Television Interview, ABC Afternoon Briefing

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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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15 April 2024

SUBJECTS: Bondi Junction incident; Iran – Israel conflict. 

GREG JENNETT, HOST : Well, Assistant Defence Minister Matt Thistlethwaite has been at Bondi Junction today to pay his respects. The Westfield shopping centre there isn't in his electorate of Kingsford Smith, but it is the biggest and main shopping precinct for residents in Sydney's southern beaches, north of Botany Bay. Matt Thistlethwaite joins us live now. Matt, welcome back to the programme on what I imagine are difficult circumstances for you and your community. As we say, Bondi Junction very much the local shopping centre. You've been there to pay tribute to the victims and I assume, Matt, you've encountered a lot of people who were around or in the centre on Saturday. What questions do they seek answers to about this tragedy?

MATT THISTLETHWAITE, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Thanks, Greg. Thanks for having me on. I visited the site, the memorial site, this morning at Bondi Junction and laid some flowers on behalf of the community that I represent and I can tell you that the emotion is still very raw in the local community. A lot of people there this morning, visibly upset, seeking support, have been comforted by family and friends. It's still very, very difficult for our community to comprehend what's going on here and as I said this morning, Bondi Junction is a meeting place for a lot of people, particularly young people in the local community. That's where they go to meet friends and to shop and to have a good time. It's normally a happy place, but it's not happy at the moment. It's a very, very sad place and I'm grateful that there are a lot of volunteers there this morning, people from the Prince of Wales Hospital in Randwick, the mental health unit there that were offering support to passersby and to others and availing them of services that exist in our community and beyond to help people through this difficult time.

JENNETT: No, I'm sure they appreciate that acknowledgement, even if they go about their work voluntarily and quietly. Do you think, Matt, there might be an aversion to returning to the Westfield centre for some time, even when it is given the all clear to reopen?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Look, it's understandable, I think, that people may be reticent to go to public places like that, but I hope over time that that dissipates, and that people can feel confidence once again to go out in public. This is an isolated incident. Obviously, the police investigation is taking place, but we want to ensure that people do return to normal life, that they can feel safe and confident going to important public places such as this, and hopefully that will return over time.

JENNETT: And maybe some changes to policy might assist with that. You will have heard Premier Minns saying, Matt Thistlethwaite, right before our interview with you, that he's asked for a review of equipment that security guards can use in crowded places, hospitals, shopping centres, which have been pretty tightly regulated up until now. Are guards under protected or do they lack the offensive equipment to control violent people, in your view, in places like this?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Greg, it's a balancing act. You want to make sure that security personnel that aren't police officers have the necessary support that they need to do their jobs. And the Premier's quite right in announcing this review of the support that security personnel have in NSW. He's, of course, ruled out firearms, which I think is appropriate. I don't want to second guess that, the outcome of that, but I think that the Premier has done the right thing. He's also announced additional funding for the Coroners Court so that they can complete the Coronial Inquest as quickly as possible. I think that that's a good move as well.

JENNETT: And we're only at the very beginning of government responses in a policy sense, to what has happened on Saturday afternoon and evening. Matt Thistlethwaite, why don't we move on to your substantive responsibilities with the Federal Government now as Assistant Defence Minister. British RAF planes directly assisted Israeli forces in combating that incoming fire from Iran over the weekend. Were any ADF personnel stationed in and around the Middle East involved in assisting Israel's air defences in any way?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: As far as I'm aware, they weren't. And there's been no request from Israel to the Australian Government for that. Australian Defence Force personnel that are operating within the region as part of a number of regional multilateral missions. Manitou is one of those that's been spoken of recently and that's aimed at ensuring safety of sea lanes for commerce and, of course, wider security within the region. So, Australia is playing its part as part of a multilateral force within that region.

JENNETT: All right, thanks for clarifying that. What's the Government's assessment about Iran, or, for that matter, Israel's intentions after the original strike by Israel on the Iranian embassy in Syria and then the counter response at the weekend? Is that likely to be the end of it?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: It's disappointing that Iran ignored the requests of nations like Australia and other international nations supporters who warned the Iranian Government not to go down that path, not to launch an attack on Israel. And we certainly condemn that attack that took place over the weekend. Obviously, Israel responded, and their counter drone and counter missile measures were very effective. And I think that everyone across the world wants to see restoration of peace and stability as quickly as possible. And everyone's calling for restraint. Australia's part of that. And certainly, President Joe Biden has said that the United States won't be part of any counter effort by Israel, and they're calling for restraint as well. And I think that both Iran and Israel should listen to the response of the international community in calling for restraint.

JENNETT: So, there's no grounds, I know the call for restraint, but there are no grounds in the Australian Government's view that Israel is entitled to further retaliation after the weekend attacks? 

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, obviously, the Israeli government has the right to defend its people, and they did that on the weekend with the counter drone shield and the counter missile shield, and it worked very effectively. The Israeli Government are no doubt assessing the situation, and Australia joins with other international allies and partners in calling for restraint. It's a very volatile situation. It's a volatile region, and we don't want to see an escalation of any further conflict in the region. And that's something that the United States has made clear. It's also something that a number of Arab nations in the region have also made their views public as well. So, I think that hopefully we can see restraint and a return to normality and as quickly as possible.

JENNETT: Yes, it's volatile. That might even be, if anything, an understatement. Matt Thistlethwaite, look, these are difficult days for you and your community there in the eastern - south eastern side of Sydney. Really appreciate you coming on for that. And the defence questions as well.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: As always, thanks very much, Greg.


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