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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18 April 2024

SUBJECTS: National Defence Strategy

KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Yesterday we saw the National Defence Strategy and how the Albanese Government's going to pay for its military acquisitions. Let's get some further discussion on that. I'm joined by the Assistant Defence Minister Matt Thistlethwaite joins us live from Adelaide, where I know you've been making an announcement about some of the facilities in Defence bases in South Australia. Let's start with the overall number, though, because Andrew Hastie says immediately, he came out yesterday afternoon and said you're not spending enough, despite the increase, that it's all due to the AUKUS program, and that if the Coalition wins the next election, they will commit to more than 2.4% of GDP for military. What's your reaction to that?

MATT THISTLETHWAITE, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: G’day Kieran. Well, I don't know what universe Andrew Hastie's on, but he's certainly not on planet earth at the moment, because the figures yesterday released as part of the National Defence Strategy indicate that we're increasing the Defence budget by about $50 billion dollars over the course of the next decade. It will be the largest Defence expenditure increase since the Korean War and takes spending on Defence to about 2.4% of GDP by the end of the decade. And that's in new acquisitions, new capability, in line with the recommendations in the Defence Strategic Review. So, this Government is entering into record spending on Defence to ensure that Australia has the capability to defend our nation into the future.

GILBERT: He says you're not spending enough. The other critique that Andrew Hastie had is that Mr Marles, the Deputy Prime Minister, wasn't clear enough on what the threat is. Does the Government need to state explicitly what the issue is here, what we're worried about?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, Richard Marles clearly outlined what Australia is facing. We're facing very uncertain strategic circumstances and a lot of that strategic competition is happening within our region. And the threat to Australia is the fact that we are an island nation, that 80% of our trade and commerce comes through sea lanes, through maritime, and we need to make sure that we can secure those maritime routes into the future. And that's why we're making those heavy investments in nuclear propelled submarines into the future, long range strike and that's why we're investing in upgrading the network of northern bases across Australia. All of those investments that we're making outlined in the integrated investment plan yesterday, support those recommendations in the Defence Strategic Review and deal directly with that threat to Australia's maritime approaches into the future.

GILBERT: When you look at the Defence outlook, the four years it's increased by 5.7 billion the funding, over ten years, 50 billion. Clearly, it's back end loaded the investment. Could the Government be doing more in terms of drones and missiles now to boost our Defence now? The Deputy Prime Minister said yesterday that if you wanted to have more capacity now, you need to be planning ten years ago. But isn't there something, some more you can do now to bolster Defence in the short term?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, the Deputy Prime Minister is right for those larger investments. We should have been acting earlier, and I think that the submarines are a classic example of that. We've had a decade of wasted opportunity under the previous government, where we were talking about an arrangement with Japan, then France, and we've finally settled on AUKUS. We're progressing AUKUS because that's the right way to go. But we are making those shorter term investments in the future. And, as you mentioned, investment will increase by $5.7 billion dollars over the forward estimates. So, that's over the next four years. And that's on investments such as the Blackhawk helicopters that are coming into circulation now, new missile and long range fires like Tomahawk missiles, like sea sparrows, like Nulka deterrence missiles and decoy missiles. We're investing in HIMARS, high mobility aerial rocket systems. We're investing in howitzers. We're investing in new capabilities for strategic lift in the air force with the replacement of C-130s. These are shorter term investments that we're making that will improve the capability and capacity of the Australian Defence Force in the short term. But we're also making those bigger, longer term investments, like nuclear propelled submarines, like the Hunter class frigates, and other lethal capabilities as well.

GILBERT: The other thing that the Deputy PM was saying, if you can elaborate on this, he's saying that some of the critique suggests that we could potentially be punching pound for pound with the likes of China or the U.S. Is anyone really suggesting that as viable or possible?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: The Deputy Prime Minister made the point yesterday that Australia is a middle power, and we don't seek to have the same capacity as a United States or a China, which has much larger populations and much larger militaries than Australia, but we will have the capability that we require to defend our nation into the future and, importantly, to deter a potential adversaries within our region. And the Deputy Prime Minister made that point yesterday, that we're concentrating on our region to deter a potential adversary into the future. It's also, of course, important that we have strong strategic alliances with the United States, with our long term partner, New Zealand, and now with the UK, through AUKUS.

GILBERT: Assistant Defence Minister Matt Thistlethwaite. Appreciate it, as always.




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