Interview with Deborah Knight, 2GB

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The Hon Melissa Price MP

Minister for Defence Industry

Minister for Science and Technology

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4 November 2021

DEBORAH KNIGHT: 25 to 1. It is just putting a smile everyone's dial with little Cleo being found safe and well. Jason on the email this morning says: "I was watching the Today show this morning when Ali broke the news. I looked at my partner in disbelief and cried. Today is a great day." This as well from John. He says: "My 14-year-old daughter rang me after I dropped her at the school bus to tell me Cleo was found, and she and the kids on the bus were so excited, I could them all cheering on the background. I was ecstatic. We both chatted about how glad we were, and I headed home with a huge grin. It is the best news, isn't it?"

Well, Melissa Price is the Minister for Defence Industry, the Federal Minister.  She's also the MP for Durack which takes in Carnarvon and she's on the line for us now. Melissa, such wonderful news.

MELISSA PRICE: It is such wonderful news, and every time I think about it, every time I talk about it I cry. So, I'm probably going to cry again, so I'm warning you, Deb.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: I'm in the same boat. It's just ‑ just happy tears though because it's such agony thinking the outcome would not be what it is and with every day that passed, it was not looking good, but to have this result ‑‑

MELISSA PRICE: That's right.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: ‑‑ it's incredulous.

MELISSA PRICE: I know 18 days, we've all been hoping and praying that little Cleo would be found safe and alive, but you know we all are realists and we thought every day that it went longer and longer that she wasn't found ‑ I mean I'm just so relieved. I can't imagine how her parents, Ellie and Jake, are feeling now. What was so wonderful is that they never gave up hope and I think that really helped spur on the community. It definitely helped to spur on the police. Boy, didn't the Western Australia police throw everything at this case? 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: We are yet to hear the full detail of how this has unfolded, and we will cross live to WA police, they are due to hold a press conference. But the work that’s been behind the scenes in this has been hinted at by the WA Premier. But in terms of the leg work from the State and the AFP involved in this, it sounds very intricate.

MELISSA PRICE: Yeah, that's right. One number I heard this morning was around a hundred police, but you know I've heard somewhere between 60 and 100 police that had been in and out of Carnarvon over the past couple of weeks. Obviously, the Emergency Services people we saw, and you know the volunteers, we saw those people in their orange jump suits trawling through the bushland down at the blowhole. But you know the community members, and you know with the respect to the police, but the drone operators, the analysts, people ‑ I mean they've been rummaging through rubbish. They've picked up kilos and kilos of rubbish up from the sides of the roads and from homes.

But this has been a real sort of full court press from the whole of Western Australia. If you imagine north and south of Carnarvon, which is all in my electorate of Durack. Stickers on post, signage up at roadhouses, every cafe, everywhere you could put a sticker. It was unbelievable the amount of information and you couldn't miss it. And I think that that's just extraordinary because this community of Carnarvon, and the more broader Western Australia community, didn't want to be the community that didn't find that little girl.


MELISSA PRICE: And I think there's just incredible lessons to be learnt, and I'm sure once the dust is settled and the police can start doing their final reports, I think police forces around the nation will look very closely as how the WA police force performed so incredibly well.


MELISSA PRICE: And I think we know what the movie is going to be called: My name is Cleo. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: My name is Cleo.

MELISSA PRICE: Can you imagine how that police officer felt when he asked her what her name was?

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Yeah. I know. 

MELISSA PRICE: It is incredible.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: It is incredible. It really is and I can't imagine what the mood must be like in the local community, because if we are feeling it here all the way across in Sydney and in Canberra and all around the country, then locally on the ground it must just be a phenomenal feeling of huge relief and joy.

Look, I wanted to ask you as well, you are Minister for Defence Industry, the bungled submarine deal with France has dominated a lot of the Prime Minister's overseas trip to Glasgow and to the G20 and the French ambassador is speaking right now at the National Press Club in Canberra, and he has again described the cancellation of the sub deal by Australia as a stab in the back. How are we going to get this relationship back on track?

MELISSA PRICE: Look understandably the French Government are upset and disappointed, but as the Australian public would expect, our Government - it is our job to make those really tough decisions that are in our national interest, and that is what has transpired here. The French will be well aware that the conventional submarine that was to be delivered by the Naval Group was not going to meet our strategic requirements. That has changed. The strategic environment we find ourselves in has changed since we signed that deal. So, the Prime Minister has been abundantly clear on this point, and you know he conveyed this message to the French President earlier this year. 

DEBORAH KNIGHT: Have we been thrown under the bus by Joe Biden though? The US President saying that the way we have handled this was clumsy.

MELISSA PRICE: Well, that he's disappointing to hear that. But what we are focused on now is our agreement with the US and the UK. We need to focus on AUKUS and of course, AUKUS is not just about nuclear submarines. There are many other technologies that Australia would like to take advantage of and work closely with our US Navy/UK counterparts.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: And in terms of the leaking of the text messages from Emmanuel Macron was taking it a step too far?

MELISSA PRICE: Well, as the Prime Minister has said, he tried to contact the President prior to the AUKUS announcement to convey our decision. I imagine President Macron may have been concerned that it was going to be a conversation about Australia not preceding with the submarine contract. But you know, not really appropriate for me to comment.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: But it doesn't give much confidence for other allies and supposed friends of Australia to have open and honest conversations with our Prime Minister if you are worried that those text messages could be leaked.

MELISSA PRICE: Well, as I say, it's not my business. I'm not involved in that conversation or those text messages, but what we have to focus on now, is the fact that we are now going to have nuclear submarines. We have 18 months to determine what the detail is and that's what I am going to be focused on.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: All right. Well, Minister, we are going to focus on this good news today of little Cleo being found because that is just the best news of all.

Thank you so much for ‑ and I'm glad you didn't tear up because if you start, you'll get me with the waterworks going.

MELISSA PRICE: Good on you. Thanks, Deb.

DEBORAH KNIGHT: There she is Melissa Price, the Minister for Defence Industry. She is also the MP for Durack which takes in Carnarvon in WA where little Cleo is now back in the arms of her family where she belongs.


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