Television interview, Sky News First Edition

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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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19 October 2023


SUBJECTS: Community safety; Hamas-Israel conflict; Referendum result; Republic.

PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Joining us live is the Assistant Defence Minister, Matt Thistlethwaite. Matt, good to see you. Thanks for your time this morning. So, just starting with Mike Burgess there and the Five Eyes, how concerned are you about a potential uptick in violence here from extremist groups on both sides?

MATT THISTLETHWAITE, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Mike Burgess' advice, Pete, is significant. I think the thing about Australia is the success that we've made of multiculturalism and the fact that we have a culture where people from different backgrounds are respected, we respect different theologies and religions, and we try and live in peace. But that's a very, very fragile peace. And at times like this, where there is heightened security and heightened tension, we need to be ever vigilant and take the advice of people like Mike Burgess to ensure that Australians can live in peace and organisations that are going to try and exploit this situation and the conflict in the Middle East stand condemned. And we need to make sure that our security and intelligence agencies and our police forces have the laws and the protection that they need to stop these sort of outbreaks before they occur.

STEFANOVIC: The Labor Party and the Libs united yesterday to vote down a Greens motion condemning Israel's actions in Gaza. Thoughts on the Greens motion, first of all, Matt, and then the Libs and Labor response to that?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Yeah, we certainly support the right of Israel to defend itself and are strong in our condemnation of Hamas' unconscionable and evil attacks on Israel, particularly on civilians. And we were very strong. And there was bipartisanship in the Parliament on that motion. I thought that the Greens’ timing was quite insensitive and a bit tone deaf. I know that they have their views, but I don't think that that was the time to move an amendment such as that. And thankfully, that amendment was defeated in the Parliament.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, just on to the Voice and the wash up from that. Matt, your portfolio in particular, Assistant Minister for the Republic, is that now a lame duck portfolio?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Pete, I said before this referendum that if it was defeated, it would make it harder for the Republic and I think that that is the case. Look, Labor's got a longer term vision and a belief in where we want Australia to be in a few years’ time, and that is part of our platform, is to begin a discussion with the Australian people about having an Australian as our head of state. And that's obviously part of our policy suite and it's something that I'm passionate about and I'm not going to give up on my beliefs. But I do say that I think it is an argument and an issue for a time when Australians aren't struggling with cost of living pressures. And that's something that came through for me in the door knocking that I was doing during the Voice referendum, that there are a lot of Australians that are struggling with cost of living pressures, particularly if you’ve got both parents working, they're looking after a few kids. It's a difficult time and the Government gets that. And that's why our focus now is supporting families and supporting small businesses to get through this period with cost of living support, and that will be our priority.

STEFANOVIC: Yeah, look, I mean, I've spoken to you a few times about the potential for a referendum on a Republic. It was never on for this term. I know that, but how likely is it now that a referendum will be held on this next term for you if you're successful at the next election?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Look, it puts it back. And I think that, as I said, the priority for the Government at the moment is cost of living and helping Australians get through this difficult period. A Republic conversation, I think, is something for a better time when we're looking at a better economy and more support for families.

STEFANOVIC: When you say puts it back, does it mean it's off? Is it off for the next term?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: I'm not going to say it's off because, as I said, I'm not going to give up on. It something that I'm very passionate about. So, in my view, it's not off, but it does certainly make it a lot harder, in my view.

STEFANOVIC: What about the Prime Minister's, though? Has he said to you, Matt, you know what, I'm not sure about this portfolio, I might have to get you to do something else?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: No, he hasn't. He hasn't said that. And our priority at the moment is supporting Australians with cost of living relief. And that's evident in everything that we're doing, Pete. Cheaper childcare, cheaper medicines, the energy rebates. All of these policies that the Government has prioritised during this term are about getting us through this difficult period, supporting Australians to get through that.

STEFANOVIC: Just one more. I mean, realistically, when do you think Australians would be ready for another referendum? Whether it's a Republic or not? Would we have one in the next ten years?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: It's hard to say, isn't it? I mean, I've always known it's very difficult to get a successful referendum up in Australia. I think that the Voice has probably made it a little bit harder and no doubt, not only politicians, but Australians are reluctant to look at further referendums in the short term. But the section exists in the constitution for a reason, and that is that the framers of the constitution wanted to ensure that we regularly updated it and made sure that it was a document that evolved with the country. So, there's a reason why it's there. I think we need to learn the lessons of this referendum and focus on where we can improve our communications with the Australian people about the reason why we're having referendums and why the constitution needs to be updated.

STEFANOVIC: Matt Thistlethwaite, appreciate your time. We'll talk to you soon.


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