Television Interview, ABC News Breakfast

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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: Unsafe and unprofessional interaction with PLA-Air Force; China relationship; Future Gas Strategy; Hamas-Israel Conflict; Death of Zomi Frankcom.

BRIDGET BRENNAN, HOST: Well, the Chief of Britain's Royal Air Force has suggested Australia release any video of last weekend's dangerous interception of a navy helicopter to highlight the Chinese military's poor behaviour. China has responded to Australia's condemnation of the incident, accusing our Defence Force of spying. For more, Assistant Defence Minister Matt Thistlethwaite joins us now from Katherine in the Northern Territory. Good morning, Minister, welcome to News Breakfast.

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

BRENNAN: What do you make of those comments from Britain's Chief of the Air Force that we release any video we have of this incident? It sounded like a very dangerous altercation. Do you think that would help in displaying what exactly happened here?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, yeah. Australian troops were operating as part of a UN sponsored mission to enforce sanctions against North Korea. They were operating in international waters in the Yellow Sea and the actions of the Chinese military were unsafe and unprofessional. And Australia has raised our objections with the Chinese military and with the Chinese embassy. And we believe that we've taken the appropriate course and the appropriate objections and concerns, and we’ll, of course, stand up for Australia's interests and ensure that our troops are safe when they undertake important international operations such as this.

BRENNAN: Just going back to my question on whether or not we should release any video captured of the incident, do you know whether it exists, whether or not that would be helpful? Because if there has been any misinformation here, would it help to ensure that all the clarity is there on what exactly happened to our Defence Force personnel?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, obviously, we take the advice of our Defence Force officials, and they believe that we've acted appropriately. And the concerns that we've raised to date, we believe that that's the appropriate course to take. We've made our objections very, very clear to China through their defence force and through diplomatic channels through the embassy in Canberra, and that's the appropriate course that we believe to take in the wake of this incident.

BRENNAN: What does this say about our relationship with China?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, we've said that we'll cooperate with China where we can, but we'll stand up for Australian values as well, and defend our Defence Force members. And Australia has a long tradition of operating through the UN mandate in that region. We were operating in international waters. It was part of a UN sponsored mission to enforce those sanctions against North Korea and Australia was operating with international law. So, that's really, really important in this case. Of course, we want to see stability in the relationship with China and the Government's been working on ensuring that we restabilise that position with China. And that's had some success, particularly in terms of the lifting of sanctions. But we will, of course, stand up for the Australian military and our right to be involved in international operations such as this in international waters.

BRENNAN: Just moving to the Government's new plan for gas in Australia to shore up our domestic market, but also presumably for exports into the future until 2050. Can Australia still meet our climate change targets and our targets on emissions reductions if we're shoring up new gas projects?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Yes, we can, because gas fired power is cleaner than coal fired power. So, gas will be a very important transition fuel as Australia makes that orderly and steady transition to net zero by 2050 and 43 per cent renewables by 2030. I'm in the Northern Territory. I announced a couple of days ago at Robertson Barracks in Darwin, a new solar farm that will power about 1800 homes in the local community here and power about 40 per cent of that base's needs and reduce their energy costs by about half a million dollars a year. So, we're making those investments in renewables. But what's important is that we have a steady transition and gas will be part of that transition.

BRENNAN: Minister, turning to what's happening in Rafah now. How concerned are you for Palestinian families stuck in Rafah as a planned offensive gets underway from the Israel Defence Forces?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Yeah, the Australian Government is very concerned about the Israeli Defence Force's plans to launch a ground offensive into Rafah. There's about two and a half million Palestinians have been moved into that area in the wake of what occurred in Gaza. And Australia has been very clear with Israel in warning them not to go down that path. And I think that that's part of an international coalition of nations that have deeply concerned by the proposal from the Israeli Defence Force. Ultimately, we want to see a ceasefire, we want to see both parties get back to the negotiating table. We want the hostages released by Hamas, and then we want to see a ceasefire. And actions like this don't contribute to that ultimate aim of peace and providing an opportunity for both the Palestinian people and the Israelis to live securely in their nations.

BRENNAN: Just on the investigation into the killing of Zomi Frankcom and her colleagues. I know Australia, around about a month ago, appointed an independent envoy to monitor that response and that investigation that Israel has done. Have we received any interim findings from the retired Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: It's my understanding that Mark Binskin is still conducting his investigation and he'll shortly hand some findings to the Australian Government. We acted pretty quickly in the wake of that shocking incident, and we believe that we owe it to Zomi Frankcom's family to get to the bottom of what occurred. And that's why Mark Binskin is doing this important work. And in the coming months, he'll hand his findings to the Australian Government.

BRENNAN: Matt Thistlethwaite, thanks very much. Have a great day in Katherine.



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