Minister for Defence – Transcript – Centenary of submarines launch, Darling Harbour, Sydney

Transcription: E&OE
RE: Centenary of submarines, reporting of allegations against Navy personnel, Collins Class.

MINISTER:

Thank you for coming along today to this important event. 100 years ago two British manufactured submarines sailed through Sydney Heads and gave Australia a whole new strategic capability. For me this great day in commemoration has some mixed emotions. As many of you know I have not said very much about the ABC commentary on my Navy personnel operating out of Darwin. I have not said much because I have to confess I was extremely angry and have required a period of time to cool off.

We now know that the original commentary on the ABC was not correct. The good men and women of the Navy, the Royal Australian Navy, have been maliciously maligned by the ABC and I am very dissatisfied with the weasel words of apology that have been floated around by senior management of the ABC. Now let me just put this in context.

For the last four years Customs and Navy have actually saved thousands of lives on the water between Australia and Indonesia, between Christmas Island and Java.
Nine Navy personnel were blown up on SIEV 36. The coroner said that those people deliberately detonated the boat.

My people have been spat on, abused, treated like servants and have endured all of that to save more than 1000 lives, and yet they have also had to endure the horror of fishing out hundreds of people floating dead in the water. I am absolutely sick to the stomach that this Australian iconic news agency would attack the Navy in the way that it has.

The Minister for Immigration, who has done a magnificent job, has said everything and more that can be said about the appalling commentary that the ABC has mounted against the Royal Australian Navy. Let’s get the record straight: They are heroes, they have done a courageous – laden with integrity – difficult task thrust upon them by probably one of the greatest policy failures Australia has ever seen. I want to stand here and say thank you to them, they have done a magnificent job.

JOURNALIST:

Minister a detailed account was published today in Fairfax media along with 21 questions put to your Department, why weren’t any of them answered by your Department? Why do you let Scott Morrison handle your portfolio?

MINISTER:

Sure. Let’s get this straight. Border protection, with over 50,000 people on 800 boats coming in four years, is a civil public policy issue, it is not a military exercise. We need military skills, we need military logistics and capability, but it is a civil public policy problem. Immigration and border protection need to be kept in the context of a civil public policy output.

JOURNALIST:

Why not look into it? Why not put the doubts to bed and investigate these allegations?

MINISTER:

Because the ABC has a responsibility. If ever there was an event that justified a detailed enquiry, some reform, and investigation into the ABC, this is it. They themselves have cast a giant shadow over the veracity of their reporting, and yet they besmirch these hardworking people.

JOURNALIST:

Fairfax has added to it today there’s a detailed witness account, allegations, stating that some misbehaviour happened. Notwithstanding the all the heroes you’re talking about, why not investigate these allegations of a small number of misbehaviours?

MINISTER:

You see, small number of misbehaviours? Some misbehaviours? Let’s be a bit careful about what we say here, please.

JOURNALIST:

It’s an allegation, I appreciate that.

MINISTER:

It’s an allegation; yes well let’s see something concrete. I have got people on nine-day turn-arounds to Christmas Island, I’ve got Post Traumatic Stress to deal with, I’ve got people who have at the behest of the Government manned these boats in sea states four and five, thousands of nautical miles from home, and I’ve got unsubstantiated allegations. Let’s get a bit real here and give somebody a bit of natural justice please.

JOURNALIST:

Why not knock it on the head? Why not knock the allegations on the head?

MINISTER:

Well let’s see the allegations first then, let’s have more than just rumour, innuendo and hearsay please.

JOURNALIST:

We’ve got pictures and eyewitness accounts.

MINISTER:

Well show them to me.

JOURNALIST:

What inquiries has your Department undertaken that have given the Government such confidence that nothing untoward has happened?

MINISTER:

I have discussed this matter with senior command and they assure me – and we are one of the world’s best performers of interdiction – they have assured me that there is no substance to these allegations. Now let me just remind you and bring you to the reality of people trying to disrupt what we’ve achieved. The Prime Minister has achieved what he said he would do, at this point we stand here with a successful policy outcome. That is because of the Prime Minister’s determination and resolute approach to this difficult problem.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think though that some of your Navy personnel could be provoked into behaving inappropriately because of those pressures that you’ve outlined about being abused, being spat on, nine-day turn-around?

MINISTER:

When you give me something to act upon that is more than just hearsay, innuendo and rumour we will cross that bridge when we come to it.

JOURNALIST:

Minister how about this one, there have twice been allegations that the Navy turned off its lights when it was in Indonesian waters, allegedly to avoid detection, can you shed any light on that?

MINISTER:

Why would you view the glass as half empty at every turn of every corner? Please, please. I’m not aware of operational matters, you need to put that to Border Protection Command.

I have the greatest confidence in these people. I have travelled for a week on board an Armidale Class patrol boat, I’ve seen the level of professionalism, and I’m backing them at every turn of every corner.

JOURNALIST:

So you’re not aware of operations involving your own personnel as the Minister of Defence?

MINISTER:

On-water matters in this area, as I’ve tried to explain to you, are a civil public policy matter.

JOURNALIST:

Ok so to clarify, an investigation into these allegations has happened and they’ve been dismissed, is that correct?

MINISTER:

You will need to put those matters to Border Protection Command and the responsible Minister.

JOURNALIST:

But you said you’ve spoken to senior people in Navy and they have dismissed them?

MINISTER:

I have been assured that there is no substance to these allegations.

JOURNALIST:

Well can you explain what the circumstances of the burnt hands were?

MINISTER:

No I can’t, they are on-water matters that are not my responsibility because it is a civil public policy matter.

JOURNALIST:

Who has given you the assurance that nothing untoward has happened?

MINISTER:

Senior command.

JOURNALIST:

Anyone in particular in senior command?

MINISTER:

I’m not going to get into what discussions happen in my office.

JOURNALIST:

Minister you referred to things being in a better place as far as Collins-class sustainment is concerned, can we get a little bit of detail why you feel that?

MINISTER:

Well it’s one of my first priorities. You know before I was appointed the Minister you would have seen me complaining loudly and for a long time over probably 30 episodes of Senate Estimates, I can only say that that a lot of my fears and concerns are starting to abate and I think that is a very good thing. But this service is a very, very difficult and complex force element group. I think things are getting better, I want to encourage them, but I don’t want to say any more.

Thank you.


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