MARISE PAYNE: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for joining me here this afternoon. I’m very pleased to be in Darwin this week to meet up with local colleagues, of course, but also to make a very significant announcement in relation to Defence’s engagement with local business.
Defence and I have decided to institute a process we are characterising as the requirement for a local industry capability plan to be produced for all of our significant infrastructure work. That is obviously very important here in the Northern Territory, in terms of the presence that Defence has on the ground here, and one which has been very warmly welcomed by key organisations and businesses, indeed, here in Darwin today. I’ve participated in a roundtable this morning with the Master Builders and a number of other peak groups, a number of senior business representatives to explain to them the details and the background to the local industry capability plan.
We’ve also made some decisions in relation to how we will break up contracts to enable access, if you like, for local businesses, and make that easier for them as well. We have a very significant infrastructure spend laid out in the Defence White Paper, which of course was launched in February of last year. These are what we called the key enablers for Defence. It enables us to do the job we need to do to protect Australia’s national interests and to support our presence in the region and more broadly. They are very, very important parts of what we do within estate and infrastructure. So, with the Deputy Secretary of the Estate and Infrastructure Group today, we have - in response to very constructive engagement from local business here in the Northern Territory - made a significant step in enabling them to participate more in the work that we do, enabling them to compete and to win and to make sure that local industry is leading the way in the Defence work that is being done in the Northern Territory. I’m very happy to answer any questions.
QUESTION: The Northern Territory has been very active with presenting their case. Have you also been equally bombarded by other states, particularly regional areas, because I notice this pilot has been rolled out in Queensland as well, in relation to the Defence spend and how critical it will be for the other states moving forward? Are you also under pressure from the other states? Is that why you’ve made it national?
MARISE PAYNE: Well, we’ve made it national because it needs to be national. I think it’s the right thing to do, and you reference the pilots – both the Explosive Ordnance pilot, which will involve not just Darwin, but 11 other sites in Australia – two pilots around training areas in central and northern Queensland. That is about us saying that it makes perfect business sense, it is absolute common sense for us to work with businesses that are proximate to the base or the facility or the training area. It’s value for money, it’s entirely logical, and this is a way of reinforcing that and also formalising a process so that we make sure it is business as usual for Defence, and business as usual for local industry. So I wouldn’t say under pressure in that way, but certainly strongly encouraged.
QUESTION: What stopped the logic before?
MARISE PAYNE: I think that the work that we have set out in the Defence White Paper actually provides the opportunity to do this. So it has been developed over a period of time, it is based on our Force Structure Review and what we need. It’s an area of Defence which has been ignored historically. If you want to find money in Defence, well, let’s just move it out of estate and we can get back to that later. We can’t afford to do that anymore. We have new capabilities coming online, and the NT is a great example for that. RAAF Base Tindal, for example, in terms of accommodating F35s, in terms of accommodating the KC-30A tanker, the work that we need to do is integral to this, and we will make sure that as we work through those projects we implement these local industry capability plans.
QUESTION: How important was this program in Shoalwater Bay near Rockhampton after Singapore invested 1.2 billion in that area?
MARISE PAYNE: Well, that hasn’t started yet. So, the Shoalwater Bay example, which is one of the pilots, is actually regular estate and Infrastructure work that needs to be done at Shoalwater Bay, but what we have in our Memorandum of Understanding with Singapore for both Shoalwater Bay and for Townsville is engagement of local businesses in very similar terms to this particular undertaking, so I think it will be very productive for Central and North Queensland.
QUESTION: Residents in Katherine are really worried, including Defence personnel, that their drinking water is contaminated with PFAS. What do you have to say to those residents?
MARISE PAYNE: This is a very serious legacy issue for governments, not just in Australia and not just the Federal Government, and across the world, frankly. So whether you are a facility that has used the firefighting foams for training, as Defence has historically, whether you’re a rural firefighting unit that has had use of the foams for training, and a number of industries around the country, it is an issue. We phased out the use of the foams when it became apparent that they didn’t break down in the environment; we followed appropriate guidelines there. But we understand, in terms of the work that is being done in the environmental and the health space, that the health advice continues that there is no clear advice in relation to the health impacts at this point. It is underway in terms of studies, and the Australian Government is contributing funding to a particular health study for that as well. For precaution, though, we have provided safe drinking water for those families who do rely on bore water. So that is the key issue in terms of the water access. We have provided safe drinking water, we are supplying rain tanks and things like that, and working very closely with the Northern Territory Government in the implementation and establishment of a water treatment plant in Katherine which will also help ensuring that the PFAS is removed.
QUESTION: How can you say that there’s no clear advice on the health impacts of PFAS, when what we’ve seen in Fiskville in Victoria is direct evidence of a cancer cluster that is related to PFAS exposure?
MARISE PAYNE: So, I’m not a health expert. I am relying on the advice, of course, that comes from the Commonwealth Department of Health, the Chief Medical Officer, and the Deputy Chief Medical Officer. They work in the international environment on this issue, and that remains their advice. Now, I am required to observe that advice. That is part of the Commonwealth’s approach. We take our health advice from the Commonwealth Medical Officer, Department of Health, but we are very clear about saying that, as a precaution, we are endeavouring to do everything we can to supply people with water so that there needs to be no concern in relation to that.
QUESTION: [Inaudible question]
MARISE PAYNE: It’s being installed in September. It needs to be tried, tested and it should be up and running by October.
QUESTION: My understanding is it can only produce one megalitre per day. On average, Katherine residents consume 10 megalitres per day, and that’ll peak to 15 megalitres per day in the busy October. How do you justify the installation of the plant?
MARISE PAYNE: So the Northern Territory Government is working closely with the Katherine services and various organisations in Katherine to put in place some water management, as I understand it. We are contributing to that from the Commonwealth with the water treatment plant. We are continuing the testing and evaluation process which is underway on human health and on environment and on the ecology aspects of this, as we have done in other key areas in Australia. It’s very, very important to make sure that the steps that we do take are based on the testing outcomes, and what are known to be the exposure pathways. We are making that contribution at this point in time to assist in the process in Katherine. We will continue to work closely with the Northern Territory Government on that.
QUESTION: You’d have no problems drinking the water in Katherine if that’s the case? If the medical advice …
MARISE PAYNE: I would take the advice of the Chief Medical Officer, that’s correct.
QUESTION: But would you personally drink the water in Katherine?
MARISE PAYNE: Yes.
QUESTION: People in Darwin are understandably quite concerned about the events that are going on in North Korea at the moment. Will the Government consider a defence missile shield for Northern Australia?
MARISE PAYNE:I think it’s a much more complex question than that, in fact. What we are seeing in the behaviour from the North Korean regime is both provocative and illegal. The Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister and I have been very clear about the approach that we are taking in the international community, and indeed, the UN Security Council is taking, to not only condemn those actions from the regime, but also to adopt a series of sanctions to impose those penalties on the regime for their behaviour. Australia also imposes autonomous sanctions on North Korea. A number of those are still coming into operation as it were, and we have to use every single possibility we have of making those sanctions operate, come into force, and have the impact they need to have on the North Korean regime. We cannot take a step away from engaging from North Korea, endeavouring to have the conversations in the region and more broadly, and making sure, as the Prime Minister has said and has made very clear, that we also encourage China to use the leverage that it has available to it - which is very, very significant - to engage with the North Korean regime and to persuade them of the folly of their ways, particularly in terms of this unlawful activity.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Thanks everyone. Thank you.
MARISE PAYNE: Thanks everyone.