Interview with Sky News Afternoon Agenda with Andrew Clennell

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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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17 January 2023

ANDREW CLENNELL, HOST: Well, let's bring in the Assistant Minister for Defence, Matt Thistlethwaite, thanks so much for joining us. I'll just open the floor to you at the outset and say, what can you say about Jim Molan and his passing?

MATT THISTLETHWAITE, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: G’day Andrew, happy new year, mate. Firstly, I'd like to offer sincere condolences to Jim Molan's family, to his wife Anna and his four children in particular Erin, one of your colleagues, who we all know very well and is quite often around Parliament. Jim lived a life of service to Australia, 40 years’ distinguished service in our military, raising to the rank of Major General. He served with distinguishment across a number of theatres of war. But I guess his major contribution, Andrew, was in our region, in PNG, in East Timor, where he was intimately involved in the INTERFET and the restoration of peace and order in East Timor. He then, of course, went on to a career as a Senator where he made a big difference. As was pointed out, he had a particular passion for national security issues and defence, but he also made a big difference in social policy areas. And I'm reminded of the inquiry that he and former Senator Kristina Keneally co-chaired into stillbirth reform in Australia and that led to a number of important social reforms. So, a sad day for the Parliament. We've lost a great Australian who gave distinguished service to our Parliament and to our military, and we offer condolences to his family.

CLENNELL: Does the government have any plans to honour the Senator?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, certainly there will be the appropriate motions of condolence when we return to the Parliament in both the Senate and in the House of Representatives and that will provide an opportunity for Members of the Parliament to make a contribution about his wonderful career. But I think you'll find there'll be other opportunities where he will be remembered, particularly through his military service as well. Jim was also the duty Senator for my electorate, and I quite often interacted with him at multicultural events, at RSL events. I know he was on the other side of the political spectrum to me and we often had some fierce disagreements, often on Sky with people like yourself. But at the end of the day, we could always have a beer and get along and talk about what's important and that's making Australia a better place to live. So, he will we sadly missed, not only as a Parliamentarian, but as a colleague and friend as well.

CLENNELL: Surely. Well, it's a big year, then, for the government with the Defence Strategic Review coming down. Is Greg Sheridan right this morning when he wrote in The Australian it may be handed down in the very first sitting week?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: It will be handed down very soon. The work is being done to put the final touches on that. And that Strategic Review, of course, is very important, Andrew, for providing recommendations to the Government about the future direction for the Australian Defence Force, in particular the assets that we invest in moving forward and where those assets will be positioned throughout Australia to ensure that we can maintain our Defence Forces of the highest calibre and maintain the capability edge. That review has been completed. It will be handed down when the Government receives it and that will guide future decisions around investments and important investments in Defence Force capability into the future.

CLENNELL: So, from what you're saying, it's a bit of a two-step process. You release the review and then you have a response. You're not having the response at the same time, by the sound of it?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: That's yet to be determined. But the important thing, I think, is that the report will be released and it will be there for all Australians to see, to study and to have a look at, and that will provide the framework and the guidance for government to make decisions about where we head with investments and capability into the future. When Richard announced this important review, he pointed out that the Dibb Review in the 1980s guided decisions that the Hawke and Keating governments and Howard governments made for a generation. And we see this in similar light to that review as guiding Australian government decisions for the next generation to ensure that we have the capability to defend Australia and keep Australians safe.

CLENNELL: Will we get a set plan then on the timing and cost of nuclear submarines and how Australia plans to source them? Will there be that level of detail?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, there's a separate review going on into the AUKUS arrangements and how we'll deliver that capability and that will be handed down at a similar time. And again, Australians will have the opportunity to look at those recommendations as well. There's quite a bit that's going to happen in the Defence space over the first six months of this year, we've had a period where we believe that there's been some underinvestment in Australia in our capability and we need to make sure that we have that capability into the future and that's what the AUKUS recommendations and the Defence Strategic Review will be all about.

CLENNELL: And just finally, your other role, Assistant Minister on the Republic. A big year with the Voice referendum. You must be hoping that this gets up so that the next step, perhaps next term, if Labor was re-elected is a Republic referendum. Because if the Voice were to fail, it would be pretty hard to push for another referendum or constitutional change, wouldn't it?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Yeah, you're right about that. If the Voice fails, it will make it very difficult to push for a Republic. And the focus of the Albanese Government this year will be working with the Australian people to deliver the recommendations from Uluru in 2017 and the wishes of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community throughout Australia for a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament. That's what the Indigenous leaders of Australia want and that's what the government is committed to delivering. And I'm certainly looking forward to working with people in my community and across Australia to hopefully deliver that towards the end of this year.

CLENNELL: Matt Thistlethwaite, thanks so much for your time this afternoon.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: My pleasure, Andrew. Thank you.


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