TV Interview, ABC Afternoon Briefing

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The Hon Matt Keogh MP

Minister for Defence Personnel

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

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Stephanie Mathews on 0407 034 485

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19 February 2024

SUBJECTS: WA GST; Bombing of Darwin Day; Surface fleet review; Beagle Bay; Department of Defence; Fee-Free TAFE.

GREG JENNETT, HOST: Matt Keogh, welcome back to Afternoon Briefing. Now, you've just borne witness to the Prime Minister bending to a parochial campaign for ongoing GST support that puts the rest of the Federation at a disadvantage. Roughly $40 billion over twelve years. How can that be justified?

MINISTER FOR VETERANS’ AFFAIRS AND DEFENCE PERSONNEL, MATT KEOGH: Well, the Prime Minister did reinforce our commitment to Western Australia's GST share, and that comes on the back of a National Cabinet decision at the end of last year, making sure that we're supporting all states in respect of their GST shares as well, making sure that the Federation is working properly and that states get the funding they need through the GST process. But critically here, this is a very important issue in Western Australia and the Albanese Labor Government is 100% committed to supporting Western Australia on the GST.

JENNETT: Okay, so just to be clear, there's no additional pledge that's been signed here on the skin or on the paper that would go beyond 2029, which is what National Cabinet agreed to, I think, wasn't it, in December?

MINISTER KEOGH. So, this reinforces the existing commitment that we've always had in supporting Western Australia on the GST, confirming the commitment and the decision that was taken at National Cabinet with all the state and territory leaders around GST distribution and making sure that no state is worse off and making sure that Western Australia's GST position is protected.

JENNETT: All right, a little bit to cover with you today, Matt Keogh, you are in Perth and I know your thoughts as Veterans' Affairs Minister, are a long way away around Darwin, as it commemorates the 82nd anniversary of the World War II bombing there. How is the Government commemorating this anniversary?

MINISTER KEOGH: So, today is the 82nd anniversary of the bombing of Darwin, which was the first time we saw a direct attack on Australian soil. And the Assistant Minister for Veterans’ Affairs has joined the Member for Solomon Luke Gosling in Darwin today with the leadership of the Northern Territory Government and many Defence representatives. There's a reenactment piece as part of the commemoration ceremony up in Darwin today, demonstrating what Darwin undertook or what the onslaught that came onto Darwin 82 years ago, which was the first of many attacks on Australian soil by the Japanese during the Second World War. The bombing of Darwin saw over 250 people, service people in Defence, but also private citizens just living and working in Darwin die as a result of those bombings. An important commemoration today that we all remember nationally, the first time that we had an attack on Australian soil.

MINISTER KEOGH: Thanks for observing that. Why don't we move on to current day border arrangements in the north and west of Australia? There's been criticism, obviously, since the arrival of another asylum seeker boat on the mainland late last week about current levels of surveillance, particularly aerial patrols. Do you acknowledge that these have been scaled back of late on account of budget constraints?

MINISTER KEOGH: When we were in opposition, we committed to the continuation of Operation Sovereign Borders and that's exactly what we have done in government. There's a lot of criticism out there coming from Peter Dutton and the opposition. They know and it has been observed by the Commander of Operation Sovereign Borders, talking about these issues in the way that people like Peter Dutton have been talking doesn’t help the matter. That plays straight into the sorts of messaging that people smugglers want to convey to their potential victims and Peter Dutton as a former Home Affairs Minister, as a former Defence Minister quite frankly should know better than to play into that sort of trap.

JENNETT: Ok, will you take this opportunity then, noting that comment you just made about the importance of messaging to people smugglers to assure them that there is no reduction in maritime patrolling on the borders.

MINISTER KEOGH: So, we've been very clear about maintaining Operation Sovereign Borders. And critically, you can see it right here in what has happened with these people that were unlawful entrants into Australia, they've gone to Nauru. If you come here unlawfully by boat, you go to another country. We can't be more serious or clearer about that as part of our policy

JENNETT: Does Labor commit to 90 day processing as the benchmark for this caseload. Combined with the group that arrived in December, I believe the number is 54 now on Nauru awaiting processing. Do you commit to 90 days for that?

MINISTER KEOGH: Well, obviously, they'll be processed through the regular way in which we've been dealing with unlawful onshore arrivals, and they get sent to another country. In this case, they've gone to Nauru and then they are processed. But they don't end up here in Australia. And that's a really crucial point for people smugglers who are just trying to create more victims, to recognise that when they try and get people into Australia in this way, they don't end up in Australia, they end up somewhere else. And the Department of Home Affairs will undertake that process with foreign countries in the ordinary way.

JENNETT: All right, and just the last one on this, as you are a Defence portfolio Minister, have any extra defence assets been requested by OSB in the last week or so?

MINISTER KEOGH: I'm not going to go into the way in which that operation is undertaken for good operational reasons. The important message here, though, is that if people arrive here unlawfully via boat, they are going to be sent to another country. We could not be clearer about that. That is the way we have always operated as a government and that's a clear message that we're making sure is sent out.

JENNETT: All right, Matt Keogh, let's go to something that I'm sure you are keeping a close eye on as a West Australian and again as a Defence portfolio Minister. The surface fleet review for the navy is out tomorrow. If these smaller, so called tier two fleet of vessels are going to be ordered, and it appears they will be, do they have to be built at Henderson in Western Australia, since Adelaide is so full with frigate projects and then, of course, submarines sometime after that?

MINISTER KEOGH: So, following the Defence Strategic Review we commissioned last year, we did the review into the surface combatant fleet. We received that review late last year. And later this week, we will be releasing that along with the Government's response into the future of our surface combatant fleet. I'm not going to preempt those announcements that come later on this week, but I will say we are committed to continuous shipbuilding in this country. And that will be good news for our shipbuilders around the country and in Western Australia.

JENNETT: And could that be at the expense of the currently planned Arafura? Well, it's already under construction, isn't it, Arafura class of offshore patrol vessel, if we go to a new type.

MINISTER KEOGH: I appreciate the effort, Greg, but I'm not going to play a sort of rule in rule out game on each individual line item that may or may not be in the Surface Fleet Review and our response to it. It will be released later this week and you'll get all the detail then.

JENNETT: All right, we can but try. Last one, Matt Keogh. Defence budget is obviously under significant strain at the moment and we know as a matter of record that a review has been done of Defence's land holdings. Do you identify any sites in your home state of WA that are ripe for flogging by Defence?

MINISTER KEOGH: Well, I think we've got to put this in the proper context, Greg. We inherited a circumstance when we came into government where Peter Dutton, as Defence Minister, had announced everything under the sun but hadn't actually funded that in the Defence budget. And so as part of our Defence Strategic Review, we have had to undertake a reprioritisation of our capabilities and how we acquire them and what they are going to be. An important part of doing that is also the review that we're undertaking of the defence estate, the sites that the Defence Force has all around Australia. Defence is the largest landowner in Australia. It has a lot of sites, some historical, others of different types. That's the subject of the review. That's why we're doing the review. I'm not going to preempt the outcome of that. But the critical point is this, that your question goes to. We inherited a circumstance where the previous government was all about the headline and the media release saying they were going to get all these different new capabilities that our Defence Force needed, but never took a hard decision, never decided that they had to deprioritise anything. They said that they were going to promise everything to everyone. They had the magic pudding Defence budget, that's the fault of Peter Dutton, that he didn't do the work in prioritising what we actually need when we now confront some of the most serious strategic circumstances since the Second World War. And so that's why we're doing the Surface Fleet Review. That's why we'll be announcing our response to that later this week. We've been doing a review of defence estate. That's a necessary thing and I think it's what people would expect us to do. And when that Review is complete, we will announce what happens there, but I'm not going to preempt that.

JENNETT: All right, well rest assured, Matt Keogh, we are always very interested, vitally interested, when government make hard decisions. So, we'll look out for that. You have a lot of very important colleagues in town at the moment with a Cabinet meeting about to occur in Perth, so we'll let you go and thank you.

MINISTER KEOGH: Thanks, Greg. It's been wonderful to have the Prime Minister and my colleagues come and join me here at the Thornlie TAFE in my community, the biggest TAFE in south metro Perth, delivering Fee-Free TAFE courses to people who are really enjoying that opportunity here. Thanks for having me.


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