Press conference, Hobart, Tasmania

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The Hon Matt Keogh MP

Minister for Defence Personnel

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

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Stephanie Mathews on 0407 034 485

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31 October 2022

MATT KEOGH: Look, it is my pleasure to be here this morning in Hobart for the unveiling of six new headstones as part of the Headstone Project - recognition of First World War veterans that were buried in unmarked graves through a program funded by the Federal Government which last week in our Budget we have now stood this up as an ongoing program; funding of $1.5 million in grants to commemorate our First World War veterans that have been left in unmarked graves and making sure that they receive the respect and recognition that they deserve. These grants are going to be available to individuals and not-for-profit organisations around the country to enable them to do the work where they’ve been doing research, working with families to make sure that these people who fought for our country in our First World War, are properly recognised. 

So today we’re at the unveiling of six of those headstones here in Hobart and Tasmania. They’re of Lieutenant Harry Cutts, Frederick Dixon, Sapper William Fitz, Private Dalton Jones, Sapper Andrew Neasey, and Leading Stoker James Saunders, who previously were in unmarked graves and now receive the proper recognition that they deserve by having their graves marked and their service to our nation commemorated and recognised properly.

JOURNALIST: How many veterans are in these unmarked graves?

MATT KEOGH: Well over 330,000 people departed for the First World War. Around 280,000plus returned to Australia. And we know that there are many that once they returned went off to areas away from family, away from friends, changed states and ended up passing away without means. In some cases, community around them, RSL members, arranged funerals but didn’t have the funds to arrange for headstones. So whilst they have a place of rest, their service to our country has not been properly recognised.

The full extent of that is not really fully known. And that’s why the work with community organisations like the Headstone Project here in Tasmania is so important to making sure that we’re now able to do that [indistinct] the new grant project funding to organisations like Headstone and other community organisations around the country in doing this important work.

JOURNALIST: Minister, is it not a matter of policy that if you serve your country, that you get a headstone - a commemorative plaque. Is that a responsibility of government to make to changing the policy to automatically get a headstone or are you happy with the grants program?

MATT KEOGH: So right now if you die in service you are entitled to an official Australian commemorative gravesite and recognition with headstone. That’s the situation right now. What we’ve found, especially with those who served in the First World War, that many of them ended up being buried without a headstone.

So it’s less of a significant issue in subsequent battles and we’ve had greater support from state governments later in the 20th century to support people in having their gravesites properly marked. And so with this group from the First World War who did serve our nation and have ended up in unmarked grave sites, it’s important that we have this program now to just be making sure that they do get due recognition.

JOURNALIST: Minister -

MATT KEOGH: I just want to address one other issue, today Defence has communicated with staff around making sure that people, in effect, remain vigilant around their personal information in light of recent cyber security attacks we've seen from a number of organisations in Australia.

And also to let Defence staff know that an external contractor has been the subject of a ransomware attack. That external contractor was providing [indistinct] around a platform for Defence, which is like an internal social media platform which has data from 2018 regarding Defence personnel.

We haven’t seen any evidence of that information being made available to anyone as a result of that attack, but we just want to make sure that all Defence staff and personnel remain vigilant, and we’re working with that external contractor now to make sure we get the best picture of what has occurred so that they've got the best support to ensure the security of their data as well.

There’s been no impact on actual Defence systems. But it is always important, as it is for all Australians, to ensure that people remain vigilant about protecting their personal data. And where we have seen these sorts of cyber activities with a number of organisations across Australia now, that people remain particularly vigilant around these issues, and we’re connecting Defence personnel with an external provider to support them as well if they need assistance in protecting their ID documents or their personal information.

JOURNALIST: You don't have an indication of how many people have been affected by the attack?

MATT KEOGH: We’re working with that external provider to make sure we’ve got a full picture of what sort of data was there and available. We understand it may have been about 30 to 40,000 records that they held. So we’re not saying that that's what's out there but that’s what the external provider held. But we’re working now to get a full picture of who those individuals might have been and, as I say, we’ve provided information about how people can get in order additional information they may need.

JOURNALIST: You continue to said, you know, a number of these attacks over the past few weeks. Now we’ve got one involving Defence force personnel. Is that a [indistinct]?

MATT KEOGH: I think it’s all Australians – and rightly the Australian Government – is quite concerned about this sort of cyber activity that’s occurring, people seeking through nefarious means to get access to others' personal data as a way of trying to steal identities and swoop people’s identification.

And that’s why it’s important that everyone does maintain vigilance [indistinct] putting a lot of pressure on some of those external organisations to assist people affected in getting new identification documents [indistinct] of making sure that systems are secured and tested regularly to make that people’s personal information is kept safe.

In this instance we’re working with that external provider to make sure that their systems are kept secure, as we are working [indistinct] in making sure that all Defence industry partners in Defence industry security programs to make sure that any information that we've worked with in Defence is kept secure.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask you a couple of questions about the US B-52. Will having those US B-52s rotating through Tindal Air Base further inflame tensions with China?

MATT KEOGH: I don’t think so at all. I think what’s really important here is that the more we are able to build interoperability with the Americans, growing on that very strong alliance, and as we’ve seen with the AUKUS arrangement, it’s not just about submarines, it’s about building our cyber capability in defence as well, sharing technology, making sure that our forces work well with their forces.

This is a great demonstration of how we can build this up, and we already have the US Marines operating out of Darwin already and being able to enhance that opportunity is a good one for our Defence forces, as it is for them in operating from a different region and growing that interoperability is very important. And it demonstrates to the world, which I think they already know, that there is a very strong relationship of cooperation between Australians and the United States.

JOURNALIST: Just a last one from me - the US Air Force says having bombers in Australia sends a strong message to adversaries. What do you think that message is from Australia?

MATT KEOGH: Well, I think America has been trying to make it clear for a long time that it has a strong influence in our part of the world [indistinct] and that these tensions are not just drawn from activities that might be occurring Europe and, of course, Australia needs to always be vigilant in what's occurring in our own geo-strategic space and that America is working with its partners, like Australia, to make sure that we are able to maintain the status quo in our region. Thanks everybody.


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