28 March 2019
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, good morning everyone and thank you for coming this morning to Russell Hill for what could probably be one of my very last announcements as the Minister for Defence. I bring an apology from the CDF who is opening an Indigenous memorial this morning here in Canberra and has been delayed, but he’s being represented by David Johnston, the VCDF. And can I start by saying that in the nature of the military, Leo Davies, the Air Marshall who has been responsible as Chief of the Air Force for the last three years, his term is coming to a conclusion and he will finish up in July this year. And he’s done a tremendous job. It’s been great working with Leo Davies. His and my tenure in the Defence portfolio has basically overlapped for three years and he’s been a tremendous advocate for One Defence, for Project Jericho, for bringing the Air Force very much into the thinking across Defence these days, which is at that the battlefield is managed by not just one part of our services but by all the services working together. He’s been a real enthusiast for that vision and been a driving force behind it. So congratulations to Leo and I wish him very well in the future.
Today, we are announcing the new Chief of the Air Force will be Air Marshall Mel Hupfeld. Mel Hupfeld has been the Chief of the Joint Operations Command and has extensive leadership and operational experience through senior positions, including the Air Commander Australia and the Head Force Design. He will take up his role as Chief of the Air Force in July this year and I very much look forward to his service. Apart from being a very distinguished member of the Air Force, he’s also of course a South Australian, which is a very big plus in my books, and as he leaves the Joint Operations Command, the Chief of the Defence Force, will promote Major General Greg Bilton to Lieutenant General and he will become the Chief of the Joint Operations from 28 June 2019. Major General Bilton, soon to be Lieutenant General Bilton, has extensive experience and leadership in operations as the Deputy Chief of Joint Operations, as the Commander of the 7th Brigade and as the Deputy Commanding General of the United States Army in the Pacific. I look forward to working for a short time with currently Major General Bilton and I look forward to the success that will inevitably come with the appointment of Air Marshall Mel Hupfeld to the very important role of Chief of the Air force.
QUESTION: First of all, what do you see as the biggest challenges for the new people you’ve appointed today, and particularly with Air Force and fifth- generation? What are expectations do you have for those?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, Leo Davies leaves the Air Force in very good nick and has established a record, a foundation, for the way that the Air Force will operate into the future. Obviously, over the next few years, the taking over control of the F-35As as they come off the production line, finish their testing and training in the United States, and then take up operations here in Australia will be a major factor. There had been 12 that we’ve taken responsibility for under Leo Davies and over the next few years under Mel Hupfeld, there’ll be an increasing number. I think by the end of this year, there’ll be closer to 18, 24 the year after that. But you can get the details of those figures if you’re interested in them. But it means that that’ll be a significant challenge to bring those into full operation here in Australia and that’s a very significant capability. Also, the management of the Poseidon's, the Triton program, the build-up of our capabilities in terms of the whole of the battlefield, working with the other services, ensuring that One Defence continues to be the watchword of the Defence Department and the ADF. I think these are all the ongoing challenges to any Chief of the Air Force and I’m sure that Mel is very much looking forward to that.
QUESTION: Major General Bilton will also be overseeing what’s happening in Iraq. Do you expect we will be starting to look to draw down on our commitment being given as [indistinct] state and territories [indistinct]?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, of course, in most recent times, we have been able to announce the final defeat of Daesh, their removal from any territory. They continue to exist as a threat, as a terrorist organisation. And we already announced Major General Bilton will be responsible for the changing of our focus at Taji to one where we are training the trainer. We don’t anticipate that we’ll be withdrawing significant forces from Taji in the immediate future. But inevitably, as we build up the strength of the Iraqi forces and train their trainers, our role there will start to diminish over time; and New Zealand and Australia are working with other allies like Singapore, have trained 43,000 of the Iraqi security forces over the time that we’ve been operating the Taji training base. That’s an enormous achievement. But in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in the Arabian Sea, there are Australian forces serving all around the world, in the Golan Heights, Lebanon, in Sinai, the Sudan, and we continue to have a very significant role across the South Pacific. So, the operations of Major General Bilton at the Joint Operations Command is central to our national security and I’m sure he’s very much looking forward to taking on that full responsibility.