Television Interview, Sky News

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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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26 February 2024





SUBJECTS: Cost of living measures; Newspoll; Dunkley by-election; Nuclear; Renewable energy; Defence.

PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Well, joining us live now, Liberal Senator Hollie Hughes, as well as the Assistant Defence Minister, Matt Thistlethwaite. Not just Newspoll but Resolve as well. Good morning to you both, by the way, happy Monday. Not such a happy Monday for the Labor Party though, Matt?

MATT THISTLETHWAITE, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Pete, look, polls are going to come and go. What I think is important at this stage of the electoral cycle is government policies and importantly, being able to deliver those government policies through the parliament. And that's what the Albanese Government is doing. Our tax cut plan ensures that Australians from the 1st of July keep more of their hard earned in their pockets and that every Australian taxpayer gets a tax cut. It comes on the back of the other policies that we had, medicines, boosting Medicare…

STEFANOVIC: [interjecting] But the trend is going the other way, though, when it comes to not just Newspoll but Resolve as well. Is it a blow to your confidence?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: No, it doesn't at all. If anything, confidence is up because the tax cuts that we're proposing have been widely accepted in the community. They've had good feedback, certainly in the community that I represent, and the proof’s in the pudding, the Coalition are supporting them, so they'll go through the parliament. Good policy being delivered by the government through the parliament. That's what the people want.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, Hollie, a timely boost, perhaps for you, ahead of the Dunkley by-election this weekend.

HOLLIE HUGHES, LIBERAL SENATOR FOR NSW: Look, I think to correlate those two things is probably a little bit dangerous. I think by elections tend to run on their own, separate to those national polls, but as Matt just said, they're still feeling very good. The hubris that you witness in parliament is really quite breathtaking. But I think what we see in these polls is that whilst Anthony Albanese has broken a promise to deliver to most families, it'll be about $14 a week. That doesn't come close to covering what they've lost over the past 18 months to nearly two years of this government. When it comes to increases in power prices, increases in grocery prices, increases in rent or mortgage repayments, it's not even going to touch the sites for most families and that's what they can see. But this is compiled also with a complete breach of trust with the Australian people when it comes to the 149 detainees that have been let out. That has been admitted over the past few weeks in parliament. They don't know where they are, and this includes rapists and murderers. And we've seen, obviously, asylum boats start to turn up again. This is part of a broader problem for the government. They don't know what they're doing, they're weak on borders, they're weak on national security and Australians can see that. And this little sugar hit that they thought they were going to get away with through this broken promise. Australians are much smarter than that.

STEFANOVIC: It also raises the question of energy. I found it interesting, Matt, that Newspoll shows that more and more young folks getting behind nuclear. Is it time to reconsider your position, Matt?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, a couple of things about that, Pete. Firstly, we don't need it. We're going to make our 2030 targets, 43% renewables by 2030 and net zero by 2050 without the need for nuclear energy. That's the first point. Secondly, it's more expensive. We know that the abundance of wind and solar in Australia makes renewable energy much cheaper. So, why would you implement an energy system that's going to be more expensive for the Australian consumer? Thirdly, the Coalition talk about small modular reactors. They haven't been deployed anywhere in the world, so they're talking about a technology that has not been invented yet and is not working anywhere in the world. Why would you take that risk on the upfront capital cost for a project that might deliver in eight to ten years when you're going to get there with renewable energy? And that renewable energy is going to be much cheaper. So, at the end of the day, it's about cheaper electricity for Australians whilst reducing emissions at the same time.


HUGHES: Matt, I feel sorry for you, Matt. You have to toe the line that Chris Bowen is pushing on to you. It is an absolute fallacy, Matt, for a start, small modular reactors, we are all of the above when it comes to technology. We're not wedded to one in particular. When we're talking about where these nuclear reactors could go, there's great support where coal fired power stations currently exist, being replaced with this sort of technology. Every other Australian is starting to see this and the numbers are growing exponentially every time they're asked. Yet the Labor Party is just stuck in an ideological block when it comes to nuclear. It's part of the fallacy, though, that wind and solar are cheaper. We know that the modelling they rely on when they talk about nuclear being the most expensive, they encompass the whole build cost. But they also see the life of the project as incredibly short compared to what a nuclear reactor actually services for. But the figure they use also includes all of the cost of building solar panels and solar farms and wind turbines is what they consider a sunk cost, so that none of those costs are factored in. We know we need 66 million solar panels by 2030. We are nowhere near that. And Matt won't want to pop up and visit his colleague Meryl in Paterson because I can tell you she won't be getting much love from the local community around Port Stephens and the like who are absolutely against these offshore wind turbines. And it's starting to filter down into absolutely what would be considered safe labour territory around Cunningham and Wollongong. People are saying they're never going to vote Labor again because of these offshore wind turbines. It is absolute insanity. But when you look at Chris Bowen and everything he's been in charge of before, we know he just completely mucks it up in every portfolio, whether it's school halls, whether it was when he was responsible for our borders and now, he's responsible for the energy transition.

STEFANOVIC: We are almost out of time, but I've got to ask you one more question, Matt this is off the back of Richard Marles’ interview yesterday, double downing on the top brass of Defence, friction cannot be helpful for our national security, right?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, Pete, Defence is one of the largest government departments that government administers in Australia. It's got a budget of over $50 billion a year and we want to make sure that Australian taxpayers get value for money in the capital outlays that are being made in critical capability into the future. And that hasn't been the case in the past, particularly under the previous government. There were projects that were agreed to but no sustainment costs…

STEFANOVIC: [interjecting] So Richard Marles is right to light a rocket?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Yeah, definitely, definitely. There's been a culture of cost overruns in terms of Defence projects in Australia for too long. And what we are saying, given that it's a very large expenditure that's undertaken on behalf of Australian taxpayers, they expect that if we enter into a project, it's delivered on time, it's delivered on budget, and importantly, there is sustainment funding throughout the life of the project so it can meet the goals that it was intended for.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, let's just close there, Hollie, with your thought on that. I mean, there are no doubt problems in Defence. There's delays, there's cost blowouts, there's cancelled orders, there's changed plans. I mean, in that sense, is Richard Marles right to light up that rocket, put it up the backside of Defence?

HUGHES: I think it's very bad form to have done it publicly. I think these things need to be done behind closed doors. We're talking about the head of our Defence force. It's really inappropriate, I think, the comments that were made, but we are seeing very little increase in Defence spending at a time where the world is probably more febrile than it has been since after World War II. So, it'll be interesting to see in this Budget…

STEFANOVIC: [interjecting] It's higher than what it was under your government, though the Defence spend now has been up to what, 2.4 per cent, which is higher than what it was under the Coalition government, is it not?

HUGHES: It's a different time in the world too, Pete, so, you know, got to make sure you're spending for the times. Not looking backwards. When we had a very, very stable globe. I don't think anyone would say the world's in a particularly stable state at the moment.

STEFANOVIC: Hollie, Matt, good to see you both. We'll chat to you again next week.



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