Radio Interview, ABC Darwin Breakfast

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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 February 2024

SUBJECTS: 82nd anniversary of the bombing of Darwin; Defence Strategic Review.

RICK HIND, HOST: Now, Northern Australia has weathered more than 100 raids over the course of the Second World War, including in Broome and Townsville. But it was Darwin that faced 64 of those and none more devastating than on the 19th February 1942. It's a day etched in our Territorian fabric, one that sometimes feels both in the past and potentially in the future. Last year, a Defence Strategic Review recognised the need to strengthen forces in the north of Australia to hopefully prevent history from ever repeating itself. Assistant Minister for Defence Matt Thistlethwaite is in Darwin today for commemorations. Minister, what do you reflect on today?

MATT THISTLETHWAITE, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR VETERANS’ AFFAIRS: Good morning, Rick. Thanks for having me on. Today is a special day for Territorians and Australians more generally, to come together to remember the sacrifice of those who served our nation and really defended Australia during World War II. It's almost impossible to imagine that Australia was under direct attack and very close to invasion. And it was Darwin that was at the front line of that. And on the 19th February 1942, Darwin came under direct attack and this beautiful, peaceful home for about 14,000 residents at the time was under direct attack. And thankfully, with courage and with patience, the many military officers that were stationed in the north here were eventually able to defend this beautiful city.

HIND: There's often criticism that this day is not well remembered across Australia. Why do you think that is?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, it is a national day of remembrance, one of the few in the country. And I certainly know that in Canberra, on a bipartisan basis, this is a very important day, and the Labor Party certainly takes it seriously. And we make sure that we have Ministers and senior people attend this every year. And I think that it is important that this occasion is remembered and that we pay tribute to the servicemen and women who defended the country at the time, but the residents of Darwin as well, because they were under the forefront of that attack. And that's why it's a national day of remembrance and so it should be.

HIND: Darwin weathered more than half the raids Australia faced during the second World War. How prepared do you think the city is now for any other future attacks?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Yeah, that's a really important point. And the government takes the future threat very seriously. That's why we commissioned the Defence Strategic Review that was released last year, and they've recommended that we invest more in strengthening our bases and our defences in the north of Australia. So, in the Territory, I've been visiting this place for months on end since I've been in this role. I was here a couple of weeks ago checking out the work that's about to happen at RAAF Base Darwin, HMAS Coonawarra, strengthening of the wharf there is about to be completed, Larrakeyah Barracks getting an upgrade, and a massive upgrade to our airfields and our capability at Tindal. And then, of course, in bases like Curtin and Scherger in Queensland and Western Australia, you're going to get upgrades as well. So, the government is deeply committed to investing in better military infrastructure here in the north, and we're investing about $9 billion to make sure that occurs.

HIND: What about for supply lines? We've seen from flooding that the supply lines can be cut relatively easily. In a military situation, I'm sure that would be a point of vulnerability. What can the Australian government do about that to make sure supply lines stay open to northern cities?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Yeah, that's a really important point, Rick, and that's why we're investing in new infrastructure, particularly around fuel storage. And the facilities at Tindal are a massive upgrade to our fuel storage facilities for our military aircraft. But also, general infrastructure, roads are vitally important. We know that in the north here, you're subject to extreme weather conditions and flooding in particular, and if those roads are cut off, and that's why the government's looking at what we can do to upgrade some of those important arterial roads that move to our bases and ensure that we can defend the place into the future.

HIND: Assistant Minister for Defence Matt Thistlethwaite, thanks for making time for us on a busy morning this morning.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Pleasure, Rick. Thanks for having me on.


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