Tuesday, 12 May 2020
Questions without Notice
What an excellent answer about an excellent program. My question is for the Minister for Defence, Senator Reynolds. Can the minister update the Senate on what actions Defence has been taking in support of whole-of-government efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19?
I thank Senator Paterson for that question, and the answer is: I certainly can. While this government has been focused on protecting Australians and enabling Australians to live safely in the age of COVID, Defence has, yet again, been playing its part. It's not only our men and women in uniform across the three services; it's also personnel from right across the Department of Defence who have been assisting in the whole-of-government response right across the nation.
Defence has been responding in four key ways. We established, in March, a COVID-19 task force. The four areas of main response are: firstly, assisting states and territories with their health responses; secondly, assisting with the economic stimulus activities, particularly with our engagement with defence industry; thirdly, ensuring that our men and women overseas, 1,000 of them, are safe and well, and also dealing with all of the other issues of national security; and, fourthly, we have been providing additional support to our near neighbours, because, clearly, the threat of COVID-19 in many of our smaller Pacific nations, in particular, has the potential to be quite catastrophic. Today we have over 2,000 ADF personnel on the ground doing tasks ranging from contact tracing, quarantine compliance and, importantly, protecting our Indigenous communities.
I have just a few examples. For over a month, a small team of highly qualified ADF engineering maintenance specialists helped a surgical face-mask company in Shepparton boost the output exponentially of life-saving facial masks until sufficient civilians were able to be trained to now run that facility. More recently, as part of an AUSMAT-led Commonwealth team, the ADF deployed 50 personnel to the North West Regional Hospital in Burnie, for two weeks, to allow the staff to go into isolation and provide much-needed medical support to over 400 residents of north-west Tasmania.
Again, thank you very much, Senator Paterson, for that question. The men and women of our Defence Science and Technology group are without a doubt some of the smartest and most capable men and women in the world, and I'm extremely proud of the contribution that our Defence scientists have made, contributing their expertise and their smarts to researching COVID-19 virus and also for mitigation activities. Defence has partnered with a South Australian company, Axiom Precision Manufacturing, to rapidly produce a new face shield, boosting the supply and also expanding local industry capability. Our Chief Defence Scientist, Professor Tanya Monro, is leading a rapid response group aimed at repurposing existing non-invasive ventilators and turning them into invasive ventilators. Defence is also researching the virus' survivability on a range of different surfaces, and we're doing that in conjunction with a range of international partners. These are just a few examples of what Defence Science and Technology group is doing. (Time expired)
Thank you again, Senator, for that question. That is another part of the Defence portfolio that is doing outstanding work as part of our national response to COVID-19. The Australian Cyber Security Centre is protecting Australian families and businesses against COVID-19 related cybercrime and, importantly, cyberattacks against critical areas such as our health agencies and companies. So, to identify and disrupt malicious cybercriminals offshore, the ACSC is closely collaborating with industry here in Australia and overseas, with law enforcement, with government agencies and also with our telecommunication providers. But they're also working with frontline healthcare providers to reduce their risk of cyber compromise at this time. The Australian Signals Directorate itself is using its offensive cyber capabilities to disrupt foreign COVID-19 related cybercriminals. These criminals are attempting to exploit Australians in this time of crisis, which is utterly despicable. (Time expired)