Interview - Summer Drive 2GB Sydney Luke Grant

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Senator the Hon Linda Reynolds CSC

Minister for Defence

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Nicky Hamer (Minister Reynolds’ Office): +61 437 989 927

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8 January 2020

LUKE GRANT: As you know, there's been an attack today in the Middle East on some US bases. We understand from US President Trump via social media, he'll respond and speak to the American people sometime over the next several hours. In the meantime, I guess for Australia it's a bit of a waiting game, or is it? On the line to talk to me as Minister for Defence Senator Linda Reynolds. Senator, thank you for your time, this is twice in a week I appreciate that.

LINDA REYNOLDS: Thanks for having me back, Luke.

 LUKE GRANT: Not at all, is that right is a fair to say we'll just see what happens when Donald Trump wakes up and talks to his officials and comes up with a position?  I guess we've got that strong relationship friendship having we so, to some extent, will do what they need us to do is that jumping the gun? Or....

LINDA REYNOLDS: I think it's a little premature yet to make any assessment until President Trump has come out and given his statement overnight. But Luke, can I say first of all, that the Australian Government is very closely monitoring unfolding events in Iraq and also the protection of all of our ADF personnel in the Middle East, and can I also assure your listeners, both as the Minister for Defence but also as a service woman myself, that the safety and security of Australian personnel is our absolute top priority. And can I also assure that all Australian families at home who have loved ones who are serving in Iraq or the Middle East more generally, that all ADF and also our diplomatic personnel are safe. And, in fact we're very pleased that there have been no deaths or reports of deaths at all, either coalition or Iraqi.

 LUKE GRANT: I don't know if I can ask you this, but I'll try, roughly how many do we have serving there and what kind of work do they do?

LINDA REYNOLDS:  Luke we've got around about 300 ADF personnel deployed what's called Operation OKRA in Iraq, which is Australia's contribution to the global coalition against Daesh or ISIL. So they've been working there for a few years with our Coalition partners, and we've also been working at a place called Taji just north of Baghdad, with New Zealand and other Coalition partners where for the last few years we have trained nearly 47,000 Iraqi Security Forces personnel in how to counter terrorism and date themselves. So we've got about 300 personnel, but all of them are safe.

LUKE GRANT:  Have you been in contact or the PM with the US yet, or is a protocol that we just wait?

LINDA REYNOLDS:  I've been in very close contact today with the Prime Minister, the Chief of our Defence Force, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and we've all been in contact with our counterparts. I have been in contact with a number of international Defence allies, including as you would expect, the US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper and also with the New Zealand Defence Minister Ron Mark, as we work very closely with New Zealand forces in Taji.

 LUKE GRANT: What will happen with the NSC will it meet -  I think the Prime Minister indicated that you'd meet tomorrow?

LINDA REYNOLDS:  Yes it will. Tomorrow morning first thing in Canberra but we also have, as I said, been in close contact all day. And in fact, just before coming on air, I had a meeting with the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister and the Chief of Defence Force getting updates. We are monitoring this very, very closely to make sure that our people are safe.

 LUKE GRANT: A lot of this is bizarrely playing out on Twitter. I don't know what to read into the Tweet from the Iranians, but it seemed to me that they did what they thought they had to do and it wasn't that bad and hopefully that's the end of the conflict, is how you read it?

LINDA REYNOLDS: Well it's always dangerous in the Middle East which is quite complex and volatile to make any preemptive assessments of Tweets, but Iran's Foreign Minister has Tweeted in relation to this, that I think the words were that they "took and concluded proportionate measures in self defence. We are exercising restraint and calling for de-escalation with all parties to this at the moment. So, it is encouraging an interpretation of that is encouraging, but we'll wait and see how things play out over the next 24 to 48 hours.

LUKE GRANT:  Without getting carried away it is absolutely bizarre. I'm sure there's just a piece of your Minister who sees the playing out of this conflict in part on Twitter as...well that's the word bizarre isn't it?

LINDA REYNOLDS: Well, I wouldn't say that it's bizarre it's just, leaders of the world using modern forms of communication.

LUKE GRANT:  So, I don't know if it's a new normal, but I think we've gone from social media to be the place where you take a picture of your main course and type the word 'yum', into the most powerful man in the Western world having a conversation with the Iranians. I just find the whole thing well, very different, perhaps to what it used to be, that might be the best way to...

LINDA REYNOLDS:  That is true, it is different look, but I would always rather see world leaders communicating with each other rather than escalating violence, so I think whatever way people communicate is a positive thing.

LUKE GRANT:  No, fair enough, no argument here. The circumstances where we would bring some of our people home, or are you happy that for now, things are okay with them over there?

LINDA REYNOLDS: Well, as I've said, we are constantly monitoring the situation. We are making sure that our people are safe and they and they are. We will make a further assessment tomorrow at the NSC meeting. It is always under review. But we are cautioning everybody, all parties, to exercise restraint and de-escalation. At the moment, our people are safe and we are monitoring the situation very closely.

LUKE GRANT: And how should we feel here in Australia, Minister?

LINDA REYNOLDS: We should feel reassured that the Government is doing everything it can to make sure that we can encourage things not to escalate, in what is obviously a set of complex and highly volatile region. But we are in very close contact with all of our key allies and we will do everything to ensure that our people are safe and secure.

LUKE GRANT: Terrific. Minister again thank you for your time we do appreciate it.

LINDA REYNOLDS: You're very welcome Luke.

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