Topics: Defence investment in the Northern Territory, Port of Darwin, US facility in Northern Australia, Australia – US alliance
***E&OE Check against delivery***
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Good Morning. It’s an absolute delight to be back here in the Northern Territory, and to have a week here to meet with many Territorians and to have a look right across the Australian Defence Force to see what we are doing here. The Norther Territory is playing an increasingly important role in our nation’s security, and also in the development of our sovereign industrial base. This week, I have four primary aims. The first one is to have a look at how we are going to roll out $8 billion worth of defence infrastructure and estate works across the Northern Territory over the next 10 years. Secondly, I have been engaging with Defence Industry and also tomorrow, with the Chief Minister, to work out now how we can deliver all of that work here in the Northern Territory, over the next decade.
We’ve also had the opportunity, wonderfully with Ambassador Culvahouse, the US Ambassador, to have look at our Alliance in action. Yesterday we were at Mt having a look at the MRF-D and ADF exercises there, and it is very clear that the state of our alliance and our military-to-military engagement is very, very strong. Fourthly and most passionately, what I’ve been able to do here is have extensive engagement with some of our 5,500 ADF troops who are posted here to the Northern Territory, to thank them, not only for dealing with COVID-19 so quickly, so that we can work out a new businesses as usual in the time of COVID-19, and they have done extraordinarily well in that. I think the fact we have MRF-D, modified, going ahead, is a great testament to their adaptability and also to that, of the US Marine Corp.
Finally, it’s been a great opportunity for me to engage with the defence families, the partners and the children, of those 5,500 defence personnel here in the Northern Territory. Meeting them at RAAF Tindal in Katherine, and also here in Darwin. I would like to say a very special thanks from myself, and from the Prime Minister, not only from our men and women in uniform here, but also to their families. Dealing with normal operations, but also doing such a brilliant job both for the Northern Territory and also for all other states and territories with the bushfires and then with COVID-19. They couldn’t do it without the support and the love of their families right here in the territory. So thank you very much, and I will now handover to Ambassador Culvahouse.
AMBASSADOR CULVAHOUSE: Thank you Minister Reynolds. It’s nice to be here today. I am here really to support the Marines and their ADF partners in some really important Alliance work. I was with the Minister and with the leadership of the ADF and Colonel Banning our Marine Commander out at Mt Bundey. We saw the Alliance in action and in important respects, the presence of the Marines would not have happened if it weren’t for the courageous support of the Federal Government and the Northern Territory Government, in getting the Marines here, the leadership of the Marines and the ADF in making sure that they complied with all the COVID protocols, and that they were able to do some important training that was really quite creative. It’s not only military training but also preparatory training for disaster assistance, humanitarian assistance in the region, not only in Australia but throughout the region.
I’m also here to proselytize that the United States is Australia’s largest and most important economic partner. Deloitte just issues a report, and we have copies available if you want, that confirms that the United States direct investment in Australia which began in 1855 contributes 7% of the GDP of Australia. It’s as large as the mining sector. There’s more to do, we intend to do more, particularly in the post-COVID world – both the United States and Australia are going to have to reinvent part of our economy, and we’re determined to work together with the Federal Government and of course the state governments and the territory governments, including the Northern Territory Government.
I met with the Chief Minister this morning to see that gets done. We need strategically reliable supply chains and one good example which the Prime Minister and the President spoke about in September, was in the critical minerals sector. Our Governments have pledged and have committed and agreed to work together on critical minerals. Also we have pledged and committed to work together on space and frontier technologies. So it’s really nice to be back, it’s the fourth time that I’ve been to the Northern Territory. I intended to be here more but this year has been a little challenging, so thank you. I’m pleased to try and answer your questions.
JOURNALIST: US Ambassador Culvahouse, can I ask you there was a US budget allocation for a port facility in Northern Australia, maybe somewhere near Darwin. How is that progressing and is that still the plan?
AMBASSADOR CULVAHOUSE: There is a little bit of a mystery how people… in our budgetary process there’s authorisation for a military infrastructure project in the Northern Territory. It’s not a port facility. It’s not a port facility. If you look at the AUSMIN announcements, the two governments have agreed to try to build some important infrastructure here, I think at the RAAF Darwin and RAAF Tindal between now and 2026. We intend to spend up to $300 million USD, I can’t do the translation into Australian dollars, Minister Reynolds probably could, but we’re focusing on infrastructure to support the Air Force and the Marines and not port facilities.
MINISTER REYNOLDS: An important note on that as well from an Australian perspective, this is in addition to the $8 billion we have now committed over the next decade. We are working very closely with the US Government and US officials here to make sure that it is coordinated. Ultimately, it will be one large development project. Yesterday we saw, actually two days ago now we saw, the new stage phase 6 at Tindal Air Force base – the $1.1 billion – and I got to shovel the $1.1 billion shovel which was wonderful, but we are doing this together. In relation to port facilities, the main military port is of course HMAS Coonawarra, and the Australian Government is putting nearly $500 million into the upgrade of Coonawarra and the broader Larrakeyah precinct. So Darwin is, and will remain, a critically important port for the Australian Defence Force. Of course, we are now looking for the next decade plus of development, not only for the Australian Government but also the things we now do in cooperation with the United States.
JOURNALIST: Minister Reynolds, you’ll be aware of the situation of the Australian journalists in China. There are reports out this morning that Chinese media in Australia have been raided and interrogated. Can you comment on that?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Look I won’t comment on that. That is firmly an issues for the Foreign Minister, and she dealt with that issue very comprehensively yesterday. So that issue is better directed at the Foreign Minister.
JOURNALIST: Do you know whether they were raided?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: As I say, that is an issue for the Foreign Minister.
JOURNALIST: How much do both of you view the Darwin port lease to Landbridge, to the Chinese, as a strategic threat to our assets in northern Australia?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Well from the Federal Government’s perspective, the decision was made by the Northern Territory Government, but we currently do not have any defence security issues. It is a commercial port, we do have an MOU with the Northern Territory Government on security arrangements. And don’t forget, the main Defence port for the ADF and for the Navy is HMAS Coonawarra which we are putting significant resources into developing.
JOURNALIST: Why is the Darwin port not up for review with the new foreign relations bill?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: As I said, we currently do not have any defence security concerns in relation to the commercial Port of Darwin. But we do have an arrangement, and MOU with the Northern Territory Government, and we do have procedures in place if in future there are any concerns. But can I just reassure you, that we currently do not have any concerns on a defence front about this commercial port.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask you, as you said Australia and the US are very close allies, do you have concerns about the situation of Australian media in China and allegedly Chinese media in Australia?
AMBASSADOR CULVAHOUSE: It would be outside my lane to express a view about Australian media in China. We work closely with the Australian Government, we obviously have US media in China. We have had US media taken out of China and we think it’s, as a democracy, we believe in free press and a liberal press and so we think, we have concerns. But the Australian Government and the United States Government, our most important responsibility is to protect our citizens – the safety and security of our citizens and we have confidence in the Australian Government.
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Just on that point, can I just refer you to the Foreign Ministers very clear comments on that yesterday, and also refer you to the Smart Traveller advice on travel to China, which has been on the DFAT website for some time now.
JOURNALIST: (inaudible)… defence infrastructure, where are the plans at for this new military base that’s expected to be built in northern Australia and will it be built in the Northern Territory?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: I think it’s very clear from my driving around here and also at RAAF Tindal that those plans are well underway. There’s cranes and scaffolding all around Darwin, some new training areas and also RAAF Tindal. So this is a long term plan – we’ve already invested over a billion dollars, which you can see all around you here in Darwin, and elsewhere that it is underway.
Some of the projects over the next $8 billion have been approved, and a number of them a through the normal parliamentary approval processes. I did meet a couple of days ago with Master Builders and the Chamber of Commerce here, and we will be providing a timeline over the next decade so that we can work with industry here to make sure that the territory is ready. Because it is a significant uplift of work and certainty for the next decade plus. Obviously once we’ve built this infrastructure, it has to be maintained and upgraded over the years. So the key issue for the territory, which will certainly form part of my discussion with the Chief Minister tomorrow, is to make sure that we have the workers here and we have that continuity of local work here in the Northern Territory.