Address to Australian Strategic Policy Institute Conference, Canberra

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The Hon Peter Dutton MP

Minister for Defence

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10 June 2021

It’s a pleasure to be back at ASPI.  And for the first time in my capacity as the Minister for Defence.

Thank you very much to Executive Director Peter Jennings for the kind introduction, and to your leadership of this organisation.

I’d also like to acknowledge the great many ADF, Departmental, Industry and Diplomatic representatives in attendance today.

You are here, as I am, because you recognise the great value of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

ASPI continues to produce informed, incisive and independent analysis on all things defence and national security.

And, as our nation contends with a more challenging strategic environment, it is more important than ever that we have a frank and nuanced discussion with the Australian people about the threats we face.

We cannot simply seek to ring-fence Australians from complex and difficult issues.

ASPI will continue to play an important role in this national discussion.

Today, our region – the Indo-Pacific – is far-more complex and far-less predictable than at any time since the Second World War.

That’s due to a number of factors, including:

Intensified strategic competition – particularly between major powers, China and the United States.

Nations modernising and building up their militaries.  

The emergence of new and disruptive technologies which are changing the nature of warfare. 

And the increased prevalence of so-called ‘grey-zone’ activities, which fall short of armed conflict, but nonetheless, are designed to irritate, intimidate and injure other countries, including our own.

These include the use of tactics like cyber-attacks, economic coercion, financial disruption, trade interference, campaigns of disinformation, the use of para-military forces and the militarisation of disputed features.

It should go without saying that the Australian Government's first priority is to maintain peace in our region and that will always be our first priority.

All countries in the Indo-Pacific have a shared interest in ensuring continued stability and prosperity.

The unfortunate fact, of course, is that not all nations are acting in a manner consistent with these goals.

And the stakes are being raised exponentially through the rapid build-up of military capability.

Increasingly prosperous Indo-Pacific countries are investing heavily in increasing the range, sophistication and precision of their capabilities.

It is expected that by 2035 at least half of the world’s most advanced combat aircraft will be operating in the region.

More than half of the world’s 470 in-service submarines are already operating in Indo-Pacific waters.

New maritime surveillance and anti-access and area denial technologies will further complicate the strategic environment.

As a consequence, the prospect of military conflict is less remote than in the past – especially through miscalculation or misunderstanding.

So what we must do, as a nation, is prepare for whatever may be on or below the horizon.

We must be prepared for any contingency.

That preparation includes making sure our Australian Defence Force is well trained and well equipped.

And that, as you know, is what we’re doing, including by restoring Defence spending to over 2% of GDP.

Is it is critical in this environment that Defence gets on with its core business.

That core business is articulated in the 2020 Defence Strategic Update.

It is reflected in three Defence objectives:

To shape Australia’s strategic environment.

To deter actions against our nation’s interest.

And to respond with credible military force, when required.

For the last two decades, for a number of reasons, the majority of our forces have been deployed outside of our immediate region.

As the geopolitical landscape has shifted, we must sharpen our strategic focus and redouble our efforts in the Indo-Pacific.

It is critical that likeminded neighbours rally together around the goals of prosperity and sovereignty.

The Australian Government is stepping-up its engagement with our pacific partners, and we’re working even more closely with our allies and friends.

These include our Five Eyes partners, NATO, the Quad and ASEAN, and European countries – like France – who are taking a much greater interest in our part of the world. 

So we are working to shape the region, together.

A region where nations – big and small – have their sovereignty respected.

A region where interactions are governed by the rule of law – not by manipulation or coercion.

We are also working to deter actors from taking aggressive actions against our nation’s interest.

The Government is investing $270 billion dollars over the decade in defence capabilities.

These capabilities will support the ADF across both traditional and evolving domains.

Effective deterrence is important in ensuring those who seek to threaten our national interests are made to think twice before doing so.

An important element of this is achieved through creating capabilities to hold a potential adversary’s forces and infrastructure at risk from a greater distance.

The Government is investing in, for example, long-range strike weapons, offensive and defensive cyber, and area denial systems.

One of my first acts as Minister was to jointly announce that the Government would accelerate the establishment a sovereign guided weapons enterprise to the value of $1 billion dollars.

It’s a new military manufacturing industry.

One which, according to industry estimates, could be worth $40 billion dollars in local production and export opportunity over the next 20 years.

It’s an example of how we can grow our defence industrial base and our sovereign capabilities.

And how our national security and economic objectives are entwined. 

Of course, core to deterrence is our Alliance with the United States of America, which this year celebrates its 70th Anniversary.

But Australia is taking greater responsibility for our own security by growing the ADF’s self-reliant ability to deliver deterrent effects.

Our aim is to become an even more effective Alliance partner.

We are achieving this through our industrial and technology sectors, through force posture initiatives, and through defence diplomacy.

In addition to deterrence, the ADF needs to be able to respond with credible military force, when required.

The Defence Strategic Update points to the suite of core capabilities the Government continues to invest in.

These include Joint Strike Fighters, Arafura Class offshore patrol vessels, and Boxer combat reconnaissance vehicles.

Australia’s Attack Class Submarines and anti-submarine Hunter Class frigates will be critical assets in what is becoming a more complex and congested underwater battle space.

Continued investment in defence is essential to building a sovereign industry that is more capable of sustaining the ADF as a cutting-edge force.

Eight of ten industry and implementation plans have now been released for sovereign industrial capability priorities.

And in the last year alone, more than 60 new capability proposals have been approved.

So Peter, in closing, the development of military capabilities today is a far more complex process than it was even 20 years ago.

That’s a consequence of rapidly evolving technologies, the need to integrate capabilities across the battlespace for interoperability, and the sheer number of platforms and systems.

That said, I have been clear in my view that the Government and Australian people expect commitments to be met, and where issues arise they need to be dealt with.

We must do everything we can to put the ADF in the strongest possible position in what is a very, very uncertain time.

We owe it to the men and women of the ADF to give them the tools and resources they need to get on with their job, and to keep both themselves and our country safe.

So thank you so much for the opportunity to be here with you today

Peter – I might leave it there so we can go into the Q&A.


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