Press Conference, Randwick Army Barracks

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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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28 October 2023

SUBJECTS: Randwick Barracks Open Day; AUKUS; Prime Minister’s travel; UN Vote; JobKeeper.

MATT THISTLETHWAITE, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Good morning and welcome to Randwick Barracks. I've lived in this area my entire life. Born and raised in Maroubra. Until I became a member of parliament, I never knew what went on behind the wire here at Randwick Barracks and there's some really important work and capability that is enhanced here at Randwick Barracks, that today is open to the public. This is the first time in over a century of history at Randwick Barracks that we've opened up this wonderful military facility to the public, to let them come and see some of the important work that goes on here in the Australian military. We've got the headquarters of the second division, Australian reservists division, that's so important to the defence of our nation. The 39th battalion where people who are going to deploy overseas will come and train prior to their deployment. One commando just over there training our Special Forces, and of course, some of the Navy's most important training facilities. So, the people of our community can come along today and see some of the impressive capability that the Australian Government and the Australian Defence Force are investing in. But most importantly, they get to interact face to face with Australia's most important asset, the members of the Australian Defence Force. The men and women of Australia, who train to defend our nation in a situation of adversity and I'm very proud as the Assistant Minister for Defence, to be here today to have Randwick Barracks open to the Australian community for the first time in its history. So that members of the community can see the important work that goes on here, and more importantly, interact with our wonderful men and women of the Australian Defence Force. And in that vein, I'm now going to hand over to Brigadier Mick Garraway, who's going to welcome the members of the public and explain some of the important work that goes on here. Then once Mick’s finished, I'll take some questions. So over to you, Mick.

AUSTRALIAN ARMY BRIGADIER MICHAEL GARRAWAY: Thanks, Minister. And good morning, everyone. Look, it's a wonderful opportunity. And thanks, Minister for talking about the capabilities here but it's a wonderful opportunity for us to throw the gates open and have some of our neighbours and people nearby who drive up and down Avoca Street most days and wonder what's going on here. It's a great opportunity to let them come in and see the people who work here and the capabilities that are created from this location as the Minister said, all of the Army Reserve in Australia is run from here. Much of our preparation for operational deployments is conducted here. We've got a lot of really important naval training occurring here on land to prepare them to go to sea. And there's a bunch of other logistics and training capabilities that are generated here every day. So, as I said, it's a wonderful opportunity to open the gates and let our neighbours come in and see the great work that's done on their behalf. Thank you.


JOURNALIST: How important is throwing the gates open Assistant Minister, for Defence recruitment? How is it how important is it to get people seeing what goes on behind the wire from a young age?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: It's really important that the Australian public get a glimpse of the important work that our members of the Australian Defence Force undertake on a daily basis in preparing for the defence of our nation. Most people never get the opportunity to see this important work firsthand. And that's what these open days are all about. And the Albanese Government is keen to encourage more of them throughout Australia, particularly in the southern states. The northern states tend to do quite a few open days, but we want to encourage more of it at more of our military facilities across the country. It's also really important that we're giving people the opportunity to get a glimpse at a career in the Australian Defence Force. We know that over the course of the next 10 to 15 years we need to grow the Australian Defence Force by about 15,000 member and in a tight labour market, it's an opportunity particularly for younger members of our community to come here and see what a career in the Australian Defence Force is like either as a full-time member or as a reservist. Get to interact with the capability that the Australian government is investing in to defend our nation and most importantly, get to talk to the people on the front line. The members of the ADF who give their time volunteering as reservists or who are full time members of our defence forces that do fantastic work in the defence of our nation. I think it's also important for members of the public to get the full aspect of what it means to be in the Australian Defence Force. You don't have to be necessarily in a frontline combat role. We're just as interested in kids that are interested in computer coding. The space and the cyber domains into the future are going to be just as important as land, sea and air for the defence of our nation. So, all kids that are interested in an exciting career should look to the Australian Defence Force and come along here today and see about what it means to be a member of the ADF and the fantastic career opportunities that exist.

JOURNALIST: Just on some other issues if that's ok, Assistant Minister, in your local electorate some suggestions that we should turn Long Bay jail into housing, what do you make of those?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: I'm opposed to turning Long Bay jail into housing and for a long time I've campaigned against the proposal by Meriton to undertake a massive development at Little Bay. There's a master plan for Little Bay that allows up to five storeys of development. That master plan was developed between the state government, Randwick Council and local residents. It's the plan for development in this area, not 21 storeys of over development that will completely change the character of Little Bay and that pristine little beach down there. And there's not the public transport and infrastructure to support such an increase in the population and that's why thankfully, that development has been rejected.

JOURNALIST: Just on AUKUS, the US Congressional Budget Office has published a report warning the sale of between three and five Virginia class boats that we’re hoping to purchase would reduce the number of attack submarines available to the US Navy comprehensively, and also note that the US shipyards were already struggling to meet their existing demand. How confident are you we will actually get those Virginia class vessels?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: The government is very confident that we will be able to deliver those Virginia class vessels as the initial part of the AUKUS arrangement with the United States and Great Britain. The ANZUS alliance and our alliance with the United States has been the foundation of Australia's security and defence since World War Two and it's only gone from strength to strength and it will do so under AUKUS. There's some legislation that will be going through the Australian Parliament in the coming weeks that will free up any export controls that we have around military capability and the design and manufacture of that. And in a similar vein, the United States is now looking at their ITAR legislation and other export controls to ensure that that information transfer can occur to Australia in the coming years so we can develop that important nuclear propelled submarine capability. The Prime Minister's visit there this week, underscored the importance of that arrangement. And we're heartened by the signals that were given by  President Biden to a commitment to working with the Congress and getting that legislation through as quickly as possible to clear the way for the AUKUS technology to come to Australia and the initial rotation of Virginia class submarines that starts in 2027.

JOURNALIST: Just on the PMs travels he's obviously heading to Beijing, was Joe Biden right to warn the PM not to fully trust China ahead of that visit?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: We're rebuilding the relationship with China. We know that it's been a bit rocky between Australia and China over recent years, but we were elected on a platform of ensuring that we try to stabilise and normalise relations with Australia's largest trading partner, China over our early period in government and that's exactly what we've been doing and we're starting to see the benefits of that flow with the restrictions that they've had on Australian imports starting to be lifted, wheat, barley, coal. We're looking at Wine imports, now being able to go into China in the coming months. The Prime Minister will visit China in the coming weeks and that's a very important part of the stabilisation of that relationship. Of course, we recognise, and the comments of President Biden reflect the fact that Australia and the United States will always continue to stand up for the values that we hold dearly that are related to our democratic process, freedom of speech, freedom for people to protest, all of these democratic principles that are fundamental to our values and our way of life. Australia will always, always stand up for those values, but we believe that we can manage the relationship sensibly while standing up for those values and ensure that we have a working relationship with China into the future as our largest trading partner.

JOURNALIST: The Congress Budget Office Report also warned that the boats we’re buying from the US will not be guaranteed to support America in any conflict, noting Australia's refusal to pledge to join the US in a war with China over Taiwan. Do you think we need to rethink our refusal to pledge that support to increase our chances of getting these subs? Do you see that as an issue?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Since World War Two, the United States has had no stronger ally than Australia. In almost every single conflict that the United States has been involved in Australia has been an important ally and willing to work with the United States. We will of course want to see the status quo maintained across the Taiwan Strait, the status quo maintained, and peace and stability maintained in that region of the world, and our actions will be predicated on the basis of trying to ensure that we maintain that peace and stability for all within our region into the future.

JOURNALIST: Just back on China, China has cautioned basically against increased military cooperation with the US, so how delicate is the PMs upcoming trip to Beijing?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: The alliance with the United States is the foundation for Australia's security and defence and has been since World War Two and I think all of the nations in our region understand that and get that, and that's why the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister, phoned all of the nations in the Asia Pacific and let their leaders know when we're about to announce the AUKUS arrangement between the United States and Great Britain and Australia. We’re keen to encourage and support stability within the region and continuing dialogue is an important part of that, both bilaterally and that's why the Prime Minister is heading to China in coming weeks, and multilaterally. And Australia has been re engaging through the Pacific Islands Forum through ASEAN, through APEC, you've seen us engaging on the sidelines of NATO through the quad. Those multilateral relations and dialogues are very important to peace and stability within our region, and that will continue under the Albanese Government.

JOURNALIST: Alexander Downer is putting another downer on AUKUS, you’ve probably seen in the Aus this morning. He's said that the real pathway to making the AUKUS agreement a reality is to abandon the idea of building submarines in Adelaide as a misconceived economic project that is financially untenable and a political fantasy. What would you say to that?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, I've been to the Osborne shipyards in South Australia, and I can tell you that is one of the most impressive capabilities and industrial capabilities that we have in this country. And the AUKUS agreement will revolutionise Australia's industrial base. 20,000 jobs will be created, high tech, high skilled jobs. That's why we're investing with the South Australian government in a training college that will train the next round of engineers, apprentices, technicians, that will deliver this important capability into the future. It's a long-term project. It comes online in Australian sense in terms of manufacturing in the 2040s. But we're getting on with the job now. We've seen Australians already going over to the United States to start training in their nuclear propelled colleges. They're doing the lead up work to establish the training college here. The preparatory works in terms of infrastructure and agreements between the Australian Government and the South Australian government to build that capacity at Osborne is already happening. So, I think that we certainly have the capacity to pull this off here in Australia and it will revolutionise our industrial base and create important jobs for Australians.

JOURNALIST: Another issue if that is okay, why did Australia abstain from voting in the UN General Assembly calling for an immediate humanitarian truce in the Middle East?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: The Australian Parliament passed a resolution a couple of weeks ago, the resolution was moved by the Prime Minister and seconded by the Opposition leader. The resolution was very clear. It condemned Hamas’ attack on Israel and the Israeli people. It ensured that it recognised that the State of Israel had a right to defend itself and its people. It called for the immediate release of hostages. And importantly, it recognised the importance of upholding international humanitarian law in this conflict. And we welcome the fact that Jordan raised this issue in the United Nations and there was a debate about this issue. But Australia abstained because the motion didn’t reflect what was passed in the Australian Parliament in that it did not recognise Hamas as the initial aggressor in this particular conflict. We welcome the fact that the United Nations is discussing this. That is why the Australian government has been calling for a humanitarian pause on the Israeli military to ensure that food, water, fuel supplies can safely get into Gaza and importantly, that people who wish to leave the area can do so safely. So, we've been consistent with the motion that's been passed by the Parliament. And that is one that upholds international humanitarian law in this conflict.

JOURNALIST: Final one for me, sorry on another issue, or the independent review on JobKeeper is finally out. It saved 800,000 jobs, but there were faults are there any lessons to be learned there for the federal government?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: I think there are lessons to be learned from JobKeeper and one of those was that it was rolled out in quite a speedy fashion because it had to be. Despite that fact, I think that overall, it was a good scheme, in that it protected Australian workers jobs and got us through that difficult period, whilst avoiding a recession in the Australian economy. So, I think that most Australians are grateful for the fact that the government acted so quickly to institute JobKeeper, but there were some holes in the scheme that will learn from those lessons. And in the future, we'll make sure that we get those lessons right. And we we design schemes that are better and avoid some of the problems that we have with JobKeeper.


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