Interview with Gareth Parker, Radio 6PR, Perth

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The Hon Peter Dutton MP

Minister for Defence

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19 April 2021


Peter Dutton joins me on the program. Minister good morning. 


Good morning Gareth.


Thanks for your time. Why did you make this decision? 


I made it because I wanted to recognise, as you say, the 99 per cent of people that have done the right thing. They've sacrificed in some cases, their lives and they've, in all cases, done what we've asked of them, and that is to represent the values of our country, to make sure that they defend our country. 

It's a very tough theatre of war obviously in both Afghanistan and Iraq and we wanted, particularly before Anzac Day, for people to know that it was okay and proper for them to wear their medals, and particularly for the families where they had lost a loved one, that they could wear that medal with pride and it was important to make that announcement before Anzac Day.


What was the feedback you were getting from veterans and their families about this issue? 


It was certainly, as you pointed out in your earlier remarks, a very emotional issue at the time and there are some very serious allegations that have been made against a number of Australian Defence Force personnel and if they're found to be guilty of the allegations that are levelled against them at the moment, then they will lose their unit citation, but that should apply, in my judgment, individually, not to the whole collective. The veteran community, I think, supports that position. That's my sense of having spoken with a lot of people since the time of the original announcement into my time now only for a few weeks as Defence Minister.

I think we've made the right decision for the right reasons and we're not going to brush under the carpet the wrong thing that people have done. If there are allegations that are proven, then they'll suffer the consequences of their own actions; but, as I say, for the vast majority these are the best of the best and they've done the work that was asked of them and we recognise their sacrifice and their efforts.


So did the Chief of the Defence Force, Angus Campbell, make the wrong call here? 


No, I think if you look at the circumstances; an individual citation is given to somebody for an act of bravery, for example, and a unit citation is given to the entire unit for their collective work. So I can understand the logic in the original decision that the actions of a few taint the actions of the whole unit, but I think when you look at all of the circumstances and the impact on the other 3,000, the balance of the 3,000, the right decision was the one that I've made, and I believe very strongly that it's important that we recognise and really honour the good. 

I believe that our efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq probably resulted in the foiling of many terrorist attacks that otherwise would have taken place in the western world, and we should recognise that that does come at a cost and we should, this Anzac Day, really hold all of those soldiers up with great acclaim because they're very decent people and they've done the right thing by our country.


The Prime Minister announced last week that we would be out of Afghanistan by September. You're on your way to Perth today. What are you going to tell the troops at the barracks, at the SAS at Campbell Barracks? 


I want to recognise the work, particularly some of the recent operations that they've been involved in, and as your listeners know, as all Australians know, there's a lot of work that the SAS does behind the scenes that means that the rest of us can go to bed easy at night. There's an enormous amount of work and effort that they're involved in with coalition partners. They're trained to a standard that most Australians couldn't comprehend and it's really now, for us to look to the future. 

We need to recognise and say thank you for their service, but the vast majority of people serving in the SAS now, wouldn't have served in the Middle East. They're a younger generation coming through. There are other challenges within our region and the skills that we need to equip them with is…they're significant. The use of technology and science and data and quantum computing, I mean all of these things are going to feature in the lifetimes of the service of these men and women and we need to, you know, make sure that we're working with them toward that goal because we have to keep Australia safe, our region safe, and that now is the focus, and I've said very clearly that the Government's got the back of these men and women of the Australian Defence Force. I very genuinely believe that and I want to make sure that I practise it every day.


Peter Dutton we know that COVID is still challenging the country and the way that it's affecting the country is sort of different in different spots, but on this program last week, we revealed that a local RSL branch in Rockingham had to cancel their dawn service because the onerous restrictions to put in a COVID-safe plan from the local council, they had to put temporary fences up, they had to rent lights, they had to station security guards just for a suburban dawn service. They're all volunteers. They said, "Well, this just isn't worth it. We haven't got the money. We haven't got the time. We're going to cancel the dawn service." Are we going about that the right way, do you think? 


Well for a variety of reasons WA Health will have made that decision; I don't agree with the decision, but it's an issue for WA Health because they will have considered all of the factors. I think one of the factors they would have considered is that you've got, you know, an older group of people gathering predominantly for Anzac Day, not just the young kids who it's great to see at services now, but people who might be older and more frail and they're worried, no doubt, about what the spread of the disease would be within that gathering. So I can understand the logic.

It's difficult though for people to comprehend why you can bring 30 or 50 or 70 thousand people together for a football match, but you can't allow 200 people to gather for an Anzac Day ceremony.

I hope that some of these decisions can be revisited by the weekend, and that's an issue for the WA Government, but you can really understand how frustrating is for the RSL groups and these are people who are trying to do nothing more than bring community members together to honour the sacrifice of many of their mates and their family members, and we shouldn't be getting in the way of that. 

So I really have a lot of sympathy for the RSLs for their position and I hope that we can see a little bit of a modification, if that's possible, by the state health departments before the weekend.


Minister, thanks for your time this morning.


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