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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 July 2023

SUBJECTS: New military and humanitarian assistance package for Ukraine; Veteran Employment Program launch; Ashes rivalry; Republic.

TOM CONNELL, HOST: Joining me now is Assistant Defence Minister Matt Thistlethwaite for more on this, thanks very much for your time. Ukraine was thankful for the 30 Bushmasters, but the other thing they did not get are the Hawkei vehicles. The Prime Minister said there were supply chain issues. What are those issues and when will they be resolved?

MATT THISTLETHWAITE, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: G'day Tom, thanks for having me on. With these decisions, we take the advice of the Chief of the Defence Force about what's the most appropriate hardware to be supplied to Ukraine. At the same time, balancing, of course, the needs that we have to defend Australia. And the advice of the Defence Department was that the Bushmasters and the M113 vehicles that Australia has been supplying are the most appropriate vehicles and the ones that we have enough stock of to supply to Ukraine. So, that's the basis upon which that decision has been made.

CONNELL: Surely the latter is the main one. I mean, Ukraine says they're desperate for the Hawkeis. On that supply chain then is the issue we don't have enough to spare in Australia but that will be alleviated down the track? Is that what you're expecting to happen here?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, this is something that we're constantly assessing, taking the requests from Ukraine and then, of course, checking with the Chief of the Defence Force and the Defence Department. And their advice was that there were supply chain issues with the Hawkeis, that it wouldn’t be appropriate to be supplying those. At the moment, we'll be constantly checking with the Department of Defence on those issues into the future. But I think the point to reiterate is that Australia has been constantly updating the support that we've been supplying to Ukraine. Not only the hardware and military support, but humanitarian support as well. And Ukraine has been certainly very grateful and I think that it also demonstrates the great ingenuity and capacity that Australia has to produce military hardware, in particular armoured vehicles and the export potential that they have ongoing.

CONNELL: And so just on those Hawkeis, just so I can understand this, there is quite possibly spare capacity on the track once they're delivered, is that what you're saying? That it is still on the table to supply these?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: We'll have to wait and see what the advice of the Chief of the Defence Force is about, that I can't give a commitment to that at the moment, that's something that we'd accept the advice of the Chief of the Defence Force on.

CONNELL: But wouldn't you be asking them not just now, but if the supply chain issue sorts itself in six months, is there then that spare capacity? Wouldn't you be asking that question now so you can let Ukraine know?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, we assess the advice as we get it from the Defence Department and they've said that at the moment, the Hawkeis is not the appropriate vehicle to be supplying. That's why we've gone ahead and supplied the Bushmasters. They've been gratefully received. They're doing a pretty good job over there, from what I understand. And we'll accept that advice as it comes from the Department of Defence.

CONNELL: 24 more million dollars announced to help veterans transition into employment after they leave. 6000 leave the ADF each year. I've got to say, I've had a lot of different schemes and announcements over the years. What's the difference here? Is this just some more funding? What's happening?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, this is delivering an election commitment. We made a commitment in the led up to the election that we would support greater veterans’ employment because we know the great skills and capabilities that veterans develop during their time in the Australian Defence Force. And this morning, myself and the Minister Matt Keogh, launched this program in my electorate at Matraville at BRAVO Electrical, where we met a number of tradespeople who had finished their service with the Australian Navy and are now working for that business, supplying those skills. But what they needed, Tom, and what was important was that when they finished their careers in the Australian Defence Force, quite often a few veterans will need a top up of their skills to ensure that they're commercially employable. And this $24 million program provides grants for businesses and for veterans to upskill, to maybe do a couple of extra TAFE courses or university courses to ensure that they're employable in the commercial market. And we saw evidence of that today. And those services are now being supplied to Defence through those contractors and improving the capability of the Australian Defence Force.

CONNELL: No doubt, surely the need for tradies at the moment in the country. Just want to finish on what's, I guess an interesting time for UK Australia relations. Things have died down a bit since the second test, but you were suggesting so pompous was the behaviour of some of the English that this is going to drive people towards the Republic, of being inundated with new Republicans?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, I am the Minister for the Republic, so I never miss an opportunity, Tom, but I thought that it did really illustrate the difference between that old Britain, that British aristocratic notion that was on display there, quite often on display in the Long Room at Lords versus new Australia. New Australia having moved on, we're no longer British, we're no longer singing God Save the King. We're Australian and we're very much a multicultural nation and wonderful that that's starting to be reflected in our parliament and in our sporting teams, and you got people who are performing well, like Usman Khawaja, many of the members of the Matildas tonight that will go around, and that's new Australia. And I think that we can do a better job in representing that in the future by having one of our own as our head of state, rather than relying on old Britain for our head of state.

CONNELL: Maybe changing the anthem really hurt the Republican movement if we were singing God Save The King these days. I don't know. Maybe to give you a ground swell. The PM, though he might have cursed things here he tweeted about a week ago, same old Aussie is always winning. Since then, the women have lost their last two matches, the men have lost their last match, and neither Ashes is assured. So, will he apologise to the Australian people if we go down in flames now?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: No. Never back down, Tom. Never back down. When you're supporting an Australian team, I think that demonstrates the Prime Minister's commitment to backing Australia. And indeed, many of us of the same mind that you saw that when he met with Rishi Sunak at NATO, always back an Australian, Tom. That's my view. And that's why we should have an Australian head of state. We know an Australian can do the job, so let's back in Australia.

CONNELL: All right, well, just don't curse an Australian. I guess that's my point. We'll see. We haven't lost yet. Thank you.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Go the Matildas tonight!


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