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The Hon Matt Keogh MP

Minister for Defence Personnel

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

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Stephanie Mathews on 0407 034 485

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24 July 2023

SUBJECTS: 70th anniversary of the Korean War armistice, Hercules acquisition, Robodebt

GREG JENNETT, HOST: Later this week, another historic milestone will have passed in the bloody history of conflict on the Korean Peninsula. The 70th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice will be commemorated by Australia and 20 other countries which had forces involved in Korea or in the waters nearby. Defence Personnel and Veterans' Affairs Minister Matt Keogh will travel, representing this nation, and he joins us live from our Perth studios. Welcome back, Matt. Yes, you're off to Korea for the commemoration of what's so often called the Forgotten War. Why is it so important to be there in person, not just from Australia, but the other nations this year?

MINISTER FOR VETERANS’ AFFAIRS MATT KEOGH: So, Greg. Yes, I'm heading off with eight veterans from the Korean War from Australia, to participate in the commemorations with South Korea. There's a number of other countries that were part of that conflict, all coming together for these important commemorations. Obviously remembering the conflict, remembering those that sacrificed their lives, those who were injured. And you mentioned there the Forgotten War in the shadow of a much larger conflict in the Second World War, of course. It was a much more constrained battle, but it was an important one because it was the first one that the United Nations was running. Australia was one of the first nations to put its hand up because of our ongoing commitment to peace and stability in the region. Just like right now, we have a commitment to a peaceful and stable region that we are a part of, working with our neighbours as we continue to work with South Korea to this day. But it's important that we stop and reflect on all of those countries coming together to support a small country that was facing aggression, facing an attack on its sovereignty and to reflect on that today is pretty poignant, just as it was then.

GREG JENNETT: Is Australia still pursuing in any way, diplomatically, a formal peace treaty? I know there was a bit of a flare up over this instigated by none other than Donald Trump in his presidency back in 2018. It seemed to make a little bit of momentum then, but has since fizzled. Is this something Australia is working on to this day?

MINISTER KEOGH: Well, we still have Australian personnel that are operating in South Korea, but it's not our primary diplomatic effort, Greg, to focus on that particular issue in that particular way. We are supportive of South Korea and we're supportive of a peaceful and stable region. And of course, some of the activities we see from North Korea are not consistent with that approach. And so that's not our primary force of effort. But, of course, building those strong ties with South Korea, continuing to build closer defence linkages with them. They're here in Australia at the moment participating in Exercise Talisman Sabre, for example. This is the second year that they've participated and that allows us to improve our interoperability, our connections between our defence forces as well as with all 13 countries that are participating in Exercise Talisman Sabre this year. And it just demonstrates that ongoing commitment, that ongoing relationship and its continued strengthening.

GREG JENNETT: Sure if we have time, I might come back to a question on Talisman Sabre. Just a couple of other things in the Defence portfolio, including in a moment, Matt Keogh, I might put to you some breaking news that's emerging with other media outlets, so I'll just put that on hold for a moment. But $10 billion worth of new C-130J Hercules aircraft. This will increase the fleet currently from twelve to 20. Is it possible that the planes arrive before you've managed to expand the workforce needed to maintain them and to fly them, such as the pressure on ADF numbers at present?

MINISTER KEOGH: So, this purchase of 20 Hercules does represent an increase over time of our medium-size airlift capability. But the first of those craft that we receive will be replacing our existing craft. And then into the 2030s, we'll see that additional expansion going from twelve to 20 Hercs that will be operating out of the Richmond airfield there. And so over that time, we are increasing the size of our Defence Force and our most important capability being our people. It's why I was out last week opening the ADF Careers Centre in Melbourne as part of our new branding of ADF Careers. Working with our new recruitment partner, Adecco, to make it easier for people to join the Defence Force. To make sure that people are aware of the over 250 different roles that exist within our Defence Force and that we're recruiting for all of them, and it's not just the sorts of roles people think of. The Hercules, for example, obviously is used as a military airlift aircraft, but also plays a vital role in humanitarian assistance, whether that's supporting bushfire operations or floods here in Australia, as they were in the north of Western Australia at the beginning of this year, or across our region where that assistance is required.

GREG JENNETT: Sure, do you reserve the right to slow down capability acquisitions, the purchase of aircraft like this, though, if you're not meeting your gateway targets on the personnel side?

MINISTER KEOGH: Well, obviously we do need to grow the size of our Defence Force, not just for this capability, but for capabilities across the Defence Force. We have a big uplift coming, of course, with the AUKUS submarine program increasing the size of our submarines, with nuclear-propelled submarines and the number of submarines that will be operating. And of course, that's consistent across the board. And that's why we're putting in such a tremendous effort to make sure that we're growing our recruitment, we're retaining more of our people in Defence, making changes at that end as well. And that's an important effort that we are working on now to make sure that we have our most important capability, our people capability, because, as you say, none of that equipment operates without them. To make sure we're growing that in line with the overall capability requirements that we see.

GREG JENNETT: Alright. Now, Matt Keogh, can I put to you a question that is completely without notice, but I do so because you are a Minister in the Defence portfolio. It emerged in other outlets around the time we started this conversation, that is, that senior public servant Kathryn Campbell is reported to have quit her position, which nominally was through the Defence Department, on an AUKUS Task Force or AUKUS project. Do you understand that to be correct? Can you confirm it?

MINISTER KEOGH: I'm not in a position to confirm that at this point, Greg. But I think when we look at the entire Robodebt scandal and the Royal Commission and the findings that it handed down, the critical focus here actually needs to be the failure at the level of Government. The Ministers that were responsible. Their failures to keep their own Cabinet colleagues apprised of exactly how this program was operating, their failure to take into account the many people across the board that were saying to them, saying to the Government, there are serious problems with this program. We don't think it's legal. And the real human impacts that the Robodebt program was having on people's lives. And that was a failure by the Ministers, it was a failure by the last Government. And that's where the focus of the report and I think people's focus on how that all unfolded needs to be.

GREG JENNETT: I understand your focus on that. It was late last week that we and others did manage to confirm, in fact, the Prime Minister confirmed it, that Kathryn Campbell had been suspended without pay pending some of the fallout that came from Robodebt. So, would it be a small step in the overall scheme of things to then depart that position entirely?

MINISTER KEOGH: Well, I think what's important is that the Royal Commission made clear that it was making, not only made findings in the public part of the report, but it also made clear that there were going to be referrals to other investigative bodies and authorities. And in that context, it's important that all of those processes go through their usual course. And that not confronted with a running commentary from Ministers about how that's going to unfold. So, that due process is afforded to everybody as that unfolds. So, I'll leave it at that when it comes to those issues.

GREG JENNETT: Okay, but just one final one, just to be absolutely certain here. Matt Keogh. Prior to our conversation, which is occurring live, you hadn't seen any communications internally to this effect.

MINISTER KEOGH: It wasn't something that I was tracking as we were coming in to talk about my trip in only a few hours’ time to South Korea for the 70th anniversary of the end of hostilities there, no.

GREG JENNETT: Thanks for clearing that up. And I do stress that that really did break around us. So, I would have been negligent had I not put it to you. Matt Keogh, safe travels to Korea and we'll talk again soon. Thanks for joining us.



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