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The Hon Pat Conroy MP

Minister for Defence Industry

Minister for International Development and the Pacific

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(02) 6277 7840

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14 April 2024

Subjects: Bondi Junction Incident, Iran – Israel conflict, Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin appointment as special advisor, AUKUS.

ANDREW CLENNELL: Well joining me live now is Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy. 

Pat Conroy, thanks for your time on this sad and incredible Sunday morning really. Let me start with the Bondi Junction killings. 

Can I get your reaction to this senseless violence and the bravery shown by the police inspector Amy Scott?  

MINISTER FOR INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND THE PACIFIC, PAT CONROY: Oh, well, Andrew, as the Prime Minister said last night, this is a heartbreaking and senseless tragedy and our thoughts and condolences and are with the family and friends of the Australians that have tragically lost their lives and those in hospital. 

But as also the Prime Minister said, we saw Australians at their best at this time. We saw the senior police officer running towards danger to deal with the situation. We saw first responders flocking to the scene to provide support. And we saw the bravery of individual civilians, shoppers, in the centre. I saw some footage on social media of Australian shoppers holding bollards and other things to help protect their fellow people, as well as people who helped others shelter in place. 

So this is a senseless tragedy, but we did see the bravery of so many Australians on display. 

ANDREW CLENNELL: Absolutely no doubt about it. Now, just confirming, there's no suggestion at all here of a terror attack now, is there? And the government must be relieved to learn of that. 

MINISTER CONROY: Well it's important that we don't speculate on the motivations of the attack until all the facts are in and can get confirmed by the lead agency, which is New South Wales Police. But obviously Police Commissioner Webb has confirmed that this was the act of a lone individual and that they do not see terrorism as the motivation. 

But again, we're supporting their lead, and it would be inappropriate for us to speculate. But I can confirm that we have no information to contradict what the New South Wales Police have already said on this matter. 

ANDREW CLENNELL: I guess there would have been a fear of that because it was in Bondi, there's a large Jewish population there so that would have been one of the initial fears of your government and of law enforcement authorities.  

MINISTER CONROY: Well I'm not going to go into what people felt as this event unfolded. The key things are that the New South Wales Police responded immediately and dealt with that situation with the bravery of that senior police officer. And the Australian Federal Police and other Commonwealth agencies are supporting their investigation and providing all necessary resources as AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw confirmed last night with his press conference with the Prime Minister. We're there to support the actions of the New South Wales Government as they deal with this horrific situation. And that's our job. 

ANDREW CLENNELL: Well let's move on to the Middle East now. Now we've seen these drone attacks overnight from Iran on Israel. Was this expected? Could this turn into a broader Middle East conflict or can it be contained? And was this something you discussed with US officials on your trip last week to Washington? 

MINISTER CONROY: Well regional escalation of the current Middle East conflict is something that quite frankly the whole world has feared since the beginning of the conflict. Iran has been a malign actor in the region for a long, long time and we condemn their attacks, and it's very important that we provide that international pressure to ensure that escalation does not occur. 

For Australians in that region, particularly Australians in Tel Aviv, Amman or Baghdad, we urge them to follow the advice of the local authorities and shelter in place. And for any Australians worried to contact the Consular emergency hotline. 

But as I said at the start, Iran has been a malign actor for a long time in the region. We condemn their attacks, and we urge a de‑escalation of the conflict. 

It is in no one's interests for this conflict to escalate beyond where it is now. 

ANDREW CLENNELL: The US and the UK appear to be providing military assistance to Israel. Is there any consideration of that from Australia's part?

MINISTER CONROY: Well we've been focussed on supporting the efforts of allies and like‑minded partners to prevent escalation of the conflict. That's why we've supported personnel and resources into the maritime headquarters, as well as US efforts to counter the attacks by Houthi rebels out of Yemen into the Red Sea. That's our level of involvement at the moment. 

But we urge Iran to take a step back. They have an opportunity to reverse their course of being malign actor in this region and we simply will be applying all diplomatic pressure to that end. 

ANDREW CLENNELL: Because Penny Wong did speak to her Iranian counterpart the other day, didn't she? The Foreign Minister has certainly faced some criticism for her speech where she talked about a Palestinian State as a way out of this. 

Can you understand why some in the Jewish community would be upset about that? That it looks like ‑ that it could like the October 7 attacks are being rewarded? 

MINISTER CONROY: Well I urge everyone to read Penny's speech. It was incredibly well balanced. It was a speech that reflected the long‑term policy of governments of both persuasions. 

Penny made a number of points. First, that we were calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. That involved the immediate freeing of all hostages. And urged that humanitarian assistance to be provided to the region. That was Penny's first point. 

But then she made a broader point that we need to breakthrough this cycle of endless violence, and part of that pathway is a two‑state solution where Israel is secure in its borders and recognised by its neighbours, and that there is a Palestinian State. 

This is the reflection of the Oslo accords. It's been the policy of both Labor and Liberal Governments for a long time to support a two‑state solution, and it's perfectly aligned with the rhetoric and policies of other like‑minded countries. UK's Foreign Secretary David Cameron has said things very similar. 

And importantly to make this point, this is in the interests of Israel. Israel can only have security from its neighbours when they recognise its right to existence. And Saudi Arabia, for example, has said that it won't recognise Israel until there is a two‑state solution. 

ANDREW CLENNELL: Is there really a hope though that the people of Gaza would disassociate themselves from Hamas? 

MINISTER CONROY: Well we made it very clear, as has the world community, that a two‑state solution must exclude Hamas. Part of the two‑state solution is a Palestinian State recognising the borders and the right of Israel to exist. And Hamas cannot be part of that. They just cannot. And that's been the policy of the Australian Government. 

ANDREW CLENNELL: We've seen a former Chief of the Defence Force Mark Binskin appointed as a special advisor on this incident involving the death of Zomi Frankcom. Do you believe Mr Binskin will get to go to Israel or get the Israeli information around the attack? There seem some real doubts about that. I've heard he does have contacts in the Israeli Defence Force though. Are they helping him? 

MINISTER CONROY: Well we made it very clear that we expect the Israeli Government to engage with retired Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin as he conducts his activities. We've made it very clear from day one from the tragic attacks on the World Central Kitchen convoy and loss of life, including Zomi Frankcom, that Australians expect full accountability and a transparent investigation. And the briefings that have been provided so far do not meet that criteria, and that's why Mark Binskin's appointment is critical and that's why the Israeli Government engaging with Air Chief Marshal Binskin is critical to give that accountability and give that transparency, that quite frankly every Australian deserves. 

ANDREW CLENNELL: A big announcement this week in terms of a new Australian Defence Force Chief in David Johnston. It was always tipped to be a naval type because of the way the Defence is heading, our Defence. But many thought it might be the Chief of Navy Mark Hammond. 

Why did you go for Mr Johnston and why only two years for his appointment? It's been billed as something of a stop‑gap measure. 

MINISTER CONROY: Well I've worked closely with David Johnston for the last two years and he is an ADF officer of the highest character. He's held some of the toughest jobs in the Australian Defence Force for a long, long time, including Chief of Joint Operations and Vice Chief of the Defence Force. 

He is a fine appointment, and he has done a tonne of work over the last couple of years around implementing the Defence Strategic Review, working on the National Defence Strategy and the Integrated Investment Program which is the 20-year equipment acquisition plan. 

The reason for a two-year appointment is to align it with the rest of the appointment cycle for senior ADF officers. When we came to government the decision for Prime Minister Albanese and DPM Richard Marles, supported by people like me, is that we wanted to extend the terms of Angus Campbell as Chief of Defence Force and David Johnston as Vice Chief of Defence Force for two years to maintain continuity and allow that leadership to support the design and implementation of the Defence Strategic Review. 

That's why as a consequence of that there is a two-year appointment cycle now for currently Vice Admiral David Johnston. But he is one of the smartest thinkers in the ADF, he's a man of the highest character and his appointment has been universally welcomed within the ADF. 

ANDREW CLENNELL: Might he be extended then briefly past the two years? 

MINISTER CONROY: Oh look, I'm not going to speculate into that. David's been in some of the highest-pressure jobs for a long, long time. The Prime Minister will make that decision when we come up to that two-year cycle where obviously we'll look at the senior appointments throughout the ADF. So I'm not ruling anything in or out. 

ANDREW CLENNELL: Okay. We're almost out of time, just let me ask you briefly, you were just in the US. What was the reception like in terms of AUKUS, particularly from the Republican Congressman, do you have a belief Donald Trump would continue with the project if elected? 

MINISTER CONROY: Well it's full steam ahead for AUKUS. This is in the strategic interests of all three nations, and it will outlast changes of government in all three countries. We've already had a change of government in Australia and AUKUS, if anything, has strengthened. 

I was in the US Senate gallery in December for the critical votes around the transfer of the Virginia‑class submarines to Australia, and that got an 80 per cent vote yes in the Senate and 75 per cent vote in the House of Representatives. 

This is in the interests of the United States, it's in the interests of Australia and it's in the interests of the United Kingdom for us to acquire the most advanced submarines in the world that will be fully commanded and controlled by the Australian Government. There's strong Republican support for this initiative. 

ANDREW CLENNELL: Pat Conroy, thanks for your time this morning. 



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