OLI PETERSON: Linda Reynolds is the Defence Minister and she joins you and me on Perth Live. Good afternoon.
LINDA REYNOLDS: Good afternoon, Oli. It’s great to be back with you.
OLI PETERSON: Should the Government condemn Turkey’s invasion of Northern Syria?
LINDA REYNOLDS: Well look, the Australian Government is deeply troubled by Turkey’s actions and I can tell you that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister have made that very, very clear to the Turkish Government.
OLI PETERSON: Would you describe it as an invasion yourself?
LINDA REYNOLDS: Well, they certainly have moved into Syrian territory, and the main issue for us at the moment, though, is that it is causing great civilian suffering. It’s leading to great population displacement and it will make it very hard to provide humanitarian access to the area. So, it does also have grave consequences for regional security. We are very concerned and watching it very closely.
OLI PETERSON: Will Turkey’s undo the gains that have been made against Islamic State?
LINDA REYNOLDS: Yes. It could definitely significantly undermine the huge gains made by the international coalition, including Australia of course, in the fight against Daesh, against ISIS and ISIL. So, they do pose a serious threat, still. So the answer in short is, yes, Oli.
OLI PETERSON: So the US Government now is enforcing sanctions on Turkey including steel tariffs. Is the Australian Government going to do anything similar – defence exports, for example?
LINDA REYNOLDS: Oli, I'm responsible for Defence exports, and in light of recent developments, I have asked Defence to consult right across government before any new or pending export permits to Turkey are considered. So I've asked for a pause. We are reviewing the situation to make sure that we do the right thing.
OLI PETERSON: As you just said, on a humanitarian level, it is horrific. So, most of the Australians held up there are children. Is the Government concerned for their welfare?
LINDA REYNOLDS: Well Oli, let me be really frank with you. As Minister for Defence, I will not be putting any Australian lives at risk, including those of our men and women in uniform in the ADF in this area. It is a highly dangerous situation. It is highly unpredictable, and the Government’s policy is really clear. We want to deal with foreign terrorist fighters as far away from our shores as possible. So Australians who are involved in supporting terrorism, who may have fought with terrorists in Syria or Iraq, they still pose a significant threat to Australians. So, for us it's very, very clear. Anyone fighting with or providing material support to ISIL or other terrorist groups is committing a serious crime and will be subject to the law. So again, it is a complex situation and we will not be putting the lives – I will not, as Minister for Defence – be putting the lives of any other Australian at risk in this circumstance.
OLI PETERSON: But can we categorise all these people as that, Minister? Because the father of one woman in the camp argues many of them were taken against their will. So, has the Government, I suppose, in the characterisation you just told me of these people, is that being a little bit unfair?
LINDA REYNOLDS: Look Oli, these are people who have gone to Syria and Iraq from Australia as jihadis, as brides of jihadis, and they have chosen – to go to this area. Many of many of these women have been fighting themselves. And some of these children, in fact, many of these children have been taught to hate and to kill pretty much from birth. So, we absolutely have sympathy for those caught up in the situation there. But my first priority is to make sure that all Australians here in Australia are safe, and so are the lives of our men and women in uniform. They have gone to an unstable and unpredictable area. But we have to consider what is in our best interest. And as I've said, we want to deal with people who have been fighting for terrorist organisations as far away from our shores as possible.
OLI PETERSON: So do you have any advice saying that any of these people are a danger to Australia?
LINDA REYNOLDS: Well Oli, you wouldn't expect me to talk about intelligence that we receive, but I can tell you this, that many of those people who have gone over to become foreign fighters or have gone over there – men and women – are terrorists. And they have fought for ISIL, for Daesh. So, not all of them over there have been duped or tricked. We have men and women over there, and now their children, who wish us harm. And I am not, as Minister for Defence, going to put any man or woman in uniform at risk in a very dangerous and volatile situation.
OLI PETERSON: I want to turn to the WA Government’s attempts to pinch the maintenance contract for the Collins-class submarines from South Australia. In fact, have a listen to this ad. We’ve been running it extensively here on 6PR.
ADVERT: Maintaining our nation’s submarines, the best team is right here. The State Government is now on a mission to secure all maintenance of Australia’s submarines. We have highly skilled apprentices ready to go, with more than 3000 jobs to be created over the coming decades. We have brilliant WA businesses who’ll apply their skills and it will inject over $8 billion into the local economy.
It’s in the national interest to bring all Collins-class submarine maintenance to WA. Join our mission. Search Defence West.
OLI PETERSON: Gee, it’s a good ad, isn’t it? It is in the national interest, wouldn’t you argue, Senator Reynolds?
LINDA REYNOLDS: Well, I have heard and seen those ads and I’ve got to say, Oli, I'm a little bit bemused about why the State Government is running those ads. I would have thought they should have been spending the money on making the Henderson Shipyard world-class and not running these expensive ads, because they won't sway me. But Oli, context is really important here, and let me just explain to your listeners what full cycle docking actually is. Many West Australians probably don't realise that the Royal Australian Navy’s Collins Class submarine fleet is actually based at Fleet Base West on Garden Island in Western Australia. And in fact, most people probably don't know that two of the three cycles of submarine maintenance is already done at Henderson by the Australian Submarine Corporation. So when we're talking about full cycle docking, which is what the ads are referring to, it's actually a two-year long service that's done every 10 years on all of the submarines, which is basically a full overhaul to turn it into a new boat. So that's the bit that we're talking about. It is an issue now, Oli, because this government is going to be building the new fleet of submarines, called the Attack Class submarines, in Adelaide from the early 2030’s. So as that work ramps up in Adelaide, the Government's got a decision to make: do we move all of the maintenance for the submarines to Henderson, or do we leave the full cycle docking in Adelaide? So that's the decision that the Government has to make. But can I be frank with you, Oli? There's only one decision for me to make as the Minister for Defence, and that's what's in the best interest of the Navy and also of our nation. So I'm waiting for advice from Defence, which I expect to receive by the end of this year, and I will then be taking the decision in the national interest.
OLI PETERSON: Sure. But taking your Defence Minister’s hat off, putting your WA Senator’s hat on, surely, you’d love it to be here in Henderson? Look at all the jobs it could create, the boost for the Western Australian economy, you’d love that?
LINDA REYNOLDS: Well, of course I would as a West Australian – as would all West Australians – but as the Minister for Defence, I have one decision to make and I have to make it in the national interest, because Oli, we are getting these new generation of submarines because we need them. So, I have to make sure that we have the best possible capability, whether it's fully done in Adelaide or in Perth. But Oli, let me remind you and your listeners that this Government is now building 57 new naval vessels, and 34 of them are already being built in Western Australia, which is creating over 1500 new shipbuilding jobs. So we're not doing this from a standing start, but I would just say: I can only make the decision in the national interest, which I will do when I get the advice.
OLI PETERSON: Minister, does this campaign help though from Defence West and from the Western Australian Government and the lobbying, the parochialism from WA? Does it help in the process?
LINDA REYNOLDS: Well Oli, I only have one decision to make, as I said, and that is in the national interest. And if the West Australian Government wants to spend WA taxpayers’ money telling me something I already know, that is a judgment call for the State Government. But I would point out that Henderson needs a lot of work and a lot of maintenance work to bring it up to world-class standard. So, I would encourage the WA State Government to get their skates on to develop the master plan and put money into Henderson so that it is sustainable in the long term for the creation of jobs.
OLI PETERSON: Okay. When will a decision be made about the maintenance contracts?
LINDA REYNOLDS: For the full cycle docking, I'm expecting a report from Defence later next month and a decision to be made by the end of this year.
OLI PETERSON: Minister, really appreciate your time on Perth Live. Thank you so much.