Interview with Peter Stefanovic, First Edition – Sky News

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australia-EU free trade agreement; cancellation of French submarine contract.
20 September 2021

Peter Stefanovic: Well, let’s go live to the Trade Minister now on the back of the ongoing widening rift between Australia and France, France and the UK, and France and the US as well. It’s all happening. Let’s bring in Dan Tehan. Now, Minister, good to see you. Thanks for your time this morning. I’m just wondering if you’ve been able to just speak to your French counterpart since the contract with Naval Group was torn up?

Dan Tehan: No, look, Peter, obviously I haven’t tried to do that. I’ll be travelling to France for the OECD ministerial meeting in about two weeks’ time, and I look forward to hopefully being able to talk to him then. As part of that trip, I will also be going to Brussels to meet with the EU trade representative, Valdis Dombrovskis. The 12th round of the Australia-EU trade negotiations begin on the 12th of October, and so I plan to be in Brussels to talk to the EU trade representative about that 12th round and the substantial progress that we’ve been making on the Australia-EU free trade agreement, especially in the 10th, 11th and what we hope will be a very good round again with the 12th round.

Peter Stefanovic: Do you have any doubts about that? Is the free trade deal with the EU in any kind of trouble at the moment?

Dan Tehan: Look, all the signals continue to point to the fact that the EU want to continue to have that negotiation. The 12th round will go ahead, and it’s just very much business as usual when it comes to our negotiations on that free trade agreement. Everything points to that fact that it’s in both the European Union and Australia’s interests that we continue that FTA. Obviously in terms of the EU’s desire to get a foothold into the Indo-Pacific, where the economic weight of the world lies, it is there. It was very apparent when I was in Europe in May this year. Obviously for Australia, the European Union is a key and significant market. So the 12th round will go ahead as usual. We’re hoping that it will build on substantial progress that’s been made on the 10th and the 11th rounds as we seek to conclude these negotiations next year.

Peter Stefanovic: Okay. So you’re not expecting any kind of trade blowback whatsoever, if not from the EU then what about just France itself?

Dan Tehan: Well, obviously we have a substantial economic relationship with France itself. It’s one where France exports more to Australia than Australia exports more to France. It’s very much in the interests of both countries, for consumers, for businesses and overall the economic relationship benefits both nations. So I can see no reason why that economic relationship shouldn’t continue to grow and flourish, because it’s in the interests of Australia and it’s in the interests of France.

Peter Stefanovic: So that should be kept as a separate issue as opposed to the torn up $90 billion Attack Class contract?

Dan Tehan: Well, one of the things we always seek to do as we pursue our national interest is make sure we pursue all parts of our national interest with as much vigour as we possibly can. So we pursue the security aspects of our national interests and we pursue the economic interests of our national interest. And since I’ve become Trade Minister, you know, I’ve been very clear that being proactive is one of the things that I want as a hallmark of my time as being Trade Minister. And I’ll continue to pursue our economic interests as vigorously as I can, whether it be with the EU, whether it be with India where I’ll also visit as part of this trip to advance the free trade agreement negotiations we are conducting with India at the moment. So it’s full steam ahead on pursuing those economic interests as far as I’m concerned.

Peter Stefanovic: Should France have been included in those conversations before the announcement last week of the AUKUS agreement?

Dan Tehan: Well, obviously the negotiations and the discussions that were taking place were done at a very, very high level. And secrecy and making sure that only those who needed to know knew what was going on was a hallmark of getting the outcome that was in our sovereign national interests. And when you’re pursuing an outcome like this sometimes keeping it very tight and making sure that it remains at that top secret level is absolutely vital because, as you know, we’re not only dealing with nuclear submarines but we’re dealing with an agreement or a partnership which will enable us to get access to the latest cyber technology, the latest AI, the latest missiles. And one of the things you’ve got to be able to show is that your ability to be able to protect the information that involves being part of a partnership.

Peter Stefanovic: Right.

Dan Tehan: That’s why secrecy was so important when it came to knowing this agreement, which is absolutely in our sovereign national interest.

Peter Stefanovic: But given France has such a large footprint in the Indo-Pacific, why not bring them in as well?

Dan Tehan: Well, obviously we have to make considerations that what ultimately is best for our security in the Indo-Pacific, what sort of arrangements, what sort of partnerships. Now France is obviously a key component of that, a key partner in that. But getting access to this partnership with the US and the UK, a partnership that goes not only across the ability for us to be able to get nuclear-powered submarines but to get access to that missile technology, that AI, those cyber capabilities at the top level is absolutely in our national interest. And that’s why these discussions had to be held at that top level, at that top security level, on very much a need-to-know basis.

Peter Stefanovic: Sure, yeah. But couldn’t AUKUS have been stronger if France was in on that too? I’m not even going to bother working out what that acronym would be.

Dan Tehan: So when it comes to AUKUS, obviously what we’ve been able to do is to get ourselves in a partnership which the US very much limits to countries that they see as capable of protecting the information that they need. Now the UK has been a part of that partnership for over 50 years. That enabled them to get access to the technology to drive nuclear-capable submarines. We now have been included in that partnership, and it’s a partnership not only for submarines – as I’ve said, for missiles, for cyber, for AI. And very much that is what’s driven this partnership and our want to be part of it. Because we very much see it as part of our national interest.

Peter Stefanovic: So it basically wasn’t our call. It wouldn’t have been our call to include them?

Dan Tehan: Well, as part of the discussions that were had with the US and the UK, obviously all these things have to be weighed up as to what in the end will lead to us getting access to that type of capability, that type of capability which will enable us to defend ourselves in the Indo-Pacific.

Peter Stefanovic: Sure.

Dan Tehan: And part of that is that in terms of the US and the UK and their sharing of this, you know, absolutely key capability, this key equipment that you need to protect your nation, they said that, you know, they would have Australia as part of this and, we obviously welcomed that. And it means that, our ability to secure our country has increased as a result of it.

Peter Stefanovic: Do you feel a need to apologise for that, though, when you go and meet your counterparts on your trip? Is that something that you’re going to have to do?

Dan Tehan: Well, I think we’ve made it clear that we understand France’s disappointment with this decision. So I think we’ve got to be absolutely clear in expressing the view that we understand why France is disappointed in this decision. But we also will be very clear that ultimately, in the end, we’ve taken a decision which is in our national sovereign interest and very much in the same way that France makes decisions that are in its national sovereign interest. So I think ultimately in the end that’s the issue that we have to work through so that France understands why ultimately in the end we’ve taken the decision that we have and why we understand when France takes decisions that it does in its national sovereign interests.

Peter Stefanovic: Okay, Dan Tehan, thanks for your time this morning. Appreciate it.

Dan Tehan: Pleasure.


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