Television interview, ABC Afternoon Briefing

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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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10 July 2023

SUBJECTS: NATO Summit; New military & humanitarian assistance package for Ukraine; Scott Morrison; Robodebt.

MATTHEW DORAN, HOST: Let's bring in our Monday political panel now. Joining us from the ABC's Sydney studio, the Assistant Defence Minister and Labor MP Matt Thistlethwaite, and a little further afield, Liberal Senator and Shadow Minister for the Environment, Jonathon Duniam is in Hobart. Welcome to both of you. Matt Thistlethwaite, let's start with you. There might be a lot of Australians sitting here or sitting watching their program wondering why Australia is going to the NATO summit, what role Australia can provide here. How would you explain it to the general public?

MATT THISTLETHWAITE, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: G’day Matthew, I'm sure there are plenty of Australians watching your program this afternoon. It's encouraging I think that Prime Minister Albanese he has been invited to NATO I think it reflects a couple of things, firstly that the rest of the world appreciates the new government’s re-engagement particularly within our region and our focus on the Pacific and the Asia region more broadly, particularly around climate change. And you’ve heard the Prime Minister often say that the entry ticket to international for a such as these is stronger action on climate change which the new government has been taking. And secondly, I think it reflects the view that the world appreciates Australia's view on what is one of the world's most dynamic regions, the Indo-Pacific at the moment. And the work that we have been performing through the Quad, through APEC and our re-engagement with China, I think the that the world appreciates Australia’s views on these issues at the moment. So, it’s wonderful that the Prime Minister has been invited to this international meeting.

DORAN: Given that it was only just a few weeks ago that the Prime Minister announced further support for Ukraine in the form of $110 million worth of military aid, should we be expecting to see further announcements on that very issue,  further military support for the resistance while the Prime Minister is in Europe?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Australia is already one of the largest non-NATO contributors to the effort in Ukraine and we recently announced that new assistance package, I think it very much reflects that we are batting above our average when it comes to our support for Ukraine. We need to recognise that the rest of the international community is certainly contributing as well and the announcements that were made recently, the 30 trucks and trailers, the 105mm artillery that we are supplying and the new armoured vehicles, which was in addition to what was applied by the previous government, is very much appreciated by Ukraine.

DORAN: Jonathon Duniam, the Coalition has been quite critical of Albanese government and its supply of aid to Ukraine and recent months saying it has been too slow and does not go far enough, what do you think should be on the list of things to be sending over there?

JONATHON DUNIAM, SENATOR FOR TASMANIA: I think we have talked a big game in terms of supporting the Ukraine in their just fight for their freedoms and liberties. I think what we do need to be doing is making sure that whatever resources are available are allocated in the way that was committed by the Government. The reason for that is because at the end of the day this is not just about a fight between Russia and Ukraine, is a fight about independence, liberty and freedom. Go to the first question he asked Matthew before and that is around why our prime minister has been invited to NATO and that is because there is so much at stake at this point in time the geopolitical environment has changed so significantly in the past couple of years that of course, the focus on the Indo-Pacific and having Australia as a leader in this region attributed vision to the letter from is essential. It is great that the PM is able to go get Australia's view and contribution there. We do really need to up our game and make sure that whatever resources we as a developed and stable country can provide to the Ukraine are sent over. In a foster fashion as promised by the Prime Minister and Defence Minister.

DORAN: Should the extent of the provision of retired Australian fighter jets to help train Ukrainian pilots has this been the plan outlined by the US President Joe Biden?

DUNIAM: I think that our Defence leadership should make decisions about what is able to go but those decisions should be made quickly in terms of the resources that we no longer deploy here in the field of combat or training, domestic scenarios. I would allow them to make those decisions but we need to make those decisions and a far quicker fashion so that those tools that are not being used here seeing by gathering can be deployed to a part of the world what they are needed.

DORAN: Matt Thistlethwaite, given the leadership that Australia is trying to show in the Indo-Pacific and by extension of that, as one a number of Asia-Pacific countries invited to NATO, I am keen to ask you about some comments from the former prime minister, a couple of Prime Ministers back, Paul Keating, he’s issued a statement today or late last night actually talking about NATO's attraction to Asia-Pacific or at least it looking towards this region and the suggestion that NATO could open an office in Tokyo as an outpost there. Does the Australian government think it would be a good idea for NATO to have a physical presence in this region?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: That is a matter for NATO and I know that there are NATO members that do not think that is a good idea and obviously that’s an organisation that works on consensus. I think the important thing about the Prime Minister's trip is it is increasing dialogue and increasing engagement and that is a positive because we all know that when nations state leaders are talking to each other, and there is dialogue, there is trade, that hopefully the risk of conflict is reduced. What we are seeing at the moment is a government that is keenly interested in re-engaging within our region and more broadly across the globe and that is what has been reflected in the invitation to the Prime Minister and indeed other Asia-Pacific nations to these important talks. The more dialogue we have I think the more peace and stability we can maintain long-term not only within our region but more broadly across the globe.

DORAN: But would that dialogue be aided by having NATO with a physical presence in Japan?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: As I said, that is a matter for the NATO nations. I note that the former prime minister has used pretty colourful description and that. Paul Keating’s views are widely respected by the Australian people and what is important for this government’s perspective is we act on it the best evidence that is available and what we believe in Australia's national interest and that is the action that we are taking at the moment through our engagement within the region and our participation in forums such as this is the NATO one going on at the moment.

DORAN: Matt Thistlethwaite, not prepared to bite on that one but I have a feeling that Jonathan Duniam might be prepared to buy on this one. Is Paul Keating out of line in his assessment of how NATO is trying to look towards the Asia-Pacific?

DUNIAM: The former prime minister, I think he is widely respected by many the community but he is starting chip away at that respect when he does not just talk about NATO and escape they work and have a role to play in the Indo-Pacific or not, he made personal attacks on its leadership and the work that it does. I do not agree with his view and the fact is NATO is a piece loving stability loving organisation that share our interests and I would have thought having NATO come into this region by way of an office placed in Tokyo, if that is what they decide to do and does not has said, they are consensus driven organisation, could only aid our aim is to have stability and peace in that region and have make sure that we have that

continuing on into the future. I do not share the Prime Minister's views and I do not think should be let off the hook by such bizarre commentary that when he has been.

DORAN: Moving our attention to home. A lot of discussion around whether or not it is viable for the former, another former prime minister this one big Scott Morrison, whether it is there enough for him to remain in Parliament considering what the robotic royal commission had to say about his conduct is social services minister during the life of that program. Jonathan, should Scott Morrison be calling time on his parliamentary career?

DUNIAM: Whether Scott Morrison calls time or should be calling time in his career or not is going to be a matter for him, not for me.

DORAN: I’m sure if he has something to say on that front he'll be able to speak for himself. The important thing is out of the royal commission, the several Parliamentary inquiries and all the public commentary on Robo debt, we do everything we can to make sure this never ever happens again. I hate deputy chaired a sanity committee and I saw the heartbreak does make Senate committee. There is no excuse for what happened it is our job now to look forward and to make sure we event the sort of thing by way of government policy of the future. Scott Morrison though I let him speak for himself.

DUNIAM: I do not think a shadow minister from Tasmania is going to be the arbiter on that, I have said my views about the Robo debt scheme publicly in the past. Particularly, when we were in government I spoke out about those things than, but in terms of accolades future, that is a matter for them. When he does what he says is a matter for him, I know what I'm focused on making sure we never see these things repeated into the future.

DORAN: Matt Thistlethwaite, my knowledge of Sydney geography is not great, but I’m pretty sure Scott Morrison is in a neighbouring electorate to yours as the member for Cook? Would you like to see a new member for Cook after these findings?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: You are right, it’s just across the other side of Botany Bay. Scott Morrison’s future is a matter for him but I think that the Opposition Leader and the Liberal Party will not want him running at the next election, not only for the risk of losing the seat of Cook but the broader damage that it could do to other seats not only in Sydney but across the nation. I think this has been disgraceful policy and that has been proven by the findings in the royal commission. We should make sure that it is never ever repeated again. Ultimately that will be decision for the member for Cook himself.

DORAN: Clearly there were findings about the conduct of politicians, the conduct of their offices in this commission. But there was also a scathing comment on the behaviour of public servants during the life of Robodebt, not providing the free and frank advised they are employed to give. One former public servant said that there was a series of failures there. Matt Thistlethwaite, what example or less and should there be for the public service in how this whole saga played out?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: There are important lessons for the public service. The findings of the royal commission are about the responsibility of public servants to act ethically, legally, and morally in this case, and this has been found wanting. There are no doubt going to be ramifications for this government at all governments in the future in regard to the public service. But ultimately the future of public servants is a matter for the heads of those departments. But the findings of the royal commission on that respect and no doubt being taken into consideration.

DORAN: Matt Thistlethwaite and Jonno Duniam, thank you for joining us today.


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