Speech: Australian Defence Magazine Congress - Hyatt Hotel, Canberra

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The Hon Matt Thistlethwaite MP

Assistant Minister for Defence

Assistant Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

Assistant Minister for the Republic

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Ben Leeson on 0404 648 275

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22 June 2022

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today, the Ngunnawal people. I pay my respects to their elders, past, present and emerging.

As the Assistant Minister for Defence and Assistant Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, I also pay my respects to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women who have served our nation in the past and continue to do so today.

I want to thank the Australian Defence Magazine for inviting me to speak to you today.

As you know, one month ago, Australians went to the polls and elected a new Government under the leadership of Anthony Albanese.

It is my honour to have been sworn in as the Assistant Minister for Defence as well as the Assistant Minister for Veterans Affairs in the Albanese Government. We have a skilled and determined team of Defence portfolio ministers, led by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence, Richard Marles.         

I know that the Minister for Defence Industry, Pat Conroy, was very keen to be here today, but was unfortunately unavailable as he is currently at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). Minister Conroy is passionate about defence industry and is looking forward to working with you.

I look forward to engaging closely with defence industry in both my roles.

Because as we know, many of our veterans have gone onto roles in defence industry.

We face growing uncertainty within our region.

Australia’s strategic circumstances are as complex as they have been since the end of the Second World War.

We are witnessing the return of high-intensity conflict to Europe with Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

The invasion marks an acute new phase in great power competition, and has also increased strain on global institutions and economies.

Russia’s actions in Ukraine demonstrate the willingness of leaders and governments to undermine the global rules-based order.

Within the Indo-Pacific, we see the system that has brought peace and prosperity to our region for decades coming under more intense pressure.

We are seeing increased strategic competition between major powers, a greater prevalence of coercive grey-zone activities, and nations modernising their militaries.

Our region is the epicentre of increased strategic competition and looks very different to the region just a decade ago.

We are also seeing trends that are changing the character of warfare and creating greater potential for military miscalculation, including with high-intensity, state-on-state conflict.

The integration of new technologies into weapons systems, is both supporting and challenging our ability to maintain a capability advantage.

These factors underscore the need to strengthen Australian defence capability and the forging of a genuine, long-term partnership with defence industry.

It is for this reason that the Albanese Government has committed to providing the Australian Defence Force with the capabilities it needs.

Capabilities like long-range and precision strike weapons, offensive and defensive cyber, and area denial systems.

It is why we are looking to accelerate industrial base collaboration with our allies and partners.

It is why we are progressing the development of advanced defence capabilities with the United Kingdom and the United States under our technology and capability sharing partnership – AUKUS.

And it is why we are focused on building a robust, resilient and internationally competitive sovereign defence industrial base upon which our men and women in uniform rely.

This is a long-term vision for the nation.

It is a significant investment in Australian skills, infrastructure and technology.

And, you, our defence industry partners, are the foundation for building our nations stronger Defence capability.

Australia’s defence industry is made up of thousands of businesses of varying size and capability across multiple sectors.

The Albanese Government appreciates and values the contributions Australia’s defence industry makes to the development, delivery, maintenance and sustainment of the capabilities of the Australian Defence Force – the capabilities our people in uniform use to defend our nation and its interests.

This Government understands that Defence capability can only be as effective as the industrial capability supporting it.

Our Government also appreciates that investments in our sovereign defence industry are not only about Australia’s security and the security of our region – it is also about growing our national economic prosperity and creating high skilled quality jobs.

Increasing Australian industry’s share of Defence work leads to greater economic development, more technology transfer, upskilling the workforce and, ultimately, strengthens our defence industrial base.

Increasing our self-reliance means we must make choices about investing in and developing the areas which are most critical to defence capability.

Defence must be able to prioritise resources towards the areas of greatest importance for the Australian Defence Force to achieve its mission – to defend Australia and its national interests in order to advance Australia's security and prosperity.

And importantly, to signal to industry those industrial capabilities most needed by our people in uniform.

Defence has an established process to identify those industrial capabilities most critical to the Australian Defence Force – those that it has determined must be sovereign in this country. 

For those industrial capabilities to be sovereign, we must have the ability to have access to, or control over, the essential skills, technology, intellectual property, financial resources, and infrastructure underpinning these industrial capabilities.

Our Government is committed to making sure industry fully understands these capability priorities, requirements and timeframes.

Because a better informed Australian defence industry leads to better outcomes for the ADF.

The Australian Industry Capability Program is a major lever for delivering a stronger industrial base.

Through this program, Defence seeks to maximise opportunities for Australian industry participation in Defence procurement and works with industry to deliver the best capability for the ADF on time and within budget.

Such work facilitates the transfer of equipment, innovation, skills, technology and knowledge to Australia, and can facilitate access to intellectual property rights.

It also fosters innovation and encourages collaborative research and development in Australia.

This contributes to growing international supply chain and domestic commercial opportunities.

To ensure that opportunities for Australian businesses are maximised, the Government has committed to implementing a Defence Industry Development Strategy.

This strategy will include appropriate, specific, enforceable and audited Australian Industry Content commitments into the contractual arrangements for all major defence materiel procurements and local defence contracts.

After the pandemic and the supply chain constraints our economy is facing the Government recognises the need to build a robust sovereign industrial base at a time of accelerating technological growth and acute competition for workforce and skills.

The $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund will play a key role in this endeavour. The National Reconstruction Fund, which includes Defence capability as one of its focus areas, will complement the Defence Industry Development Strategy and seek to partner with the private sector to build defence capability and economic sovereignty.

The Government is also committed to investing in the skills Australia needs to drive future economic growth.

Targeted and collaborative action is needed to inspire the workforce of the future, increase the volume of people joining the defence industry sector, and to retain talent to ensure we can deliver Defence’s capability requirements.

This involves encouraging investment in the development of skills, addressing skills gaps and improving the productivity of existing workforces.

We must continue to work together with states and territories, industry, and the education sector to develop the people critical to the future growth of Australia’s defence industry.

The dynamic strategic circumstances we find ourselves in – along with the rapid pace of technological change – are challenging Defence’s capability advantage.

We need to be able to turn those emerging technologies into game changing capabilities for Defence.

Defence’s commitment to supporting innovation – in partnership with Australian industry and research organisations – is at the heart of our nation’s response to this challenge.

It is essential that we encourage innovation and invest in novel technologies, to help ensure that Australia maintains the highest level of military capability, and scientific and technological sophistication.

To deliver these technologies, the Government will create the Advanced Strategic Research Agency.

The agency will fund and coordinate pivotal research in breakthrough next-generation technologies for national security.

It will also ensure cutting-edge research from public sources, such as universities and industry, and classified research from industry and other government agencies (such as CSIRO), are supported and co-ordinated.

This will boost Australia’s involvement in technology sharing, and research and development through the new AUKUS partnership.

Defence has transformed the way it approaches innovation.

It has streamlined its engagement with industry and academia, simplified access to Defence research funding, and created a seamless link between capability needs, smart ideas and innovation by Australian industry.

The Defence Innovation Hub plays a unique role in the Defence innovation ecosystem by investing in the development of technologies from the early stages of development through to high stages of maturity.

Hub processes are agile and responsive, and tolerate high levels of risk to capture promising technologies.

The Hub is delivering tangible capability outcomes for the Australian Defence Force.

At least 10 Hub-funded technologies have either resulted in a contract with a Defence acquisition program, been employed in Defence training exercises, been selected as a preferred capability under an acquisition program, or are undergoing final stages of evaluation.

There are opportunities to achieve more tangible capability outcomes from innovation by more clearly articulating Defence’s capability gaps and priorities and working in partnership with industry to develop technologies that are fit for purpose, which can be procured when they are needed.

The STaR Shots, Defence’s flagship strategic innovation programs, are bringing science and technology from across the innovation ecosystem together to deliver new capability and give the Australian Defence Force a strategic edge to prevail in contested environments.

And the Next Generation Technologies Fund is growing the innovation ecosystem through partnerships across Defence, industry and universities.

Next Generation Technologies investment is continuing to result in capability development, growth of defence industry and skills development.

Already around 575 jobs have been created and supported through the Next Generation Technologies Fund.

The new Labor Government also recognise that Australian defence industry technology and hardware is being exported worldwide to enhance capability and improve security in other nations.

As such, supporting industry to export is fundamental to ensuring we have the robust defence industrial base required to support Defence capability.

Australia is home to some of the world’s most innovative and technologically advanced capability solutions, used by the Australian Defence Force and exported for use by overseas customers.

Australian industry has a strong reputation overseas for being transparent, reliable and for its ability to deliver cutting-edge capability solutions.

We all hear this.

We all see this.

And the new government is keen to work with industry to enhance opportunities in export markets.

That is why Defence is committed to enhancing industrial base collaboration opportunities with international partners.

Particularly through the Acquisition Committee established under the Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations, and our inclusion in the US’ National Technology and Industrial Base.

But, importantly, close collaboration between allies and partners is no longer enough.

In order to meet and overcome the strategic challenges we face in our near region, and across the globe, we need to do more.

We need greater integration in our partnerships.

We need to seamlessly bring together each nation's technical expertise and focus it on delivering solutions to meet our military’s needs.

This is more critical than ever.

Retaining our technological and military edge in the face of intensifying strategic competition will be contingent on breaking down entrenched barriers to industrial and technological collaboration with our partners.

I believe Australian industry has unique skills and capabilities which are of genuine value to our partners, and will support higher levels of interoperability and build more resilient supply chains.

Australia can offer Indo-Pacific supply chain solutions, minimise commercial and logistics vulnerabilities, and help reduce exposure to geostrategic supply chain risks.

Seamless information sharing and technology transfer between our partners – in both directions – is necessary to establish the conditions for interoperability and supply chain security.

Fundamentally, greater industrial collaboration is necessary to deliver advanced capabilities in the timeframes needed to meet emergent threats.

New and disruptive technologies are altering the character of warfare and making close collaboration essential if we are to successfully tackle our shared challenges.

We must demonstrate that we can work together with our partners to solve difficult challenges, ensuring we are best positioned to deter disruptions to the global rules-based order.

One of the priorities of the new Australian Government has been to revitalise our historically deep engagement in the region, and revitalise long lasting friendships.

This means entering into a new era of collaboration with our partners and close allies.

We are reinforcing our commitment to existing regional platforms of cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, including those led by ASEAN.

Prime Minister Albanese's first international engagement was the Quad Leaders’ Meeting in Japan, along with Indian Prime Minister Modi, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida and US President Biden.

Deputy Prime Minister Marles is currently abroad to meet with Indian Defence Minister Singh, and is committed to strengthening Australia’s defence and security cooperation with India.

Defence Industry Minister Conroy is attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting and pursuing bilateral engagements with Australia’s Commonwealth partners, including those from the Pacific, where defence cooperation is an important priority.

Closer to home, Australia will become a more engaged and responsive partner to our Pacific neighbours.

We want to rebuild the trust of our Pacific neighbours and the ADF will be a vital part of that process. Be it in response to natural and humanitarian disasters, or the complex array of security issues we now mutually face.

The Government will also revitalise our historically deep engagement in South-East Asia.

In 1974, Australia became the first dialogue partner of the Association of South-East Asian Nations under Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam.

Since then, ASEAN countries have been at the heart of both our security and economic interests, and our vision of the Indo-Pacific.

It’s also why Australia will tighten defence ties with South-East Asia.

We are committed to the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus framework as the pre-eminent regional defence forum.

We see ASEAN centrality as essential for upholding a regional, rules based order.

And we remain firmly committed to the Five Power Defence Arrangements.

Australia’s approach will be anchored in a resolve to safeguard our national interest and our support for regional security and stability based on rules.

The Albanese Labor Government is acutely aware of the fast changing strategic challenges in our region.

This necessitates investment that strengthens Australia’s defence capability and regional cooperation with allies.

Our defence plan is not only about our nation’s security – it’s about the region’s security as well.

Our policies are also about nurturing our human capital, stimulating innovation and growing our national economic prosperity.

A strong partnership between Defence and industry will be critical to achieving these goals.

Thank you for the work that you do and will continue to do in building a stronger Australian Defence Force and improving the defence of our nation and prosperity and security in our region.

Thank you.


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