Interview with Michael Rowland, ABC News Breakfast

Michael Rowland
AUKUS; the National Reconstruction Fund. 

MADELEINE MORRIS: Welcome back on this Friday morning, it is great to have your company. You are with us here on News Breakfast today. And the Prime Minister is refusing to be drawn on reports Australia could secure two types of submarines as part of the AUKUS nuclear deal. Anthony Albanese is in India trying to strengthen defence and trade ties with that country. But the focus has very much shifted sharply towards next week's meeting with US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in San Diego.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: The three leaders are expected to announce more details of the AUKUS pact on Monday with leaked reports this morning from both sides of the Atlantic suggesting the government will buy American subs as a stopgap measure before securing a British design for its fleet. Joining us now from Canberra is Industry Minister Ed Husic. Minister, good morning to you.


MICHAEL ROWLAND: Very well, thank you. What can you tell us about this looming submarine deal?

ED HUSIC: It's probably but having me on as a guest and the first thing I say is not much. 

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay, but tell us what you know.

ED HUSIC: Look, putting jokes aside, clearly the PM's flagged next week we will be releasing more details around this. The first concern of any government, regardless of political colour, is national security and making sure our defence capability not just meets the times now but into the future. We obviously had this deal coming into government that we now have responsibility for into the long term and we want to make sure that that capability is right. We've got key partners in the US and the UK that we're working with on those things. We also want to make sure clearly that with that investment and with the industrial capability we have, we've got to contribute to that - letting those pieces or finding a way to make those pieces work is really important. So again, a lot more will be clearer next week, but if you don't mind, I might leave that to the Prime Minister, rather than responding to some of the reports we've seen today.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Sure but as Industry Minister, hypothetically, if we were to buy up to five of these US submarines they'd be made over in America, would the Australian government, put money towards those US shipbuilding areas and facilities where these subs will be made for us?

ED HUSIC: I appreciate you want to put hypotheticals to me, but if you could appreciate it's very difficult for me to respond, given the complexity and sensitivity of this deal. And again, I think you will to some of your questions, you will see those answers emerge soon. But it is important to note that in this country we do have, and I do meet from time to time with a lot of great Australian firms that are providing capability to defence and they'll obviously be keen to see how they can contribute and they will be very enthusiastic partners to step forward and say, "we're happy to work". And there's a lot of stuff that happens, a lot of capability expectations from defence where local firms can play a part, not just on this deal, but on other things. And obviously we're working too to see that. And the National Reconstruction Fund that was passed through the lower house yesterday has a priority area around Defence where we want to invest in building capability onshore. So there's a lot of work that can be done.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay well, let's turn now to the National Reconstruction Fund. As you say, it has gone through the House of Representatives. How confident are you you'll get crossbench support in the Senate for it?

ED HUSIC: Obviously, you have to wait and see how those negotiations work. I don't want to pre-empt them. I'll tell you what though, Michael, I have been enormously grateful for the way in which the Crossbench and the Greens and others have engaged. I think they recognise that this is a moment where we can build a lot more capability onshore. We have some of the worst manufacturing self-sufficiency in the OECD and this is a big investment through the NRF to make that happen. It's hugely disappointing that the Coalition decided to turn their back on Australian manufacturing and refused to engage. But I make the commitment if they're interested in rejoining the talks, we won't crow if they decide to do so. I think we need this to be a moment in time where the Parliament works together to build up a nation building fund with enduring value to the country. And we need to see the Parliament work in a way that is cooperative, constructive and thinks about the long term.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: The Greens are trumpeting this as a win for them in the sense that the fund, according to their view of it and the negotiations, won't be able to make direct investments in coal, gas and native logging projects. What do you say to that?

ED HUSIC: I think the big thing and if I can emphasise to your viewers, the big thing about this fund is the Prime Minister has wanted us as a country to think about value add instead of just doing the mining of critical minerals where's the value add. For example, making Australian made batteries onshore to meet the needs to reduce emissions and also reflecting that we've got some of the greatest rooftop solar generation in the planet. And thinking about value add is really important. When the Greens put that forward to us as a concern, we assured them at the time that this is not what this fund is about. It's not about just extraction or logging, it's about the value add. And we know that we can do a lot more if they needed the assurance in writing, by all means have that. I don't want to read too much more or too little into what's been said. But again, the fund was never about what the Greens were concerned about, and we were happy to agree to that amendment if that's what was required to get them on board. And we're grateful for their support and for others.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: I just want to finish with something outside of politics, but it's one of our main stories this morning and certainly something that's got people talking for all the wrong reasons, and that is the ejection last night of a fan from that Panthers-Rabbitohs game for allegedly racially abusing Rabbitohs star Latrell Mitchell. And investigations underway. How should codes like the NRL deal with fans if these allegations stack up and find that Latrell Mitchell was racially abused?

ED HUSIC: I just saw this, Michael, as I was coming on. Forgive me, I had such a big day yesterday and I'm not as obsessive a sport fan as people who obviously would want us to be. But on that issue, I do think that this is not just something for codes, and I respect that, the fact that the NRL does a lot in terms of trying to be a lot more inclusive. They won't say that they've got this all right and that they've got to work on it. And the NRL, for example, particularly with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities, does want to make the code feel welcoming and supportive. I think we've got a broader conversation in the country to deal with on that issue, because from time to time, they spark up. It's not just in this code, it's been in others. And I do think we need to take a step back and go, what is acceptable behaviour that certainly isn't? We are a stronger nation when we bring people along with us and we make people feel included. And racism is that corrosive element that weakens who we are as a people and holds us back from what we can truly do. And we shouldn't have people feel on the basis of either their colour, their gender, their ethnicity, their religion. We shouldn't be putting up these barriers. We are better than that and we should find ways to tear those barriers down and make us feel a lot stronger and unified as a nation.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Absolutely. Ed Husic, appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.