Interview with Deborah Knight, 2GB Afternoons

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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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14 November 2022

DEBORAH KNIGHT, HOST: Matt Thistlethwaite is the Assistant Minister for Defence, also the member for Kingsford Smith, where this facility is, and he's on the line for us now. Matt, thanks so much for joining us. How good to have a plant opening and not shutting?

MATT THISTLETHWAITE, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: That's right, Deb, thanks for having me on your show. I was privileged to join the leaders of SoftIron this morning at their brand new Botany manufacturing facility. And the government's provided a $1.5 million grant under the Sovereign Industrial Capability Fund to allow this business to set up. And they'll be manufacturing with a go to whoa service. So it's an important industry around the protection of data for Australian government, businesses and individuals, and it's a great story to be telling.

KNIGHT: So what are they actually making? When you talk about the IT components, what are they?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, they're making data servers. So they make them from the beginning of the chip right through to the racks that go into the average data server in businesses throughout Australia. And they're relying on Australian workers and know how to manufacture this important product. And we've all seen, unfortunately, over recent times, just how important data protection is. And we want to make sure that Australian businesses have the capacity to manufacture these important products here in Australia and we don't have to rely on international supply chains in the future.

KNIGHT: Well, that's right. And the components too are so critical because we've seen this with the new cars, the components of what if we don't have them, then that's when the shortages flow on. And that's part of what they're doing here too.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Yeah, that's exactly right. They're manufacturing all the components for the servers and I was privileged to see some of the kit that they've got installed at Botany today to achieve that. But it's not only about growing our industrial capability, it's also about growing our human capacity as well. And the skills and the technological knowhow that will be developed at this factory in the future, where they're going to be employing 30 locals to develop this skill and capacity will be priceless into the future. And hopefully from that, you'll see other businesses develop and this sovereign industrial capacity grow in Australia.

KNIGHT: And how quickly will that flow through, though? Because obviously we've got a long way to go to catch up to Asian countries where we already get these parts and components from. How quickly will we be able to stand on our own two feet because of a plant like this?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Yeah, they'll be manufacturing these components in the coming months and the kits are already set up. They've got a fantastic new facility there, the employees are being trained and they're ready to go. And the new Labor government is keen to partner with businesses exactly like this that are interested in growing Australia's industrial capabilities and sovereign manufacturing. And that's why we provided this $1.5 million grant to this company. I’ve got to say, Deb, from a government perspective, it's money well spent when you go along and you see this brand new facility about to open and about to produce important components for our ICT industry.

KNIGHT: So you have to give a shout out to the previous government then, because they're the ones who set up this Sovereign Industrial Capability Priority programme. They did well, didn't they? Setting it up?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Yeah, that's exactly right. This was a bipartisan programme. We all know, regardless of what side of politics you're on, that we do need to grow our sovereign industrial capability. And the grant was provided under the previous government and I was just privileged to be there, particularly as a local member. I've lived in this community my entire life and to see this sort of capacity coming to our area, and more importantly, the jobs for locals available, is a fantastic thing.

KNIGHT: Well done to you for giving credit where it's due, because I know that the portion of blame tends to happen to the previous government. So credit, when they have actually set up something like this to bring some real benefit to the local community and the entire national economy, I think it's worthy of acknowledging. And the ability to fix things is important here, too, because, as we've learnt from the Sydney light rail, when something goes wrong and it's built, the base of it in Spain, and we can't get it fixed because of the problems with the components and the parts, then hopefully with the stuff being made here, that will alleviate problems like that down the track.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: That's exactly right. We all know that modern day society relies on powerful computing and microprocessors. They are literally involved in every aspect of our lives these days. And having the capacity within Australia, amongst our population, with the skills and the technological experience, to be able to not only make these products, but repair them as well, we'll only grow our capacity and it augurs well for the future and the security of data in Australia.

KNIGHT: And will we see more of these facilities opening up? Is this just the first?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Yeah, I'm hopeful that we will. This grant programme is available for businesses across a range of industries and it's about ensuring that we're beginning to make things in Australia again, that we grow that industrial capacity and reinvest in Australians with the technical knowhow to pull off projects like this.

KNIGHT: And so we do have the capacity to do it, don't we? Because obviously, with the former Premier Gladys Berejiklian, and claiming we couldn't build trains here, that it's cheaper to do it offshore, we don't have the skills. That's absolute bollocks, isn't it?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Yeah, that's not true at all. Australians are some of the most skilled, most ingenious employees and workers that we have anywhere in the world. And we've traditionally had that very strong industrial base where we had a car manufacturing industry, we had a train manufacturing industry. We've got to make sure that we're investing and partnering with businesses to build that skill and capacity. Once again, we've got to stop relying on the rest of the world for our manufacturing and we need to develop that capability right here in Australia.

KNIGHT: And before you go, the PM is in Southeast Asia at the moment, the ASEAN and the G20 summit as well. He's met with the US President, Joe Biden, and looking likely that he may well meet with China's President, he got a chance to have an impromptu meeting with the Chinese Premier. How significant will that meeting be? A face to face meeting with the Chinese President?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Yeah, it will be a significant moment if it occurs. The Prime Minister did meet with Li Keqiang on the sidelines of the dinner on Saturday evening. That's a positive development, but as Anthony Albanese stressed, Australia will ensure that we stand up for our values of democracy and the rule of law. But we equally recognise that the trading relationship with China is important for many businesses and for jobs in Australia, most notably in our agricultural sector, which has done it tough in the wake of the pandemic. So we'll make sure that we stand up for Australia's interests, but at the same time open that dialogue to hopefully grow business and grow jobs.

KNIGHT: Let's see if that meeting happens. Thanks so much for joining us.



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