Address to ASPI International Conference, ‘Defence White Paper: From Page to Reality’, Canberra
Thursday, 7 April 2016
Subjects: 2016 Defence White Paper, Competitive Evaluation Process, Defence capability
Good morning ladies and gentlemen. Kevin, thank you very much for your warm introduction and Peter, thank you very much for your invitation and your warm welcome.
Let me begin, ladies and gentlemen, by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet here in Canberra and pay my respect to their elders, past and present and indeed future.
As I said Peter, I very much appreciate the invitation to be here today. I might let your assembled guests in on a little secret which is that Peter and I can rack up over two decades of association and friendship, having worked together when the new Parliament House was actually new in the very early 1990s, at each end of the then Opposition corridor where I was working with the then Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Senator Robert Hill and Peter, if I recall correctly, was working with the Honourable Peter Durack. So this is an enduring relationship, ladies and gentlemen, over some time, and I am very pleased to be here at ASPI today.
To Dr Yudhoyono, the sixth President of the Republic of Indonesia and to Angus Houston, to Your Excellencies – the many Ambassadors and High Commissioners that I see already in the room this morning– to former Defence Ministers the Honourable Robert Hill and I think the Honourable Kim Beazley, it’s good to have my work marked by both of them in this process. To members of the Australian Defence Force and the Department of Defence and other Defence Forces, my parliamentary colleagues and the very many distinguished guests who are here today.
It’s fair to say that this conference comes unsurprisingly at a very opportune time, just some six weeks after the release of the 2016 White Paper by the Prime Minister and myself. In that time, much has been written and much has been said about the 2016 White Paper, as well as the Integrated Investment Program and Defence Industry Policy Statement. Much has been positive and certainly much has been very constructive analysis, commentary and criticism from time to time.
Delivering a White Paper, fully-costed that for first time aligns strategy, capability and resources was not an insignificant task for Defence and Government, and I spoke of this at the time of the launch, the strength and indeed much of the initial success of the White Paper is due to the rigorous and methodical process that was conducted over two years to outline our strategic environment, our Defence priorities and objectives, and the capabilities needed to achieve these goals. But the release of the White Paper is not the end of the process; it is in fact the beginning.
As the theme of the ASPI conference indicates, the challenge now is turning the words of the White Paper into reality. The White Paper and the work that went into producing it is the foundation – a foundation that is deep and robust – which the Turnbull Government will use to ensure our future security and prosperity over the coming decades.
I am determined that this White Paper and its associated volumes won’t be historical relics that simply sit on the shelf. We will take the necessary and occasionally difficult steps to ensure its implementation and to ensure the documents remain relevant, with regular reviews and updates. In fact, in the Minister’s introduction to the White Paper I stated very clearly: “We will review our policy to meet the pace of change, through regular national security statements and defence updates to the Parliament”.
Australia’s strategic environment is expected to be more uncertain in coming decades as a consequence of multiple factors: the roles of the US and China and the relationship between them; challenges to the stability of the rules-based global order; terrorism emanating from ungoverned spaces; state fragility; the pace of military modernisation; and the emergence of new complex non-geographic threats, including cyber threats.
At the same time, our region is expected to continue its significant economic transition that is lifting the living standards of people, not just in China but in India, in Indonesia and the rest of South East Asia. This presents a real opportunity for Australia, one that we are seeking to leverage economically with the introduction of the Trans Pacific Partnership and our Free Trade Agreements with China, Japan and South Korea. We are now seeing nations in the region looking to modernise their militaries as their economies strengthen. And, just as we seek to engage openly and transparently to benefit from their economic rise, we also seek to engage openly and transparently to benefit from their increased military sophistication.
It is in our interest to have neighbours that are secure and are able to defend themselves. Military modernisation also presents further opportunities for Australia to train and engage with our neighbours growing our ability to respond more readily to shared security challenges. The Turnbull Government recognises that we can better protect and promote our interests by working closely with our international partners.
So, the 2016 White Paper has, for the first time, prioritised and funded Defence international engagement as a core Defence function. In fact you might say that international engagement is in the DNA of this White Paper. In the process of developing the Paper itself, Defence conducted over 200 individual briefings with international government representatives. That international engagement continued in the lead up to the release with a number of our regional partners directly briefed on its contents. I can tell you from firsthand experience, that our transparency in relation to our Defence planning and strategic goals is very much appreciated by our neighbours.
Indeed, just over two weeks ago I took the opportunity to arrange visits to both Indonesia and to Malaysia to brief my counterparts there on the White Paper, Ministers Ryamizard Ryacudu and Hishammuddin respectively. As the White Paper makes clear, Australia and Indonesia share many Defence and security interests including our shared maritime border, a commitment to combatting terrorism, promoting peace and stability, and working to strengthen the regional security architecture, so it was indeed appropriate that my first visit was to Minister Ryamizard to discuss the White Paper as well as the development of Indonesia’s own plans for a White Paper and other issues of mutual interest and concern. And I again acknowledge Dr Yudhoyono here today.
During those discussions, General Ryamizard and I noted the very high levels of mutual understanding and commonality in our countries’ priorities for strengthening our national defence capabilities and contributing to regional stability and security, including the priority we place on countering radicalisation and violent extremism. Australia and Indonesia will continue to work together on shared security challenges and build on the many opportunities we have for further defence cooperation and engagement. We particularly reinforced the strong value of people-to-people contacts and history that Australia and Indonesia enjoy.
A secure Indonesia is in Australia’s interests. As their economy develops so will defence capabilities, which will benefit their security and the region, and present Australia further opportunities to work with Indonesia to promote our shared interests and respond to regional challenges.
Likewise Australia has a longstanding Defence relationship with Malaysia, again based on shared interests in promoting regional security cooperation and a rules-based global order. The history of that relationship is also a matter worthy of comment including the people-to-people engagement between Australia and Malaysia in Defence terms as well. And in continuing our regional briefings, I was very pleased to be able to brief my counterpart Dr Ng from Singapore on the White Paper at the Singapore Australia Joint Ministerial 3+3 in Sydney just two weeks ago on the 19th of March. During these discussions, each of Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore reiterated their appreciation for Australia’s transparency and our engagement in the region on a number of security challenges, particularly including the threat of retuning foreign fighters.
Speaking of White Paper briefings, one of the points of discussion raised was of course the South China Sea. As the Prime Minister said recently in his speech to another fine organisation, the Lowy Institute, and I quote: “It is undeniable that China’s actions in the South China Sea are creating anxieties and raising tensions among its neighbours. They are therefore counterproductive - regardless of the legal merits on which, of course, we do not express a view nor make a claim. Disputes of the ownership of the various reefs of the South China Sea, should be settled by international law, not by creating facts on the ground or in this case land in the water.”
Australia firmly believes that it is imperative that differences between nations – whether land, air, sea, outer-space or cyberspace – are resolved in accordance with international law. As China grows it will continue to seek greater influence within the region. As a major power within the region, it will be important for regional stability that China is transparent about its actions and provides reassurance to its neighbours.
As Mr Jennings said, and as the White Paper refers, the United States remains the preeminent global military power and the relationship between the US and China will be the strategically most important factor affecting the development of the region over the coming decades. Our region has benefited over many decades by the strong and stabilising influence of the United States. The White Paper makes clear that our alliance with the US is at the core of our security and defence planning. In capability terms, the alliance gives Australia access to advanced technology that a nation of our size cannot feasibly develop on our own and our interoperability with the US is central to ensuring the ADF’s potency.
Together with our membership of the Five-Eyes community, the alliance ensures that Australia has access to and is able to share the vital intelligence we require for effective defence planning and for countering the threat of terrorism. At the same time as Australia’s relationship with the United States continues to deepen, we will as I said and as the White Paper makes very clear, increase our engagement with partners across the Indo-Pacific including Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, India and of course China.
The White Paper also considers in some focus the global threat of terrorism. Shocking attacks in so many countries – Turkey, Pakistan, France, Belgium, and many more – remind us, as if that was even necessary, of the ongoing threat of terrorism and of violent extremism; of the need to assist other governments to maintain their own security; of the need to protect our borders; and to work with our neighbours to reduce the threat of returning foreign fighters to our region. Australia is commitment to the US-led Counter-Daesh coalition in Iraq and Syria is well known. As one of the largest contributors to the coalition, Australian forces in Iraq and in the air continue to make a strong contribution in the fight against Daesh. And I want to acknowledge today the servicemen and women who are in Iraq and the Middle East at the moment as part of Operation Okra and the work that they are doing.
Under pressure from Iraqi ground troops and Coalition air strikes particularly on key sources of financial support, Daesh has been losing ground. As of early this year it’s estimated they’ve lost 40 per cent of the ground they once held in Iraq but it is a slow and grinding process. Earlier this year Iraqi Security Forces secured the centre of Ramadi. So, Daesh now finds itself under pressure on multiple fronts in both the Euphrates and Tigris River valleys. Iraqi Forces moved to a point about 70 kilometres south of Mosul where they’ve establish a staging base which they are advancing to new positions as part of the early stages of operations to retake the city. For our part, our Air Task Group has carried out strike missions throughout the Tigris River and the Euphrates River valleys, including in Fallujah, Ramadi, in Hit, which Iraqi forces have now begun to clear. Despite these hard won gains, Daesh clearly remains a significant threat and the battle to retake their power centres of Mosul and Raqqah respectively will be long and difficult.
Daesh may have an archaic and barbaric ideology but its use of technology, its use of social media in particular, is very sophisticated. Daesh's online messages have been used not just to promote narratives of hate but to recruit new fighters and to demoralise those who oppose them. Their use of technology enables them to erase the state borders and spread their depraved brand of violent extremism further and far more easily than ever before.
It’s worth noting in terms of how quickly things change, that when the 2013 White Paper was put together, ISIL’s threat to global security through its use of social media to recruit and spread its message was not even referenced. I don’t say that as a criticism but rather to highlight the rapidly changing environment that the use of technology brings and that we will continue to see. It is precisely another reason why the Government’s approach to our security needs to be agile and responsive to threats as they develop. It is why we are committed, as I said, to regularly reviewing our formal strategic assessments and ensure the implementation of the White Paper remains on track.
Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Jennings is quite right, there are many aspects of the White Paper which concern significant capability undertakings and I want to refer to some of those briefly before I come to the larger question, if you like, of shipbuilding.
We understand that to maintain a regionally superior Defence Force which is capable of meeting the challenges and seizing and the opportunities that we face over the next few decades, our military does have to be at the cutting edge of science and of technology. Over the coming decades our Army, our Navy, our Air Force platforms and systems will be significantly upgraded. There’ll be more emphasis will be placed on the joint force, bringing together the different capabilities so that the ADF can apply more force more rapidly and more effectively when required. Not only do we need to be technologically advanced, we need to work smarter.
So that means ensuring that our Defence Force has the ability to capture and share information more quickly, which is why we are making such significant investment in our intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, electronic warfare, space and cyber capabilities. For example, since the release of the White Paper we have now confirmed the acquisition of a further four P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft and will have a number of significant acquisition announcements to make in coming months.
I want to be very clear that we have, through the production of the Defence Industry Policy Statement in conjunction with the White Paper, identified, confirmed, acknowledged, and will continue to do so, the fact that Australian industry will need to be fully engaged to produce these outcomes. We, Defence, have to maximise our ability to take advantage of the ideas and the innovation being developed right here in Australia, in the Australian Defence sector. We have a responsibility to ensure that we develop our Defence sector to build long-term capability right here in Australia.
I’m determined this will be a two-way street, not a one-way avenue. I’m determined this process will be one of engagement, and a very positive one as well. It’s one of the reasons we have identified industry as a fundamental input to capability in the White Paper. It’s one of the reasons we are undertaking significant reforms to ensure that Defence can be a called a ‘smart-buyer’. It’s one of the reasons that we are identifying in our processes those issues, those areas that need to be addressed to remove the blockages and the problems that have affected the relationships for an extended period of time.
Let me talk about shipbuilding, there’s apparently some interest in this issue.
The reform of our shipbuilding industry, the implementation a continuous build strategy, is one of the most significant of all the challenges in the delivery of the Defence White Paper. What we have done in this White Paper is more than just set out the capability requirements and needs over the coming decade. What we have made is a clear and unambiguous statement that a strong, viable and sustainable sovereign naval shipbuilding industry is a vital element of our nation’s defence capability.
Effectively we have announced the largest recapitalisation of the Royal Australian Navy since the Second World War. We will increase the size of our submarine force to 12; we will build nine anti-submarine warfare Future Frigates; and we will build 12 new Offshore Patrol Vessels to replace the Armidale Class patrol boat fleet.
These commitments to improving and expanding our maritime capability also represent a challenging set of multiple, near simultaneous naval ship developments. You will recall that when Government made announcements in August of last year, they indicated that this would include the production of the Offshore Patrol Vessels commencing with the cutting of steel in 2018, the production of the Future Frigates commencing with the cutting of steel in 2020.
Arguably, this is more in one period than either the United States or the United Kingdom have endeavoured since the Second World War.
It is one thing to say that you will build naval ships in Australia but you need to have the plans in place first in order to deliver on those commitments.
“Delivering these capabilities will truly be a national endeavour, one that will manifest itself in a new industrial landscape for this nation”, said Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Tim Barrett – and he’s absolutely correct. These announcements, these historic announcements on shipbuilding are critical for long-term defence capability in Australia and we are absolutely committed to that, to delivering the capability that our Navy and our nation need.
The national endeavour truly means national – not just the Navy, not just industry, not just the Commonwealth Government. We’re going to need all of those, no question, but also educational institutions to engage industry and vice versa to train and skill the workforce we are going to need; research and scientific organisations –DSTG amongst them,– to help us stay at the leading edge; the trade union movement and industry working together cooperatively to ensure that we can have a sustainable industry at the right price; and State Governments working together for the benefit of the whole nation. You can’t say I am not unambitious.
Unfortunately the way we have procured naval ships in the past has left us and left defence industry and our nation’s shipbuilding workforce subject to the vagaries of elected governments – peaks and troughs, booms and busts, all sorts metaphors are used in terms of activity. It is, in my view, unfortunate at the very least, but until the commitments that were made by this Government made to build Future Frigates, Offshore Patrol Vessels and Pacific Patrol Boats here in Australia, indeed the last major naval vessels to be commissioned in this country were the Air Warfare Destroyers commissioned by the Howard Government in mid-2007. And that has left us in the situation in which we now find ourselves. With what became the inevitable ‘bust’ when there is not sufficient work to maintain a skilled naval shipbuilding workforce.
There is no click-of-the-finger way to overcome the very long lead times required to build naval warships – it takes years to be ready to do so. Therefore the decisions need to be taken years before we actually require the ships to be operational. The White Paper details the new approach that this Government is absolutely committed to both now and into the future and I hope that that becomes an enduring of Commonwealth Governments in this country because certainty and security for workers and industry is key. We can make this a national enterprise, and it should be that. It needs commitment, it needs determination, and it needs a degree of level-headedness in the decision making process.
In terms of delivering on our plans for shipbuilding we are, quite simply, getting on with the job. We have Competitive Evaluation Processes underway for the Future Frigates and the Offshore Patrol Vessels and, as I indicated, to commence the builds of these vessels in 2020 for the Frigates and 2018 for the Offshore Patrol Vessels. We will select an international design partner for the Future Submarine in 2016. We are imminently finalising the tender for an Australian build of the replacement Pacific Patrol Boats.
In the development of the Naval Shipbuilding Plan we are working with industry, for example, including two recent shipbuilding forums that I know a number of people in this room attended, with the industry to better inform a long-term, achievable and sustainable strategy to enable us to deliver on our ambitious plans and we are working on in-depth workforce, skilling and infrastructure plans necessary to conduct Australian builds. This is the type of work that you need to do now to ensure that you can meet the long-lead times involved with naval shipbuilding.
As I said, we are getting on with the job, where previous governments frankly did not. I look forward to making further announcements on putting our shipbuilding plans into action very soon. Simply put though, if we do not undertake this national endeavour, we won’t be able to deliver the maritime capabilities that our nation needs. It’s as simple as that. But to reinforce, as I said, the opportunities that this national endeavour offers to our nation are very, very significant.
This Defence White Paper is an ambitious one, and the Government is well aware of that. But it is backed with the necessary policy commitment and the long-term funding required for its successful implementation over the coming decade and beyond. It won’t be easy and the challenges extend beyond the naval shipbuilding plans I have already mentioned, of course. I will be working closely with the Defence leadership team to monitor timely delivery of our capability plans and also, importantly, the agreed extensive organisational and cultural reforms already underway.
I am very focussed on ensuring the successful implementation of the First Principles Review recommendations as a matter of priority. These once-in-a-generation Defence reforms will set in place the structural, the cultural and the business process changes needed to best position Defence to deliver on the Government’s White Paper commitments.
I am also very focussed on Defence’s strategic workforce planning, which is currently underway, to make sure we are able to recruit, to train, to retain the skilled Defence workforce that we need – both in ADF and the APS – so that we have it when we need it and are able to enhance defence capability within it. We are committed over the long term to appropriately fund, monitor and review implementation of this White Paper to ensure that Australia’s Defence capability remains appropriate and effective for generations to come.
The White Paper will deliver an improved an Australian Defence Force with significantly improved capability, agility, and potency. To achieve this we will rely on cutting edge, networked and integrated technology, an expanded and empowered workforce, and a fully engaged industrial base. These initiatives will deliver an Australia that is more secure, that is better able to defend itself and its interests, and better able to shape our security environment.
Acknowledging our complex strategic outlook, Australia is in a strong position. We are on the doorstep of Asia’s economic transformation. I am confident that the plans we are implementing right now will ensure our future security, enable us to support and work with our neighbours in times of need and otherwise, and ensure we can seize the opportunities that this unprecedented development presents.
Peter, I thank you again very much for inviting me here today for this important conference. I also want to acknowledge the important role that you had in the development of the White Paper as Chair of the Expert Panel and again thank you and your colleagues for the role that you played in that process. I also want to acknowledge the important role that the Australian Strategic Policy Institute – which I think I was around for the birth for in earlier years, in the Howard Government – the very important role that ASPI has in fostering public policy debate, in generating independent analysis of Australia’s critical defence and security issues.
I want to acknowledge another former Defence Minister in the room, Peter Reith, whom I can see now. I really am going to have my work marked extensively.
I want to thank ASPI and the Council Members, also Peter, for the work you have done in bringing today together. I know these events don’t happen without a significant amount of effort and that includes the support of your sponsors and that is a very important part of this process.
Ladies and gentlemen, I hope that this is a very productive conference. You have the opportunity to hear from an extremely stellar list of speakers and presenters and engage in some very, very important and, I think, probably provocative discussions over the next few days. I wish you all well and thank you for the opportunity to be here this morning.