21 February 2023
SUBJECTS: Defence Renewable Energy and Energy Security Program; Defence Strategic Review; Alice Springs; Local crime.
KATIE WOOLF, HOST: Now we know that the Federal Assistant Minister for Defence, Matt Thistlethwaite is in Darwin today and he's going to be visiting the Robertson Barracks where he's set to make a major renewable energy announcement. But he joins us in the studio first. Good morning to you.
MATT THISTLETHWAITE, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Good morning, Katie. Thanks for having me on your show.
WOOLF: Yeah, great to have you on the show. Thanks so much for your time this morning. Now, what is the announcement? Tell us a little bit more about, it's set to be a new energy project, as I understand.
ASSISTANT MINISTER: Yeah, that's right. I'll be at Robertson Barracks today with Luke Gosling. We're announcing the Defence Renewable Energy and Energy Security Program. It's a $64 million program in which we'll invest in Defence bases throughout the country in renewable energy projects. And the one that we're launching today at Robertson Barracks is an eleven-megawatt solar farm with a two and a half megawatt battery that’ll save about 8000 tons of emissions per year. But importantly, in the process, we've created jobs in the local community. There's been about 18 local Northern Territory businesses involved in the construction project. Eleven of those were small to medium sized enterprises, six of them were First Nations businesses. So, we're reducing emissions, we're saving money for the Defence Force as well and we're taking pressure off the local energy grid as well. So, it's a win for the Northern Territory and it's a win for Defence.
WOOLF: Any idea how much it's going to save financially, sort of year on year? You know it is a big investment, I guess, from the outset, but I would imagine that it is gonna save money each year?
ASSISTANT MINISTER: Yeah, it will reduce the cost of the energy needs at the base by 40%, so it's a pretty big saving. And that means that more money in the future can be invested in capability. And when you're saving money on energy, you can invest more in capability to defend the Australian people. And that's the philosophy behind this project, as well as, of course, meeting with the government's commitments to reduce emissions and to boost renewable energy throughout Australia.
WOOLF: I know that a lot of territorians have sort of you know they've got confidence in solar and renewables, but they have got a few projects here in the Territory which haven't been connected and have hit other roadblocks. Is there a guarantee that this one is gonna get off the ground and that everything's gonna run smoothly?
ASSISTANT MINISTER: So far, the project is running smoothly. It'll be operational in quarter four of this year. And it's not just Robertson Barracks, Tindal, Larrakeyah, RAAF Base Darwin and Harts Range will also benefit from these projects. The NT gets the most of these projects. You're getting half of the ten that have been allocated throughout the country because you've got an abundance of sunlight and they certainly make sense in the north here. So something that I'm pleased to be here to announce today, and it's a great partnership between the Northern Territory and the Albanese Labor Government.
WOOLF: And how do you reckon it will benefit the community more broadly, but also, I guess, the defence community more broadly?
ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, firstly, you're reducing emissions, and that's important for all of us in reducing the impacts of climate change. We're gonna take pressure off the local energy grid by producing more renewables. And importantly, in the process, we're creating jobs. There's the construction jobs that I've just mentioned, but also there'll be twelve ongoing jobs, specifically at Robertson and others, the other bases, that will benefit the local community. So, it's a win win.
WOOLF: The big question that we always get asked on this show when there is a major project is are those tenders or have those tenders gone out to local businesses?
ASSISTANT MINISTER: There's been, in this case, 18 local businesses that have been involved in the construction. So that's local jobs. As I mentioned earlier, six of those were Indigenous businesses and
eleven of them were SMEs. So, we're very much focused in Defence on providing opportunities for local businesses to grow and to employ locals.
WOOLF: Now, what's the timeline for the project?
ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, as I said, constructions almost completed, and it will become operational at the end of this year in quarter four.
WOOLF: Now, I know that there has been a Defence review conducted, it's now been provided to the federal government and underpinning that document is the premise that China represents, well, a military threat to Australia. I think that it's something that a lot of Aussies are talking about right now and it does seem to be something that's sort of at the fore of people's minds. I'm not sure whether it is more so than it's been before. But for us here in the Northern Territory, particularly after an event like the commemorations of the bombing of Darwin, I suppose we know greater than anybody, just you know, just how vulnerable we can be in different ways, but just how strategically important we are here in the Northern Territory. What part does the Northern Territory play in that review that's been conducted?
ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, we face the toughest set of strategic circumstances that we've faced since World War II and the Territory is going to be a crucial part of the ongoing defence of Australia. The Defence Strategic Review has been handed to the government. I haven't seen it yet. Only the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister have a copy and over the coming months that will be released, and the government will respond. But I was at Larrakeyah Barracks yesterday talking to the wonderful ADF personnel that are based there. I'm in Robertson today. I'm going to RAAF Base Darwin today as well. And what we've seen over the last decade, in particular in the Northern Territory, is an increase in ADF presence, a growing of that presence, a growing of capability, and I envisage that that will continue into the future.
WOOLF: Yeah, right. So, you do think that we will potentially see a greater presence of ADF personnel here in the Territory?
ASSISTANT MINISTER: There's no doubt that Darwin and the Northern Territory and the top end is strategically important to Australia. There's no doubt about that. And that's why you've seen that growing presence in the past. And I envisage that will continue into the future.
WOOLF: Cause I know there has been some criticism at different times as well, with you know with the likes of South Australia maybe having you know a greater presence or having you know more happening there in terms of defence than what we do here in the Northern Territory, when, as you've said, we are so strategically important.
ASSISTANT MINISTER: Yeah, Defence invests in different capabilities in different states. There are 70 bases throughout the country. Defence is the largest landowner. That's why these renewable energy projects make such sense. But there's different specialties in different regions and the Northern Territory certainly is strategically important to the Defence Force and will continue to be into the future.
WOOLF: Now, Matt, before I let you go, obviously crime’s been a big issue for us here in the Northern Territory. I'm sure that you've seen plenty of that coverage, particularly out of the likes of Alice Springs. I know that Barnaby Joyce, he's taken aim at the Prime Minister for treating Sydney’s Mardi Gras Parade as more important, he said, than the crime crisis in Alice Springs. The Nationals MP said that locals were annoyed with Mr Albanese for spending more time at the tennis or at the Mardi Gras than in the embattled outback town. What do you make of those comments?
ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, as soon as Alice Springs became an issue, the Prime Minister travelled there, sat down with local leaders and local police force and tried to work on solutions. And that solution is being developed in conjunction with the Northern Territory Government and is being rolled out. Matt Keogh, the Assistant Defence Minister and Veterans Minister, was here on Sunday for the Battle of Darwin commemoration. I was here yesterday at one down at Adelaide River and I'm here for the next three days. And that's why you have Ministers to represent the government in different portfolio areas. We cherish the relationship that we have with the Northern Territory. We've got some excellent representatives up here in Luke Gosling, Malarndirri McCarthy, Marion Scrymgour. They do a great job in informing us in Canberra and throughout the country about what's needed here in the NT.
WOOLF: I know when it comes to some of the issues around Australia with crime, particularly youth crime, in regional parts of, well of Northern Australia, you know the likes of Queensland at the moment, also the Northern Territory and Western Australia, it's being raised as a big issue. Is it something that's on the federal government's agenda?
ASSISTANT MINISTER: It certainly is an issue that's on our agenda, and we're aware of. A lot of the time these are complex issues. They don't just involve crime. They involve issues of social disadvantage, they involve housing issues, they involve employment issues, training issues. They're complex issues to deal with. And that's why we've had a number of Ministers that are working on these issues with the Prime Minister. But what's important is that we're working in concert with state and territory governments. Ultimately, a responsibility for crimes acts and those laws rests with the states and territories. But we want to make sure that as a Commonwealth Government, we're responsive to their needs and providing the support that they need to get on top of these issues.
WOOLF: Well, Federal Assistant Minister for Defence, Matt Thistlethwaite, we really appreciate your time this morning. Thanks so much for coming in and having a chat with us.
ASSISTANT MINISTER: Thanks, Katie.
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