence personnel and our assets are located. The last occasion, there was a Defence Force Posture Review in 2012, conducted by the Defence Minister Steven Smith. In fact, it was that review, which led to the United States Force Posture Initiative in our north, which was the program that began under Prime Minister Gillard and President Obama. And it was that initiative that led to the Marine rotational force in Darwin. So as you might recall, it started then, and by the way, it's a bipartisan position, supporting the Marines in the Northern Territory.

What we have now is we have a new administration in the United States. The Biden Administration is conducting its own Global Posture Review in terms of where it places its personnel and assets. And clearly, most of the areas we have got personnel located will remain, but there is, without pre-empting, the review, there's clearly more to be done in the north and northwest. And I think that means for the future of the Northern Territory, and for Western Australia and other parts of Australia, I think you're going to see more activity and more presence of ADF assets and personnel over time. But that's really for the independent review to determine. But you can see the shift, if you like, to the Indo-Pacific, generally.

The fact that the United States is conducting its own Defence Posture Review, it's timely then I think that Australia considers doing the same. And for that reason, Anthony Albanese announced on the 70th anniversary of ANZUS on Wednesday that we'll be looking to do that.

WOOLF: Has the Morison Government committed to doing the same? Or do you think that no matter who we select at the next federal election, realistically this is something that needs to happen?

O'CONNOR: They haven't formally made such an announcement. But I do believe, given the 2020 strategic update in terms of our national security and the ADF I'd be very surprised if the Government is not seriously contemplating that. When it comes to national security, Katie, as you know, we certainly would rather work in a very bipartisan manner. And I do believe the Government would be considering this. But certainly Labor's made the decision that we would be conducting such a review if elected. And I, of course, impress upon the Government to consider doing the same so that the two major parties would be in the same position. That would be of course the preferable situation.

I just think it's timely. I think we had a review under Kim Beasley in the mid-80s, and then, of course in 2012, under the Gillard Government, and I think it's now time. We're ten years' on, it's time that we looked to do the same.

WOOLF: We very often hear Brendan that the Northern Territory, and indeed the top end, that Darwin is strategically important when you talk about the Defence force. But you know, if we were to do a review like this, what do you think, what kind of changes do you think we could anticipate for us here in the Northern Territory?

O'CONNOR: Well, I just think, you know, again, without pre-empting the review itself, that there is a greater likelihood that we look at the north and northwest. I think it's fair to say that there might have been more of a focus on the Pacific, but that now, this Indo-Pacific region is clearly delineated as a priority for the United States. And not just the United States, the quad partners, India, Japan, our regional partners. The fact that that's becoming more of a focus, if you like, globally, then our northern coastline, and our North Western coastline, we will be seriously considering what we do.

Now, you've got some very significant bases in the Territory, and some very significant assets of the Australian Defence Force. Well, I can't help but think that's likely to increase given the need to focus on the Indo-Pacific region. Given the fact the United States is certainly refocusing its posture and reviewing it currently, I just can't help but see that if anything, the Territory will play even a larger role. It already plays a very important role, but given its location it is likely to play a greater role in the future.

WOOLF: Well, Federal Shadow Minister for Defence, Brendan O'Connor, it's always good to catch up with you. Thank you very much for your time. And hopefully soon enough, Victoria is out of the situation you guys are and you're able to travel to the Territory again.

O'CONNOR: Thanks, Katie and all the best for Sunday.

WOOLF: Thank you very much.