31 July 2023
SUBJECTS: Taipan helicopter crash, MRH-90 Taipan helicopters operation, Australia’s special operations capabilities.
KIM LANDERS, HOST: And for more on the search for the victims of the Defence helicopter crash, I spoke earlier with Matt Keogh, the Minister for Defence Personnel.
MATT KEOGH, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE PERSONNEL: Well, Kim, at this stage, the search still continues, as you would appreciate, with Defence personnel on our side, the United States Defence Force assisting and the Queensland Civilian Emergency authorities as well. They're all contributing to the ongoing search. Our first priority is to absolutely find these four personnel that are missing that have been involved in this accident and that search will continue because we will continue this search until they are found. But we will also be supporting their families at this time, which is an incredibly important aspect of the work that we need to do at this point, recognising that it's not just their immediate families, but also their Defence family as well, some of whom are involved in this search right now.
KIM LANDERS: Can you tell us a little bit more about what the air safety investigation team is going to be doing?
MINISTER FOR DEFENCE PERSONNEL: So, the air safety investigation team arrives in Queensland today [yesterday]. Obviously, some parts of wreckage have been found already and no doubt they will start to look at that. And when the main part of the airframe is recovered, that will be very important to their investigation, as well as looking at surrounding circumstances and other data from the exercise that was taking place. They are now able to start their work, but I'm sure as everyone will understand, these sorts of investigations are not quick. It's important to put together the entire context and all the circumstances involved in what's occurred.
KIM LANDERS: There are almost 50 of these MRH-90 Taipan helicopters. Given that they're due to be retired next year and these investigations can take some time, is it possible that these helicopters may not be flown again?
MINISTER FOR DEFENCE PERSONNEL: The helicopters are due to retire at the end of next year and at the moment, the helicopters have been grounded in the immediate aftermath of what's occurred. However, we'll need to see what the investigation, both in an interim sense and final sense, reveals to see if there are any mitigations required in terms of the ongoing operation of these helicopters before they are retired. But it's much too early at this stage to be in a position to speculate, let alone determine what that's going to look like. Our focus right now is on the ongoing search, on the support of the families, but then also investigating what's occurred.
KIM LANDERS: Given that there have been several incidents involving these choppers, can you understand how some people might be asking, well, shouldn't there be a question mark over their use?
MINISTER FOR DEFENCE PERSONNEL: Certainly, I can understand why people have asked that question. And after the incident earlier this year, further mitigations were put in place to make sure that we were operating helicopters safely. And our Army and our Defence force only operate helicopters when it is safe to do so and will continue to operate them on that basis and we have every confidence that that's what has occurred and will always occur. But we always would need to make sure that we take the lessons to be learned out of any incident, including the one that's occurred over the weekend, to make sure that we are able to improve in our operations, no matter what the helicopter or aircraft is.
KIM LANDERS: These helicopters are often used to support special operations missions. Does that mean that the capability of those special operations missions could be curtailed for a time being while the choppers are grounded?
MINISTER FOR DEFENCE PERSONNEL: Well, as you'll appreciate, I'm not going to go into all of the ins and outs about the different capabilities that are deployed in supporting our special operations capabilities. However, the point is a good one, that these helicopters are involved with working with our elite forces. They are an elite capability themselves and they operate in very difficult conditions. That's why exercises like Talisman Sabre that they were involved in on the weekend are incredibly important. But it also highlights the risks that can sometimes be involved as well with any Defence force activity, but especially those that are involved with special operations.
KIM LANDERS: If I can take you to another matter, US military intelligence specialists are going to be embedded at the Defence Intelligence Organisation in Canberra. Is this to help keep an eye on China's influence over Pacific nations, including Solomon Islands?
MINISTER FOR DEFENCE PERSONNEL: So, this is an important practical outcome of the AUSMIN meeting with our Defence counterparts at the end of last week. This is about taking what is already a good flow of intelligence information between Australia and the United States and being able to make that process even more seamless and to be able to develop joint analysis of intelligence between our two countries across the board in all aspects of what we do. But there's no doubting that we collectively face the most complex set of strategic circumstances since the Second World War. The Defence Strategic Review that was released earlier this year highlights that, and that's why we've been working with the United States to develop this practical outcome to improve both of our capabilities in the region.
KIM LANDERS: Minister, thank you very much for joining AM.
MINISTER FOR DEFENCE PERSONNEL: Thank you.
KIM LANDERS: Matt Keogh is the Minister for Defence Personnel.