Anthony Albanese speaks exclusively to Kieran Gilbert on China influence in the Pacific region, boat turnbacks and Kristina Keneally

Anthony Albanese spoke exclusively to Sky News Australia about a wide-range of topics in his first sit-down TV interview as prime minister, which included his plan to curb China’s increasing influence in the Pacific region, boat turnbacks, and the lessons he has learned in the significant election loss of Kristina Keneally. WATCH THE FULL INTERVIEW.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has unveiled about his government’s plan to “speak about competition without catastrophe” but at the same time, recognizing the rising strategic threat of China in the Pacific Islands region.

In his first sit-down television interview with Sky News Australia’s Kieran Gilbert, one week after he was chosen by the Australian public, he reiterated Labor’s goal to increase engagement with Pacific neighbors in hopes of deterring them away from Beijing.

In April, the Solomon Islands signed a security pact with China that will see the two nations cooperate on maintaining social order, protecting people’s safety, aid, combating natural disasters and helping safeguard national security.

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Mr Albanese was quizzed by Gilbert how his government intended to curb Beijing’s increased influence after it was revealed China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi would propose a climate and free-trade agreement deal to at least eight island nations.

Gilbert mentioned sentiments made by United States’ Secretary of State Antony Blinken days earlier where he marked China as a “long term strategic threat” and added the world wants to avoid conflict and a “cold war”.

“Australia’s pretty much in lockstep with our allies in the United States,” the Prime Minister responded, stressing the perspective was to “not talk up catastrophe”.

“I met with Secretary Blinken when he visited Australia this year and he was at the Quad with President Biden and other significant figures in US foreign policy including Kurt Campbell (US National Security Council Coordinator for Indo-Pacific), who is a good friend of Australia.

“They speak about competition without catastrophe, we need to recognize there is strategic competition, but we need to deal with it in a mature way that recognizes it’s in all of our interest to be peace in the region and security in the region.

Mr Albanese then pointed to his government’s plan to engage in person to person conversations and meetings with officials and dignitaries from the Pacific, highlighting Foreign Minister Penny Wong’s trip to Fiji this week to prove Australia’s commitment to the region.

Asked if he would be able to “resist this push for a greater influence by China”, he outlined the objectives he laid out during his six-week Federal Election campaign.

“It has been a positive start to the government re-engaging in diplomatic activity in our region,” the 31st prime minister of Australia said.

“We went to the election with a positive plan for the Pacific that involved increased cooperation with regard to defence, including a defense school, increased support for maritime security, increased aid of over half a billion dollars, increased action on climate, including infrastructure required in the Pacific to deal with the challenge of climate.

“But also increased parliamentary visits and exchanges, increased work programs for both temporary but also permanent migration program for the people of the Pacific.

“All of this adds up to a re-engagement by Australia with the Pacific – that is so important.”

Gilbert then revealed a source from national security suggested to him the proposal to double the aid in the Pacific region under the previous government was not approved as there was no guarantee a Chinese military base would not be built less than 2,000 kilometers from Australia.

“These are sovereign nations of course and we need to respect that,” the Labor leader said about the decisions island nations make for themselves.

“But at the time, the idea Australia hasn’t suffered from the massive cut in aid when the former Coalition government was first elected defies the same evidence which is there as well as a non-engagement values.”

Mr Albanese stressed that climate change remains the number one concern for the Pacific and it’s one he, along with the US and Biden Administration shared.

“It is astonishing that you had a submission from foreign minister (Marise) Payne, supported by the department of foreign affairs and trade, saying this would make a positive difference to Australia’s standing in the region, as well as on it’s own merit, a responsibility to assist development in the region,” he said.

“The fact that he was knocked back last year just shows a complacency on behalf of the former government and they have dropped the ball.”

Boat turnbacks and Biloela family

Gilbert pushed Albanese on how his government can be strong about turning back asylum seeker boats under Operation Sovereign Borders, put in place by Scott Morrison, yet also allow the Murugappan family back to Biloela.

“Because you can be strong on borders without being weak on humanity and that is precisely what we said we’d do,” the 59-year-old responded sternly.

He stressed he would continue to implement Operation Sovereign Borders in hopes of deterring people smugglers from making the dangerous journey to Australia.

“We don’t see the start up of the people smugglers business. It’s a bad business and we don’t want that to happen and we’ve sent a very clear message and we’ll continue to do so,” he added.

The Murugappan family of four were removed from the small regional Queensland town in 2018 over a visa battle after Nades and his wife Priya arrived into the country separately on boats fleeing war-torn Sri Lanka.

The daughters, Tharnicaa and Kopika, born in Australia, were sent to a Melbourne detention center four years ago before being moved to Christmas Island in August 2019 and then to Perth after being granted a medical evacuation for Tharni.

“We’re a better country than that, these two little girls aren’t threats to our security. They are loved in their local community,” Mr Albanese said.

Labor kept its promise and granted the family bridging visas by interim Home Affairs Minister Jim Chalmers on Saturday.

The excited brood set to return to Biloela in coming days.

Kristina Keneally

Mr Albanese described the Federal Election defeat for his friend Kristina Keneally in the south-west Sydney seat of Fowler as a “big loss” to his team.

The American-born politician granted defeat to local independent Dai Le who snatched the electorate which has been held by Labor since its creation in 1984.

Ms Keneally was parachuted into the seat but many locals were not convinced she represented the region as she lived in the Northern Beaches suburb of Scotland Island.

“Of course, there are,” Mr Albanese said in response to Gilbert’s question about the “significant loss” for Labor and if lessons will be learned from the move.

“You have to learn lessons from an outcome like that and I think the lessons are very clear that the community feels a message.

“Kristina Keneally is a big loss to our team.

She was a value friend, she was the deputy Senate leader and it is a loss but you have to accept outcomes in democratic processes but you also have to learn from them and we will take notes.”

minimum wage

Mr Albanese reiterated his election promise to welcome a wage increase of at least $1 or around 5 per cent on the national minimum wage of $20.33.

Big businesses have since pledged to work with unions to fix the enterprise bargaining system with the help of Labor’s new job summit – set to be held some time in September.

Gilbert asked what the key was to securing a deal.

“The key is the government that is prepared to broker it that looks to bring people together,” the Prime Minister said.

“I’ve said that business and unions have common interest. Business can’t succeed without workers and a collaborative relationship through workers representative through the trade union movement.

“If you don’t have successful businesses, you don’t have union members. We’ve got to recognize that the way to increase both profits and wages without putting upwards pressure on inflation is of course productivity.”

He then declared he would “stand by” and “welcome” a wage increase if that is the decision of the Fair Work Commission.

“I believe it is appropriate for the government to put forward a submission according to our values ​​and I believe they are Australians hold as well,” Mr Albanese added.

Electricity prices

Australian households are increasingly concerned about the rise in energy prices.

New changes from the Australian Energy Regulator on the Default Market Offer (DMO) will see families set back anywhere between $119 and $227 around the country.

Small businesses will be hit even harder with the DMO in New South Wales set to rise between 10 per cent and 19.7 per cent, 12.8 per cent in Queensland and 5.7 per cent in South Australia.

Gilbert asked Albanese whether his plan on an increased renewable presence could put further strain or relieve volatility in the market.

“What they’ll do is help,” he said.

“If you look at our plan for powering Australia, it’s based upon, a key element of it, on the Australian Energy Market Operator’s integrated systems plan to bring the grid up for the 21st century.

“We know the cheapest form of energy is renewables. That’s why making sure we take advantage of renewables and storage and those processes will put downward pressure on prices for both households and businesses.”

Teal independents

Teal independents stunned a wave of blue-ribbon seats with nine females displacing mostly male Liberal candidates in the 2022 Federal Election.

The Climate-200 backed independents all run on a similar platform of tackling climate change at a faster pace compared to Liberal and Labor and legislating a federal integrity commission to investigate political corruption on a Commonwealth level.

“I think we’ll have a good relationship with people across the crossbench,” Mr Albanese said in response on whether he will have a good relationship with the teals.

“I had a constructive relationship with Rebekha Sharkie, Andrew Wilkie and Bob Katter, the whole of the crossbench, over a period of time.

“I’ve had constructive discussions with (Greens leader) Adam Bandt. We’ll talk to people across the parliament. I’m confident that we’ll give Australia a good government that provides the necessary changes and brings people with us.”


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