Topics: Combat rations, Tasmanian agriculture and jobs, HMAS Tobruk
JOURNALIST: Online now, and this is a little bit of breaking news for you, you’re not going to officially hear about this until this afternoon; the Minister for Defence, Senator the Honourable Marise Payne is in State today and about to make a very significant announcement of funding for both Scottsdale and Launceston in the Defence area. I’m very pleased to have her on the line now. Minister, good morning, how are you?
MINISTER PAYNE: I’m great thanks Brian. Always great in Tasmania. How are you?
JOURNALIST: It’s a fabulous place isn’t it? Absolutely loving it.
MINISTER PAYNE: It is.
JOURNALIST: So this afternoon you’ll be making an announcement about a $7.2 million investment from the Federal Government in a food processing technology that will be able to be used for the military. Can you just explain what it is exactly?
MINISTER PAYNE: It is, fabulous technology Brian. It’s leading edge. It is going to enable us to produce very high quality combat rations. It’s called MATS, so it’s Microwave Assisted Thermal Sterilisation Process—
JOURNALIST: Wow, okay, that sounds confusing.
MINISTER PAYNE: It does, but think of a very significantly large microwave, if you like, which uses state of the art rapid sterilisation techniques and what that will give us is shelf-stable, long-lasting, ready-to-eat meals which are perfect of course for Defence rations and for supporting our Defence personnel. But most importantly it’s really about harnessing great innovation, great technology for future Defence capability and that is right here in Scottsdale at our Defence Science and Technology Group Defence Nutrition Research Centre. And I have to say a lot of this outcome is down to a long campaign by the local Member for Bass here, Andrew Nikolic, who’s been campaigning for this for quite some time.
JOURNALIST: Who’s just whacked out a media release on exactly the same. It’s just been handed to me. I know Andrew’s a vigorous campaigner for Tasmania, particularly issues in his Seat of Bass. Look, he’s a powerful advocate isn’t he Minister?
MINISTER PAYNE: He is indeed, and very persuasive. So the funding in this regard, the $7.2 million is going to feed two machines actually established here in Tasmania; one in our Research and Development Plant in the Defence Food and Nutrition Centre in Scottsdale and the second will be in a production facility in Launceston itself. Now, the potential for this, and not just in terms of Defence rations but in the wider commercial market, is very, very big. I’m looking forward to working further with Andrew to make sure we can commercialise this where possible and have a look at what our options are further afield.
JOURNALIST: Minister what would you be looking at there, would it be perhaps dealing with the United Nations and their various relief agencies, those sorts of things? Would they be potential clients for the products that would be coming out of the production facility specifically?
MINISTER PAYNE: Well, that’s a very good observation because if you have shelf-stable, ready-to-eat meals of this nature which last for extended periods of time, then you can most certainly use them in those sorts of environments. Part of our efforts in our Defence ration production is to make sure that we can work with NATO, with Coalition partners, when we were working in joint operations and so to have this potential here in Tasmania to grow that even further is very significant.
JOURNALIST: Okay, a couple of things. Obviously if you’re going to make ration packs for military or indeed anybody else you need raw materials. Will much of that raw material, the produce, come from Tasmania?
MINISTER PAYNE: Well that’s certainly part of Andrew’s campaign and the campaign of other local Members. And, to be absolutely frank with you, of course we all know that the clean and green reputation that Tasmania’s agricultural industries bring in all of their work is a very important aspect of Tasmania’s reputation as leading produce provider. So I hope that we’ll be able to work within Defence with local providers to ensure as far as possible we do do that, yes.
JOURNALIST: But how many extra jobs will be created, just roughly, given the $7.2 million investment from the Federal Government?
MINISITER PAYNE: Well, I’m looking forward to talking to our people at the Defence and Nutrition Centre and, in terms of the setup of the plant itself, to identify how many that will be and also to ensure that if we are going to go down the road of working with the organisations about commercialisation we can look at job opportunities in that as well. So I don’t have final numbers at this stage but that’s obviously a key part of this announcement; making sure that we bring the jobs here and keep them here.
JOURNALIST: As you’d be aware, or perhaps I should explain to listeners, the Centre for Food Innovation that you’re talking about is a collaboration between the Defence Science and Technology Group, the University of Tas – UTAS as we call it here – and the CSIRO. Do you have any concerns with the CSIRO restructure impacting this in any way? In other words, will the CSIRO be an ongoing partner in this process, you’re confident they’ll be able to do that?
MINISTER PAYNE: Oh yes, I’m absolutely confident they’ll be able to do that. I know the leadership at the CSRIO really appreciates the importance of the Defence Nutrition Research Centre and will contribute significantly to their work as well. I’m absolutely confident about that.
JOURNALIST: Now, just one other issue too, there’s a bit of a burning issue here that you may be able to help us out with, and apparently the decision sits on your desk. The decommissioned HMAS Tobruk – there’s a fairly significant campaign underway in State to have the ship scuttled off the coast of St Helens. Now, the noises that I’m getting – I have to be fair – are second and third-hand out of your Office, indicate that we may be selling the thing for scrap, there’s also some competition from Queensland as well. Can I sort of pin you on this one while I’ve got you on the air, Minister? Could we please have the Tobruk? Could we please, please have it because it would be a wonderful addition to our tourism.
MINISTER PAYNE: So my very good friend Eric Hutchinson, the Member for Lyons, is the chief proponent for your campaign in this regard Brian and he has been to see me on this matter. You’re right, there’s competition from other locations but there is also a range of issues that surround the use of naval ships as dive wrecks. For example, they have to be decontaminated; they have be prepared in a safe way for dive wrecks. Now, I know that there’s great keenness, so don’t worry I am not unaware of that enthusiasm and I will be working closely with Eric and other local Members to see what we can do in this space. It’s an expensive process and it’s not simple but we will see definitely in the next couple of weeks, I would have thought, what we can actually do in this process.
JOURNALIST: I promise you all the inbound tourists who would come in to dive on that site from either the mainland or overseas would more than offset the cost, I would have thought, over a longer period. Don’t underestimate, Minister, the amount of support here for that, it is vigorous.
MINISTER PAYNE: I’ve seen the t-shirts, Brian!
JOURNALIST: (Laughs) Marise Payne, thank you so much for your time today. Congratulations on the spend here in Tasmania, it’s the place to be at the moment, I think, and will continue to be into the future. So we’ll watch this with interest. Appreciate your time, thank you.
MINISTER PAYNE: Thank you very much Brian, great to talk to you.
JOURNALIST: The Federal Defence Minister Senator Marise Payne there. That’s really good news, this is actually a great story, a really, really good story for the State. So $7.2 million worth of funding for an innovative new food processing technology plant. So there’s effectively two arms to it; the research arm that will develop it will be at Scottsdale and then there’ll be a sort of production arm, if you like, at Launceston. So good news, absolutely good news for the northeast and Lonny particularly and also the State. When she is talking about the commercialisation of it, it’s a very real possibility if you’re producing high-quality, pre-packed meals that have an incredibly long shelf life, they’re extremely nutritious – they can be used for all sorts of things. Imagine refugee programmes, you could have the United Nations using them, NATO – as the Minister indicated. So there’s a lot of potential there to commercialise that and make a huge amount of profit for the State.