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Brendan O'Connor

Politics with Michelle Grattan: Labor defence spokesman Brendan O'Connor on China and Ukraine

Labor defence spokesman Brendan O'Connor on China, Ukraine

Ahead of the election, Scott Morrison is trying to wedge Labor on national security generally and China in particular.

Opposition defence spokesman Brendan O'Connor tells this podcast: “National security is the the greatest priority of any federal government in order to protect the interests of the country and citizens. But we should not be politicising national security for base political purposes and that’s been on display now for certainly the last couple of weeks.”

“It is a critical issue and will always be a critical issue, but it shouldn’t be debased in the manner in which Scott Morrison has chosen to do so recently.”

On China, O'Connor indicates the difference under a Labor government would be one of tone rather than substance.

“We need to use temperate language in order to maintain peace and stability in the region. That’s not for a moment to suggest we do not call out acts of aggression or coercion.”

(The Essential poll, published on Tuesday, asked which party respondents would trust to build a relationship with China in Australia’s best interests. It found 37% favoured Labor, 28% nominated the Coalition and 34% were unsure.)

O'Connor describes Russian’s President Putin’s move on Ukraine – recognising two breakaway regions and deploying forces for “peacekeeping” – as “a blatant fundamental breach of international law”.

“Our position therefore has to be that we engage with our friends, particularly the NATO states and the United States, as to what best we can do to reduce the likelihood of any invasion by Russia of the Ukraine.”

O'Connor says Labor has concerns about a possible Australian defence capability gap between the current Collins class submarines and the delivery of the first submarine under AUKUS. But how a Labor administration would deal with that gap would depend on being comprehensively briefed in government on options.

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