Press conference, Penrith Lakes
Thursday, 1 October 2015
Subjects: Bushfire season, Russian air strikes in Syria.
MINISTER PAYNE: Thank you very much Minister Elliott and it’s fabulous to be here with Elliott, welcome to Penrith everybody, it’s always nice to have a press conference at home and fabulous to see so many people here and with my friend and colleague the Member for Lindsay Fiona Scott and the Commissioner and the Deputy Commissioner as well this afternoon.
The Commonwealth Government is very proud of what we do to work with State Government’s and in this case particularly the New South Wales State Government, to provide that element of help and support that Minister Elliott has just referred to and it’s no accident, aside from the large body of water beside us, that standing here literally at the foot of the Blue Mountains, we can cast our minds back to the Bushfires of October 2013. For those people that experience is still extraordinarily raw and extraordinarily painful.
To be able to provide this level of engagement, this level of reassurance here today between the Commonwealth and the State, is a really important undertaking. Eventually there will be a hundred and twenty contracted aircraft in this particular arrangement and that is a very significant commitment to the nation’s safety from bushfire. We are, as Minister Elliott said, being presented again with a timely reminder today, it’s hot here in the sun already, it’s the 1st of October. That will only go North in temperature terms and that only means that the fire risk increases. Minister Elliott is exactly right, we will need to have our own fire evacuation plans.
Those of us who live in vulnerable areas, and you know I’ll put my hand up to that and the Member for Lindsay will put her hand up for that too, we have to have those plans. The men and women who are standing behind me, they’re the people who will come and look after us as volunteers across this state in the most difficult times and I particularly want to acknowledge them and thank them for the work that they do. So thanks very much for coming today, it’s great to see so many of you here, I know you have an abiding interest in the capability that we have just seen and I hope that you’ll be able to show that to the people of New South Wales and Australia tonight.
JOURNALIST: Minister Payne, could you let us know have Australia’s rules of engagement in Syria changed now that Russia is active?
MINISTER PAYNE: No, there has been no change to our rules of engagement and we will continue to work with our allies and with those other international partners who are absolutely committed to addressing the threat posed by ISIL and that is still our main focus in Syria and Iraq.
JOURNALIST: What is your reaction to Russia’s airstrikes?
MINISTER PAYNE: Well I understand that Secretary Kerry has said today that it would be a matter of grave concerns if those airstrikes were not targeted at ISIL. We would share that concern if that were the case. What we hope is that we are able to be joined in with Russia is a focused operation in relation to fighting and combating the threat that ISIL presents internationally. That is what we would encourage Russia to do. I know that Secretary of State Carter has also said that as a result of Russia’s engagement they will be working very hard to deconflict in terms of air operations and I hope that that meeting can occur sooner rather than later.
JOURNALIST: Is Australia justified in having the second largest air contingent in Syria under the circumstances?
MINISTER PAYNE: Well I think that Australia’s commitment has been made very plain and that it’s not just in relation to our air operations. As the Prime Minister and Foreign Minsiter have made very clear, and in fact the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, our commitment extends beyond our military action to our engagement on the humanitarian level including aid contributions and also to the decision taken in relation to being able take 12,000 refugees from this area of very great conflict and they together form a very significant response in the international community and Australia stands ready to undertake all of those .
JOURNALIST: Would it be appropriate for Australia to seek a direct explanation from the Russian ambassador?
MINISTER PAYNE: Well, engagement with the Russian ambassador would be a matter for the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and as you know the Minister for Foreign Affairs is in New York at the moment. She and I and the Prime Minister have been in contact in relation to these activities. It remains to be seen what happens further, and as I've indicated both Secretary Kerry and Secretary Carter have indicated their grave concerns and we share those concerns, particularly if this was not a strike targeted at ISIL.
JOURNALIST: Well there are reports that civilians copped it and there were no ISIL soldiers near where the bombing raid took place.
MINISTER PAYNE: I think “copped it” is an unfortunate turn of phrase to be honest actually, David. I think if civilians were harmed in this strike, then as I've said now a couple of times, we would share the grave concerns of Secretary Kerry and the United States that the targeting perhaps was not what we hope it would be, which is an absolute focus on dealing with and addressing the threat posed by ISIL.
Henry Budd (Minister Payne's office) 0429 531143
Defence Media (02) 6127 1999