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Minister Reynolds: Good Morning. Today we had the privilege, Rear Admiral Mead and myself, to farewell HMAS Toowoomba which is her sixth deployment to the Middle East, and it is the 68th deployment of a Naval vessel to the Middle East since 1990. She left this morning with a complement of 190 well-trained and capable men and women, who are looking forward to deploying, but also, are very well prepared. She will be going to support Operation Manitou, in support of both the Combined Maritime Force, and the International Maritime Security Construct. Her tasking will be determined when she arrives, after an assessment of the situation in the Middle East and of the most appropriate tasking at that time. She leaves with the thanks and the prayers of all Australians, and I know that she and her crew will serve this nation with great distinction as so many before her have. Now I will hand over to the Commander of Australian Fleet, to give us a little bit more information about the mission.
Rear Admiral Jonathan Mead: Thank you Minister. I can only echo what the Minister said, this is our 68th deployment to the Middle East, we spend a lot of time up there and are well versed with the situation and Toowoomba herself has been working towards this mission for the past 12 months. She has spent a good deal of 2019 at sea, she has enhanced equipment and we gave her some additional training as well. I sea rode her a number of times and we are very confident she will be able to fulfil not just the mission, the range of contingencies that may come up not just in the Middle East but with all the ships when we send them overseas for possible options that the Government may employ them on.
Minister Reynolds: Thank you. Any questions?
Reporter: The tasking, when they eventually get to the Middle East, is that likely to be different to what it might have been four weeks ago?
Minster Reynolds: I think, given the volatility and the history of the Middle East it’s a brave person who would predict exactly what will happen in two to three weeks’ time. But let me say that she does go in support of Operation Manitou, in support of the Combined Maritime Force, and the International Maritime Security Construct. When she arrives, we will assess the situation and she will be tasked accordingly. It could be freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz, it could be to counter piracy, it could be to counter drug running, it could be to counter terrorism. She is well-trained for all of those missions.
Reporter: How important is the Strait of Hormuz to Australia?
Minister Reynolds: The Strait of Hormuz is incredibly important for Australia. Freedom of navigation through the Strait of Hormuz is economically, very important for Australia. A large part of our oil flows through the Strait so it is important not just for Australia but also for the globe that the Strait of Hormuz is peaceful and there is freedom of navigation for all commercial vessels.
Reporter: How would you describe the escalation in tensions in the region since when this mission was first announced to how it is now?
Minister Reynolds: Australia has consistently called on all parties to exercise restraint and also for de-escalation. We are pleased to see that this is occurring but again, we always watch very carefully the circumstances in the Middle East because it can change very quickly. It is an important region for Australia but as always, we exercise ourselves restraint, call for restraint from others and also seek de-escalation of tensions.
Reporter: Is Toowoomba the only Australian ship or will it be the only ship in the region or is there scope to send more ships?
Minister Reynolds: Australia is only sending the one vessel. HMAS Toowoomba was always scheduled to go to the Middle East as part of Operation Manitou to support the Combined Maritime Forces. But as Iand the Prime Minister announced last year, she will now also be available for tasking for the International Maritime Security Construct in the Strait of Hormuz.
Reporter: What about the prospect of sending additional vessels?
Minister Reynolds: That is not under consideration at this time.
Reporter: How should she be encouraged to react if she is harassed by Iranian Navy?
Minister Reynolds: I might handover to Rear Admiral Mead, but they do have very clear rules of engagement.
Rear Admiral Jonathan Mead: Thank you, Minister. Just on the previous question there other ships in the region. The Combined Maritime Forces is a construct made up of 32 nations, so 32 countries regionally and around the globe contribute ships and aircraft to that. There are nations contributing to the IMSC as the Minister mentioned, so there are multiple ships up there from multiple countries and aircraft, working in the maritime security space together, collaboratively. And they have been doing that for many years. How would we react to a change in the circumstances? Toowoomba is exceptionally well-prepared. We train them, we drill them. We've drilled them off the west coast here on a range of different scenarios and, as the Minister said, we look for de-escalation and we look for restraint. However, we are prepared to defend ourselves if need be.
Minister Reynolds: Any more questions on this issue? OK.
Rear Admiral Jonathan Mead: Thank you Minister.
Minister Reynolds: Thank you. Other questions?
Reporter: The Prime Minister has said the climate change policy will continue to evolve. What will that mean?
Minister Reynolds: Well I think the Prime Minister was very clear yesterday that there is no discussion or debate at the national level on the need for climate change. The Prime Minister has been very clear, we remain committed to our Paris targets, the 26%, and he has also said that we are looking at new measures; ones that are sensible and balanced and will not impact on our economy.
Reporter: He said that target won't increase. How can you evolve that policy without changing that target?
Minister Reynolds: As the Prime Minister has said he will have more to say about that. But let me again remind you. We are committed to Kyoto, we are exceeding Kyoto targets and we are committed to the Paris targets of 26% and as the Prime Minister has said, if we can exceed those, we will.
Reporter: What else can you do though?
Minister Reynolds: Today, I am the Minister for Defence, and as you and all Australians would expect, my focus is not only on the safety and security of our men and women who have just deployed on the Toowoomba but also the other 2,000 who are deployed elsewhere. It is also on ensuring that the ADF provides the greatest possible response and support to the bushfire effort. So my focus, as all Australians would expect, is on the bushfire crisis.
Reporter: Have you picked up on a shift in sentiment in the community when it comes to climate change and in the wake of those fires and the drought?
Minister Reynolds: After the threat subsides, in probably another two to three months time, there will be time for those discussions at a national level. My focus, my sole focus at the moment, is on the safety and security of our people, including those who have deployed today on HMAS Toowoomba and it is also on ensuring that the ADF supports the bushfire efforts. I am so proud that today we now have 5,000 ADF members on the ground supporting emergency services. That includes the 2,600 reservists who have been called up since last weekend. So my focus is on what they are doing to the help bushfire impacted communities.
Reporter: How can the Coalition convince the community that they are serious about climate change when some of your own colleagues deny the science?
Minister Reynolds: As I said, and as the Prime Minister has been very clear, there is no dispute at a national political level on climate change and the need for action, and that is exactly what this Government is doing. We are meeting our Kyoto targets, we are committed to the Paris targets, to the 26%, and the Prime Minister has said we will look at additional measures to not only meet but to further exceed our Paris targets. My focus, as all Australians would expect, is on ensuring that the ADF mobilises sufficiently to provide all possible assistance to those who have been impacted by those fires.
Reporter: What do you make of the latest newspoll results? Do you think that they speak to a shift in sentiment?
Minister Reynolds: Well clearly, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, this is an unprecedented national disaster and there are a lot of implications that will flow out of this. But I have worked very closely with Prime Minister Morrison since September last year on the ADF response to these bushfires, and I am incredibly proud of what we have achieved, what our nation has achieved, in support of that. This is the largest domestic mobilisation of the ADF in our nation’s history, and that is something as Minister I am incredibly proud of and I know the Prime Minister is also very proud of.
Reporter: Do you think it should have happened sooner?
Minister Reynolds: The ADF has been working in support of our emergency services around the country since September last year and have mobilised the first Call Out of the Army reserves. All Australians should know that we have been in the fight of the Australian bushfires, supporting those emergency services since September last year. As the bushfire emergency has escalated, so too has the ADF response, to the point where today, we have the largest domestic mobilisation of the ADF in our nation’s history and all Australians should be as proud as I am of our efforts.
Reporter: Can you provide an update on Full Cycle Docking and when a decision will be made?
Minister Reynolds: The decision is reasonably imminent, but the Government is still considering some submissions. The Government will make a decision in due course when we are ready to do so.
Reporter: Reasonably imminent? Within weeks?
Minister Reynolds: As I said, the Government will make a decision when it is in a position to make the right decision for this important national capability. Thank you.