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LINDA REYNOLDS: Good afternoon and welcome to Sydney for the 11th annual Sea Power conference. I was honoured to be able to deliver the keynote address today. We’ve got over 4,500 delegates, over 600 companies, mostly Australian companies who are exhibiting here. We have representatives from over 50 countries, both industry and diplomatic, companies and researchers, and science institutes from right around this nation.
This government is investing over $90 billion into completing transforming our navy into the next generation navy, into a fifth generation naval capability. And there is no greater demonstration of how this government is doing that by going through these exhibition halls here today. Here we see universities, academic institutions, research institutions working hand in hand with Defence and with Navy and also with company’s right around the world.
So as the Australian Minister for Defence I am incredibly proud to see our policies in action. Today, I gave the keynote address and I confirmed we are on track to deliver the 2016 White Paper and also the Integrated Investment Plan that underpins it.
But clearly our geostrategic circumstances are changing more rapidly than the government, and indeed most people, thought back in 2016. So what we are doing in Defence is conducting a Force Structure Planning Review and having a look at what defence force we need to carry this nation forward for the next several decades.
As part of that, clearly we also need to keep the defence reform program going so that as technology changes and as the world changes, the Department of Defence is able to change with that.
So welcome to Sea Power everybody and I hope you enjoy meeting the exhibitors here and the delegates from over 50 nations. We’ve got a lot to celebrate and a lot to be proud of in our nation. Thank you.
JOURNALIST: Minister are you concerned that the US withdrawal from the Syria Turkey border could open up the region to the risk of an ISIS regeneration?
LINDA REYNOLDS: Well the Australian Government is very aware of what has been happening and saw the report on President Trump’s comments. As you would expect, the government is in very close contact with United States officials and also with officials from other Allies and partners around the world. We are monitoring the situation very closely. The Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister have urged restraint by all parties in this process. It is too early yet to speculate on the consequences this might have for Australian policy in the region. But, as it is a very rapidly evolving, new situation. So we will continue to monitor and act accordingly when we have more information to hand.
JOURNALIST: Is President Trump effectively allowing Turkey to invade north-eastern Syria and what is our thinking about that?
LINDA REYNOLDS: As I said, it is far too early to speculate on the implications of what is currently unfolding in Syria. But again, we are monitoring the situation very closely and we are talking to all of our allies, including the United States, to assess and monitor what is happening and then we will make any decisions on Australian policy that is relevant to this.
JOURNALIST: The Kurds were their allies too, can the US be trusted to keep agreements with its allies?
LINDA REYNOLDS: As I said, it is an unfolding situation and we are assessing the situation on the ground and with our allies and it is too early to speculate further.
JOURNALIST: Minister, what do you think should happen to the Australian foreign fighters being held in prison by the Kurdish?
LINDA REYNOLDS: Well of course as Australians, we are very concerned about other Australians in the region. But I would emphasise that consular support in these regions is limited, if non-existent. So any consideration of action by the Australian government will of course have to take into consideration the lives of anyone else we might send into the region and of course we will not jeopardise the lives of any other Australians.
JOURNALIST: The Government has been very active in trying to keep these people from coming back to Australia but Donald Trump has been saying to Allies, ‘hey these fighters are your responsibility, you’ve got to take them back’. How does that get resolved?
LINDA REYNOLDS: I will defer to the Foreign Minister on this. The Foreign Minister has talked at some length about the issue. Again, it is a very difficult situation. It is a very dangerous area and we will not be endangering the lives of other Australians. It is that simple.
JOURNALIST: Donald Trump seems to have taken a lot of credit for defeating ISIS, do you find that upsetting as one of the allied nations that contributed?
LINDA REYNOLDS: Australia is very proud of its role in the defeat of Daesh and the ongoing war against Daesh. Recently I was in Iraq and met with our troops in Baghdad and also in Taji and we have trained over 45,000 Iraqi security forces to take, to deal with these matters themselves and we are very proud of that. So as I have said, we're still monitoring the situation and how it is unfolding. It is too early to determine how it will impact policy but we are absolutely resolutely still behind the fight against Daesh. We don't resile from that one iota.
JOURNALIST: Was Australia given any advance warning of Donald Trump’s announcement?
LINDA REYNOLDS: Look, I am not going to be speculating about that. I have just said we are monitoring the situation closely, we will see how it unfolds and then we will make a determination about the policy implications for Australia. Thank you very much. One more.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask one more question just about full-cycle docking in response to some of the photographs we’ve seen recently, what is your response to that and are we any closer to a decision and are you under pressure from WA with the advertising campaign?
LINDA REYNOLDS: As I have said on many occasions now, the government has not made any decision on full-cycle docking and all of the other life type extensions and all of the parts that go with the program. As I have said many times, I am waiting for a report on this from defence. Any decision taken will be in the national interest. It will be what the Navy requires to meet its capability requirements.
JOURNALIST: On the White Paper, you’re talking about the planning for new strategic circumstances, when will there be a new white paper and why not just launch a, you know, full-scale white paper process now rather than sort of tinkering with the old one?
LINDA REYNOLDS: Well, I reject completely the premise of what you just said. I think if you go back and look at the text of my speech, I was very clear that the 2016 White Paper, we are well under way to delivering it and the foundations that underpin it are still absolutely applicable. But as we can all see, it is self-evident that the geostrategic circumstances we live in that technological disruption is changing. I think every single Australian would expect us to make sure that not only do we deliver this capability, but we make sure that it deals with emerging threats. So yes, we're still on track with the white paper. Yes, we are undertaking very significant reviews of the new we live in, and what the implications are for defence. As I said in my speech, I will be getting some reports early in the New Year from Defence and the government will use that to make some very well considered and informed decisions about the way forward from there. Thank you very much.