ASPI Sydney Dialogue

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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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4 April 2023

Can I start by acknowledging the Gadigal people, the traditional owners of the land on which you are all meeting this morning.

And let me also acknowledge the Ngunnawal people, the traditional owners of the land from which I speak to you, right now.

And in acknowledging both, say how proud I am to be a part of a government, which is completely committed to seeing our First Nations peoples recognised in our Constitution through the establishment of a Voice to Parliament.

And later this year, Australians will be given the opportunity of placing their vote in support of that recognition.

Climbing the technological ladder is really Australia's great challenge.

And it is particularly our challenge, more our challenge than almost any other country in the world.

The Harvard Index of Economic Complexity is a measure, which has at one end of the spectrum, the most high tech sophisticated services economy, which happens to be Japan.

And at the other end, the most basic subsistence economy, it is, in many respects, an index of modernity- an index of technology.

Right now, Australia ranks 91st on that index.

We are sandwiched between Namibia and Kenya.

And while that's obviously not a true reflection of where we stand in the list of modernity in the world, it does speak to the fact that as an economy, we are highly dependent upon our primary industry.

Now, primary industry is really important for our country and the right now it is the hope.

But we as a nation must be more than that.

And that really means that we have a national challenge, to climb the technological ladder and in the process, change our relationship, our cultural relationship to science.

In many respects, I think there is no greater micro-economic reform in Australia today than infusing our economy with science and technology, which is why what you're talking about over the next two days is so profoundly important for our country.

And whilst we have a proud history, in science and in discovery, as commercialisers of that science, of infusing it into our own economy, we do poorly relative to other developed nations, and this we must change.

That is a challenge across our general economy.

But it's also a fundamental challenge in respect of our defence industry.

And it's essential to advancing our national interest in the world, that we climb the technological ladder when it comes to defence industry.

Because in so many ways, the history of human contest is ultimately a history of technology competition.

And we must be at the forefront of that.

As Justin said, the AUKUS announcement and the technology sharing arrangements embodied in AUKUS between Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, is very central to our strategy in terms of improving the technology within our defence forces and within our nation's defence industry.

Certainly acquiring a nuclear-powered submarine capability for Australia and becoming just the seventh country in the world to be able to operate that technology will be a very significant step forward in capability for our nation.

But the pillar two area of AUKUS, which seeks to look at other emerging technologies is going to be fundamentally important for our nation as well.

In areas such as hypersonics, artificial intelligence, quantum; making sure that we are at the forefront of all of that is critically important in terms of making sure that when it comes to human contest, we are right there with a technological edge.

And this is very central to how we are thinking about our strategic circumstances and how we're thinking about advancing our national interests in the context of those strategic circumstances.

So, I really wish you all the best for the coming two days.

It's important that we are talking about what technologies we can bring to bear within our wider economy and certainly within our defence industry.

But as we think about the new technologies which are out there, and the new technologies that we can infuse within our economy, it's also really important that we are not just having another conference about new technologies, but that we are having the conversation about Australia's relationship to technologies.

That's actually what we have to change.

We need to be thinking about how Australia specifically should be and absolutely can be at the centre of global technology advancement.

To say that is our great national challenge.

And with that, I really wish you all the best for the coming two days.

And I hope the Sydney Dialogue fulfils all the promise that you have for it.

Thank you.


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