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June 26, 2023

SUBJECT | Simon Crean, Russia | 26 June 2023

Pete Stefanovic: We will start with the sad news this morning, confirmation that the former Labor leader, Simon Crean, has passed away. He was exercising in Germany, so it all happened suddenly, but even though he was a different side of politics to you, your thoughts on the loss of a giant of Australian politics.

Dan Tehan: Yeah, lovely to be with you this morning. And this is very, very sad news. The thing about Simon Crean was he was just a genuinely very, very decent person. When I came into the Parliament in 20102, he was one of those people on the other side who would always have a word to you, would always give you some advice, and when I was Australia's Trade Minister, I worked with him very closely when we were negotiating the Australia-EU free trade agreement, and he was very, very decent to work with. There were never any games; what you saw is what you got, very honest, very straightforward. And my heart goes out to his family at this time. He's been taken too soon, and it's very, very sad news.

Stefanovic: And we would agree with you there. Dan, moving on to Russia now, and it's been a dramatic 36 hours, to say the least. What are your thoughts, and observations from afar, on what has happened and what this means, perhaps even for Australia down the track?

Tehan: Well, it's been gripping to watch, and I think all of us were transfixed over the weekend with the development; they moved very quickly, and we're still waiting to see how it will unfold. But there's one thing from an Australian perspective I think we need to be very mindful of, and that is that Ukraine has asked us for military support, and we need to provide that military support at this stage. Putin has obviously been weakened; how weakened, we don't know, but we should be doing everything we can to support Ukraine at this stage. There's an opportunity now for them to be able to take advantage of Putin having been weakened. They've asked for this military assistance, and it shouldn't have to wait for an Anthony Albanese Photo opportunity when NATO meets in a couple of weeks; what we need is that assistance given now. The Ukrainians have asked for it; the Australian Government should be providing it at this very moment.

Stefanovic: We're getting into the ifs now, Dan, but let's say worst case scenario here for Vladimir Putin is that he is forced to step aside, and however that takes shape, we're not sure, but let's say someone else comes in and that would likely be someone who is even more hardline, someone who's much more of a nationalist. What are your concerns about what that could lead to? And in particular, someone, who perhaps is more willing to use the nuclear button?

Tehan: Well, these are ifs, Pete, and hopefully, it won't reach that stage when it comes to people being in charge of Russia's nuclear weapons, who would be prepared to push that button. What we need to do is obviously monitor the situation closely. We need to be providing as much support as we can to Ukraine at this moment and obviously working very closely with our allies to monitor what is taking place on the ground. It's going to be obviously a very important 72 hours. What happens to see whether there is a move on Putin or not? We just have to have to wait to see what happens next. But working closely with allies, watching and making sure we're providing that support to Ukraine is absolutely essential.

Stefanovic: Just on the Newspoll, finish up here, Newspoll says the no campaign is surging further ahead, and that means the Yes campaign is falling further behind. It is a continuation of the trend. Is this how you suspect this thing plays out when the referendum is ultimately held?

Tehan: Well, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese made two mistakes. The first was he didn’t commit to bipartisanship when it came to this referendum. He announced what he was going to do on election eve, and all he’s done is stuck to that and hasn’t been prepared to consult and take a bipartisan approach. The second thing is that he's treating the Australian people with contempt; he’s not explaining to them how it will work. Take Victoria, for instance; we know we’ll get two representatives on The Voice. We don't know whether they're going to be appointed or whether they're going to be elected, whether they come from regional or rural Victoria, or if they'll be city based. No one has a clue, including our local Indigenous leaders in Victoria. So, the fact that he didn't seek bipartisanship and he won't provide the detail always set this up to be a very difficult referendum, and I think he needs to go back to the drawing board and think again about the approach he's taking.

Stefanovic: Dan Tehan, good to chat, as always.

Media contact | Sandie Gustus 0408 564 232