2022 Indian Ocean Defence and Security Conference, Optus Stadium. Perth, WA

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26 August 2022

I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today, the Whadjuk Noongar people and pay my respects to their Elders – past, present and emerging – thanks for that welcome Aunty Viv. 

As the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Minister for Defence Personnel, 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.

I want to acknowledge and thank the current and ex-serving personnel who join us today – thank you for your service. 

I’d also like to acknowledge conference hosts Defence West and partners, the Perth USAsia Centre and the UWA Defence and Security Institute, as well as our distinguished guests here today. 

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Distinguished guests, 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to address you this morning on behalf of the Australian Government.

On the 21st of May this year, Australians elected a new Federal Government under the leadership of Anthony Albanese.

I am proud to serve in his government as the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Minister for Defence Personnel.

And proud to be part of the team delivering on a rock-solid commitment to Australia’s defence and security. 

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This Conference comes at an important time for Defence and for our region. 

Australia faces the most complex set of strategic circumstances that we’ve seen since the end of the Second World War.

Our goal is to see a region at peace, not in conflict, where the sovereignty of all nations, large and small, is respected, and where the rule of law governs conduct between states.  

All our policies are directed to that end.

We are working with our international partners and friends, and we will make prudent and necessary investments to transform the Australian Defence Force into one with more potent deterrent capabilities.

The Albanese Government is committed to spending at least 2 per cent of GDP on Defence, including to enhance the Australian Defence Force with capabilities like long-range and precision strike weapons, offensive and defensive cyber, and area denial systems.

As we did in opposition, in Government we have committed to AUKUS.

AUKUS will deliver nuclear powered submarines for Australia, and it will guide accelerated development of advanced defence capabilities, notably in relation to quantum technology, artificial intelligence, undersea warfare, hypersonics and counter hypersonics, advanced cyber and electronic warfare. 

And as Minister for Defence Personnel, I can assure you we will support the men and women of the Australian Defence Force to give them the personal capability and skills they need to fulfil their mission – after all, it is our defence force members that are our most important capability. 

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Earlier this month, the Government announced the commencement of the Defence Strategic Review, fulfilling a commitment we made in opposition.

This critical piece of work will look at what we need to do to ensure the Australian Defence Force is well positioned to meet our nation’s security challenges within and beyond this decade.

The 2020 Defence Strategic Update recognised that Australia’s strategic environment has been deteriorating more rapidly than previously anticipated.

As our national security landscape changes, it is vital that the Defence Force remains positioned to meet our global and regional security challenges.

The Government has established the Defence Strategic Review, and appointed two independent Western Australians’ leads to conduct it: former Minister for Defence, Professor the Hon Stephen Smith, and the former Chief of the Defence Force, Sir Angus Houston. 

The Defence Strategic Review will consider the priority of investment in Defence capabilities and assess the Australian Defence Force's structure, posture and preparedness in order to optimise Defence capability and posture to meet the nation's security challenges. 

It must be noted, that as our greatest capability is our people, we must ensure our people are best positioned in order to not only meet the strategic imperative but ensure that personnel and their families are set up for the best life in defence. 

The Review will ensure that Defence’s capability and force structure is fit for purpose, affordable and delivers the greatest return on investment.

This will be a comprehensive review of how the ADF is positioned to deal with current and future strategic circumstances for Australia and the Indo-Pacific region. 

The independent leads will present the Review and its recommendations to the Government for consideration in early 2023.

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Western Australia, by virtue of its geography, its resources, its industrial base and the deep reservoir of knowledge and skills in both industry and the ADF, has a critically important part to play in defending Australia and our interests. 

The Government is committed to investing in the Defence establishments, in Defence industry, and in the people of the Australian Defence Force.

Western Australia’s strategic position has national implications – and that has been the case ever since the troop ships departed from Albany for the shores of Gallipoli.

From HMAS Stirling to the Cocos and Keeling Islands, from RAAF Base Curtin to our Training Areas at Bindoon, Lancelin, Northam and in the North-West, from infrastructure to capability to fleet basing, Western Australia is essential to Australia’s Indo-Pacific strategy and a core consideration for Australia’s Defence. 

Our work with near neighbours and friends across the north and eastern Indian Ocean eminates from Western Australia, in sharing and developing capability, knowledge and innovation.

I know we face significant workforce challenges in Western Australia, as we are seeing across the nation. 

Unemployment is at a record low, and demand for workers at a record high. 

Next week, the Australian Government’s Jobs + Skills Summit will get underway at Parliament House in Canberra, bringing together unions, employers, civil society and governments. 

Addressing skills shortages and getting our skills mix right over the long‑term is one of the Summit’s key areas of focus.

We need targeted and collaborative action to inspire the workforce of the future, increase the number of people joining both the ADF and the defence industry sector, and retain talent to ensure we can deliver Defence’s and our nation’s capability requirements.

And we need to work to ensure that veterans and their families are supported post-service to reach their full potential too. While I don’t want to see anyone leaving our ADF, if they do, being a part of defence industry provides the best way for those transitioning defence force members to continue in their contribution and service to sovereign capability. Even better, if we can have them stay in the Reserves as well.

I’ve been undertaking consultation on how best to support veterans into new careers post service, and I’m excited for the opportunity that brings. 

Our veterans are amazing people and an amazing resource, we literally invest millions into their training. So many of you here today have not only served our nation in Defence, but now continue to, particularly in industry, to support the next generation of our defence force as well. 

We must not look at people leaving Defence to work in industry as a negative, or a loss to defence, rather an expansion of our nation’s capability. 

Indeed, Defence currently supports several skilling initiatives which seek to address industry capacity and capability gaps and boost the pool of STEM skills within the Australian workforce.

And I am committed to working together with my state and territory colleagues, with industry, and the education sector to ensure we give people the skills that are critical to the future growth of Australia’s defence force and defence industry.

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Supporting Australian defence industry is a priority for the Albanese Government.

We are focusing on strengthening our sovereign capabilities, bolstering our manufacturing base and creating new local jobs.

And our plan to achieve these objectives will be outlined in a new Defence Industry Development Strategy.

The Strategy will articulate the strategic rationale underpinning Australia’s defence industry.

It will set out the framework, direction and principles underpinning the direction of defence industry policy and initiatives for the foreseeable future. 

And it will chart a path to a strong, sovereign and sustainable Australian defence industry. 

Because a genuine, long-term partnership with defence industry – here in WA, across the nation, and also internationally – is fundamental to achieving the capability we need.

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Science, technology, innovation and industry capability is central to defending Australia, and there are significant opportunities for Western Australian researchers and businesses to create and develop the technologies that have the potential to enhance Defence capability.

To give you just a few examples from the Government’s Innovation Hub: 

  • L3Harris Technologies is developing multipurpose sensors to enhance surveillance capabilities;
  • Techventure Investments is working on the development of a high-velocity and long-range small-arms projectile; and
  • The University of Western Australia is developing a small, lightweight communications system component that has the potential to improve performance and accuracy compared to existing capabilities for the Royal Australian Navy.

Of course, our commitment to establish the Australian Strategic Research Agency – an Aussie DARPA, combined with our AUKUS collaborations will only enhance our capabilities for forward leaning research to ensure our ADF has access to best technologies for their tasks ahead.

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Finally, I’ve just returned from Malaysia and Thailand, where I visited Sandakan for a very solemn commemoration of the suffering and hardship borne by Australian Prisoners of War during World War II; to honour those who 2,500 who died, the just six that survived through escape, and the local people who risked everything to help them. 

In Thailand, I visited Hellfire Pass, saw the backbreaking work our POWs were made to endure on the most meagre of rations,and met relatives that helped our POWs to survive by smuggling in food and other supplies.

It is timely to acknowledge the peace that has served Australia – and every country of our region – so well, especially as we have now concluded our longest ever period of war like operations.

As we do, we should keep front of mind the salience of the rules based order that has delivered stability and prosperity to the Indo-Pacific. 

Our Government is focused on ensuring a peaceful and stable future for the Indo-Pacific, and I look forward to working with you all to achieve it. 

Thank you. 

[ENDS]

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