Radio Interview - ABC Darwin Mornings - Wednesday, 17 May 2023

The Hon Matt Thistlethwaite MP
Assistant Minister for Defence
Assistant Minister for Veterans' Affairs


RICK HIND, HOST: Minister, the Federal Government's response to the Defence Strategic Review was a promise to spend $3.8 billion to upgrade and develop the northern network of bases, ports and barracks over four years. You've written an op ed about how much of a priority that is, when and where will we see that money start being spent?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Yeah, we need to invest more in our bases in the north. We're going to see additional troops based up here and capability. There's $3.8 billion worth of investments that we're going to make over the next four years, and they include $2 billion at air bases, RAAF Bases Darwin and Tindal, a billion dollars in upgrades to land and joint facilities, including Robertson Barracks, and $600 million in maritime facilities such as HMAS Coonawarra. So, these investments will ensure that we have better facilities and better capability for our troops in the north and they also will help support the US Marine rotation that's about to kick off here in the north.

HIND: On Veterans’ Affairs, Soldier On lost funding in their federal budget. Why was that?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, Soldier On funding that was provided by the previous government was scheduled to end this year. And we know that Soldier On does great work. I recently attended their conference down in Sydney and spoke about the great work that they're achieving, particularly supporting veterans in employment. There are 1500 ex-service organisations. Unfortunately, the government just cannot fund all of them. And Soldier On have done so well that we're looking to replicate some of the model that they've got around employment services and mainstream it through the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. The other point is that the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide pointed out that the number one reason that veterans are having a hard time at the moment and there's mental health issues is because of the backlog of claims in the Department of Veterans' Affairs and we're, as a priority, going to try and remove that backlog. So, we've made additional investments, we put additional money into employing about 500 new people, new staff to work on reducing that backlog. And of course, that's an investment that we see as a priority. So, unfortunately, when we've got scarce resources, we have to make decisions about where priorities are, and we've chosen to accept that recommendation of the Royal Commission and invest in reducing that backlog.

HIND: You were in the top end recently to announce with the Federal Member for Solomon, Luke Gosling, $64 million for the Defence Renewable Energy and Energy Security Program. But the ADF has been criticised for what looks like suspiciously low carbon emissions figures. Are you satisfied that the Federal Government knows how much carbon the ADF is really emitting?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, I know that the ADF needs to do more, and I know the ADF needs to do better when it comes to reducing their carbon footprint and investing more in renewable energy. The Australian Defence Force is the largest landowner in the country. I see that as a massive opportunity to invest in renewable energy and to reduce the emissions of the Defence Force, but also to reduce the energy costs. So, the announcement we're making today, $13 million in solar generation at RAAF Base Darwin, it comes on the back of an earlier announcement of $64 million that I made when I was up here last time, and that was in solar farms at Tindal, Robertson, Larrakeyah and Harts Range. And those investments will reduce the energy costs of the Australian Defence Force so that we can prioritise more investment in capability. But also, they'll benefit the Australian economy by creating jobs in new industries and reducing emissions. And they're the type of investments I want to see more of across bases, not only in the north, but more broadly across Australia.

HIND: Minister, thank you. I know you're busy.



Media contacts

  • Ben Leeson (Assistant Minister Thistlethwaite’s office): 0404 648 275

Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling provides 24/7 free confidential crisis support for current and ex-serving ADF personnel and their families on 1800 011 046 or the Open Arms website. Safe Zone Support provides anonymous counselling on 1800 142 072. Defence All-Hours Support Line provides support for ADF personnel on 1800 628 036 or the Defence Health Portal. Defence Member and Family Helpline provides support for Defence families on 1800 624 608