Vice Admiral Ritchie thank you very much for your generous introduction. To the Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Barrett, to the distinguished guests, particularly senior naval representatives from I believe from over 40 countries, to my parliamentary colleagues The Hon Teresa Gambaro and Dr Dennis Jensen and I apologise if there are any other parliamentary colleagues present that I have missed, ladies and gentlemen.
Let me begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the lands on which we meet and pay my respects to their elders past and present and acknowledging their exceptional stewardship of this nation continent that we call Australia.
I am absolutely delighted to have this early opportunity to speak to you as Minister for Defence at this very important national and international event. The combination of the ninth Royal Australian Navy Sea Power Conference, the International Maritime Congress and the Pacific Expo provide the ideal venue for me to speak to you about the Government’s plans for the maritime industry and the Royal Australian Navy.
The Indo-Pacific Region:
Looking out over the period to 2035, while there are tremendous economic opportunities for Australia, I think it is also fair to acknowledge that we will also face a more uncertain regional and global security environment.
Our region, the Indo-Pacific, has enjoyed a long period of peace and security – over 70 years in fact – underpinned by the strong, stabilising presence of the United States, which has enabled an unprecedented pace of economic growth and opportunity.
That is particularly why Australia strongly supports the United States’ continued presence in the Indo-Pacific, and its rebalance of forces to our region.
But we are also seeing power relationships in the Indo-Pacific become more complex as global strategic weight continues to shift to the region. By 2050 indeed, almost half of the world’s economic output is expected to come from the Indo‑Pacific.
The roles of the United States and China, as well as the relationship between them, will continue to be particularly important factors in shaping the region. Economic, energy and trade interdependence is growing across the Indo-Pacific, as states’ economic wellbeing and prosperity increasingly depend on free and open trade.
And I note for the record the news of successful agreement of the Trans Pacific Partnership is an extremely important step in that process from the United States in recent days.
Greater interdependence between states helps reduce the likelihood of destabilising actions or conflicts.
But we will not be able to remove those risks altogether. Indeed, tensions do persist in the Indo-Pacific, and it should be acknowledged that in some cases are becoming more acute. We need to ensure that states are all focused on maintaining stability in the region.
Australia is a maritime trading nation. That means we have a direct national interest in the maintenance of freedom of navigation in areas like the South China Sea. So while we do not take a position on competing claims, Australia continues to strongly oppose the use of intimidation, aggression or coercion to advance any country’s claims or unilaterally alter the status quo. The Government does remain concerned about the destabilising impact of land reclamation activities in the South China Sea.
The imperative though to resolve regional disputes peacefully is particularly important in light of regional military modernisation. Across the Indo-Pacific we see states modernising their forces in line with their own growing economic prosperity. Military modernisation is largely a positive development, improving the capacity of states to manage their own security challenges, and presenting opportunities for Australia to work with ever more capable partners. However, regional military modernisation does have the potential to also increase strategic competition as states seek military advantages over their neighbours.
As a nation Australia continues to encourage all countries to be open about their defence policies, and transparent in their long-term strategic intentions to build trust and minimise any potential for miscalculation. Australia’s own development of a new Defence White Paper demonstrates our own commitment to transparency in strategic and capability planning. The White Paper will set out the Government’s vision for Australia’s security over the next twenty years.
In conjunction with the White Paper, the Government will deliver a 10-year investment plan for Defence capability and sustainment and a new Defence Industry Policy Statement to ensure Defence and industry can work together to deliver the new force the White Paper will describe.
The Government very strongly supports the principle that we should maximise the opportunities for Australian industries to participate in Defence acquisition and sustainment. We are also strongly committed to Australian industry that can deliver Defence capability that is internationally cost-competitive.
On Monday of this week the Prime Minister and I both attended the official signing ceremony of the $1.3 billion contract for the delivery of 1100 locally made Hawkei protected vehicles and 1058 companion trailers to go with them. These vehicles are great example of how Defence and industry can work together to deliver innovative and world-class capabilities.
The new Defence Industry Policy will offer industry greater opportunities to build its innovation, its productivity and its international competitiveness – which is all in Australia’s national interests. To ensure that the Government’s significant investment in Defence is spent wisely, this will be Australia’s first fully‑costed, and externally cost-assured, Defence White Paper.
We are also reforming the defence organisation so that it can effectively achieve the tasks set out in the White Paper, under the recommendations of the First Principles Review. These reforms will ensure that we maintain the alignment of strategy, capability and resources over time as we work towards the implementation of the White Paper.
Future of Naval Shipbuilding in Australia
Ladies and gentlemen, over coming decades, the Royal Australian Navy will undergo its most significant period of recapitalisation since the Second World War. Modernising our future naval capability will be critical to the more agile and potent force we will deliver through the White Paper. Over the next 20 years, the Government will invest over $89 billion in the acquisition new submarines, frigates, offshore patrol vessels and other specialist naval vessels. As part of delivering and sustaining our new naval capability, the Government is fundamentally reforming the way Australia acquires its naval vessels.
The Government has committed to an unprecedented continuous build of surface warships in Australia. This will commence with our new Offshore Patrol Vessels, which will have expanded range and enhanced sea handling and sensor capabilities, and our Future Frigates, which will be required to conduct a range of missions from low‑level constabulary roles that support regional stability to anti-submarine warfare.
The Government’s strategy will transform Australia’s naval shipbuilding industry, putting an end to the boom-bust cycle that has affected it in the past. We are redressing Labor’s “valley of death”, which has already, and would have continued to significantly harm Australia’s naval ship-building industry. After six years of Labor’s inaction and indecision, the Government’s shipbuilding strategy will also ensure Australia has a sustainable naval shipbuilding industry that delivers to the Navy the right capability, at the right time, and for the right price.
From 2020 onwards, we will have a build-up to about 2,500 workers employed continuously in surface naval shipbuilding here in Australia. Constructing warships in Australia as part of a continuous building program will consolidate and capitalise upon our long history of shipbuilding success. Indeed, ships acquired this way can take advantage of development and experience and will always be at the cutting edge. This strategy will foster a similarly advanced national ship refit and sustainment industry. And self-evidently, a sustainable shipbuilding industry will also generate significant benefits for the wider Australian economy, including through knowledge transfer and innovation.
Future Submarines – Strategic Need
As an island continent and the world’s sixth largest country by area, Australia as a nation does have special requirements in some of these regards and most particularly for our future submarines. Our national security and our $1.6 trillion economy rely on freedom of navigation of the sea. Seventy per cent of Australia’s export trade travels by sea. So as a maritime nation, we need maritime security.
Submarines are an essential component of Australia’s wider defence capability. So our future submarine must give us a significant capability edge. Moreover, we need the sovereign ability to maintain that future submarine over coming decades. Since an effective submarine capability plays an important role in Australia’s defence, it is very important to get this decision right. But submarines are unquestionably one of the most complicated and expensive Defence capability acquisitions a Government can make.
That’s why the Government is undertaking a Competitive Evaluation Process to inform selection of an international partner to work with Australia to develop and deliver our next submarine. France, Germany and Japan are participating in the CEP as potential partners. This will ensure Australia acquires the best submarines to meet our capability requirements. In due course the Government will separately announce the outcome of the Competitive Evaluation Process for the future submarine.
Strengthening Australia’s International Engagement
Even with a more capable Navy, and a more potent and agile broader ADF, the Government recognises that Australia cannot achieve its defence objectives alone. A strong network of defence relationships is fundamental to our security over coming decades. The Government intends to increase the focus on defence international engagement to reduce the risk of military confrontation, to build interoperability with key partners, and to improve the coordination of responses to shared international challenges.
The US Alliance will remain fundamental to Australia’s security and defence planning. Indeed underscoring the importance of this relationship, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister and I met with US Ambassador John Berry on the day the new ministry was sworn in. Next week with the Foreign Minister I will travel to Boston and Washington to attend the annual AUSMIN consultations with our US counterparts. This will be my first international engagement since being appointed as Defence Minister and it could not be more appropriate that it will be with the United States.
We will also strengthen our defence cooperation in South East Asia and the South Pacific, and enhance Defence’s ability to contribute to the maintenance of a stable wider Indo‑Pacific region within an international system based on the rule of law. This expansion in defence engagement is planned to include more regular training, exercises and activities with our regional partners, including in the maritime domain.
Humanitarian and Disaster Relief Operations
Our naval operations manifest in a variety of roles. We live in one of the most disaster prone regions of the world. Natural disasters will continue to threaten the safety and security of our near neighbours. Devastation comes to our region from cyclonic winds, severe storms, flooding, and earthquakes, and tsunamis that follow them. Australia has a long record of helping our friends and neighbours when disaster strikes. We also know that effective planning and preparation require cooperation to mitigate the effects on our people of a sudden crisis or disaster.
Our ability to help its neighbours has been significantly increased with the arrival of Amphibious Assault Ship HMAS Canberra last year. Together with its soon-to-be-commissioned sister ship HMAS Adelaide, the ships provide Australia with one of the most sophisticated air-land-sea amphibious deployment systems in the world. I’m pleased to say that with the Chief of Navy and other senior members, I visited HMAS Canberra on Friday a week or so ago to experience it first hand. I can report positively on the relations between Army and Navy in a very close co-located space on the Canberra, and I can report positively on the state of that fine vessel.
Whether it is in response to tsunamis that strike our neighbours, or cyclones that devastate island communities, navies have some of the key capabilities that allow governments to respond effectively and to save lives. The more we can work together in this field and build links now and in a continuing sense, the better we will be able to respond when those times inevitably come.
Maritime Security Capacity Building
Fortunately cooperating with our neighbours is not just about responding to natural disasters. We are also committed to helping the region build greater maritime security. In particular, we are committed to working with our Pacific island neighbours to boost their capacity to ensure maritime security. The Pacific Maritime Security Program is the follow on program from the highly successful Pacific Patrol Boat Program.
Under the Pacific Maritime Security Program we will provide up to 21 replacement boats across the region. We will continue to provide training and support for the operation of these boats. And, importantly, the Program will also include boosting regional aerial surveillance and coordination. That means we will be able to help countries to utilise their assets most effectively. If countries can do that, they can provide better for their own security and for the security of the broader region. Australia of course also provides maritime security related training across the South East Asian region.
This is a very tangible expression of the significance Australia places on Maritime and Naval strategy. This Government will ensure the Australian navy develops the new capabilities to enhance our ability to defend our nation and contribute to regional and global security.
The future prosperity of all the people of our region depends, to a large degree, on maritime security and marine resource protection.
The Government very much welcomes and supports Pacific 2015 and those who have come from across trade and industry; and as delegates from across Australia, from across the region, and across the world. I can see a number of familiar faces in the audience here and there, acquaintances and friendships made over a long period of time. I look forward to the opportunity of working with you, to collaborate with you, and to make the role of the Australian Navy and the Australian defence industry as strong as it can possibly be.
Thank you very much for the invitation to speak today.