Address to the ACCI Business Leaders Summit 2022

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The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Defence

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02 6277 7800

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30 November 2022

Can I also start by acknowledging the Ngunnawal people, the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, and pay my respects to their Elders, past and present.

Can I say what a delight it is to look at a theatre full of people again, after the period of the pandemic.

One of the beauties of this building actually, is that it kind of doubles as not only a Parliament, but also as a convention centre.

It is wonderful to have people here, because it gives a sense of life and engagement to this building, which we really enjoy as MPs. Hopefully it gives you access to us, but it’s something that we’ve obviously been missing over the past couple of years.

I think Nola is right, there is a hunger to get back to this.

But as I listen to Nola also describe ACCI, it’s standing, a body with whom I’ve had a long association – not only in my time as a parliamentarian but before that at the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

Your presence honours this building, I really want to make that clear. You are a significant part of the Australian economy, obviously, but of Australian society.

And so, in coming here today, please do understand how honoured we are to have you in this building today. Not just this morning, but throughout the day. I know a number of my colleagues will be addressing you, and we’re all looking forward to the dinner tonight. But we genuinely appreciate the time and effort you’ve taken to come here.

Next year will mark four decades since the floating of the Australian dollar by the Hawke Labor Government.

It was an extraordinary act of conviction and resolve by a newly elected government, and would be one of several landmark reforms that fundamentally altered the economic trajectory of Australia.

We have since reaped the benefits of those reforms, prospering as a more open economy, and embracing the Asia-Pacific region.

But in the almost half a century since, Australia – like many other nations – has not been immune to global economic shocks.

The last few years have been undoubtedly difficult for Australian homes and businesses.

After weathering the global COVID pandemic, we now face the harsh economic effects of Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, with high energy prices, persistent inflationary pressure and damaged global supply chains.

This cost of living crisis was only exacerbated by the near-decade of mismanagement by the coalition government.

Our October Budget embarked on the difficult journey of fiscal repair, delivering responsible relief for cost of living pressures and targeted investments to create a stronger, more resilient economy for all Australians.

For businesses, we have sought to tackle some of the major supply side pressures driving inflation, namely labour and skills shortages.

We are providing fee-free TAFE and new university places to train more Australian workers.

And we are increasing the permanent migration cap to bring more skilled workers from overseas.

Our plan for cheaper child care will allow more parents to work more if they choose to, and our Housing Accord will build more affordable homes in places where jobs are being created.

And importantly, we are delivering on our commitment to get wages moving – with the passage of the Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill through Parliament to happen this week – a crucial milestone in our first six months in office.

At the centre of all of this is an understanding that a pre-condition for Australia’s economic prosperity, is our national security.

In the Hawke years, the centre of geostrategic competition was far from Australian shores.

Today, our Indo-Pacific region is the epicentre, as we witness the largest military build-up anywhere in the world over the last 70 years.

Our world, and our way of life, has become less certain and more precarious—conflict is no longer a hypothetical risk.

That’s why the responsible, measured approach to diplomacy demonstrated in the first six months of our government, is so important.

This includes a genuine willingness to stabilise Australia’s relations with China—our largest trading partner, with longstanding economic and people-to-people links.

Last week I met with my Chinese counterpart General Wei Feng for the second time since coming to government – something we both remarked on the significance of.

The week before, the Prime Minister held the first leader to leader meeting between Australia and China in six years.

We have come a fair way in the last few months, and we will continue this steady and consistent approach to our bilateral engagement with Beijing as we seek to uphold the rules based order.

In seeking to do so, one of the critical advantages we have as a nation is our friendships and our partnerships – and there is none more important than our alliance with the United States.

Our Alliance with the United States provides Australia with security, capability, technology, and intelligence advantages we could not acquire or develop on our own.

As I have said before, this is not about promoting a contest in the priority of our relationships with the US, and countries in our region.

The Albanese Labor Government was elected in May on a vision for Australia that would be more engaged and responsive to our Pacific neighbours, that would revitalise our historically deep engagement with South East Asia, and that would take action on climate change, recognising its impacts on economic resilience and national security.

The advantages our alliance with the United States afford us, only enhance our ability to better these partnerships.

And when we think about a world in which the reality is a renewed major-power competition, Australia is more relevant to that competition now, than at any time in our history.

It is clear that a more complex environment will require a more sober and focused approach to defending ourselves and our region.

The upholding of the global rules based order is vital for our economy, particularly as a trading island nation.

In 1985, when Kim Beazley was Defence Minister, he commissioned Paul Dibb to do a review of our strategic circumstances and our strategic response to those circumstances.

The Dibb Review led to the 1987 White Paper, which has underpinned Australian defence strategy for over three decades.

The tenor of that White Paper was that if anyone meant to do us harm, Australia would be given at least a ten year warning.

In 2020 the former government’s Defence Strategic Update rightly observed that we are, for the first time, sitting within that ten year threat window.

But this has left the question hanging as to what we are now going to do about that.

In seeking to answer that question, myself and the Prime Minister announced the Defence Strategic Review. One of our first priorities upon coming into government.

This review will examine how we can best shape our Defence Force for the unique strategic circumstances we now face.

It is clear that a more complex environment will require a more sober and focused approach to defending ourselves and our region.

We must invest in capabilities that enable us to hold potential adversaries’ forces at risk at greater distance, and increase the cost of aggression against Australia and its interests.

And this must be done across the full spectrum of proportionate response.

Accordingly, we need capabilities that provide our nation with impactful projection.

Capabilities like nuclear-powered submarines.

In early 2023, the Prime Minister and I will announce, with our AUKUS partners, the optimal pathway for developing Australia’s nuclear-powered submarines.

Having this capability will revolutionise the potency and sovereignty of Australia’s Defence Force – doing more to deter threats and safeguard our national interest. 

The pursuit of nuclear-powered submarines will enable us to pursue the notion of impactful projection to a greater extent than any other platform that we have within our Defence Force right now.

It also means that Defence spending will have to increase.

The October Budget showed Defence funding will rise to over two per cent of GDP over the forward estimates – the highest level in decades.

But with additional investment comes additional responsibility.

In the face of increasing demands on the Commonwealth budget, coupled with higher inflation and greater pressure on Defence supply chains, we need to maximise the quality of our spending.

We’ve already taken steps to rectify a decade of significant and systemic issues in the delivery of key defence capabilities we inherited from our predecessors, with the creation of an independent projects and portfolio management office within Defence.

The other crucial element in guaranteeing Australia’s future economic prosperity and national security is a strong, sovereign and cutting-edge defence industry underpinning our Defence Force.

In my travels as Defence Minister, I have been struck by the tremendous respect for the capabilities delivered by Australian defence industry—by companies large and small.

We have to build on that capability as we embark on a deeper level of cooperation and integration between the ADF, our allies, and our defence industry ecosystems.

The Albanese Labor Government is committed to growing Australia’s industrial base to provide the game-changing capabilities we need.

That is why we have commissioned the Defence Industry Development Strategy—informed by the Defence Strategic Review— to articulate the strategic rationale and the national security imperative for a strong, resilient and integrated defence industrial base.

To make sure we get it right, the Defence Department has engaged in nationwide consultations, seeking the views of a range of businesses, universities and research organisations, industry associations and state and territory governments.

We are also establishing the $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund to drive regional development and invest in our national sovereign capability, which will help broaden and diversify Australia’s economy in support of our national interests.

These investments are about ensuring Australia’s security into the future. 

The Albanese Government will work hand in glove with our ADF, our Defence Department and our defence industry—because these vital contributors to our national security deserve a fearless and supportive government to lead and develop them.

We will deliver on our vision for a stronger and more resilient Australia—and we must.

Because guaranteeing Australia’s resilience will be essential to keeping Australians safe.


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