Television Interview, Sky News Afternoon Agenda

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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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30 October 2023

SUBJECTS: Hamas-Israel Conflict; Australians in Gaza; PFAS Forum Townsville.    

KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: For more on this, let's bring in the Assistant Defence Minister, Matt Thistlethwaite. What's your reaction to a statement of unity from six former Prime Ministers?

MATT THISTLETHWAITE, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: G’day Kieran. We certainly welcome the statement that's been made by the former Prime Ministers. It reiterates Australia's view that this was an unprovoked attack by Hamas, that they stand condemned for that. Israel has the right to defend itself. But importantly, how Israel defends itself is very important as well, and there needs to be upholding of international law and ensuring that the sanctity of civilian life, particularly children, is protected. And, of course, it reiterates the importance of a two-state solution. So, something that's welcomed by the government, and it certainly reflects the motion that was passed on a bipartisan basis through the Parliament when we last sat.

GILBERT: Has the Government's position and its support for Israel's right to defend itself been diminished by the comments made by some of your Ministerial colleagues? Tony Burke last week was asked whether or not we're seeing genocide and apartheid in Israel. He didn't repudiate that. He's been criticised for his comments by Peter Dutton and Jewish groups. What's your reaction to that and that suggestion that Mr Albanese has lost the discipline and unity of his cabinet on it?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, the motion was very specific, and it outlined that we condemned the attack by Hamas, that we called for the immediate release of all hostages, that we recognised that Israel has the right to defend itself and that's pretty important. And, of course, that humanitarian and international law must be upheld. And that was supported by every single member of the Labor Party and we've been pretty consistent in calling for that to occur. And that was reflected in the approach that the Government took in the UN resolution that was debated last week. Obviously, different MPs have different constituencies. They need to represent those constituencies. But in terms of the resolution that's been passed by the Parliament, that is a reflection of the view of the Australian Government, it’s been supported by all Labor members, and we'll continue to support that position. The important thing from Australia's perspective is that we work as closely as we can to get Australians out of the region that want to return home, and we've been doing that, and that we call for that humanitarian assistance to reach those in need as quickly as possible.

GILBERT: You mentioned how different MPs represent their constituencies and I understand that, totally get it, but this is a Cabinet Minister. Do Cabinet Ministers have that same leeway when it comes to an official government response to a crisis like this?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, as I said, Kieran, Tony Burke voted for the resolution in the Parliament. So, did Ed Husic, Anne Aly, as did every member of the Australian Government and we're consistent in our view about what needs to happen. And the Australian support that's been provided through the Department of Foreign Affairs, through the Department of Defence, has been consistent with that approach and we're doing our best as a government to provide that assistance as quickly as possible.

GILBERT: 88 Australians still in Gaza. What's the latest on that front?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Yeah, there are 88 Australians that are left in Gaza. Many of them are seeking to return to Australia and the Government is working closely as we possibly can with the Israeli government to hopefully allow that to occur. That's why you've seen in the last week the foreign Minister, Penny Wong, call for a humanitarian pause on the actions of the Israeli military to allow important humanitarian supplies food, water, fuel, sanitation products to get to those in. Need, but also to allow those that want to leave, particularly to come south and escape the combat zone to do so as quickly as possible. We've been trying to do that through a leeway, through Rafah. We'll continue to try to do that. But that's why I think it was important that the Prime Minister reiterated that we do want humanitarian law upheld here and that humanitarian pause to take place to allow those Australians and indeed other internationals that want to leave the area to get out if they can.

GILBERT: Just very briefly, I know you're holding a community consultation in Townsville that relates to many military bases, but this is on the PFAS contamination, as I say, almost out of time, but quickly. Can you tell us what that's about?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Yeah, that's right, Kieran. I'm in Townsville. We're doing a consultation for the local community about PFAS contamination from the local RAAF base up here. I've been in Perth last week at RAAF Base Pearce. Next week, I'll be in HMAS Albatross in Nowra. It's to update the community about what the Defence Department and the Government are doing to alleviate the concerns that the community has to remediate land that's been affected by PFAS to provide support for communities. The Government's also announced an independent review of land use around bases that are affected by PFAS and that's been conducted by Jim Varghese, an expert in this field. He will provide advice to government in February next year and that will form the basis, the response that we take for landholders who live around the defence base and have had their land affected by PFAS, what we can do to help them.

GILBERT: Assistant Defence Minister Matt Thistlethwaite thanks for joining us from Townsville, appreciate it.

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