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September 02, 2021

KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Let's bring in the Shadow Defence Minister Brendan O'Connor now for his thoughts on a big, big couple of weeks internationally. Brendan O'Connor, thanks very much for your time. What do you make of that warning from Tony Abbott, particularly in the context of this week, we mark the 70th anniversary of Australia's most important Security Alliance.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Well, you're right, it has been a big week. And for that reason, it was important that the parliament formally reflect upon the 70th anniversary of the ANZUS Treaty. The treaty that was forged by John Curtin, but formally entered into by the Menzies Government and a bipartisan approach to that treaty, I think, ever since. And whilst I understand the concerns of the former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, I think it would be wrong to assume that the people are not aware that the national security agencies, that the Australian public generally are not aware of the elevated tensions in the region.

It’s really reinforcing how very critical our engagement with not only the United States, but our other partners. And for that reason, Labor supports the engagement of the Quad, involving Japan and India, increased engagement in the region generally. And for that reason, it was Labor this week that announced the need if elected to commission an independent Defence Posture Review, which will coincide with the Biden administration, defence Posture Review of the Indo-Pacific. I think that's really important, given the circumstances that we face and to ensure we're going to new vigilant-

GILBERT: Can you elaborate on that for us? Because we heard the Defence Minister Peter Dutton talking about the enhanced missile capability. Is that the sort of thing you'd be looking at with your proposed Defence Force Posture Review, if you win the next election?

O'CONNOR: All Defence assets would be will be up for consideration in terms of their location, in terms of the manner in which they're positioned. The last Defence Force Posture Review was undertaken in 2012, that in part led to the Marine rotation that we now see in Darwin. The one prior to that was in the 1980s. I think, 10 years on, it will be it would be fitting that we have an independent assessment as to whether we have placed our assets and our personnel in proper locations. And that will coincide with the decision by the Biden administration to have a Global Defence Posture Review, which we know of course, we'll be focusing on the Indo-Pacific.

So we know there's an elevated interest by the United States in our region. We know there's been a changed relationship between ourselves and China. And we know, therefore, we have to be vigilant to protect the interests of the country and our citizens.

GILBERT: Now, this these remarks from the Taliban spokesperson described as repugnant by the Foreign Minister, suggestions that the Australians who died in Afghanistan died in vain. Triumphalism from the Taliban. Not a lot appears to have changed with that group.

O'CONNOR: No, I mean, the Foreign Minister is correct, they are repugnant and contemptible, but not surprising. And as Penny Wong also indicated, I think, in the end we will assess the Taliban regime on its conduct, not its words, and we are sceptical that they have significantly changed. Let's hope they have for the sake of the Afghan women and girls and people in general, and people who'd like to see some democracy flourish. But let's be frank here, that is not likely. And therefore the world is, I guess, watching to see how they will respond. Now that the US forces and NATO forces and Australia and others have withdrawn.

GILBERT: And Brendan O'Connor finally, do you agree with Daniel Andrews that we've got to start reopening at 70, 80% and start living with the virus? Or do you agree with Annastacia Palaszczuk who says that more research has to be done on the impact on kids?

O'CONNOR: I agree with the Doherty plan that's been signed up to by all governments that we have to be cautious, but there has to be hope as well, and we need to carefully open up when we can provide the vaccination density is sufficient. Now I think it's fair to say some people are reading the plan selectively, and I think if they focus on the plan itself, if we can accelerate the vaccinations - let's be honest, the speed by which we're vaccinating is good Kieran. But the delay we've had with respect to the vaccination has been bad. So we were critical of the Federal Government not getting the vaccination right earlier in the year, or late last year. But I'm glad to see the people of Australia rolling up their arms.

I mean, that's really the only way that you're going to get to play golf. And people more importantly, and more seriously, people will be able to live their lives normally to the extent that's possible. So if we follow the Doherty plan and not just be selective, then I think we're going to see, then we can look towards some optimism heading to Christmas. But there's still a long way to go. We've still got obviously a lot to do in the next few months.

GILBERT: There certainly is, Brendan O'Connor. Thanks so much.