Press Conference - Darwin, Northern Territory

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The Hon Matt Keogh MP

Minister for Defence Personnel

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

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Stephanie Mathews: 0407 034 485

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18 January 2023

MINISTER  KEOGH: Good morning, everybody. It’s great to be here in Darwin with 1st Brigade, seeing off the 70 Australian soldiers as part of Operation Kudu that will be joining the UK forces in the UK, training Ukrainian soldiers as part of Australia’s commitment to supporting Ukraine and training their soldiers to make sure that they are able to continue to take the fight up to defend their country.

The 70 soldiers here are part of the first deployment of trainers that will be going to the UK. There’ll be several successive rotations to continue to provide that training to support, which, of course, builds on top of the equipment support that the Australian government has already provided to Ukraine to support their war effort.

 Are there any questions anyone wanted to ask?

JOURNALIST: Do you have an idea of how long they’ll be going for?

MINISTER  KEOGH: So each contingent will be away for several months and then they’ll swap out with another group and do that several times throughout the year.

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct]

MINISTER  KEOGH: Seventy that are going now and then each contingent will match what’s required, but it will be a similar number.

MINISTER  KEOGH: The Defence Minister this morning has said Australia remains open to providing further materiel support to Ukraine in the future. Are we likely to provide more Bushmasters? What other defence materiel might we donate?

MINISTER  KEOGH: Certainly, the Australian government’s already committed Bushmasters to Ukraine, and we’ll continue to engage with Ukraine and the Ukrainian Ambassador here in Australia about what further support Australia may be able to provide in terms of materiel and equipment to support their war effort. And, of course, today we’re seeing off the first contingent of Australian soldiers that will be providing training to the Ukraine forces over in the UK.

JOURNALIST: How many of the 90 that we are promising them have actually arrived in Ukraine?

MINISTER  KEOGH: I would have to check the exact figure, but I think they’ve all been sent over.

JOURNALIST: Will the Australian soldiers [indistinct] UK [indistinct]? So will Australian follow the UK’s [indistinct]?

MINISTER  KEOGH: So Australia is continuing to engage with Ukraine about what sort of materiel support Australia can provide, whether that’s equipment, whether that’s vehicles. We’ve already provided Bushmaster capability, and we’ll continue to have those discussions. But there’s been no decision about what any specific further commitment is.

JOURNALIST: What about scaling up deployment of troops for training in the UK? And if other partners decide to further expand operations beyond ’23 – I know we’ve got these four deployments, but what about more personnel and longer?

MINISTER  KEOGH: So, at the moment we’re doing several rotations of deployment to the UK to provide training with our – obviously our UK partners and some other countries are assisting in providing that training. And we will assess that over the course of this year to see whether that is a type of support that we will continue to provide after this year.

JOURNALIST: Why is it so vital that we provide such support in training Ukrainian soldiers?

MINISTER  KEOGH: So, at the moment Ukraine faces an existential crisis, and so they are now reliant on a volunteer civilian-based army that have come to fight to defend their country. And whether they’re hairdressers or taxi drivers or people from all walks of life, they have complete commitment to defending their country. But what they need is training, training in infantry tactics, infantry skills, so that they can bring the best soldiering training forward to defend their nation.

JOURNALIST: Several European countries resisted calls to send tanks initially to Ukraine, despite significant calls for it and, as you know, an existential crisis as well. The UK obviously changed its tack. I’m wondering, do you think Germany as a key NATO ally should step up and do the same thing?

MINISTER  KEOGH: Well, I think what we’re seeing around the globe, especially through NATO countries and other western countries is a commitment to supporting Ukraine defend its sovereign integrity against a large aggressor that is threatening the independence of a democratic nation. And we’re seeing that support come in so many different ways – through the provision of weapons, equipment, through armoured personnel movement like the Bushmasters and, of course, now this training operation that Australia’s contributing to.

I think countries from around the world will continue to assess how they can best support Ukraine in its defence effort. That will be different from country to country. Australia is one of the largest contributors from outside of NATO, and I know that those NATO countries will continue to assess how they are able to provide that support on their own terms.

JOURNALIST: Should Germany consider the tanks, though?

MINISTER  KEOGH: Well, that’s a matter for Germany to decide how it’s going to make any further contribution to supporting what’s happening in Ukraine.

JOURNALIST: What sort of training will they provide?

MINISTER  KEOGH: So, the training will primarily be around infantry skills and tactics. As I said, the Ukraine army that will be being trained are a volunteer group that have really got a civilian background, reservist people that have signed up out of their civilian jobs to defend their country. So, it will be basic infantry training and tactical training so that they’re best positioned to take the fight up in Ukraine.

JOURNALIST: How is it – I’m curious; obviously there’s a language barrier for a lot of these people who might not necessarily speak English. How do ADF support – how does that work really?

MINISTER  KEOGH: So as part of the training that our soldiers will be providing in the UK to Ukrainian soldiers there will be interpreters embedded as part of that training program. Many of our soldiers here have also been undertaking their own language training for building up their Ukraine language skills. They’ve told me, you know, Ukrainian is one of the hardest languages to learn, but they’ve been competing against each other on, you know, language learning streaks trying to develop their own skills by making it a competition within the group that are going across from 1 RAR, and they’ve been building that so that they can build a closer relationship and have those more informal interactions with the soldiers while they’re there as well as relying on the interpreters who will be part of the project.

JOURNALIST: There’s some concerns in the community about our involvement. Do you just want to reiterate the fact that we aren’t actually entering Ukraine?

MINISTER  KEOGH: Yes, it is important to understand that the group of Australian soldiers that are going to assist in training Ukrainian soldiers will be doing that work in the UK. It’s part of a UK-led mission that we are joining with some other western countries to provide training support to Ukrainian soldiers. All of that work will happen in the UK. There are no Australian soldiers that will be entering Ukraine as part of this mission.

JOURNALIST: Has the Australian government done any assessments about what involvement in training – you know, Russia is obviously a bad actor – about what potential blowback we might get by way of cyber attacks or things like that?

MINISTER  KEOGH: Australia has been assisting Ukraine in its defence efforts now for nearly a year. And we’re very conscious that that can result in cyber activity as a consequence, some targeted at Australia. But Australia is strong in its resolve that we will assist Ukraine as a sovereign, democratically elected government and country to defend itself. We stand for a global rules-based order. We support that – that’s why Australia is contributing to support the defence of Ukraine. And while there may be things that occur in terms of cyber activity as a consequence of that, we are not stepping back in our resolve to support Ukraine in the face of what is an existential threat to Ukraine.

JOURNALIST: We’ve just seen this major deal around particularly aerial infrastructure announced from the Australian Defence Force. We will have now an older fleet that I suppose will be retired. Have we considered at all whether if this is a war that goes on for some time could they end up being transported to somewhere like Ukraine?

MINISTER  KEOGH: In terms of additional materiel and in terms of additional support like providing equipment to Ukraine, we are always having a conversation with Ukraine about what that might look like. There’s no commitments for further equipment provision at this point. But we will continue to have dialogue with them in terms of how Australia may be able to assist.

JOURNALIST: Just from my colleagues in Canberra: how much has the federal government spent acquiring 40 Black Hawk helicopters for the Australian Army?

MINISTER  KEOGH: So, the announcement today about the acquisition of 40 additional Black Hawk helicopters for the Australian Army will cost around $3 billion. And that is to provide us with a greater capability in terms of aerial operation for our Australian Army transferring across from the MRH-90 to the new Black Hawk capability.

END

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