Scott Morrison has dismissed claims his rhetoric over redlines in the Solomon Islands has backfired, while saying he still does not know the ultimate cost of scrapping the French submarine contract.
The Prime Minister, making a defense industry funding announcement in Western Australia on Friday, also defended the scrapping of an armed drone program that the government had previously welcomed and would soon provide capabilities.
The continued pressure on the cost of defense projects comes as Morrison sought to avoid interference in the political debate from his predecessor Malcolm Turnbull, who watched from New York as disgruntled Liberals ditched the party for teal independents.
Morrison was in the fringe seat of Labour-held Cowan to promise to train 1,500 more Australians for jobs in the manufacturing and defense technology industry, with a $108.5million extension of an existing pilot program.
As the Coalition seeks to project a tough national security message, Morrison has continued to face questions about China’s security deal with the Solomon Islands and the resulting rift with his counterpart, Manasseh Sogavare. .
Nearly two weeks ago, Morrison said Australia and the United States shared the same ‘red line’ when it came to opposing a Chinese military base in the Solomon Islands, without specifying what action. could be triggered if this line is crossed.
Sogavare told parliament this week that the Solomon Islands were being treated like kindergarteners and he lamented that the countries involved in the deal implied a “warning of military intervention” if their national and strategic interests were compromised.
Asked on Friday whether his red-line rhetoric had further endangered Australia’s national security, Morrison replied: “No, I don’t think it has.”
The Prime Minister said he had always been “very clear” about Australia’s national security interests and the “very high level of support” Australia had provided to both the people and government of the United States. Solomon Islands.
“When it comes to dealing with the coercion we see from the Chinese government – whether it’s here in our region, in the Southwest Pacific, or anywhere else in the Indo-Pacific , there is no government, there is no Prime Minister, who has been more forward-thinking in resisting this coercion in the face of the world,” Morrison said.
Morrison said canceling France’s conventional submarine program last September was one of the toughest decisions he had to make because it would have “pretty serious ramifications”.
But the prime minister was unable to say what the likely full cost of that cancellation would be, noting that negotiations with the French naval group were not yet complete.
“I will not anticipate such a commercial negotiation. That would be silly. It would be reckless.
Defense officials told Senate Estimates on April 1 that Naval Group had indicated how much it was looking for “without prejudice,” but that was still subject to negotiation.
Asked about Turnbull’s intervention and division within the Liberal Party, Morrison told reporters in Perth that he “[doesn’t] share his point of view. He warned that electing independents would cause ‘chaos’ – but declined two opportunities to say whether he would quit in the event of a hung parliament.
Although Morrison stressed that he “has always treated former prime ministers of both political persuasions with the utmost respect and dignity”, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce took a more aggressive approach against Turnbull.
“Mr Turnbull’s approach is that if he doesn’t get all the gifts under the tree, he’s going to create some form of chaos that will weaken this nation where we stand,” Joyce told Sky News.
‘It’s not about Mr Turnbull simply throwing away his old allegiance to the party that made him Prime Minister of Australia, it’s the fact that…he will inherently inspire a process that is weakening our nation.’
Morrison has also been pressed to quietly scrap a $1.3 billion armed drone program to partially offset the cost of the March budget’s cybersecurity package dubbed Redspice.
Labor has promised, if elected, to urgently review the Coalition’s ‘baffling’ decision to scrap the armed drone programme, but Morrison said there were ‘still tough choices to be made in matters of defence”.
Earlier on Friday, Anthony Albanese held an increasingly aggressive press conference aimed at questioning the fairness of questions asking him to recite the six points of the Labor Party’s National Disability Insurance Policy.
“People have a right to ask questions,” he said, after arguing Thursday night that the media was too focused on the “small sentences.”
Albanese brushed off the interjections, telling reporters ‘I’m in charge’ and ‘you’ve had your chance and now it’s my turn to answer’ as they pepper him with questions about his recovery from Covid and the NDIS.
“Let me tell you what the NDIS is. It’s not about trick questions.
“Leadership is about determining when there is a problem, identifying it, and then coming up with solutions.
“We did it in government. We created the NDIS. We do this from the opposition under Bill Shorten who…provides solutions to stop the cuts and put people back at the center of the NDIS.
Albanese forcefully rejected the suggestion that the response did not rule out cuts, rounding up the media for pressing him on the point. “It’s an example of what keeps people away from politics. You can’t get a clearer answer than that.
Albanese described holding a royal commission on covid as a “very important” idea but declined to commit to the timetable, noting that the pandemic “is still having an impact”, with 50 dead in a single day when he had been isolated.
Later, Morrison noted that government officials attended Senate Covid committee hearings during its two years of operation.
“My aim is to continue to manage Australia’s response to the pandemic,” he said. “And there will be a time to address these issues once the pandemic is over.”