Address to the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia, Hilton, Brisbane

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The Hon Peter Dutton MP

Minister for Defence

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18 March 2022

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a great honour to be here with you today.

Thank you for being here at such an important time as Brendan outlined.

It’s hard in my 20 years in public life to imagine a person I’ve met with greater decency than Brendan Nelson.

Many of you will have a personal relationship with him, many of you will have known him as Australia’s Defence Minister or as the leader of the Liberal Party, or many of the other positions he has occupied, including as a general practitioner. His sense of decency and the way he conducts himself has been consistent right through the period I’ve known him.

Brendan, it’s a great honour to call you a friend and a former leader of our party, and a very distinguished one, can you please thank Brendan Nelson.

Can I also acknowledge some of my dear friends and colleagues in the audience here today? Thank you very much to Trevor Evans, for hosting us in your electorate of Brisbane, and to

Scott Buchholz as well. Scotty, it’s great to see you up from your part of the world, which was hit pretty hard by the floods. Julian Simmonds here as well, all three of you have areas that were heavily impacted and the work that you’ve done in your communities has been outstanding, so thank you very much for that leadership and for being here today.

Thank you also to Deb Frecklington, to Tim Mander, to Jim McDonald and to Dan Purdie, our state colleagues and friends, for being here as well today.

Thank you to Karl Morris, it’s great to see the Broncos off to a reasonable start to the season Karl, last Friday night. There’s no expectation on you this weekend, but we’ll see how we go; this could be your last season if they have a season like the last one- I’ll just point that out.

He’s an exceptional leader in many areas of community here, not just in Queensland but right across the country, so Karl, thank you for your leadership.

Steven Conry as well, an outgoing CEO of JLL, part of a multi-national company who decided as the CEO to remain here in Brisbane, and has provided exceptional leadership to a wonderful company.

To the many other distinguished guests here today, involved in business and the community and the relationship, I want to say thank you very much, in particular to April, thank you for your leadership, and to the organisation, you lead a wonderful group of people, so thank you very much.

It’s a great pleasure to be able to speak to you again in person- we’re beginning to normalise society again, thank goodness. The zoom meetings had become a little tiresome, and they are still underway, but the fact that we can get to airports and travel, and be in a room with people again is a wonderful thing.

Thank you also to the Chamber’s Queensland General Manager, Colin, for your introduction earlier and for your leadership in Queensland.

I want to start today, by making a statement in the spirit of the Australia-US Alliance.

I want to acknowledge the 80th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea, which will take place in May of this year.

It was here in Queensland and we know that as far west was Cloncurry, we know as far north as Cardwell, and as far south as Buddina, you will find memorials devoted to the hundreds of servicemen who lost their lives in that fierce and bloody battle.

But not one of those men was an Australian. They were Americans. Americans who sacrificed their lives so that our free nation might live.

Nearly 550 American service personnel were killed or wounded on board the USS Lexington, and on board the USS Sims, and on board the USS Neosho. They were sunk by Imperial Japanese forces 880 kilometres off the coast of Townsville.

Australians, and particularly Queenslanders, have never forgotten their sacrifice.

And so, in communities across this state, Coral Sea memorials honour American heroism and their loss. They stand in quiet testimony to the enduring bonds between our two peoples, and our two nations.

Today, as we approach the 80th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea, we honour the bravery and sacrifice of all those who took part in the defence of Australia.

And we give thanks for American friendship, and the strength of our Alliance.

Ladies and gentlemen, as much as we had hoped the world had changed in the ensuing 80 years, since that battle of the Coral Sea, it has become clear to all of us, that indeed, it has not.

A dictator has again plunged Europe into war, and so we meet amid an unfolding humanitarian travesty in Ukraine.

It is impossible not to be moved by the horrific images and reports of that conflict.

The tragedy of lives lost, the bravery of the Ukrainian people’s resistance, the steadfast leadership and inspiring words of a 21st century hero in their President Zelenskyy.

And the murderous brutality and inhumanity of President Putin.

Russia’s unprovoked, immoral and illegal invasion of Ukraine will have ramifications for global security for decades to come.

While all eyes are rightly on Europe at the moment, we must not neglect the mounting challenges within our own region. Indeed, if anything, Putin’s war gives us cause for greater vigilance.

The Australia – US Alliance sits at the centre of the epicentre of global strategic competition – the Indo-Pacific.

President Biden has been very clear about this- the stability of our region is under sustained pressure from an increasingly ambitious and increasingly belligerent Chinese Government. A Chinese Government which has refused to condemn Putin’s actions.

Australia has welcomed China’s rise, and we’ve been a beneficiary of the relationship, and we want it to continue on a normalised basis. We want to see China do well economically, and we certainly want to see her people treated well, with respect, and for them to prosper.

But we want China to exercise its growing power responsibly, and in accordance with international law, and without infringing the rights of other nations.

But, unfortunately, we have to deal with the reality. Beijing has developed a pattern of using coercion to gain advantages or extract concessions.

Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, India, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Lithuania and our own country are among many targets which have been subjected to different forms of Chinese coercion.

Just last month, as you know, a PLA naval vessel sailed through Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone, it shone a military-grade laser at a RAAF P-8A Poseidon, endangering the crew and aircraft.

Now, our vessels, and our assets, move through the South China Sea, and they move through international waters, as every other country does, but there are norms which are respected. And we know that China’s military build-up is of significant concern.

Nations are, of course, entitled to modernise their military forces consistent with their national interests. We’re in the process of doing that now. But let’s be very frank – China is undertaking the largest peacetime military build-up of modern times.

They are amassing thousands of missiles and expanding their nuclear arsenal, they have established military outposts – now 20 points of military presence in the South China Sea- and they continue to build amphibious landing craft.

They are constructing new naval vessels to the equivalent tonnage of the entire Royal Australian Navy every 18 months. Such capabilities and posture clearly go beyond self-defence and moves into a space of a desire to project military power and influence into the region.

Unless China provides more transparency and engages in strategic reassurance measures, regional neighbours like us, like many other countries in the region, cannot help but see this build-up as directed at them.

And when you look at China’s own actions, what is available publicly, what we see through the intelligence gatherers, rather than what you see in many of their words, here is genuine cause for apprehension.

We have seen the ratcheting up of political and military pressure on Taiwan.

We have seen the crackdown on Hong Kong, many dissidents and many young people who were campaigning for democracy have not been seen since that time of protest.

We have seen the elimination of Hong Kong’s special status, despite China’s guarantees to the contrary and we have seen the seizure of territory in the South China Sea, in total disregard for international law.

And, of course, we have seen Australia issued with a list of 14 grievances and demands that China says must be met for the relationship to be normalised, which includes a surrender of our free speech.

China may not wish to occupy nations in the region, as we suspect Putin does in Eastern Europe, but its actions do suggest it wants to see a modern day reassertion of the Middle Kingdom, where all others states defer to Chinese interests in exchange for access to China’s market- the concept of tributary states.

How else should Australia, or indeed the world, interpret China’s current economic coercion, where our goods and exports have been blocked for political reasons? Where corrupt payments are made to nations in many parts of the world?

The Indo-Pacific is one of the most diverse regions on the planet.

It is a region which has accommodated the coexistence of different systems of government.

But when one state seeks to exercise power over others in a manner reminiscent of ancient empires or twentieth century totalitarian regimes, and when the inalienable right of national sovereignty is imperilled, regional stability and the prosperity of all nations falls under threat.

We know that peace can only be maintained when aggression is deterred from a position of strength, not weakness.

We as country are strongest when we build robust alliances of nations committed to preserving the liberal values of sovereignty and self-determination.

This network of liberty can act as an effective counterweight to prevent any nation exerting power in a way that dominates others.

Today, as we confront circumstances echoing the 1930s, we must avoid – at all costs- repeating the mistakes of that time.

We must have the confidence to call out and condemn acts of coercion and aggression – whatever their source – and to do so collectively in a way that wasn’t possible in the 1930s.

When individual nations are targeted, they must have the confidence that other states have their back.

Further, if collective security and integrated deterrence is the aim, it must be backed by credible power.

We know the United States has underwritten world security since the Second World War. But it can no longer be expected to do so alone.

With the United States committed to our region, its allies and partners must do their share of the heavy lifting. To step-up in helping to shape the region in our mutual interests, to deter aggression, and to respond with that military force that we speak of, if required.

Elbridge Colby writes in The Strategy of Denial, that the ‘decent peace we seek is the product of a reckoning with the unpeaceful’.

He says we must have ‘the moral imagination to contemplate the terrible in order to avoid it’.

Avoiding the terrible in times of tension requires confidence, it requires credibility and it requires commitment.

Which brings me to the defence relationship between our two countries.

Our Alliance is an important pillar in the network of nations seeking collective security. As is AUKUS – the enhanced trilateral security partnership between Australia, the United States and our other great friend, the United Kingdom.

Both our bilateral relationship and AUKUS complement Australia’s relationships and security partnerships across the region, such as ASEAN and the Five Power Defence Arrangements.

And both offer security benefits and economic opportunities what are very uncertain times.

We’re making strong inroads for Australia’s acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines under AUKUS.

Last November, as you know, our three nations signed an agreement for the exchange of information on naval nuclear propulsion. It was, I think, a magnificent moment, an historical moment and it was a necessary moment.

Australia is the first country with which the US and UK have agreed to share what is very sensitive material and intellectual property.

In February, Australia hosted expert technical delegations from the US and UK. Experts from their defence departments, navies, and foreign offices examined our shipyards and maintenance facilities in Osborne in South Australia, and they visited our sole nuclear reactor in Lucas Heights, just south of Sydney.

The comprehensive inspections of our infrastructure, operations, and systems is yet another step forward in identifying what needs to be done for submarine construction and Australia’s stewardship of nuclear-propulsion technology.

As the Prime Minister announced during his Lowy address, Australia will build a new submarine base on our east coast – either here in Brisbane, Newcastle, or Port Kembla.

This will be the first major military base to be constructed since Robertson Barracks in the 1990s.

The more than $10 billion dollar investment will complement our naval bases in the West, supporting the ramping-up of our submarine operations commensurate with the deteriorating strategic circumstances.

Australia’s acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines is the most complex defence capability acquisition in our nation’s history.

The progress that has been made to date though is commendable because we know that our partners are working in a very constructive way, and we know that they must. Because this provides a significant opportunity for us in what is a contemporary significant time.

I am confident that Australia will acquire the first nuclear-powered submarine much sooner than 2040, and we’re mapping that course at the moment.

Not long after I last spoke to the Chamber, in September of last year, Foreign Affairs Minister Payne and I travelled to Washington to meet with our counterparts, Secretaries Blinken and Austin.

As part of the 31st Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations, we agreed to significantly enhance our force posture cooperation- particularly our air, maritime, land and logistics collaboration.

In the short time since those meetings, the ramp up of US aircraft and ships visiting our country has already commenced.

Last month, as you know, the guided missile destroyer USS Sampson made a port visit here in Brisbane.

Late last year, two US B-1 Lancer supersonic bombers and a P-8 Poseidon journeyed to RAAF Base Darwin to train with our Air Force.

And, as you know, the US Navy is providing assistance in Brisbane now in the clean-up and the response to the floods.

The exercises conducted between our two navies, I think have been a very significant step-up. A step-up in complexity on those undertaken previously, and US, in terms of the air support and the collaboration taking place, the pilots were able to use the opportunity to familiarise themselves with our bases and emergency protocols.

In conjunction with joint training and regional deployments, we can expect visits from US bomber task forces and rotations of their 5th generation fighters.

Australia and the US are now working more closely than ever to build, to maintain, to repair and to operate key platforms – like the MH-60 Romeo Seahawk warfare helicopters, P-8A Poseidon patrol aircraft, F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and M1 Abrams battle tank.

The US and Australia’s collaboration on capabilities speaks not just to the close ties between our industrial bases, but since 2017, Australia has been included in the US National Technology and Industrial Base – the legal framework which defines who is involved in the development of its national security and defence capabilities. This is incredibly important in terms of the transfer of IP between our respective industries.

Australia makes a significant contribution to US supply chains. But, as I have previously stated to this forum, we want to do more within with framework.

Australia and the United States have long recognised the importance of strong partnerships in supporting integrated deterrence. But the times, ladies and gentlemen, in which we live compel us to redouble our efforts to buttress regional stability.

The events in Ukraine remind us that strategic circumstances can go south rapidly.

We can do more to make each other stronger, and the region more secure. One example where we can hasten progress is Australia’s guided weapons and explosive ordnance enterprise.

If we can build critical missile components, or assemble whole missiles here, it will increase both our own missile stocks and those of the US military, thereby supplementing the US’ heavily stretched defence industry base.

The Australian Government has already committed $219 million dollars to refurbish the Point Wilson Wharf in Port Phillip for the prospective imports and export of munitions.

And next month, we will open a new $96 million dollar guided weapons maintenance facility in Orchard Hills in New South Wales which will help optimise scheduling and manufacturing.

This enterprise promises to be a step-up, a significant one, in the contribution Australia can make to the Alliance, and it’s a win-win for both countries.

So ladies and gentlemen, as you can see, as is obvious by world events, our Alliance collaboration has reached new levels; in acquiring, maintaining, repairing and operating defence capabilities, in force posture initiatives, in building defence infrastructure, and in sharing industrial and know-how and technologies.

In precarious times, our partnership offers security benefits and economic opportunities.

So I want to thank sincerely the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia for the crucial relationships it nurtures between our two nations, it’s more important than ever.

With conflict raging in Ukraine and tensions increasing in the Indo-Pacific, it seems the hand of the 20th century is reaching out to grasp the leg of the 21st.

As we confront these times as allies – and as friends – we must act with resolute confidence, with unchallenged credibility, and with rock-solid commitment.

Thank you very much.


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