Speech - Seapower Conference

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Senator the Hon Marise Payne

Minister for Defence

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  • Henry Budd (Minister Payne’s office) 0429 531 143
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3 October 2017

Let me start by acknowledging the traditional owners on the land on which we meet here at the International Convention Centre this afternoon, and pay my respects to their elders past and present, and also to take the opportunity to thank Uncle Allen Madden for his welcome this morning. You can always rely on Allen for a joke. He even had new ones this morning. I've heard a big repertoire, but he had new ones today and I love seeing Uncle Allen around Sydney.

Can I particularly acknowledge the Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Tim Barrett, Fleet Commander Stuart Mayer and the very distinguished members of the ADF and a number of our international colleagues who are here today. A number of my parliamentary colleagues are also in the room, I see my Senate colleagues Linda Reynolds, I saw as I came in and, David Feeney as well and I understand Ted O'Brien, the Member for Fairfax is also here. Ted, there's no LAND 400 votes in the room today [indistinct]. I'm sorry, Major General Toohey, my bad. Apparently there is one and she's just over here. You make yourself own up to [indistinct] attack, but I'm sure you're more than well-equipped to defend yourself or the country, frankly.

There are far too many distinguished guests for me to name them all, so let me just welcome you, one and all and to say that I think the number of distinguished guests in the room is a testament to the importance of the Chief of Navy Sea Power Conference that so many of you are here.

As I said, it's my second conference as Defence Minister and it's fair to say, Chris, that quite a few things have happened in the last two years and I'm very proud to be part of a government that is making those things happen. Judging by the industry participation that we have here at the expo and indeed the very high calibre of the associated academic conferences, I'm optimistic that this will be one of the best years yet, if not the best.

In fact, ladies and gentlemen, I have to say how amazing is the buzz on the trade hall floor this morning? It is absolutely phenomenal. It is such great interest, such excitement and such great business representation. I have just done the Defence Ministerial version of speed dating. Not necessarily as interesting as regular speed dating but nevertheless, interesting nevertheless. And it is just so positive out there and I encourage you all to visit as many businesses, as many stands are you possibly can.

It is really exciting to see the commitments that we have fostered here today, between government, defence, academia and industry. And I think, if I may humbly say, that that level of excitement and interest is, in large part, a reflection of the importance of the decisions of the Turnbull Government, starting with the 2016 Defence White Paper that the Prime Minister and I released in February of last year, through the national naval shipbuilding plan, and to the Prime Minister's very important announcement this morning in relation to the Future Frigate Program.

There is an enormous amount of activity happening between defence and industry, and in defence and industry. We are getting on with building the navy of the future; we are getting on with that very, very important job, and it's reflected so much by the level of activity and interest here this year.

In fact, Pacific 2017 is very, very timely, because what we are doing, as the Prime Minister outlined this morning, is currently undertaking the most ambitious upgrade of our naval fleet in Australia since the Second World War. This is a national enterprise. I can't say that enough. It was outlined in the Defence White Paper, and it will assist in addressing the need for consistent planned budgeting and funding of Australia's Defence Force.

This is an investment of over $89 billion on new naval ships and submarines, which is an essential part of the Turnbull Government's plan to increase the defence budget to two per cent of Australia's GDP by 2021. A regional superior future naval force being built in Australia which will include submarines, frigates, and a fleet of offshore patrol vessels; our Auxiliary Oiler Replenishment ships are also being built to support and supply this growing fleet.

Additionally, these new acquisitions will build on the introduction in recent years of the Canberra Class amphibious vessels and the Hobart Class guided missile destroyers, together with the MH-60R Seahawk naval combat helicopters and the MRH90 Multi Role Helicopters.

Ten days ago, with the Prime Minster, I had the pleasure of joining him at the commissioning of HMAS Hobart; the first of its class at Fleet Base East here in the city. And she is a very fine vessel; the third in the Australian navy to be of the name Hobart. And equipped as she is with the Aegis Combat System, I can testify that she will fully live up to her motto: Grow With Strength.

Indeed, I am particularly honoured and proud that as Defence Minister I have been part of the commissioning of both Australia's largest warship in HMAS Adelaide and the most powerful warship in HMAS Hobart, and the plans that I've mentioned already mean that there is more to come.

Altogether these and those future capabilities will transform the Australian fleet into a fully operational, fifth generation navy. The RAN will be able to deploy task groups equipped with a wide range of capabilities, from high-end war fighting to responsive and agile humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Indeed, we see two vessels currently heading towards Vanuatu to assist in a mission of exactly that nature: the evacuation of civilians from the Ambae Island in the event of a volcanic eruption.

To envisage that future, high-end war fighting to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, we also only need to look at the ADF's Joint Task Group Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2017 that's currently underway in the Indo-Pacific region. Led by HMAS Adelaide, this deployment involves a number of other vessels that includes the HMAS Melbourne, HMAS Parramatta, support vessel HMSA Sirius and over 1300 ADF personnel from across the three services.

Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2017 is a nearly three month deployment, and it's Australia's biggest coordinated task group operation since the early 1980s. As well as developing interoperability, Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2017 will enhance our strong, positive relations with regional militaries. The Task Froup has already engaged with a number of our regional neighbours – I acknowledge the Admiral of Malaysia here today; of course the ships have been in port there recently – and there is many more engagements of that nature to come.

It is such a positive, positive narrative. We are working extraordinarily hard across the region to do what Australia does best: to provide consistent relations, consistent support and ensure that we are well known to our neighbours as they are well known to us.

For a country like Australia, these capabilities and the new capabilities for the Future Fleet, are essential. Platforms like the long-range Future Submarines and the Future Frigates will provide Australia with credible deterrents and sea denial capabilities in our maritime approaches. Meanwhile, the new fleet of Offshore Patrol Vessels will ensure that we are also able to maintain the crucial integrity of our maritime borders.

The added range and endurance of the new OPVs will enhance Australia's capacity to fight piracy, to fight illegal fishing, smuggling and other forms of maritime crime in Australian waters and beyond, and that does not include Pacific Patrol Boats themselves, which will be distributed across the region as part of our Pacific Maritime Security program we'll also contribute.

With Future Fleet, Australia will not just be able to protect its maritime approaches from threats, but will be able to make an invaluable contribution to stability and security across the Indo-Pacific.

The reasons for the Turnbull Government's ambitions for such strong naval capabilities are clear. Australia's strategic circumstances demand nothing less. As an island continent, we have effective jurisdiction over the world's third largest Exclusive Economic Zone, and responsibility for one of the largest Search and Rescue Regions of any nation, which covers roughly one-tenth of the world's surface. We depend on the global Sea Lines of Communication, for many of our key export industries and indeed for our fuel security.

Meanwhile, Australia's Blue Economy, in the form of the totality of our marine industries, contributes over $75 billion to the Australian economy. That equates to roughly five per cent of GDP. By 2025, that Blue Economy revenue is set to reach approximately $100 billion a year.

We also sit beside some of the world's most strategically valuable shipping lanes, and some occasionally disputed maritime zones. From the Malacca, the Sunda and Lombok Straits to the South and East China Seas, many of the most vital areas of globalisation and sources of geopolitical challenge are in our backyard. If the twenty-first century will be the Asian Century, then it will also be the Maritime Century.

Just as surely as the balance of global economic and military weight is shifting in the Indo-Pacific, so too is it focused on the waters of the Indian and Pacific oceans. With established and emerging maritime powers across the region rapidly expanding their naval capabilities, the waters to Australia's north are set to teem with naval platforms, the numbers and the strength of which has never been seen before.

As the Defence White Paper observes, Australia is unlikely to face a large-scale conventional military threat from the sea for some decades, but the Government understands equally that in a crowded and contested Indo-Pacific maritime sphere, Australia must present a credible deterrent strategy, and to do our part in contributing to the peace, stability and security, and to good order at sea.

I said last week in an address to the Sydney Institute: in a dynamic strategic environment, rather than stepping back from our region, there is a clear need to engage more broadly and more deeply. All that means is that we have to work collaboratively with our allies and partners in the region to ensure we continue to benefit from the security and stability that has enabled the unprecedented economic growth throughout the Indo-Pacific over the last many decades.

Our naval capabilities will therefore be integral to not just Australia's security and prosperity, but also to the preservation of the rules-based global order, and safeguarding peace in the maritime Indo-Pacific. The Turnbull Government recognises the fundamental economic and military threats shaping the global balance of power, and so we are building a fleet with the capabilities necessary to navigate these shifting strategic tides.

Ladies and gentlemen, given the scale of the Government's ambitions for our naval capabilities, operationalising the shipbuilding plan requires a cooperative and collaborative relationship between the Australian Government and all of its key stakeholders. That is the only thing that will give us the capability we need.

Indeed, I would say – and I would agree with Chief Maher in his observations and those of the Prime Minister this morning – that executing the unprecedented expansion of Australian naval capabilities requires a whole nation response to this national enterprise. Australia's educational institutions, for example, will be called upon to provide the future generations of engineers and designers. Australian communities will be called upon to provide the workforce of skilled technicians and builders, and Australian and international defence industry will be called upon to provide know-how and expertise and experience. And so, in the Defence Industry Policy Statement, which I also released with the Prime Minister last year, the Government recognised industry as a fundamental input to capability.

Our shipbuilding program is not just a commitment to Australia's naval capability, but also to its naval shipbuilding industry and workforce. I'm absolutely passionate about driving the development of that workforce across all parts of industry, across all levels of the education sector, and across Australia. Absolutely passionate about the opportunities that are available for people who are starting primary school now, who will be building and crewing the vessels of the future.

The opportunities are almost limitless. In fact, only limited by our energy and our imagination, and if we sell those future generations short in terms of developing that workforce, we have no one to blame but ourselves. I am so passionate about doing this. It is a soapbox on which I am very happy to stand in any room in the country, in any town in the country, because every single child in Australia who wants to work in this space can and will have an opportunity to continue if they wish to, because there is such enormous opportunity.

The continuous ship building program and the identification of industry, both domestic and international as I said, as that fundamental input to enable capability will transform Australia as well into an international hub for naval shipbuilding and innovation.

The turning of the first sod last month, very proudly done by Minister Pyne and others on the new $535 million Osborne shipbuilding yard, and the $25 million initial investment earlier this year in the new Naval Shipbuilding College to be headquartered in South Australia, are testament to Australia's commitment to the ship building industry. They come on the back of the 10-year $230 million investment in the Centre for Defence Industry Capability, also outlined in the Defence Industry Policy Statement last year. And the CDIC, as so many of you know, is working with SMEs of Australia to drive innovation in the defence industry. Those partnerships are critical to achieving the fundamental goal of the Naval Shipbuilding Plan: capability.

The Royal Australian Navy's mission is to fight and win at sea. Aside from the skill, professionalism, the determination, and the spirit of serving men and women of the ADF, the key ingredient that will enable Australia's navy to fulfil that mission is capability. That's why we are engaged in this historically significant naval shipbuilding partnership.

What the RAN needs is sophisticated sea denial anti-submarine warfare, air lift, amphibious assault, power projection, sustainment and battlespace awareness capabilities, to name just a few elements. To deliver those capabilities and many more besides, we have enlisted the support of domestic and international defence industry to work with navy, to provide a lethal and deterrent capability that are a prerequisite to fighting and winning at sea.

At ASPI's 4th White Ensign Dinner last week, Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Barrett talked about the need for innovation and new ways of thinking to drive capability and advancement across our relatively small navy, of a little over 14,000 personnel. I agree with that assessment 100 per cent. Innovation will be and must be at the heart of the way our defence forces need to operate in the future, as it has been for many years before. So I am very pleased as well to see an innovative data analytics collaboration the Navy has recently entered into with GE and the CSIRO's Data61. The GE LM2500 gas turbines that power the Adelaide and the Anzac Class frigates will be fitted with new sensors, which, when coupled with advanced algorithms, will improve operational effectiveness and reduce operating costs.

Finally, it would be remiss of me to make these remarks without briefly touching on some of the recent commentary about the Future Submarine program. As the Defence Minister, I have ultimate responsibility for delivering Australia's submarine capability – now and into the future. Everything that the Government and Defence and the Navy does is about ensuring that we have the strategic capability options we need to deter conflict and to be a potent force if conflict occurs.

My job is to ensure that the Collins Class submarine continues to provide Australia's submarine capability until the introduction of the new Future Submarine into service. That means striking the right balance between Collins life of type extension and capability upgrades and the delivery of the regionally superior Future Submarine.

The Government is, of course, always prepared to consider informed and instructive contributions to the discussion on submarine capability. However, I would observe that the suggestion of the acquisition of a fleet of modified military off-the-shelf submarines – whatever that actually means – with a submarine tender – a mother ship – in addition to the acquisition of the Future Submarine – the submarine we actually need – as a way of mitigating risk is somewhat confusing.

In the last two years, one of the things that I have most certainly learned, as some in the room would attest, is that submarines are one of the most complex platforms on our planet. Taking a military off-the-shelf submarine and somehow modifying that to extend its range would not only be difficult, it would add even more risk to the maintenance of our submarine capability. That is even before we consider our other key capabilities: stealth, interoperability, weapons and battle management systems just for starters. Secondly, introducing a third submarine class into our capability repertoire would in and of itself bring additional costs and complexity, let alone the issues that come with transitioning from one class to another.

Let me make it clear: the Collins Class submarine is available and is performing as we had always hoped it would. We are actively planning for a life of type extension and capability upgrades to ensure Collins maintains its capability edge well into the 2030s. Indeed, Collins is on track to come off the Project of Concern list – a great achievement.

And let me assure everyone that the Future Submarine program, although it is still in its early stages, is on track to deliver the first regionally-superior future submarine into service in the early 2030s.

Deliberate, planned and carefully managed; with the best submarine expertise from around the world; with an outstanding Royal Australian Navy; with an engaged and committed Government; with the resources required – the Government is getting on with the job of ensuring our submarine capability delivers now and for the decades to come.

Seeing the illustrious audience assembled here at Pacific 2017 just further confirms the optimism I started with at the beginning of my speech.

The cross-pollination that we've seen here today between government and parliament, science and academia and industry at an event like this typifies precisely the type of collaborative relationship that this Government seeks.

I also want to acknowledge my shadow counterpart, Richard Marles, Shadow Minister for Defence. He and I are both in black today in mourning for the sad demise of the Geelong Cats in the recent AFL finals, but that just proves how closely we can collaborate across the divide.

I commend everyone's involvement in Pacific 2017. I have no doubt that this will prove to be a fascinating exposition. I look forward to continuing my speed dating this afternoon, and I wish you all very well for a great few days. Thank you.

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