Topics: ADF support to Victoria, China relationship, Brereton Report
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SAMANTHA ARMYTAGE: Now, Australian defence force troops have arrived in Melbourne ready to assist with the State's revamped hotel quarantine system. 172 personnel have been flown in to work alongside the police. It comes as Victoria prepares to welcome its first international arrivals today since July. The revamped system follows Melbourne's infamous second wave where 90 per cent of the infections could be traced back to a family who served their quarantine period at the Rydges Hotel. And for more, we are joined by Defence Minister Linda Reynolds. Minister, good morning and welcome.
SEN LINDA REYNOLDS: Good morning.
SAMANTHA ARMYTAGE: Now, originally there was going to be 220 troops sent to Melbourne. Why was the number reduced?
SEN LINDA REYNOLDS: Well, first of all we've had over 110 arrive over the weekend. They are trained and they're going to be on the job from today to assist with international arrivals into Melbourne. Since COVID started we've had over 3,000 in Victoria alone and 10,000 nationally of our men and women in uniform who have supported all States and Territories. And today actually is quite a landmark because it is the first time we've had people – our ADF in hotel quarantine, supporting quarantine – in every single State and Territory.
We have ‑ so in relation to your question, Samantha, we have had many requests from the Victorian Government and we have supported all of them, except for one, when they did request that we had up to two personnel sitting on every hotel corridor in up to seven hotels. The ADF are not law enforcers and they're not security guards and it would have taken hundreds and hundreds of our people away from their families over Christmas. So we've provided all other support that's been requested.
SAMANTHA ARMYTAGE: Right. Okay. I think everybody is breathing a sigh of relief that we have troops involved in this round of hotel quarantine in Melbourne. Should the ADF be in charge of each State's hotel quarantine system?
SEN LINDA REYNOLDS: No, they shouldn't. As I said, ADF personnel don't have any law enforcement powers in States and Territories and they're not security guards, either. So we've had over 10,000 of our people assisting States and Territories. Everything from quarantine, hotel support, through to supporting quarantine checkpoints in some of our most remote locations across the country. We've had them in aged care. We've had them in hotels. We've had them doing COVID testing. So our ADF personnel are doing what they are trained best to do.
SAMANTHA ARMYTAGE: Yes.
SEN LINDA REYNOLDS: So ‑ but they're not ‑ they're not law enforcement ‑
SAMANTHA ARMYTAGE: Okay.
SEN LINDA REYNOLDS: ‑ Sam.
SAMANTHA ARMYTAGE: But they're a good deterrent to people who might want to sneak out of their rooms, aren't they? It worked ‑
SEN LINDA REYNOLDS: They are.
SAMANTHA ARMYTAGE: ‑ in Sydney. Now, moving on, Minister, while we've got you, Australia and China obviously locked in a tense diplomatic dispute.
SEN LINDA REYNOLDS: Yes.
SAMANTHA ARMYTAGE: It's been heightened by this offensive image posted by the Chinese on Twitter last week. China's deputy ambassador in Canberra has accused Scott Morrison of overreacting, says it up to Australia to repair the strained relationship. What happens now?
SEN LINDA REYNOLDS: Well, Sam, the Prime Minister and this government will always stand up for Australia's interests and that's exactly what we're doing. We are still open to a really good relationship with China. It is an important relationship for both our nations, but there are some things that, whether it's China or any other country, we will always stand up for rules‑based order, for our own nation's sovereignty. So we ‑ we do want a workable relationship with China, but again, we won't do it at the expense of our sovereignty and of our nation's best interests and that's exactly what all Australians would expect us to do.
SAMANTHA ARMYTAGE: Okay. Minister, also while we've got you, there are reports in the paper today that 60 members of the SAS have threatened to quit. They are angry over the collective punishment that's been handed out following this war crimes report, these alleged crimes. You can't really blame these soldiers for being furious, can you? What will you do ‑ what will we do as a country if there is a mass exodus from our special forces as a result of this Brereton Report?
SEN LINDA REYNOLDS: Well Sam, I've read the full report, and this is the most serious issue that any Chief of Defence Force, any Defence Minister and also any Prime Minister has had to deal with in the history of our nation. Don't forget, we're talking about multiples of alleged war crimes, about many, many years of disgraceful behaviour and things that just do not represent my service or the service of almost all of the men and women who serve in uniform. So this is an incredibly difficult issue and it is an issue that will be playing out for many years, both through the courts ‑
SAMANTHA ARMYTAGE: But Minister, you can't blame the entire ‑
SEN LINDA REYNOLDS: Both through the courts ‑
SAMANTHA ARMYTAGE: ‑ special forces for this.
SEN LINDA REYNOLDS: Oh, no, not ‑ not ‑
SAMANTHA ARMYTAGE: What do you say to these other ‑ these other special forces soldiers who are furious?
SEN LINDA REYNOLDS: Look, as I said, Samantha, this does not represent the service of the vast majority of men and women serving our nation now, and in the past. But what I have said many times publicly is that with the 143 recommendations, the Chief of Defence Force needs ‑ needs this time now to go through each and every one of the recommendations and develop an implementation plan, which is exactly what he is doing. So he has said that he hasn't made any decisions yet on any of the recommendations, and that is, I think, as I would expect him to do and also the nation.
These are the most serious issues. They need to be dealt with, but again, it needs to be dealt with calmly and also to make sure that natural justice is afforded those who have been accused of these alleged crimes. But also we need to deal with all of the other behavioural issues and with the issues of how this happened for so long and was not stopped. So those are the issues the Chief of Defence Force is thinking through and working through, and he has my full support in doing that. Because it is essential that we get the process right for the longer term and we do not tar the vast majority of service men and women with the bad behaviour of a few.
SAMANTHA ARMYTAGE: Yep. That's good to hear. Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, we thank you for your time.
SEN LINDA REYNOLDS: Thank you.
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