31 July 2023
SUBJECTS: Taipan helicopter crash, MRH-90 Taipan helicopter operations, defence acquisition.
KARL STEFANOVIC, HOST: Sydney soldiers lost after an army helicopter crash off North Queensland have now been identified.
SARAH ABO, HOST: The search continues this morning for Danniel Lyon, Maxwell Nugent, Warrant Officer Class 2 Joseph Laycock and Corporal Alexander Naggs. Veterans Affairs and Defence Personnel Minister Matt Keogh joins us now in Canberra. Matt, thanks for your time. Our heart goes out to the families of those missing. Do you have any updates?
MATT KEOGH, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE PERSONNEL: Good morning. As you would appreciate, our key focus right now is the search for our missing soldiers and that search continues. It involves Australian Defence personnel, our friends in the United States as well as Queensland Emergency Services personnel are involved in that search. That is our key focus right now. But we're also focused on providing support to the families of our missing soldiers as well and to the broader Defence family that they come from, in particular their Unit 6th Aviation in New South Wales.
KARL STEFANOVIC: The hardest of tasks, I mean, trying to look for fallen soldiers. Can you explain the complexities of it?
MINISTER FOR DEFENCE PERSONNEL: Well, obviously an offshore search area where there are some reasonably strong currents makes it difficult and the incident occurred at night and that adds complexity. We've now started to recover some debris from the incident and that assists, and we've deployed even further additional capability to the area to build on that search, which is still ongoing.
And the air safety investigation people are on site as well, starting their work. But the key focus is the search for the personnel. It is difficult, but everyone is really committed to that task. There are, of course, people involved in that search that are part of the Defence family of these four missing soldiers. And so, they're very committed to making sure that we can complete this search as quickly as possible.
SARAH ABO: Yeah, and there's a huge team going into that effort as well. I mean, it's just another reminder, isn't it, of the enormous sacrifices of our military personnel?
MINISTER FOR DEFENCE PERSONNEL: Look, all Defence activity brings with it some inherent risk. We always seek to conduct these sorts of exercises, training and missions in the safest possible way and with all mitigations that can be employed. But there will be risk involved and it highlights, especially with this group that operate with our special forces, that they do dangerous things, and they have to train for those dangerous things as well. And it's important that they do that so that they are the most effective capability that they can be. But it does mean that there is a risk that things like this can occur.
KARL STEFANOVIC: We can't imagine what the families are going through this morning, but families will want answers. How long will it take for you to provide them?
MINISTER FOR DEFENCE PERSONNEL: Certainly, the families will want answers, as will the entire Defence Force. We want to make sure, whenever any sort of accident occurs, that we understand the causes, what sits behind that, and to make sure that we can ensure these sorts of things don't happen in the future. So, we're conducting the search.
The air safety investigation is also underway and that will help inform us to make sure things like this don't happen and so that answers can be provided, but the investigation will take some time and our key priority right now is the search and supporting the families as well. And I do encourage anybody in the Defence Force or their families or veterans that need to speak to somebody that require assistance, to reach out to the Defence Member and Family Helpline or to Open Arms so they can get the support that they need.
SARAH ABO: Matt, to Karl's point there, I think we are all asking for a bit more transparency here. We had a former soldier on the show earlier who was talking about these aircrafts not necessarily being as safe as they should be for our personnel. What do you have to say about that? He was concerned that the ADF isn't making the right decisions in terms of Defence acquisitions here.
MINISTER FOR DEFENCE PERSONNEL: Well, certainly in the aftermath of what has occurred, that fleet of helicopter has been grounded whilst we seek to determine what has happened and whether further mitigations need to be put in place to ensure their continued safe operation. There was an incident earlier this year and we learnt from that and put in place additional mitigations to ensure safety.
We only operate our helicopters, just like we only operate any capability where we believe that it is safe to do so. Safety is a terribly important thing for us, given that there is inherent risk. We seek to minimise that risk in everything we do. The fleet is being replaced at the end of next year. That goes to a range of capability issues that have been experienced with the MRH-90 over time and we will be getting a new capability in the Black Hawk. But what we are focused on right now is the search. We will then look to learn what needs to be put in place to continue operation of the helicopter through to their retirement. But our focus is on the search right now and supporting the family and loved ones of our soldiers that are missing and of course, supporting their wider Defence family as well, in particular their unit, 6th Aviation.
SARAH ABO: All right, Matt. Yeah, a lot of questions to be answered there about the safety of those aircraft, that's for sure. Thanks so much for your time. And if you are a current or former ADF member or a relative and need counselling or support, you can contact the Defence All-hours Support Line on 1800 628 036 or Open Arms on 1800 011 046.