Television Interview, Sky News, Afternoon Agenda

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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 July 2023

SUBJECTS: Voice to Parliament; Republic; Fadden by-election; Cost of living support; New military and humanitarian assistance package for Ukraine; AUKUS; Defence Strategic Review; Brereton report.

ANDREW CLENNELL, HOST: Let's bring in Matt Thistlethwaite, Assistant Minister for Defence and the Republic, he joins us this afternoon. Matt Thistlethwaite, thanks for your time. You must be alarmed by these poll numbers?

MATT THISTLETHWAITE, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: G’day, Andrew, thanks for having me on the show. The poll numbers I think reflect a number of things. If you look at the category of people who are undecided, quite a few of them are women. And I think that that reflects that many Australians haven't turned their mind to the issue yet because they're quite busy. So particularly women are probably working, looking after a family, perhaps looking after elderly parents as well and they haven't turned their mind to the issue. What we're finding, we've kicked off some campaigning in our local community. What we're finding is when you can actually talk to people and explain to them what the Voice is about, generally, they will change their vote to a yes. So I'm quietly optimistic that once we kick off in full swing with the campaign, we know we've got a bit of work to do. We're going to have to do quite a bit of door knocking. A bit more phoning, a bit more street stalls, that you can convince people that this is the right thing to do for First Nations Australia.

CLENNELL: So is it your understanding all Labor MPs will be heavily involved in that? It sounds like you already have?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Yeah, you would have seen on the weekend there was a lot of Labor MPs out, we had a bit of a national day of action and you going to see that ramp up quite a bit more. Certainly all Labor MPs are supporting the Voice to Parliament. There's a few Coalition MPs that are supporting it as well. And in my community here, Andrew, I've got three information forums coming up. This week and next week, we've got some door knocking and street stalls that are coming up. All of its being done in cooperation with in and consultation with the local Aboriginal community. So you're going to see a lot more campaigning in effect over the next couple of months and a lot more conversations and that's what's important. Once you can have the conversation with people and explain what the Voice is about, generally they're supportive.

CLENNELL: Because you have got a significant Aboriginal community. What does it number in in your electorate?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Yeah, we've got close to 4000 people with Aboriginal heritage in our community and Marcia Ella-Duncan, who is a very well respected indigenous leader in our community, and a former Australian netballer, she's chairing the Yes committee for us. In our local community, I've got Chris Ingrey from the La Perouse Aboriginal Land Council who is doing a presentation at the community forums that I'm holding. So I think that once people see that this is a request that's come from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, it's not the government's referendum, it's something that came from the Uluru Statement from the Heart. It's a request from First Nations Australians. And once people see that and once they understand what it's about, and they know that it's about recognising First Nations Australians in the Constitution and giving them a Voice on matters affecting them, most people the supportive.

CLENNELL: People seem to fear it though don’t they, they fear the unknown. They see the opposition opposing it. That's one of the issues for you, isn't it?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Yeah, it is people fear change, Andrew, particularly when it comes to the Constitution, and it's very easy for an opponent to say well look, if you're uncertain about it, just vote no. And it's much harder to try and convince people to vote yes, we know that. And we know that and it’s difficult to get a referendum up. That's why there's a big effort going into those one to one conversations. You're going to see a lot more of that across Australia over the coming months.

CLENNELL: What would a loss here do to your Republican push, Assistant Minister for the Republic, it would make it nigh impossible?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: It'll make it more difficult. There's no doubt about that. But the government's got a longer term vision for our nation. And I don't think that people are anti the government having a vision for Australia, and where we see it in a decade's time. And we certainly believe that we're no longer British, that we have our own unique identity and culture. And we should be able to reflect that by having one of our own as our head of state. So that's a lot further down the track. The priority at the moment, of course, is First Nations Australians, recognising them in the Constitution and delivering a Voice.

CLENNELL: What's your view of the Fadden result? It's a bit of a wake up call to the government?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: We didn't expect to win it. It's a seat that we've never held, was quite a margin…

CLENNELL: I’ll hold you up there, they held it between 1983 and 84.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: I stand corrected. For one year we held it. It wasn't one that we expected to win. However, I appreciate that cost of living issues at the forefront of Australians’ minds at the moment and many Australians are doing it tough. And that's why the number one priority of the Albanese Government is trying to deliver cost of living relief in a responsible manner to get most vulnerable Australians through this difficult period at the moment that we have economically.

CLENNELL: Do you have, sorry, do you hear a lot of that in your electorate?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: I hear that people are feeling the pinch of interest rate rises. I hear that they're feeling the inflation that the economy has been experiencing lately, and they’d like to see greater increases in real wages. And that's why the government's priorities and all of our policies are aimed at delivering responsible cost of living relief, getting real wages moving again. And Andrew, the other thing I'd say is that a lot of those measures that were put in place in the Budget to provide that relief only recently started on the first of July, our cheaper childcare reforms, increases to rent assistance, changes to single parenting payments, increases to JobSeeker. Some of the cheaper medicines. There's another round of that to come with 60 day dispensing on the first of September. Many of these programs have only just begun. So it's probably too early to judge them yet. But all of our focus at the moment is delivering that cost of living relief to get through this difficult economic period.

CLENNELL: Let me ask you about your other hat, Defence. The Coalition has been out and about being pretty critical of the Defence spending at the moment particularly in Ukraine. What's your response to that?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, Australia is one of the largest non-NATO contributors to the effort in Ukraine and we've recently updated the support that we're providing to Ukraine, the Bushmasters, the 30 additional Bushmasters that takes the total to around 70, the M113 armoured personal carriers. They're very, very effective, as well as humanitarian support. So it's an ongoing process. And we've said to Ukraine, that we're here to support you, and we'll do all we can. Having said that, of course we've got to balance the responsibility that we have as a government to defend Australia into the future. And that's why we take the advice of the Chief of the Defence Force about what's the appropriate amount of assistance that Australia can provide to Ukraine.

CLENNELL: Do you think we'll end up seeing a parliamentary committee overseeing AUKUS as Andrew Hastie has been pushing for?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well there’s quite a bit of parliamentary oversight of AUKUS and it’s a pleasing development that the United States Congress, to one of their current congressional committees, has provided support for not only to transfer of the Virginia class submarines to Australia, but the removal of export controls on some of the information sharing and technology transfer that will be crucial to AUKUS. This is a very, very long term endeavour for our nation that's got bipartisan support, and it will take time to roll out, but we've started the process and I think that's the most important thing. You will have seen a couple of weeks ago, our first graduates from the United States nuclear engineering school that the Navy runs over there. That's an important process. That's the beginning of us being able to engineer and train up our own scientists, engineers and other graduates that will deliver this capability in the future.

CLENNELL: All right, and finally, where are we at in terms of the Brereton report and charges flowing from that? Have you seen any effect on the morale of the Defence Force?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: There’s a big effort from this government to support the greatest asset that Australia has and that's our Defence Force troops. The Defence Strategic Review, there's a lot of commentary about the kit and capability and what we're going to purchase but the most important thing that I think came out of that was the support for growing the Australian Defence Force, our personnel, and we've got a big focus on particularly supporting Defence Force personnel and their families, quite often, their families aren't thought about, but we want to make that a big focus. In terms of the Brereton report, that was obviously independent of government that's been handed to the Office of Special Investigator and it's now up to them to look at that report and to assess whether or not charges need to be laid against the individual someone's already been charged and it will be up to the independent office to determine whether or not further charges will be laid.

CLENNELL: But have you seen any effect on morale out of that?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: I visit a lot of Defence sites, I've got a lot of bases throughout the country. I've got to say that I'm quite optimistic about the Australian Defence Force. I think that they appreciated the Defence Strategic Review and the work that went into that, they're certainly all very supportive of AUKUS and keen to be involved in that. They appreciate the reforms that the government has made to support the careers of people within the Australian Defence Force and the support that we're providing for families. So the scheme such as the Defence Home Ownership Assistance Scheme, which is aimed at supporting Defence families to purchase their own home. We've recently upgraded that scheme and made the eligibility criteria more accessible. People are appreciating what we're trying to do to support our ADF personnel.

CLENNELL: Matt Thistlethwaite, Assistant Defence Minister, Assistant Minister for the Republic for the Albanese Government. Thanks so much for your time this afternoon.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: My pleasure, Andrew, thanks mate.


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