Chamber of Commerce NT & Master Builders Association NT, Darwin

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Senator the Hon Linda Reynolds CSC

Minister for Defence

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Nicky Hamer (Minister Reynolds’ Office): +61 437 989 927

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9 September 2020

***Check against delivery***


Thanks very much for that very generous introduction. It does always make me feel a little old when I hear that, but thank you very much.

Well good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. It is an absolute delight to be back here in the Northern Territory, particularly when we have so much good news for defence and defence industry right here in the Territory.

But first of all can I also acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we are having this gathering today, the Larrakia people. And I also pay my respects to their elders, past, present and emerging. But also as the Minister for Defence, I pay my respects to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women who have served, and continue to serve, our nation with such great distinction. I also extend a very warm welcome to the United States’ Ambassador to Australia, Arthur B. Culvahouse, Jr. You are very welcome here in the Territory.

The Ambassador has joined me over the past few days as you said, right across the territory, having a look at the programs and works that we are doing as Australians, and also that we are doing together. We have witnessed, firsthand, the strength of the Australia-United States Alliance – and I will talk a little more about that later on in the speech. But there is no greater demonstration than the Force Posture Initiatives which we are rolling out here and working under in the Northern Territory. And I’ve got to say Ambassador when you mentioned our over 100 years of mateship, you referred to the Battle of Hamel. It always sends chills down my spine because my grandfather served with United States Forces at the Battle of Hamel so it is a particularly poignant reminder of our alliance.

To my Senate colleague, Senator Dr Sam McMahon, thank you for being here today but also for joining both of us over the past few days. I can assure all of you here that you have an incredibly passionate and dedicated voice for the Territory in Canberra in Senator McMahon. Also welcoming Territory colleagues – Lia – congratulations, and it’s lovely to meet you finally as the leader of the opposition; the Deputy Chief Minister; and also Luke Gosling – my territory colleague here as well. But I’d particularly like to thank the Chamber of Commerce NT and the Master Builders Association Northern Territory. My sincere thanks to the industry capability network for organising today. I would also like to congratulate both of you for making this event possible, and for your tireless advocacy on behalf of the Northern Territory industry and through you, demonstrating to the Commonwealth Government and through primes that you indeed have the capability to do this work here in the Northern Territory. So congratulations and thanks to you both.

So ladies and gentlemen, when it comes to Australia’s northern defences, the Northern Territory is without question of profound strategic importance to our nation. That is reflected – first and foremost – in its location and geography. The Northern Territory is Australia’s gateway to the Indo-Pacific. And I know I don’t have to tell anyone here in this room, but it is important for us elsewhere in Australia to remember that. You’re a territory that looks out to the Arafura and Timor Seas to some of our closest neighbours and friends. The Indo-Pacific is without question, and has been for many decades, a region of expanding economic prosperity, trade, and also opportunity for Australia.

But it is also a region that is increasingly contested, more dynamic and more interconnected than ever before. It’s a region where traditional and new security threats are increasingly obvious and they cross national boundaries. For Australians, and indeed Northern Territorians, there was a defining moment when we as a nation, realised our nation was right on the doorstep of a region of great opportunities and also of great and enduring challenges. The 19th of February 1942 – the bombing of Darwin – was a moment when the tyranny of distance gave way to the perils of proximity. And Australia learned a very valuable lesson then. It is this – that our national security is underpinned by two things – it’s underpinned by regional stability and also economic prosperity.

You cannot have one without the other. This lesson is as true today as it was in World War Two. The stark fact for all of us here in Australia is that our region now faces the most consequential strategic realignment since World War Two. A region increasingly characterised by intensifying power and assertiveness between major powers. It’s challenged by countries modernising their militaries. And by the increasing use of coercive tactics as part of statecraft – such as cyber-attacks, foreign interference and economic pressure and coercion. This exploits what we now call the grey zone, which is a zone where we understand the concept of peace and we also understand the concept of war. But there is an increasing grey zone between the two where our sovereign interests are well and truly being challenged.

These factors are playing out across the Indo-Pacific which have incredibly significant consequences for our nation, including of course right here in the Northern Territory. So the Federal Government is responding to these challenges and we acknowledge that it requires a much sharper prioritisation of Defence’s resources than foreshadowed in the 2016 Defence White Paper. That is why, in July this year, the Prime Minister and I launched the 2020 Defence Strategic Update and also the accompanying 2020 Force Structure Plan.

As the Prime Minister said at the time, Australia must prepare for a post-COVID world – one that is poorer, one that is more dangerous and one that is more disorderly. Northern Territorians know all too well what happens when there is a collapse in the global and regional order. That is why the Morrison Government and Defence must respond – and we are. Last year, the Department of Defence commenced a review of the strategic underpinnings of the 2016 Defence White Paper.

This review found that our security environment had deteriorated – far more rapidly – and in ways that we could not have, and did not predict, just four years ago. In response to these challenges, the Government’s new defence strategy which we implemented just a couple of months ago, sets three new key objectives for defence. Firstly to shape Australia’s strategic environment – one that we want to shape it towards continuing peace and prosperity. Secondly, to have greater ability to deter actions against Australia’s interests. And thirdly, to respond with credible military force, if and when required. Again, that is quite a sharpening of our defence priorities.

Given the Northern Territory’s proximity to the wider-region, it plays a core role in supporting these objectives, all three of them, a role as I’ve said that I will go through in detail shortly, one that we are committed to funding and supporting here in the Northern Territory. Whether that’s improving our awareness of Australia’s northern approaches. Whether it’s protecting our borders. Whether it’s enabling force projection to support Australia’s Defence activities in the region, or whether it is continuing to strengthen regional partnerships.

Through the Defence Strategic Update and the Force Structure Plan, $572 billion dollars will be invested – that’s half a trillion dollars – will be invested in Defence over this next decade. That includes $270 billion dollars in new Defence capability expenditure. Not only are we increasing the capability for Army, Air Force and Navy, we have created two new military capability domains – one for cyber and the other for space. Both of which are increasing threats for our nation.

So for Northern Australia, this means new investments in critical defence operational bases, in training facilities and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. $8 billion dollars in total will be invested by this Government in new and upgraded Defence facilities right across the Northern Territory.

This investment will include upgrades and new facilities at:

  • RAAF Base Darwin;
  • Robertson Barracks;
  • Larrakeyah Defence Precinct;
  • RAAF Tindal; and
  • as well as training areas and ranges right across the territory.

We are already seeing the tempo of this activity beginning to accelerate. Cranes, scaffolding right across defence facilities in the territory. Just to give you an idea of some of the numbers of projects already underway, Defence is already delivering or developing over twenty major capital facilities and infrastructure projects across the NT. Just this week, I had the great privilege of turning the first sod on a $1.1 billion redevelopment at RAAF Tindal, which is called the Stage 6 Redevelopment project. Again, this alone is a $1.1 billion, seven year program of works that will deliver at least 350 jobs alone here in the Northern Territory.

So let me talk you through some of the other recent investments in the Northern Territory. We have already invested $935.7 million dollars through 33 projects in upgraded and new facilities in the Northern Territory through our Capital Works Program since FY15/16. Separately, since the inception of the Estate Works Program in 2014, Defence has released 337 projects with a combined value of $723 million dollars in the Northern Territory. Of this, 104 projects have already been completed with a value of $131 million dollars.

Looking forward over the next decade, what will we do?

We’re investing:

  • half a billion dollars to upgrade the Larrakeyah Defence Precinct;
  • $250 million dollars to upgrade Robertson Barracks; and
  • more than $500 million dollars to upgrade training areas and ranges in the Northern Territory – including Bradshaw Field, Kangaroo Flats and Mount Bundey.

There will also be ongoing opportunities for Northern Territory businesses to maintain and support our patrol boat force – the majority of which will continue to be based in Darwin. Over the next decade as we transition from the current fleet of Patrol Boats 6 of the 12 new Arafura Class Offshore Patrol Vessels, which are currently being built, will be based right here in Darwin at HMAS Coonawarra.

Last month, the Prime Minister and I announced a $1 billion dollar COVID-19 defence economic recovery package. This includes accelerated funding which will provide greater surety for the Northern Territory construction industry here, as the nation continues to recover from the impacts of COVID-19. Through this package, the Morrison Government plans to invest $190 million dollars into existing major projects over the next two financial years. This will fast-track delivery of facilities and also infrastructure in Defence establishments.

These plans include, subject to necessary approvals:

  • $2.5 million dollars being brought forward at Robertson Barracks;
  • $18 million dollars at RAAF Darwin;
  • $31 million dollars at Larrakeyah Defence Precinct; and
  • $121.5 million dollars at Delamere Air Weapons Range.

These works alone are anticipated to require a workforce 350 strong, providing opportunities for local businesses. Local industry will have the opportunity to tender for works including:

  • a health centre;
  • explosive ordnance storage;
  • a gymnasium;
  • mess facilities; and
  • additional airfield works.

This accelerated investment program builds on the recently announced Estate Works Program which is also providing opportunities to local businesses in the Northern Territory.

Under the previously announced Stimulus Investment Initiative, the Morrison Government is bringing forward $26 million dollars’ worth of new projects within the NT for delivery this financial year. Again, to help you bridge the COVID-19 gap. So between all of those programs, this means $250 million will be spent in the NT this year alone, delivering 74 Estate Works projects.

These additional projects focus on:

  • building refurbishments;
  • the replacement of fixed plant and equipment;
  • compliance and safety works in buildings and infrastructure;
  • road grading and resurfacing; and
  • electrical, water and security infrastructure works.

Yet, there is more. Today, I am pleased to also announce here today that more than $5 million dollars will be invested into the development of a Maritime Security Training Centre right here in Darwin. This Centre will provide the training for our naval personnel based here in the Northern Territory, to better prepare them to conduct Maritime Security operations. Operational boarding tasks are arguably, in fact I’d say they are, one of the most dangerous tasks undertaken by the Navy.

Navy’s principal maritime surveillance and response assets to support the protection of our borders are the Armidale and Cape Class Patrol Boats and as I’ve said, we will now be introducing our future Arafura Class Offshore Patrol Vessels. This new Centre will support Navy in the maintenance of competencies required to undertake these operational boarding tasks. It will also cater for the expected increase in training requirements associated with the larger and more capable Offshore Patrol Vessels. The new OPVs will conduct border protection and maritime patrol missions alongside other Australian vessels and with regional partners.

So what does this mean for our alliance?

The Morrison Government’s investments in Northern Australia is all about providing our nation with the capability we need. It is as simple as that.  But we are not doing it alone. Our defence strategy also includes engagement with our closest ally and friend, but also in how we can work more closely with older friends such as the United Kingdom, France and others. And also with new regional partners that we are establishing new relationship with.

But there is no more important ally to us than the United States. 2021 will mark 70 years of ANZUS and locally 10 years of Marine Rotational Force here in Darwin.

As Ambassador Culvahouse has said, Minister Payne and I – along with Ambassador Culvahouse – went to meet our counterparts in the United States for the AUSMIN dialogue. He’s absolutely right, it was probably the most critical AUSMIN we have had for many decades. We did achieve many significant outcomes for Australia.

We discussed how the Alliance can best contribute to a peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific in these challenging times. And we identified three key areas for the Alliance’s future collaboration:

First, we will shift our focus to greater coordination in the Indo-Pacific, including with our network of regional partners.

Secondly, we will:

  • increase our cooperation on advanced strategic and emerging capabilities;
  • deepen our Defence industrial base integration; and
  • improve the resilience of our supply chains.

And thirdly, we will increase our combined deterrence effects by enhancing cooperation on force posture across all military domains – including through the United States Force Posture Initiatives.

Let me elaborate on this third area of collaboration which I know comes near and dear to the hearts of Territorians. Today, Darwin, despite the COVID-19 challenges it threw at us, is host to 1,100 United States Marines who are training alongside Australian troops as part of the ninth Marine Rotational Force – Darwin.

This is one of the most tangible and visible demonstrations of the strength of our alliance. As we visited out there at Mt Bundey, apart from the dust and the flies and the things which go with activities in the north, what we saw was complete integration. It was trust, it was interoperability and the fact that both the Marines and also the ADF could so quickly adapt to COVID-19, not only the health challenges but also be agile enough to have a modified rotation here on the ground within a very short period of weeks, here in quite a different way.

As the Ambassador has said, it was an absolutely combined effort, not just between our own forces and the American forces, but also between myself and the Chief Minister, and also all of the support afforded by the Northern Territory Government, in particular the Department of Health here who actually had the confidence in our forces to be able to do effective quarantine. And that we did. So again, I thank the Northern Territory Government for that.

Another Force Posture Initiative is the Enhanced Air Cooperation program, which commenced in February 2017. Through exercises and training programs, the ADF and US forces are deepening air-to-air integration. And again, Ambassador Culvahouse and I saw great evidence of that yesterday. The United States’ Force Posture Initiatives have many mutual benefits:

  • they enhance our respective forces’ preparedness through training;
  • they improve our interoperability which is essential when on operations together overseas and
  • they also provide opportunities for deeper engagement with many of our other regional friends.

To assist with the implementation of the Force Posture Initiatives, the Australian and US Governments will collectively invest around $2 billion dollars on capital infrastructure works and supporting arrangements. A key outcome of this year’s AUSMIN meeting was our intent to establish a US-funded, commercially-operated strategic military fuel reserve right here in Darwin. This again marks a significant step towards strengthening our resilience and self-reliance through expanded fuel storage capacity.

The strategic reserve will significantly increase shared military fuel redundancy in Northern Australia which will support the MRF-D and other exercise we do together, it will enhance our ability to do more regional HADR and other regional engagement such as multilateral exercises and joint humanitarian disaster relief efforts. But significantly, for those of you here in this room today, it presents even more opportunities for local businesses for both the construction and maintenance of the fuel reserve.

Now while we have agreed to proceed, and we both are very keen to do so, the next step is I am discussing with the Chief Minister tomorrow to start working through how we make this a reality. So stay tuned for more as we progress through this project. With its unique network of alliances and partnerships, the United States remains a major force for stability and security in the Indo-Pacific, just as it was post World War Two, it remains so today.

Importantly, at AUSMIN, we agreed to increase our cooperation in the region, both bilaterally and with our other partners. Just to give you an idea of what that looks like at the moment. Last month, four of our ADF naval vessels and 700 ADF personnel – fresh from conducting exercises in Southeast Asia – arrived in Hawaii for the world’s largest military maritime exercise. This biennial called Exercise Rim of the Pacific – or ‘RIMPAC’ – hosted by the United States involved ten nations, including seven from our region – Australia, Brunei, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, the Philippines, and Singapore.

On their way to Hawaii, the Royal Australian Navy participated in a Multinational Group Sail and drills with a number of regional partners. Through these military-to-military engagements, Australia is strengthening its ability to operate with partners in a wide-range of potential operations. In the years ahead, we can expect an array of new cooperative maritime activities. Because again, we are not doing this alone. And Darwin will play an increasingly prominent role due to its geographical location and unique Defence infrastructure.

Ladies and gentlemen, I hope I’ve painted a very clear picture of the Federal Government’s intent for the Northern Territory in the defence space. I’ve painted a picture of our regional challenges, of Defence’s new strategy and objective, of this Government’s commitment to invest in Defence infrastructure and capabilities over the next decade, and of Australia’s further deepening of engagement with the United States and other regional partners. Defence’s longstanding presence in the Northern Territory continues to develop. And the strategic importance of the Northern Territory for Australia’s northern defence remains critically important. As the Ambassador has foreshadowed, recently, we have seen vulnerabilities exposed within international supply chains, causing slowdown and disruption across many sectors in the Australian economy. The COVID-19 health pandemic is a very powerful reminder of the symbiotic relationship between sovereign states and their local industrial base.

Over the next decade, the ADF’s ability to address multiple and concurrent challenges will require more assured and resilient supply chains and also expanded sovereign industrial capabilities right here in Australia. As always, in the face of adversity, opportunities always present themselves. And now is no different. In these times, there are new opportunities for those in defence industry and business – especially here in Darwin and the wider Northern Territory.

Under this Government, Australia’s defence industry continues to grow, even during COVID-19. Today, there are well over 4,000 businesses employing over 30,000 people. Add to that a further 11,000 Australian companies that directly benefit from Defence investment.

When you include the downstream suppliers, analysis shows that Government investment in Defence capabilities flows to some 15,000 companies employing 70,000 workers. Again that number is increasing, even now. Many of these are based in the Northern Territory. But I know, and Defence knows, in Darwin, Defence is not simply another customer.

Defence is inextricably interwoven into the city’s past, present and future. Looking ahead, the Morrison Government is resolutely committed to ensuring more Australian Defence projects are delivered by Australians. The pilot program for the Local Industry Capability Plan was launched three years ago right here in Darwin by my wonderful predecessor, Senator Marise Payne. This initiative requires tenderers for major construction projects to outline how local businesses will be provided a full, fair and reasonable opportunity to compete for supply-chain work. Indeed, a commitment to provide opportunities to local business is part of a tender’s value proposition.

The initiative applies to procurement of materiel and non-materiel in excess of $4 million dollars; and procurement of construction services above $7.5 million dollars. And I can tell you that before I came here I was having a talk to Marise about this and she assured me that when she announced it three years ago, and I think many of you were here when she did, there was a high degree of cynicism about the project.

So this begs the question – how is the initiative tracking three years on? I am delighted to share with you that the numbers are impressive.

Here, in the Northern Territory, local industry’s participation rate in major construction projects is now averaging 80 per cent. That’s an injection of $700 million dollars into the Northern Territory’s economy via subcontracts. This initiative is now a key lever of the Defence Policy for Industry Participation – one that I launched last year as Minister for Defence Industry. Under these Local Industry Capability Plans, nationally, Defence has let 76 per cent of subcontractor packages to local industry. This equates to a $1.4 billion dollar investment in local industry around the nation.

Let me give you a local example:

So far on the Larrakeyah Defence Precinct Redevelopment Project, 27 of the 34 subcontracts have been awarded to local industry by the Managing Director, Laing O’Rourke. All Defence construction contracting opportunities are advertised on the Australian Government’s AusTender website. And, pending COVID-19 restrictions, local industry briefings are available during the tendering process.

I applaud the Northern Territory Master Builders Association – as well as the Northern Territory Industry Capability Network – for their efforts to ensure local businesses are aware of these opportunities.

The Morrison Government has provided industry in the Northern Territory with a significant, long-term pipeline of investment into Defence facilities and infrastructure. We have also put in place policies to maximise local industry involvement through our Local Industry Capability Plan initiative. But Defence cannot do this work alone here in the Northern Territory. So now, more than ever, Defence needs industry and the Territory Government to work together. You need to ensure that you have workers with the right skills at the right time to deliver this capability for our nation. I would encourage you all to keep an eye on AusTender and stay in touch with your local organisations to make sure you are aware of the opportunities that now exist.

It is also true that the Government’s Defence objectives go hand-in-hand with Australia’s economic recovery as we move through the COVID-19 circumstances, and Defence and defence industry are providing increasing job opportunities at this time, and we will continue to do so.

Ladies and gentlemen, in conclusion, Australia must, and will, defend its national interests. Interests which are shared with our allies, old friends, and new partners. It means continuing to promote peace and prosperity for all under a rules-based global order. An order that preserves peace, fosters trade and curbs the excessive use of power. And critically, and probably most importantly, one that respects sovereignty of all countries – be they large or small.

Because security brings peace, and peace brings prosperity.

And Northern Australia – especially the Northern Territory – has an enduring role to play in our nation’s security, informed by the lessons of the past.

Thank you.


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