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AM Agenda -

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Subjects: Abbott’s comments on Syria; Coalition defency policy

HOST: Joining me this morning, the Labor MP Amanda Rishworth and Liberal MP Steve Ciobo. Good to see you both. We’ll be joined a bit later, I should mention, by Liberal frontbencher Senator George Brandis, a bit later in the program. First though Steve Ciobo to you. You’ve heard what Kevin Rudd has to say - his critique of Mr. Abbott’s assessment of the civil war in Syria. Your response to that this morning?

STEVE CIOBO: Well I think that Labor’s seeking any opportunity to make a distraction. I mean, the reality is, if you look at Tony Abbott and his ability to do the job, this man is a Rhodes Scholar, a man who was a senior Minister under the previous Coalition government who oversaw a big department, a big portfolio, a big budget. This is a man who is willing and able to engage around the world and frankly for Labor to try and pretend it’s anything, when in fact we’ve had David Cameron and examples of Barack Obama using similar language in similar ?fora? The reality is it’s nothing except Labor getting hysterical about nothing, instead of focusing on what really matters to ordinary Australians.

HOST: If you look at the fundamentals of what he was saying, as well, Amanda Rishworth, there’s some merit to it, that if you look at the Free Syrian Army, there are, reportedly, elements of Al Qaeda supporting the fight against the Assad regime. So it is a bit more complex than it’s good versus bad in that country.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: Well, of course it’s complex, and it’s a very difficult situation, where there is a civil war going on. In addition, what we’ve seen in recent days is a likely chemical attack on civilians where women and children died. So, quite frankly when we’re talking about this issue we need to do it in a responsible way - in a mature way. And actually recognise the complexities that are actually there. Unfortunately Tony Abbott failed to do that. He failed to do that by simplifying it and embarrisingly, his comments went all around the world. This is from a man who wants to be Prime Minister, but wants to bring it down to goodies versus baddies, baddies versus goodies, baddies versus baddies, I mean quite frankly it’s embarrasing.

HOST: Ok, I’ve got to interrupt you there, Amanda Rishworth, my apologies. We’re crossing live to Tony Abbott announcing his defence policy in Sydney. [Live cross] Tony Abbott there at the Holsworthy Army Barracks. Announcing his defence policy, the key elements include a 2% of GDP spend on defence within a decade and, in the short term, no more defence spending cuts. With me this morning, Liberal MP Steve Ciobo and Labor MP Amanda Rishworth. Now you heard there Mr Abbott and his defence spokesman David Johnson comparing this commitment to, well, the Labor track record, which has had - has got defence spending at it’s lowest percentage of GDP, Amanda, since before World War 2. It’s not a bad comparison for them to make.

RISHWORTH: Well look, what Tony Abbott outlined there is a non-policy. I mean he didn’t outline any details, he didn’t - he said he would have a review and, after 18 months, come up with a policy. The thing that I heard that would concern a lot of South Australians is that he seems to be planning the new submarine program, to put that on ice. That’s what I heard that would send a lot of uncertainty to those people that have been working. The Labor government has been very clear, allocating money to prepare us for those new submarines and there is real concern, I’m sure, in Adelaide, hearing Tony Abbott put that - the new submarines on ice. So, look, to be honest, not a lot of detail, not a lot of information, a review - 18 months we might get a policy. But real concern about the submarines and a lot of people will be concerned here in Adelaide.

HOST: Steve Ciobo, what do you make of Amanda Rishworth’s comments there. It sounded to me like they still plan to push ahead with that program. What did you make of the comments?

CIOBO: Look, Kieran, What Amanda did just sums up where Labor’s at. This is a policy that’s just been announced, literally just announced, and yet Amanda spends the bulk of her time sledging Tony Abbott, sledging the Coalition, and saying how there’s nothing here and it’s all a problem. You know, I think this is what all Australians are fed up with. They’re tired of this negative government, they’re tired of all the negativity surrounding it. What we heard from Tony Abbott was finally some clear air, some big vision, some aspirations about where we’re going to be. And importantly, an attempt to redress the strategic problem that Australia is facing under this Labor government, where they have cut defence spending as a percentage of GDP, as you correctly identified, to 1938 levels. Now we know that that’s unsustainable, We know long-term that presents a strategic problem for our nation, and indeed for our sovereignty. And that’s the reason why the Coalition is determined to put a floor underneath this, and say no more cuts when it comes to defence. And frankly I think Labor should do less attacking and more actually taking time to look at what they’re actually talking about. Because the Coalition’s big on plans and big on a positive agenda for the future.

HOST: When we look at Tony Abbott’s response to some of the criticism about his language used yesterday on Syria, Amanda Rishworth, he did provide, well, a bit of detail and context for those comments. He says Barack Obama, David Cameron have made similar remarks when it comes to that tragic civil war in Syria.

RISHWORTH: Well look, his first reaction, obviously when he originally made those remarks was to simplify the conflict. And it was embarrassing, it made worldwide news, I mean this is from the person that wants to be Prime Minister. There is no sophistication in the way he approached that issue. He tried to backtrack today, and explain it today in his press conference. Obviously he’s had some time to think about it, but in the first instance his reaction was a very simplistic, unsophisticated way of explaining a deeply disturbing conflict.

HOST: Steve Ciobo, he said that the odd use of colloquialisms are - is entirely appropriate. Is it appropriate when you’re talking about international relations and matters of war and peace?

CIOBO: You know, Kieran, I think any Australian watching would understand exactly what Tony was saying. And again, this hyperventillation from the Labor party about these sorts of statements just underscores how desperate they are now in the final week. I mean, everyone gets that this is a tragic situation. Everyone understands that it is a situation that is fraught with difficulties on all sides. No one is pretending for a moment that this is simplistic. But I do think that in the same way that the President of the United States, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and others have, from time to time, in a summary answer, delved into some colloquial language as Tony Abbott did, is absolutely and totally acceptable. And, you know, Labor just needs to step back from the ledge and realise that instead of blowing issues like this up they should be part of the solution which is what the coalition is focused on - recognising that Australia has an important role to play strategically. Tony Abbott brings such a depth of ability to this role, and that’s the reason that I believe that he has absolutely no shortcomings to his ability to become Prime Minister of the country, and to make the big calls correctly on issues like this.

HOST: Steve Ciobo, Amanda Rishworth, thanks so much.