Radio interview, MIX 104.9 Darwin

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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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9 May 2024

SUBJECTS:  Increased defence investment in Northern Territory; PFAS contamination water treatment.

KATIE WOOLF, HOST: Yesterday you’ll recall on the show we had that big Defence spending announced with the Minister for Defence Industry, Pat Conroy, joining us. Now this morning, further announcements this time, as I understand it, for Katherine. A $40 million dollar estate works upgrade announced, as well as the commissioning of a water treatment plant. Now the Assistant Minister for Defence and Veterans' Affairs, Matt Thistlethwaite, joins me on the line. Good morning to you, Minister.

MATT THISTLETHWAITE, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Good morning, Katie. Thanks for having me on the show.

WOOLF: Yeah, good to speak to you. Now, Minister, tell us a bit more about what's going on in Katherine.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: I've just left RAAF Base Tindal in Katherine, where we announced an additional $41 million dollars worth of investment in upgrades to facilities and infrastructure at the base. We're upgrading the fire station there to provide better female facilities. We're upgrading some of the living accommodation, particularly as we get increasing rotation of troops through during the dry season as part of operations. And we're increasing security and electrical upgrades as well. And that comes on the back of the one and a half billion dollars of investment that we've put into Tindal Airbase to cater for greater sized aircraft, upgrade the runways, the aprons and the fuel storage facilities.

WOOLF: Yeah, right. So, this is new money. This is more than what we'd already heard about over the last few days or the last couple of months.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Yeah, that's exactly right. These are new investments and they're all aimed at improving the liveability and the experience on the base for the troops. And the great thing about these projects, Katie, is that they're done in conjunction with local industry. So, this will create about 550 jobs in the local community. And I met some of those workers this morning from indigenous business DDR, some of those workers who are employed on this job. So, it's providing great employment opportunities, skills enhancement opportunities for the local community. It's a wonderful partnership between Defence and local businesses and the Katherine community.

WOOLF: And why is it needed? Like, are we expecting to see a greater, even more, you know, Defence personnel based in Katherine?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Yeah, we are. We're going to see a lot more rotation of troops through for important exercises like Pitch Black and Kakadu and Talisman Sabre that are fundamental to Australia's involvement in security and peace within our region. And I was in Malaysia a couple of weeks ago where I met Malaysian Defence Force representatives who were looking forward to their first time participating in Exercise Talisman Sabre next year. And that's a classic example of the strong relationships that our ADF is building with defence forces in the region. And we're coming together on a regular basis to do training exercises and most of those training exercises involve the Northern Territory, so the territory is crucial to Australia's capability development into the future.

WOOLF: Now, Matt, what's the announcement as well about this water treatment plant? Is that in relation to the PFAS issues that we've experienced in Katherine?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Yeah, that's exactly right. Yesterday, I launched the new water treatment plant that will treat the groundwater from the Katherine area as a result of PFAS contamination. We know that that comes from the use of legacy firefighting foams at the base there, and it's a $28 million plant that will treat water and reticulate it back into the water system for the Katherine community. It can treat 20,000 litres of water a day, and it's a state-of-the-art system that's been commissioned and is cleaning up the legacy contamination issues and making sure that Territorians, particularly people in Katherine, have access to clean drinking water.

WOOLF: What's the reaction been from the people of Katherine over the last sort of 24 hours? I've no doubt they'll be pleased that this is happening. Probably thinking it's a long time coming.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Yeah, I love coming to Katherine. I'm really welcomed by the local community. I was joined by a Local Member of Parliament, Selena Uibo, and we met with a number of the contractors that are doing this important work. We met with the local council representatives and, of course, the ADF personnel that are stationed on the base. It's great to see the Katherine community being so involved in the development of our Defence force in that community, and that's something that we wholeheartedly support.

WOOLF: Well, assistant Minister for Defence and Veterans' Affairs Matt Thistlethwaite. Gee, that's a mouthful - that name, your surname, I'm sure you get that all the time. I really appreciate it.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Particularly when I was a kid.

WOOLF: I bet it would have been. Thank you so very much, your time this morning. I really appreciate it.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Thanks for your time Katie.

WOOLF: Thank you. 


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