Radio interview, RN Drive with Patricia Karvelas

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The Hon Pat Conroy MP

Minister for Defence Industry

Minister for International Development and the Pacific

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10 June 2024



MONDAY, 10 JUNE 2024

SUBJECTS: HAMAS-Israel conflict, Greens misinformation, Australian Defence contracts.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: The Albanese Government is under pressure over millions of dollars in contracts and subcontracts to companies that have supplied parts, perhaps, to Israel.

It was a focus of the Greens during Senate Estimates last week, who were calling on the government to end all two-way military trade with Israel, while the government says it stopped all weapons trade five years ago.

Pat Conroy is the Minister for Defence Industry, he joins us this morning. Welcome to the program.


PATRICIA KARVELAS: I have to start on the big story over the weekend, and of course, still being deeply discussed, the European Union's top diplomat has called the operation to rescue these four Israeli soldiers over the weekend - a massacre. But of course, these people have also been now rescued, four hostages, but there have been at least reportedly 270 Palestinians that have died. Is that concerning to you?

MINISTER CONROY: Well, we've been genuinely horrified by what we've been seeing in Gaza. We've been from day one calling for the return of all hostages that Hamas have taken. We've also been calling for Israel to follow the international rules of war and we've been calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.

So, I'm not in position to comment on the specific incident, but it's fair to say that as the conflict has gone on, we've been horrified by the images that we've been seeing and that's why we've been steadfast in calling for a humanitarian ceasefire.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay. But these hostages have been rescued, but hundreds of Palestinians have died. Is that acceptable to you?

MINISTER CONROY: Well, I'm not in position to comment on a specific incident, but I can say that we call for all hostages to be released and at the same time Israel to follow the international rules of war.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: And is this an example of following the rules?

MINISTER CONROY: Oh, I'm not in a position to comment on that, PK.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay. It's interesting because we have you on to talk about the weapons issue, but at the heart of that discussion is that the Greens say you're not taking a strong enough line in denouncing the behaviour of the Israeli government and military and you have really stood on the fence on this and not wanted to comment. Is that an example of what the Greens accuse you of?

MINISTER CONROY: Well, I'm not standing on any fence. What I've been saying is that Israel should follow the international rules of war and that all civilians should be protected and at the same time, Hamas should release the hostages.

What the Greens have been doing has been lying to the Australian public about Australia's involvement in the conflict in order to further social division for short term political advantage. You saw that last week, where they continued to lie about Australia supplying arms and ammunition to Israel, and that is hurting our communities, dividing our community, and it has to stop.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: There's a $917 million army contract with Elbit Systems in question. The government said it doesn't have responsibility over that because it was a subcontract from the company Australia is actually dealing with, which is a South Korean company. Are you saying Australia has no control over subcontracts?

MINISTER CONROY: No, I'm saying that the Greens continue to lie and state that we have a contract with Elbit for $917 million.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: We have it with a subcontract. But my question to you is, do you have no control over subcontracts? Is that what you're saying?

MINISTER CONROY: We are contracted with Hanwha Defence Australia to build infantry fighting vehicles for the Australian Army in Australia. As part of that, Hanwha have subcontracted to Elbit to build the turrets, which is part of the vehicle in Australia for the Australian Army. So, that is on the public record from day one. The Greens continue to lie about it. But let me just emphasise, this is money. Even if it flows through the supply chain to Elbit from Hanwha, that is money to build army vehicles for the Australian Army in Australia. The Greens are saying that this is supplying arms to Israel, which is incorrect and continues to be incorrect.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Does it mean, though, for example, if Australia has a contract with BAE Systems in the UK for nuclear submarines, if BAE decided to subcontract to a Russian company, the Australian government would have no control over that?

MINISTER CONROY: No. We also have control and input over who is subcontracted to these things.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: So, could you - okay, taking it back to that, then. Could you intervene here if you got control?

MINISTER CONROY: There are two ways you can look at this from what the Greens are claiming. If they're saying that we shouldn't contract with Israeli or Jewish businesses, which is what they're implying, they are calling for, effectively, a boycott of Israeli and Jewish businesses. That is not our policy. That's not the policy of the Australian Government.

The other way of looking at this, if you follow their logic, is that we shouldn't be contracting or have commercial relationships with businesses that supply the Israeli Defence Force. Firstly, responsibility for how weapons are used is the responsibility of the defence force in question, in this case, Israel. And secondly, does that mean, for example, Qantas and Virgin should be banned from buying 737s from Boeing, because Boeing has sold F15 fighter jets to Israel? Like this is a policy of boycotting Israeli businesses or boycotting businesses that may have supplied platforms to Israel when ultimate responsibility lies with the Israeli Defence Force. We are not supplying arms or ammunition to Israel.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Would the government prefer if Australian taxpayer money wasn't going to the Israeli company that played a key role in the death of the Australian aid worker Zomi Frankcom?

MINISTER CONROY: Well, let's be very clear, the responsibility for the tragic events around Zomi Frankcom was with the Israeli Defence Force. The Israeli Defence Force are the ones that are responsible for that. The Australian Government does not have a policy of sanctioning Israeli businesses or boycotting Jewish businesses. That's not the policy of the Australian government.

What we've been calling for is respect for the international rule of law, protection of civilians, and importantly, an end to these lies by the Greens, that we are supplying arms and ammunition to Israel. And we've seen false claims throughout this process. David Shoebridge was claiming that accompanying the Hunter was manufacturing missile parts to go in Israeli missiles to blow up buildings in Gaza. That was a straight out untruth. And he continues to maintain that when he's been told repeatedly that that is incorrect.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: If I go on AusTender right now, that's where the government publishes tender contracts, right? There's a $3.2 million contract between January 2024 and January 2026 with Elbit Systems Land. In the category, it says it's for conventional war weapons. That was published on February 1 this year. Can you explain what that $3 million is for?

MINISTER CONROY: Yes, we've got a few contracts with Elbit for delivery of capability for the Australian Defence Force. Two examples are $9 million to maintain and repair thermal imaging equipment and another contract for some drones for the Australian Army.

All those contracts are for equipment for the Australian Defence Force. And that's really critical. We contract with Israeli companies, we contract with British companies, we contract with United States companies. The contracts with Israeli companies are for Australian Defence Force equipment.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Now, at the heart of this debate is if we should be taking stronger action, even on the supply chains. Even accepting your argument that weapons are not sent to Israel. Right? Even accepting that, which I think is right.

MINISTER CONROY: Well, it is the fact.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Yeah, yeah, yeah, of course that's right. But then there are other contracts that you've tried to correct what you say are the facts on. But in the Netherlands, a court ordered for its parts in the F35 aircraft supply chain to stop being made due to a clear risk that serious violations of humanitarian law, of war are being committed, right?

Doesn't that show how seriously other countries, the Netherlands in this case, are taking that supply chain?

MINISTER CONROY: Well, that's a question for the Netherlands Government.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: I know, but the question is, why aren't we doing that?

MINISTER CONROY: Well, what I can say to you is since the conflict has begun, we've been only approving export permits to Israel for equipment that is returning to Australia for the ADF. That is really, really important.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Can I just clarify, does that mean you've actively said no to contracts that go beyond that?

MINISTER CONROY: What we've been saying is that due to the high intensity nature of this conflict and the complex circumstances we've been applying the existing export control system and since the conflict began, no permits have been approved except for items that have been returned to Australia.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: And is that an active decision because of the war? That's what I'm trying to get to.

MINISTER CONROY: That's an active decision of the war, applying the existing export control system. So, there's 18 criteria that the Defence Minister must apply under the Defence Trade Controls Act. And due to the high intensity nature of that conflict and the complex circumstances around it, the government has only been approving new permits to Israel for equipment for the Australian Defence Force and law enforcement that will be returned to Australia.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: That's interesting. So, does that mean that decision, was that a Cabinet decision? I'm just trying to understand how that was made.

MINISTER CONROY: The Minister for Defence has responsibility for this, so the Deputy Prime Minister, and he's been applying the criteria, the existing criteria, under our rigorous Defence Export Control system, and he's been doing it in that manner.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: And are there contracts that have been rejected?

MINISTER CONROY: Well, I'm not going to get into commercial in confidence data, but what I can say to you is that the only export permits that have been approved have been ones for Australian Defence Force and law enforcement equipment to go there. And that's typically equipment that's being repaired or upgraded for return to Australia. That's been an active decision of the Defence Minister using the existing export control criteria.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Is there a discussion in the government about going further with restrictions on contracts, given there is so much pressure and so much concern around this war?

MINISTER CONROY: Well, that's been our approach, which is to apply the export control criteria in that way, and we'll continue to scrutinise the active export permits to Israel to ensure that they're aligned with this approach.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Thank you for joining us this morning. I appreciate your time.

MINISTER CONROY: Thanks, PK. Have a good morning.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy there.



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