Topics: Launch of Defence Strategic Update and Force Structure Plan
***E&OE Check against delivery***
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Well, good morning. Our nation's primary responsibility for any government is the safety and security and defence of our nation and our people. As Minister for Defence, it is my job to see and understand the world as it is, not as we would still like it to be.
Australians have not changed. We still have the same values, we still have the same philosophies, the same ideals and the same aspirations. We still have respect for our own sovereignty and the sovereignty of all other nations large or small, and we still strongly believe in and adhere to rules-based norms. But, as we all know, that is changing and our strategic circumstances are deteriorating.
The documents that we have released today is a very clear-eyed assessment of our nation's strategic environment and particularly that of our region. In these documents, we have locked in our 2016 White Paper commitments to Defence funding and also to Defence modernisation. Significantly, we have locked in the capabilities and are expanding the capabilities for our maritime, air and land forces, but we have also implemented two new capability domains. The first one is cyber and information warfare, and the second is space.
We've done this because our nation needs these capabilities. We've done this not because our behaviour and who we are as a nation has changed; we have done this because our strategic circumstances demand it for our nation. In the three new Defence objectives - shape, deter and respond - is reflected in our character. Primarily, it is about shaping our region with our partners. Shaping our region to ensure we can maintain rules-based order, to ensure we can maintain sovereignty and to ensure we can maintain the peace and prosperity that all of us grew up in and have enjoyed through the courses of our life.
JOURNALIST: Minister, the Prime Minister made a couple of references to the 1930’s which was, of course, post-pandemic, post-Depression but pre-war; does this Strategy put us on a poor footing?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: No, it doesn't, but what it does do is recognise the reality of the world - as I said, the world we actually live in. So, shaping as a new concept in the documentation is all about - in Defence's case - is about our Defence international engagement, to work with regional partners to promote stability and peace and prosperity and to deter any aggressive actions or actions that undermine our sovereignty.
So the reference to the 1930s was not made lightly by the Prime Minister. The reference to the 1930s, it takes parallels back to a time when our nation, and in fact the world, faced two great threats at once. One was economic uncertainty and Depression in that case, but also deterioration in strategic circumstances and our world clearly, as a result of COVID-19, is exacerbating what I think we can say is a disorderly environment and a deeply unsettled environment.
JOURNALIST: You refer to a "deteriorating strategic circumstance", you're talking about an expansionist power there with reference to the 1930s; is that the same here?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Well, what we're talking about is, again, as we see our region - we've got a region that militarisation is occurring very quickly, we've had rapid and disrupted technological change. Everything from AI to autonomy through to hypersonic weapons, direct particle beam weapons, direct energy weapons more broadly. We are seeing profound shifts in the technology that is being developed and that is being militarised and we cannot be blind to that and we have to do two things. First of all, make sure we understand what these emerging technologies and these threats are to protect our deployed forces and also, as weapons - particularly missiles - get longer range and have the capacity to get closer to our territorial land, we have to understand the consequences of that for our nation.
JOURNALIST: You're also expanding (indistinct) rising capacity to look over the east coast of Australia, so can you talk us through what threats you see coming from there?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: It's not so much about threat identification, as in greater awareness of and greater visibility of what's happening across that region.
JOURNALIST: Minister, now that this major to piece of work is out there, when will we have a decision about full cycle docking? Can South Australia and Western Australia expect any certainty before the October Budget?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Now that these major pieces of work have been announced, you will get a decision on full cycle docking when we are ready to do so.
JOURNALIST: Has this held up that decision? Obviously, the delay you've said earlier in a previous conference in Perth was not actually due to coronavirus, is it because there was all this going on in the background?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: As you can see from this extensive body of work, we have spent the last 12 months doing a very detailed assessment of our strategic circumstances which is having a significant impact on our force structure and the capabilities that we are proceeding with and that we are now requiring. So that, of course, informs into other estate and other maintenance and sustainment decisions.
JOURNALIST: How do you reconcile that we're building up our military for essentially to deter our greatest trading partner?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: I did not say that, however -
JOURNALIST: No, I'm not saying you did but that's the symbolism, the intent of what this policy is.
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Well, I'll leave the commentary on that to you, Andrew, but what I would say is that we are developing these capabilities, we have taken this very deliberate approach to shape, deter and respond, to underpin the development of our military capabilities for all of the reasons that I and the Prime Minister has outlined today.
JOURNALIST: But the proposition put to you is not incorrect, is it?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: And that would be –
JOURNALIST: That we are building up our military to deal with a threat which would indicate from our major trading partner, China.
MINISTER REYNOLDS: We are - again, this is not about a single nation. This is not about a single nation. This is about the cumulative effect of the militarisation in our region, about the new technologies, the new military technologies in particular that are developing in our nation. But can I say in relation to China - and that was I think at the heart of your question - we have always welcomed the economic rise of China and, in fact, we have benefitted from a very - mutually benefitted from this relationship over many decades, and we will continue to work with China and we encourage China to be a productive and a peaceful partner in our region, one that, like with all other nations, adheres to international rules and also respects the sovereignty of all nations.
SPEAKER: Last question.
JOURNALIST: Minister, you singled out cyber and space as two (indistinct) we've heard a lot about cyber in recent times, less so about space. Can you outline for us what they see as a threat? What is the threat coming to us from the space domain?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Well, that's a good question and thanks, Karen. We're investing over $7 billion over the next 10 years for a number of areas to increase our space capability. Primarily to increase our satellite networks in space, to give us that greater sovereign capability, but we're also putting significant work into greater space situational awareness. We're leveraging off civilian capabilities that a number of them exist here in Australia. But it is important that we have much greater awareness of what is happening in space which is not only becoming far more congested but it is becoming militarily contested so, it is important also that we protect equities we have in space, not just for Defence but for the civilian community. Things like timing, GPS and others because it's not just the military that will be greatly impacted if we lost that space-based capability.