Topics: Defence spending, Department of Home Affairs Secretary’s ANZAC Day message, COVID-19 situation in India, pause on flights from India
DAVID KOCH: The Prime Minister is expected to unveil a $747 million defence package in the Northern Territory today, aimed at preparing the ADF for emerging threats in the region. Four military bases are set for major upgrades, enhancing our land combat capabilities and ability to conduct training exercises with key allies such as the US. For more, I’m joined by Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews. Minister, thanks for joining us.
KAREN ANDREWS: Pleasure.
DAVID KOCH: Your Department Secretary Mike Pezzullo said ‘the drums of war are beating’, where from?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, let me be clear about what the Secretary was saying, he was making it very clear that our overarching responsibility is to work towards peace. And each year, the Secretary also puts out a message on Anzac Day, so this was not unusual for him to be doing this.
DAVID KOCH: Okay. But they’re pretty fiery words, ‘the drums of war are beating’. Who’s beating the drums?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, Mike Pezzullo was certainly very direct in and the tone that he has used. He didn’t indicate any nation whatsoever. But let’s be clear, let’s be clear …
DAVID KOCH: So, it’s China, though.
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, we are always going to be alert but not alarmed about threats that may be facing our nation. So, we’re very conscious of the Pacific region in which we live, in which we work, and we will always make sure that we are committing…
DAVID KOCH: Okay. Is China the biggest threat?
KAREN ANDREWS: We are always conscious of the nations, and I know that you’d like me to say which nations but we are very conscious of the various threats that are apparent right across our nation.
DAVID KOCH: So, this week, the New Zealand Government sort gave us a bit of a slap down, saying we’re disrespectful to China and we should be following their more conservative lead, and that’s from our closest ally, saying we’re poking the panda.
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, we have a very strong trading relationship with China. It’s very important to us. But our responsibility is first and foremost, to keep Australians safe and secure. We have always had a significant spend on Defence. The commitment that the Prime Minister is going to be making today is just one of those commitments. We are committing, also, $270 billion over the next 10 years for our Defence capability. It goes to making sure that we are prepared, that we are alert, we are not alarmed, but we are prepared and we need to make sure our Defence forces are ready.
DAVID KOCH: Yep. You’ve got a busy week this week. You’re suspending direct flights from India for the next three weeks or so.
KAREN ANDREWS: Until mid-May.
DAVID KOCH: Mid-May. Why?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, the situation in India is absolutely horrific. The images that we are seeing coming through now are just horrendous. So, we understand that there is a risk with flights coming into Australia, we don’t want COVID to land on our shores again, we don’t want it to spread, and one of the ways that we have been advised by our health professionals is to look at restricting flights in and out.
DAVID KOCH: Okay. What do you say to the 9000 Aussies who want to come home? 650 are vulnerable. It’s heart-wrenching for them.
KAREN ANDREWS: Oh absolutely, for Australians in India and for the Indian community here in Australia. It is devastating for them. What I would say to Australians in India is that as soon as it is possible for us to look at supporting them to return to Australia, we will do so, focusing on the most vulnerable.
DAVID KOCH: Okay. No exemptions for cricketers?
KAREN ANDREWS: No.
DAVID KOCH: Okay. Karen Andrews, thanks for joining us.
KAREN ANDREWS: Pleasure.