Television interview, Sky News Afternoon Agenda with Tom Connell

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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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14 June 2024

SUBJECTS: Future Cairns; Defence investment in Northern Australia; John Setka; Republic.

TOM CONNELL, HOST: Matt Thistlethwaite, thanks for your time. So, this event by the Cairns Post, the region, there is a buzz about it. They want to become a special economic zone, which to me usually means some sort of tax concession or similar. Is Labor looking at that?

MATT THISTLETHWAITE, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Well, I'm here, Tom, to speak at the Future Cairns conference, particularly to outline the Albanese Government's huge investments in bolstering our defence forces here in the north. We're investing about $4 billion over the course of the next four years in upgrading every single base across the north, from Scherger in North Queensland right through to Learmont in Western Australia. And Cairns will be part of that. This morning, myself and Senator Nita Green went to HMAS Cairns to see the work that's begun on upgrading the wharf facility there, the power, water, comms facilities that'll be vitally important to the defence of our nation into the future.

CONNELL: And the other aspect, as I said, though, the special economic zone, to me, that says something different around tax treatment. Would that be something you'd look at?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Look, we don't have special economic zones that get priority tax treatment anywhere in Australia, but this is a priority for our government, this region, and we've made some huge investments here. The shiplift facility that we're building, that's a $300 million investment. We've made some investments in the QCU, the university campus here. We've opened a new urgent care facility, a Medicare Urgent Care clinic. And as I said, the Defence investments that we're making here in the region are vitally important. Constant flow of investment and jobs created here in Cairns and right across the north of Australia due to Defence Force work.

CONNELL: Hopefully, they don't want to update Cazalys Stadium because that might be an AFL project. And John Setka says the CFMU will make sure they basically don't happen, or they'll be on the go slow. What have you made of John Setka's comments?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, Anthony Albanese, the Prime Minister, kicked John Setka out of the Labor Party and it's a matter for the AFL, really, what they do. But it would be better if the AFL was able to run its business and it's a matter for them to work out with the union. But we've been very strong and very clear that someone like John Setka should not be a part of the Labor Party and was booted out a number of years ago.

CONNELL: That's his, you know, what happened to him personally. If CFMEU branches went ahead with this, though, would there be consequences in terms of ties for Labor? For example, should Labor stop taking donations if that were the case, that action was taken?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, as you know, the industrial relations system runs independent of government here in Australia and so it should. And when you have disputes of this nature, there are mechanisms in the Fair Work Commission to resolve them. And if this dispute can't be resolved, then either of those parties is available to go to the Fair Work Commission and seek conciliation and arbitration to settle the disputes. So, ultimately there's a decision for the AFL and it's a dispute between a union and an employer.

CONNELL: But Labor could still decide, look, this is getting too much, you know, to take that sort of extraordinary action so personalised against someone you'd be comfortable still with donations, with the various affiliations with the CFMEU right across the country.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, all of the donations are to the Labor Party and are a matter for the party itself. They're all declared in accordance with the regulations and the rules, but they're a matter for the party wing, not for, for, you know, the politicians. That's a matter for the party to make decisions regarding that.

CONNELL: Let's ask about your portfolio. No referendum, as you said before, on the Republic will happen this term or next term. Is it time to just scrap having a Minister, indeed, in terms of your role and Assistant Minister in this area?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, we've got a long term vision for Australia having one of our own as our head of state. The priority for the government at the moment is, of course dealing with cost of living pressure and the tax cuts begin on the 1 July, the energy rebate, the support for students, increases to rent assistance, all of these good policies that the Labor government has implemented to help get people to get through this difficult period. But we do have a longer term vision for Australia, and I think it's a good thing that governments have a vision for where they want the country to be in 10 to 20 years’ time. And our vision is to have our maturity and our independence as a nation reflected by having one of our own as our head of state. And I don't think there's anything wrong with…

CONNELL: With having an area like with Veterans' Affairs and including out of that last Budget and trying to finally catch up on compensation payments. So, is there anything going on at all in the republican area in terms of your title, or is that essentially a dormant part of your role at the moment?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: As I said, it's not the priority for the government. Obviously, I've still got the role and we still work with Australians and organisations that are interested in this topic. But the short term priority for the government is cost of living relief. But having said that, we've got that long term vision and at some stage we'd like to have a conversation with the Australian people about whether or not they believe that we should have one of our own head of state, reflecting our maturity and our independence, and seeing an opportunity for us to strengthen our democracy into the future.

CONNELL: Matt Thistlethwaite, appreciate your time, I’ll let you get back to it. Thank you.



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