8 February 2021
Topics: ADF support to Victoria, hotel quarantine, Joint Strike Fighter F-35 program
KARL STEFANOVIC: Defence troops summoned to Victoria to assist with hotel quarantine have failed to arrive. An eleventh hour flight cancellation delaying efforts to support the state's hotel quarantine programme. Joining us now from Canberra is Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds. Minister, thank you for your time today. What happened and how much is this going to push back the rollout of ADF support?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Well, Karl, good morning and you'll be glad to know that the Royal Australian Air Force does what it does best and it managed to get 50 of the troops to Victoria overnight. What happened yesterday was, we were sending additional troops, 64 of them, from Townsville's three brigades and the C-130 Hercules aircraft when it landed in Townsville, had a system's fault. However, we got 50 of those 64 to Victoria overnight and we are now taking that number over the next few days up to 430. But Karl what's really important and what I am so proud of in the ADF is over the last 12 months 14,000 of our ADF personnel have supported States and Territories and 3,300 of those were in Victoria alone, so the largest contingent have actually supported the Victorian Government’s efforts. So, yes, there was a delay of a few hours last night but we got the troops to Victoria.
KARL STEFANOVIC: It's been quite the stealth mission, Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley says he was not even briefed on the arrival of military support. Was that a communication breakdown? What happened?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Well, Karl, if his own department doesn't brief him that's really an issue for the Victorian Government because all of these additional troops to take support from 12 to 22 hotels, the request came from the Victorian Government, so we've been working incredibly well - the ADF have, so, unfortunately, I can't shed light on that, but we're responding to a Victorian Government request.
KARL STEFANOVIC: So as far as you're concerned he's been, he hasn't been informed and it's his fault. Will ADF involvement mean we can expect an airtight operation like no COVID leaks? I know there have been some system problems there in the past.
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Karl, all I can say again is that I'm incredibly proud of the efforts of all 14,000 of our Defence personnel, the ADF, and in fact, all of Defence adapted 12 months ago to working COVID-safe. And we have been at the front line for that 12 months, we've been learning how to drive ambulances, we've been in quarantine hotels, we've been in aged-care facilities and don't forget throughout COVID we've had 20 ships at sea on average a day, we've got 2,000 personnel serving overseas, including the 14,000 who have assisted COVID assists. So we've adapted very early and very quickly, and not only are we doing it well here, but we've also worked with regional partners. So the ADF have been assisting other militaries to know how to operate COVID-safe, so they've done a brilliant job, Karl.
KARL STEFANOVIC: They sure have, but are you going to be involved, actively involved, in hotel quarantine across the state?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Well, we have been, and in fact, we've currently got 202 of our ADF personnel in 12 hotels I believe in Victoria. And with the arrival of over 200 we're taking that up and we'll be supporting 22 hotels in Victoria. So the ADF are certainly helping with quarantine and have been doing for many months.
KARL STEFANOVIC: Okay, you've also announced a new initiative that will see Australia lead the way as a hub for F-35 military aircraft, that's an important thing isn't it?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Karl, the Joint Strike Fighter program is a magnificent story for Australian industry. Today I've got the privilege of joining the Prime Minister at RAAF Williamtown just outside of Newcastle. We've already taken delivery of 30 Joint Strike fighters, another three on the way, and in three years’ time we'll have a total of 72. So the Chief of Air Force, in December, declared what's called initial operating capability, which means that these aircraft are ready for operations. So today, we mark another significant milestone up at Williamtown with a new regional hub to maintain not only our own aircraft but also the Joint StrikeFfighters from other regional friends and allies. And this will all be done using Australian workers and Australian technical know-how.
KARL STEFANOVIC: Fantastic breakthrough, good stuff and thank you for your time this morning, and best of luck to all the ADF heading to Victoria, appreciate your time, later.
** End of transcript **