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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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Ruairi Housego - 0461 540 012

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20 December 2023

SUBJECTS: US request for assets in the Red Sea; Veterans support over the holiday season.  

ASHLEA HANSON, HOST: Welcome back. Joining me live is Assistant Defence Minister Matt Thistlethwaite. Good morning.


HANSON: As the Assistant Minister for Defence, were you part of these discussions in deciding whether or not Australia will send a warship to the Red Sea and what is the ultimate reason for not sending a ship?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: I haven't been directly involved in the discussion. That's something that the Defence Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister have been involved in. Overnight, the Chief of the Australian Defence Force participated in a virtual meeting with the US Secretary of Defence to gain further information about the request that the United States was making of Australia regarding this operation in the Middle East. Australia currently contributes to the combined maritime force in the Middle East with staff and personnel embedded as part of that operation. So, we gained some further information last night about the request and the Defence Force Chief and the Defence Minister and no doubt the Prime Minister will now have a look at that information and we'll make a decision in due course.

HANSON: So, a decision hasn't actually been made yet. We could still potentially send a warship to the Middle East?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Yeah, at this stage a decision hasn't been made. We're considering the request and we'll make a decision in due course. The Prime Minister made a pretty important foreign policy speech last evening with the Lowy Institute in Sydney, where he outlined that the government's priority is of course operating to ensure that we act in Australia's best interest and that very much focuses on our region, the Indo Pacific. And you've seen that in the government's approach to re-engagement with our Pacific partners and being involved in an allied operation very much focused on the South China Sea and ensuring freedom of navigation and upholding the rule of law. So, that's the priority for the Australian Government in terms of our naval operations at the moment. But we'll consider this request and make a decision in due course.

HANSON: And if it does decline the offer, then what does it say to our allies? I mean, our strongest ally is the US. And if we deny this request then what will it say about that agreement between our two countries, do you think?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, I think it's important to remember that we're already participating as part of that combined maritime operation in the Middle East and Australia has very professional and well-trained members of our Defence Force that are providing high level and very important work as part of that combined force. So, it's not like Australia is not part of the operation already. We're very much part of it, have been for quite a while. And indeed, the United States and Australia work very closely with other allies, like our partners in the Asia Pacific, on those freedom of navigation exercises around the South China Sea in particular. And you saw HMAS Toowoomba has recently returned from that operation and further Australian naval ships will be present in the coming months. So, that's very much the focus and that's done in partnership with our closest allies.

HANSON: Now, later this morning, you're meeting with representatives from Open Arms, the veterans and families counselling service for the defence community. For a lot of people, this time of year is difficult. How does this service help people in need?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Yeah, thanks for highlighting it, Ashlea. Open Arms is the veterans counselling service. It's been around since the end of the Vietnam War and unfortunately for Open Arms, this is quite often their busiest time. For many Australians, the holiday period is a time to come together with family and friends. But for a lot of Australians, it can be a period of isolation, anxiety and depression, and that's the case for a lot of veterans, unfortunately. So, open arms and the government are calling on Australians to reach out to a veteran over the holiday period. If you know someone, if you’ve got a mate or a friend that served in the Australian armed forces that you think might be doing it tough, send them a text, give them a phone call, or better still, visit them and let them know that you're looking out for them, that we care for them. We thank them for their service to our country. As well as that, we've got plenty of Australian Defence Force personnel that are on deployments over the holiday period and won't be around with their family and friends. So, if you know a family with an ADF member that's overseas on deployment, it might be worth reaching out to them as well. Just by making that simple contact, you might help someone and you may even save a life. And that's pretty important.

HANSON: Yes, that's very good advice. Matt Thistlethwaite, thanks for your company this morning.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Thanks, Ashlea, and Merry Christmas to you and all of your viewers.


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