Interview with Peter Stefanovic, Sky News First Edition

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The Hon Matt Thistlethwaite MP

Assistant Minister for Defence

Assistant Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

Assistant Minister for the Republic

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Ben Leeson on 0404 648 275

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18 October 2022

PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Joining us live here in the studio now to talk about that and a few other issues is Liberal Senator Hollie Hughes and Labor MP Matt Thistlethwaite. Good to have you both here. Hollie, because we just heard from Jim Chalmers, there's so much money going out the door that needs to for this flooding emergency. Do you have any problems with that?

HOLLIE HUGHES, SENATOR FOR NSW: Look, we face these emergencies across Australia, whether they're bushfires or floods. We're not immune to this. And Australians understand that those sort of funding issues arise from time to time. We're a nation of floods and bush fires. It's always happened. What's interesting, though, is floods. I mean, I lived in Moree, I've lived through floods. They are worse than bushfires with the mess that they lay behind quite often, and they're indiscriminate. Fires can sort of pick spots, whereas floods is just everywhere and the mess that's left behind is horrific. But we do often know that they're coming. And that's the thing with the river flows, you know, to prepare well in advance, and I'm not quite sure there's been enough of that. And as we look at it now, it's currently heading down the Murray towards South Australia and we need to make sure that plans are in place for that when that water continues downstream, that we're not impacting more communities unnecessary, because we're not providing that support in advance of the flood waters arriving.

STEFANOVIC: Matt, we just heard from Jim Charmers. They're considering other options in terms of expenses. I mean, there's so much money coming out the door. Obviously you're going to have to rein it in with a budget around the corner. What cuts are you going to have to make to be able to fund all of this?

MATT THISTLETHWAITE, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Well, all will be revealed in the budget next week. But I think, firstly, our thoughts are with those communities that are facing these floods at the moment. We hope that there's a community response and that people come together and that everyone remains safe. Unfortunately, we're seeing an increasing prevalence of flooding and bushfires and extreme weather events in Australia at the moment. That's the cost of climate change. Climate scientists have been saying for some decades now that you're going to see an increasing prevalence of these disasters and there's going to be a cost associated with it. So that's why we need to prepare the nation better. That's why we're investing in organisations like Disaster Relief Australia that can come into communities and prepare them and provide relief. We've also got a Disaster Ready Fund so that we're building mitigation infrastructure to reduce the impacts that floods and bush fires will have on communities into the future.

STEFANOVIC: OK, well, on that point, then, the Nationals have argued that why would you take money out of the regions, particularly in the construction of dams? Is that a wise thing to do, given what's going on right now?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, look, they're all speculation at the moment. The budget will be released next week. Labor went to the election with a set of priorities that we've received a mandate for and will deliver on those priorities next week. But they include record investments in infrastructure and some of that will be disaster mitigation infrastructure. The last government set up the Emergency Response Fund, but they didn't invest in mitigation infrastructure, they invested in clean-ups. Our approach will be to invest $200 million a year in disaster mitigation infrastructure. So building levees, building culverts, preparing communities for the effects of bush fires so that we can reduce the impacts into the future.

HUGHES: Well, let's see if there's Warragamba Dam in there. We've got Hells Gates dam up in Townsville, required for hydrogen and clean energy. That looks like it's on the chopping block. So, obviously, an investment in Melbourne inner city rail is of a higher priority than actually putting together plans, serious investment plans and infrastructure plans to build dams, to build structures that will ensure that these water flows don't impact communities into the future. It is dams that are required, but those sorts of things have been consistently stopped on environmental grounds or to talk about for years. We've been told these issues are going to come. We all remember Tim Flannery, it was never going to rain again, but look what's happening now. And now we've got the Albanese government playing chicken around raising Warragamba wall.

STEFANOVIC: Could your government have moved faster when it comes to building dams?

HUGHES: Well, it's all these environmental impacts that have always been blocking the way to put more dams in. I absolutely think we should have built more dams, but a lot of this is state government responsibilities as well. It's not just federal to come into each individual state and say, we're going to plonk a dam here. It's actually the individual states that should be doing…

STEFANOVIC: So that’s a no?

HUGHES: But the investment in infrastructure from the states has not been there. But a lot of it has been not on climate change mitigation, it's been around, there's a frog and we don't want to upset moving the frog, so therefore we're not building a dam. There's been too much around those sort of issues that have now caused these problems into the future.

STEFANOVIC: And that's a problem you’re going to run into now. It's the old argy-bargy with the states.

HUGHES: Well, the environmentalists…

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, since I've been in the Parliament, the Nationals have been talking about building Hells Gate dam. It's been ten years. Nothing happened. They were in government for ten years.

HUGHES: It’s also the Queensland government. What's Annastacia been doing up there? What's Annastacia been doing?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: If you wanted to build it, you could have.

HUGHES: She had Queensland locked off from the rest of the country for long enough. She could have been up there building a dam.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Put aside that, you’ve had other projects you could have…

HUGHES: Because that's contributing, that's contributing to all of the renewable energies you claim to support as a government. Yet in Townsville, they're saying, we need this dam if we're going to participate in this.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: They were never our priorities, Hollie.

HUGHES: Well, the regions aren't your priorities. You are taking money out of the regions…

ASSISTANT MINISTER: They were your priorities.

HUGHES: $2 million pledged to Townsville to support the AEIOU Centre, which works with children with autism on the chopping block, because Labor is now denying which part of the Coalition committed that money. Regions are off your agenda. Regions are off your agenda. Whether it's supporting families with autism in the regions or whether it's building infrastructure, the Labor Party is punishing people who don't vote for them and we are going to see that next week in the budget.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: No, that's not true at all. You had ten years to build this infrastructure and you didn't deliver any of it. And that's the point. I think many of these communities are saying, well, what was the point of the last government if they were your priorities and you couldn't deliver them? People are saying, what was the point of the Morrison government.

STEFANOVIC: Just in Sydney because we're all in Sydney at the moment. Would you support, do you support, the raising of the Warragamba Dam wall?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Look, I haven't really looked into it, to be honest…

HUGHES: You might want to speak to Susan Templeman…

ASSISTANT MINISTER: There are issues that the state government needs to consider around Indigenous heritage that haven't been dealt with, and environmental flows. And the New South Wales Labor opposition has a different policy to the government, which doesn't include building or raising the dam wall. We want to reduce the flows coming out of and the level of the dam. We think that that's a better way to approach it without the environmental destruction. So the Labor Party doesn’t support raising the dam wall.

STEFANOVIC: Just a quick one before we go because time is running out. Matt, I want to get your thoughts on this, because Jacqui Lambie mentioned this yesterday. A move towards a national guard similar to what the United States has. As Assistant Defence Minister, I want to get your thoughts on whether you'd support this or not?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, we have an organisation called Disaster Relief Australia and that's a body where we train veterans to come into communities and to assist with this. And they're well trained. It was established by the previous government, Labor's boosting it in the wake of the election, we're promising to fund the training of an additional couple of thousand veterans with the skills to come into communities and assist. I think that supplements what goes on at the state level with police, fire and rescue and other organisations. You’ve got the SES that are very well trained and expert at this and increasingly, you got organisations like Surf Lifesaving Australia as well…

STEFANOVIC: So there’s no need?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: We don't believe that there's a need at the moment, particularly when you’ve got all that expertise.

STEFANOVIC: Hollie, do you think that might be a way to encourage more people at least to get into the ADF? Because we're struggling for numbers, but they're not where they should be.

HUGHES: Well, it's interesting to hear that the Labor Party wants to invest in training of veterans, yet couldn't wait quick enough to get Veterans’ Affairs out of Cabinet, and that shows a lack of respect, I think, both the ADF and veterans, and that doesn't go unnoticed in that community, the lack of respect that's paid to them by Labor governments as they come in. We know they love to cut defence spending, so perhaps they might need to have a look at treating veterans more respectfully to ensure that they are interested in coming back to do this training, but also how we use the ADF in these circumstances.

STEFANOVIC: And just on the ADF, final one here. Matt, any decision yet on whether you're going to send troops to Ukraine to train their troops outside of Ukraine?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: The request has been made by the Ukrainian government. The Albanese Government is considering it. Australia has done more than most nations. We're the largest non-NATO donor of military aid and humanitarian aid to the war in Ukraine, $350 million worth, Bushmasters, all this and we'll consider their application.

STEFANOVIC: No decision yet, but it’s still on the table?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: It's being considered.

STEFANOVIC: Matt and Hollie, nice and lively discussion. Thank you so much. We'll talk to you again soon.




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