FRAN KELLY: Well Cyclone Debbie may have calmed down, but the devastation wrought by the cyclone is far from over. Now the central Queensland city of Rockhampton is bracing for major flooding when the Fitzroy River peaks tomorrow. And as the scale of the disaster worsens by the day the Australian Defence Force has rolled in to help clear roads, restore critical infrastructure and to provide emergency food, water and shelter. More than 1600 Army personnel have been deployed, supported by the HMAS Choules which has now arrived in the Whitsundays.
Marise Payne is the Defence Minister. Minister, welcome to Breakfast.
MARISE PAYNE: Good morning Fran.
FRAN KELLY: Minister, before we get to Cyclone Debbie, the explosion overnight in the St Petersburg metro - 11 dead, dozens injured - has our government received any advice on this attack and whether it's a terror attack?
MARISE PAYNE: Well we obviously condemn the attack, Fran. It is an attack on innocent civilians in, as I understand it, a public transport environment and it is simply outrageous. We are working with our embassy in Moscow to determine in the first instance, whether any Australians are likely to have been involved - so the Moscow embassy working with the Russian authorities. But I don't have any further information on that at this stage.
FRAN KELLY: Okay. Here at home the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Debbie continues to cause havoc. You were in Proserpine and Airlie Beach yesterday looking at recovery efforts. Sixteen-hundred ADF personnel have been assigned to Operation Queensland Assist, what are they doing?
MARISE PAYNE: I was there yesterday. We have a joint task force - Air, Navy and Army elements in that - up and down the coast where Cyclone Debbie was at her most vicious and the range of work they are doing is quite extraordinary. You mentioned in your introduction the basics like simple road clearing which goes a long way to opening up communities and areas for access for emergency services.
We're working very, very closely with the Queensland State Government emergency services - so police, the SES, the rural fire authorities - to make sure that it is a well-coordinated engagement. And I must say, yesterday I was regularly told by those Queensland state authority representatives how well coordinated and cooperative it was as an activity between Defence and those state authorities.
I met young soldiers who were involved in, for example, water testing in Airlie Beach as part of an environmental help team to ensure - they had brought water and we had made that potable ourselves - but also once the water was turned back on at Airlie Beach that it was clean and safe to drink. We have engineers working in road works. We have a very skilled chainsaw crew helping take extremely dangerous trees away from houses and things like that, working with the state electricity authorities as well to assist them in re-establishing power as soon as possible.
FRAN KELLY: And how long will the ADF stay beyond the initial emergency period? Do you know that yet?
MARISE PAYNE: Well we don't know yet. As you also indicated we have a significant flood likely in Rockhampton in the next days and we hope that it's not as bad as was initially predicted, but it remains to be seen. We have in fact moved HMAS Choules to the Yeppoon area, so that she and some very strong engineering equipment which she is carrying are positioned closer to Rockhampton and ready to move as soon as possible.
FRAN KELLY: Minister, this flood's going to cost more than $1 billion - we know that. Cyclone Yasi cost more than $1 billion; many more hundreds of millions lost in lost crops and other industries that have to stop for a period of time. Is it time for state, federal and local governments to pay more attention to mitigation and adaptation strategies, taking into effect the impact of climate change? I mean, every time this happens we watch the Army go in and we think that's great, but then a lot of people think; well, that's not what we're training our soldiers to do.
MARISE PAYNE: Well in some part it is actually. I mean we do a significant amount of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in our region. You'll recall that we sent a thousand members of the Navy and Army to Fiji last year in …
FRAN KELLY: [Interrupts] But we keep having to do it is my point. Should we spending more focus on mitigation?
MARISE PAYNE: Well we do do both. I was speaking with Minister Michael Keenan yesterday, who has responsibility for the emergency services aspects and the natural disaster relief aspects of events such as this, and he and Emergency Management Australia and the Commonwealth are working with the states and territories in terms of prevention and mitigation all the time. I think the size and the ferocity of some events will always, always force us into emergency responses of this nature - that's, I think, inevitable. But there's certainly a great deal to be said for addressing mitigation and addressing prevention.
FRAN KELLY: Later this morning I'm going to be speaking with Sherri Goodman. She's a former US Defence adviser on climate change threats and security issues. The US generals will factor this into their forward planning now, and indeed the new Secretary of Defence, Jim Mad Dog Mattis, said recently, climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today. Is it appropriate- he said it's appropriate for the combatant commands to incorporate these drivers of instability into the security environment. Do we take into account climate change as a security threat in our defence planning?
MARISE PAYNE: Well we take into account those things which may present a security threat across the board. And that would include the sorts of challenges that significant weather effects have, whether it's related to climate change or otherwise. That is part of our operational planning. And I did mention Operation Fiji Assist last year.
When tropical Cyclone Winston hit Fiji, there was very significant external support for that country. They weren't able to do the repair and recovery process single-handedly. That sort of activity by the ADF is something which we are very proud of and we can bring to bear in this particular emergency as well.
FRAN KELLY: It's 07.43 on Breakfast. Our guest is the Defence Minister Marise Payne. Marise Mayne, the Afghan President is in Canberra. He's briefed our Prime Minister on the worsening security situation in his country as the Taliban takes control of more and more. Afghanistan is already Australia's longest war. Has Ashraf Ghani asked for our forces to stay there longer and for the numbers to be increased?
MARISE PAYNE: I'm meeting President Ghani again this afternoon. I met with him Kabul last year and look forward to that. There is no request at this stage and we'll continue to discuss the needs of the operation in Afghanistan with both the leaders of the Coalition, including NATO and the United States of course, and our own ADF leadership here.
We have 270 ADF personnel currently deployed in Afghanistan. And their role is providing training, providing advice and assistance to the Afghan security forces. I visited some of the young men and women who are working with the Afghan National Security Force, particularly at the officer's college in Kabul last year. And the work that they are doing is absolutely invaluable, but there is no denying that it is an extraordinarily challenging security situation.
FRAN KELLY: Is there any point in our forces keeping on doing this? I mean what are we actually achieving if the Taliban now controls more provinces than it did before 2001?
MARISE PAYNE: Well we are helping the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces to develop and to grow their capacity. There are going to be security setbacks in the process from time to time. That is part of the challenge. But we've learnt the lesson in terms of walking away and allowing terrorism to take route again in countries such as this. We cannot afford to do that. And Australia is absolutely committed to the tasks in which we are engaged around the world, which are part of countering that terrorism threat.
FRAN KELLY: Is it more important than ever as that terrorism threat as you describe it in Afghanistan, well the Taliban is there, there's also Al-Qaeda and the Haqqani network. Now ISIS is making inroads or trying to make inroads. Are these groups- clearly they're a threat within Afghanistan. Do they pose a threat to Australia, or to the US, and is there talk of reinvestment because of that?
MARISE PAYNE: Well, we know that the groups that threaten our partners in the Middle East in places like Afghanistan and places like Iraq and Syria, have a determination to spread their toxic approach throughout the world. So we know that in Southeast Asia for example, we're working with Indonesia, with Malaysia, with the Philippines, in terms of addressing any chances of foreign fighters returning to this area, of local groups in this area adopting and working with groups like Daesh and Al-Qaeda and so on. That is absolutely an ongoing aspect in our consciousness. It is imperative that we engage in the region and address these issues.
FRAN KELLY: Marise Payne, thank you very much for joining us on Breakfast.
MARISE PAYNE: Thank you Fran.
FRAN KELLY: Marise Payne is Australia's Defence Minister.