Television Interview, ABC News Breakfast

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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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27 July 2023

SUBJECTS: 70th Anniversary of Korean War Armistice, Caring for Veterans, the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide, Army Acquisition.

MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: Well, today marks the 70th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice which brought to an end the conflict on the still‑divided peninsula. Some 18,000 Australian personnel served during the war between 1950 and 1953, and in peacekeeping duties afterwards.

LISA MILLAR, HOST: More than 350 Australians died, 1,200 were wounded, and some 40 Australians are still listed as missing in action. Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Matt Keogh joins us now from Busan in South Australia. Minister, good morning and welcome to News Breakfast.

MINISTER FOR VETERANS AFFAIRS, MATT KEOGH: Good morning, Lisa, and I'm in Busan, South Korea.

LISA MILLAR: Yeah. Tell us what is planned to mark this very significant anniversary?

MINISTER KEOGH: Well, today is the 70th anniversary, and there are a number of commemorative activities occurring today, principally at the United Nations Korea Cemetery. There will be a Korean commemoration, a broad United Nations one, a specific Australian commemoration that we'll be doing. I've been fortunate enough to be joined by eight Australian veterans from the Korean War as well as some of their family, who are amongst over 60 veterans from the over 20 different countries that participated in the Korean War as part of the commemorations today, and that comes on the back of yesterday meeting with my South Korean counterpart, as well as counterparts from the UK and France and from many of the other countries to talk about issues about how we support our veterans after conflicts like this.

LISA MILLAR: M'mm. And I want to discuss that in a little bit more detail. But staying on the duties that you have ahead of you, these eight Australian veterans and their families that have joined you, what have they been reflecting on? What has been the mood while you have been there?

MINISTER KEOGH: One of the strongest things they've relayed to me was that coming back to South Korea, for some this is the first time since the war, others have been here a few times over the last decade or so, is seeing the huge growth and prosperity of South Korea since the war, since the South Korea they knew in the early 1950s, and saying that for them it made it all worth it, to see how the country, which they saw 70 years ago, has completely rebuilt itself, become the 9th biggest economy in the world, and has become so prosperous, and that they continually comment about how friendly the people here were then and how friendly and welcoming they are now, and that that gives them a real feeling of worth about the work that they did during the war, and that it certainly has paid the dividends that it hoped that it would then for South Korea.

LISA MILLAR: Yeah. In the early years, the early parts of the war, the US President at the time, Harry Truman, was convinced that it could spell World War III, if action wasn't taken, and that the Allies then moved in, Australia not only there until the Armistice was signed, but also in a peacekeeping role afterwards for a few years.

MINISTER KEOGH: That's right. Australia was the second country to put its hand up to be part of defending South Korea, being a founding member of the United Nations, we were very committed to the ideals of the United Nations and protecting countries' sovereignty when they were invaded or impinged upon by larger neighbours, and we joined 22 other countries in that effort during the war through to 1953, but then through to 1957, we continued peacekeeping efforts, but even today, we have Australian personnel here in South Korea, I met with a few of them in the demilitarised zone on Tuesday as part of that international effort to maintain the border and to maintain peace and security here in South Korea, because whilst there was an Armistice Agreement signed today 70 years ago, technically there's still a state of war.

LISA MILLAR: Yeah. No peace treaty ever signed.

MINISTER KEOGH: That's right. And that's something that people in South Korea are ever‑present to that threat, and of course even in Australia we see the reports of the Northern Koreans regularly doing missile testing into the ocean, so it is a very stark reality for people here in South Korea, and I think Australians should be proud of not only the involvement back in the 1950s in that Korean War, but the continued involvement that Australians have seen in peacekeeping and in maintaining that border through the demilitarised zone through to this.

LISA MILLAR: Matt Keogh, you touched on caring for veterans when they have completed their service. The Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicides is under way. It's wrapped up its 10th public hearing, and it wrapped up with the Commission Chair Nick Kaldas giving you a bit of a blast, giving the Department, the Government, the Defence Department, saying that it continues to fail troops and families, and that the internal reforms that were being considered by Defence are taking too long, there's no certainty it's going to lead to meaningful improvements in mental health. So I hear what you're saying on one hand, but here we have the Chair of this very important Commission saying something different.

MINISTER KEOGH: Look, Lisa, I saw those comments, but I'm not going to provide a running commentary that goes through each block of hearings from the Royal Commission. But the Government is very committed to getting on with the job of learning from what the Royal Commission is doing and implementing the necessary change. And certainly, when we received the Interim Report from the Royal Commission in August of last year, we provided a formal response to that in September, and we've gotten on with the job of implementing that. We've provided additional resources to the Department so that we can work our way through that huge backlog that we see in DVA, and we've had success with that, and the claims numbers are going down, and obviously we'd like them to go down even faster again, but we have confidence in what we are doing is going to deliver those outcomes.

We are rolling out the Veterans' and Families' Hubs across the country, recognising that need for better coordination of service, and even last week I went and met with the Defence Wellbeing and Mental Health team to talk to them about the work that they are doing. They need to move with pace, they know that, we discussed that, and the importance of their position in the Department of Defence, because fundamentally our people are our most important capability, and we need them to be able to function as best they can when they are in Defence and be best supported while they're in Defence, as well as to be well‑supported as they transition out whenever they choose to do that, and supported when they re‑enter into civilian life.

And certainly talking to my counterparts here in South Korea, from around the globe, they were all very interested in the work that we are doing, and some of which we only announced just the other week around supporting veteran employment and supporting people transitioning out of Defence.

LISA MILLAR: Well, we'll see what the Commission comes up with. Look, just one final question. We've been reporting this morning out of Canberra about this very big deal, South Korea winning the contract to replace the Vietnam era Armoured Personnel Carriers that Australia's been using. What was it in the end that made the Government go with the South Koreans and not with the German Lynx vehicles instead?

MINISTER KEOGH: Well, certainly this is a very big contract; it will be the biggest ever procurement for Army. The way in which we have approached this has been consistent with the Defence Strategic Review that we released a few months ago, and it's been a very rigorous selection process that has been undertaken here, and I'm sure both proponents are very aware and clear on that, but I'll leave it to the Minister for Defence Industry to make an announcement about who is going to be the preferred proponent on that case with that important procurement when he makes that announcement later today.

LISA MILLAR: Matt Keogh. Thank you for joining us from Busan in South Korea.

MINISTER KEOGH: My pleasure.


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