27 February 2023
Can I thank Peter for that introduction.
And let me begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the city of Melbourne, the Wurundjeri and Bunurong peoples of the Eastern Kulin nation, and pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging.
To my parliamentary colleagues; leaders of the Australian Defence Force; distinguished guests from around the world – it’s wonderful to have you all here in Melbourne tonight.
The Avalon Air Show is one of the premier events on the Defence calendar.
In part this is because – as I noted at today’s Chief of Air Force Symposium – everyone knows air forces are the coolest part of any military. Top Gun Maverick – an important and insightful documentary – bears out this point. And yes, I know Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is actually a naval aviator. But let’s not get stuck on technicalities. This is Hollywood people.
In part it is because the Air Show is a truly remarkable display of air and space capabilities from here at home and around the world.
But mainly it is because – and I say this as a truly impartial observer – the Air Show is held in the most important city in our nation, the spiritual centre of our country: Geelong.
Geelong is not only the home of the AFL Premiership Flag but it has been the home of the Air Show since 1992 and I have been attending the Air Show now for more than a quarter of a century.
But 1992 was not the first air show at Avalon. In 1957 an air display occurred at Avalon when Geoff Churcher – the CEO of the Port Melbourne Government Aircraft Factories (which are now operated by Boeing) – organised a display for the workers at the factory so they could see the product of their labour.
The Air Show holds a particularly special place in my heart. And this year, to be here as Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Defence and the Member for Corio, represents a sentimental convergence of my worlds.
Our Strategic Circumstances
Right now, Australia is facing the most challenging and complex set of strategic circumstances we’ve seen since the Second World War.
The global rules-based order – which has underpinned the security and prosperity of not just Australia, but the region, and indeed the world – is under immense pressure.
Last Friday marked one year since Russia launched its illegal and immoral invasion of Ukraine.
As my Canadian counterpart, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland observed: when Vladimir Putin ordered his tanks across the Ukrainian border, 12 months ago, it brought to a brutal end a three-decade long era in geopolitics.
The post-Cold War era – a period of democratic expansion and unprecedented integration of global trade and investment – is now over.
In its place we have the return of conflict to the European continent where a larger state is seeking to impose itself on a smaller neighbour – not by reference to the rule of law, but by power and might.
And closer to home, in our own region, we are witnessing increased strategic competition between nations.
In the Indo-Pacific, China is driving the largest conventional military build-up we’ve seen anywhere in the world since the Second World War. And much of this build-up is opaque.
As such it has never been more important for Australia to employ sober, responsible and clear-eyed statecraft.
Which is exactly what the Albanese Government is doing.
The Next Chapter in Defence
2023 will be a consequential year for Defence.
In the coming months, our Government will detail three critical pieces of work, which will help ensure our Defence Force has the capability, the technology, the people and the funding it needs to keep Australians safe.
The first of these will be when we unveil – along with our partners in the United Kingdom and the United States under the banner of AUKUS – the optimal pathway for Australia to acquire conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarines.
This announcement will describe how Australia will evolve our submarine capability from operating our six diesel-electric Collins Class submarines today to the point where Australia is building and operating its own nuclear-powered submarines in the future. We will describe how we intend to invest in Australian industry to make this happen. We will make clear how Australia and our partners will meet our non-proliferation obligations and, in the process, establish the highest bar possible for transfers of this technology. And we will articulate the cost.
Australia acquiring nuclear powered submarines will be the single biggest leap in Australian military capability since the War.
In April the Prime Minister and I will release the Defence Strategic Review and the Government’s formal response to it.
The DSR – which was delivered to the Government by former Chief of the Defence Force, Sir Angus Houston, and former defence minister, Stephen Smith, earlier this month – will be the blueprint for defence thinking for decades to come.
In strategic terms Australia has been defined by our geography: having an entire continent to ourselves which is remote from the world. And this geography has been a huge asset in the defence of our continent.
But because of the capability advancements we’ve seen, particularly in the last decade, the advantages of our geography have been diminished.
Today we face a range of threats – including longer-range missiles and hypersonics and cyber-attacks – which render our geographic advantages far less relevant.
In addition we now live in a globalised, networked world where, as an island trading nation, we derive a large proportion of our national income from trade.
The result of all this is that any adversary meaning to do us harm can inflict an enormous amount of damage on Australia without ever having to enter our territorial waters or our air space.
It’s this paradigm that we must be prepared to address in the years ahead.
As such, it is fundamentally important for us to think about the defence of Australia, and our own strategic posture, in terms of being able to hold any potential adversaries at risk much further from our shores.
We must invest in targeted capabilities for our ADF which provide for impactful projection and to be able to do this through the full spectrum of proportionate response. And this strategic posture is the idea which is at the heart of the DSR.
Our third critical piece of work is the Government’s new Defence Industry Development Strategy. My colleague Pat Conroy, the Minister for Defence Industry, is leading this project.
As we look to advance our defence capabilities, our partnerships in industry and technology will be vitally important.
In order to develop a strong, sovereign and internationally competitive Australian defence industrial base, we will need to leverage our collaboration with our close partners and likeminded countries.
We need to harness innovation, attract investment to areas of priority, and become more agile and risk-tolerant in procurement.
Many of you here tonight work in Defence industry, and you play a crucial role in securing our national interest. Your contributions are so important, and I thank you for them.
But to meet the demands of our strategic settings, our defence capability, and as a result, defence industry will need to grow.
The Defence Industry Development Strategy will set the framework and principles for the direction of defence industry policy for what will be a consequential decade for Australia’s national security, and beyond.
For the first time it will articulate the strategic rationale for Australia having a defence industry. It will articulate how Australia’s defence industry contributes to Australia’s standing in the world and our national statecraft. And it will set out how we, as a government, can work with you in industry to deliver the capabilities the ADF needs, and the defence industry exports which build Australia’s strategic weight.
Partnerships Through Transparency
As Australia increases our defence spending and grows our military capability it is imperative that we do so in a way that is both predictable and transparent.
We want to ensure we are consulting our partners in the region, and around the world, so that there is understanding and no surprises.
Fundamental to a step up in Australia’s defence capability is deterrence, so that no state will ever conclude the benefits of conflict outweigh the risks.
We want to contribute to providing a regional balance in capability which helps underpin regional stability.
Nuclear-powered submarines will transform our ability to deter, or respond to, any future threats. They will add to this regional balance.
But the true intent in the development of our military capability is to contribute to the collective security of our region; among the Pacific Island Countries, within South East Asia, and across the entire Indo-Pacific.
Because underpinning our strategic intent is an understanding that the defence of Australia doesn’t mean much without the collective security of our region and the fundamental stability of the global rules-based order.
Indeed, this is one of the messages laid out by the Defence Strategic Review.
In it Sir Angus Houston and Stephen Smith write that:
“Investing in our Indo-Pacific Regional partnerships is essential.”
The Albanese Government has long-held this view.
We want our partners to be confident in the steps we are taking and the level of transparency we intend to maintain. Not just at the time of these announcements, but over the years ahead.
I conveyed this commitment to my counterparts in the Philippines and Thailand during my visit last week. I conveyed it to Minister Subianto Prabowo of Indonesia during his recent visit to Australia.
And it is the message I want to deliver to the international defence chiefs and representatives here tonight.
And while Australia will always do what we must to get the hard power equation right so that we have the capabilities which keep our people safe, I also want everyone to understand that our Government knows the frontline of Australia’s engagement with the world is diplomacy. And this will be our abiding focus, for it is through diplomacy that we can create pathways for peace.
Over the coming days at the Air Show you will witness some of the most exciting and significant capabilities in the world today and shining examples of Australian industrial ingenuity.
You will also witness the partnerships with our friends abroad at work which are so fundamental to Australia’s national security.
I am really looking forward to meeting as many of you as I can in Geelong this week.
And so can I wish you all a successful and productive experience at the Avalon 2023 Australian International Airshow.
Other related releases
Second reading speech, Defence Legislation Amendment (Safeguarding Australia’s Military Secrets) Bill
Address at handover of FSS Bethwel Henry to the Federated States of Micronesia