Address to the Smart Energy Council Conference

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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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4 May 2023

On It’s fantastic to be meeting with you here this morning on Gadigal land.

I acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation as the traditional owners – and pay my respect to their Elders, past and present.

It’s a privilege to here alongside scientists, innovators, industry leaders and so many other climate practitioners.

I can feel the passion we all share for a clean energy future for our nation.

But governments can’t realise that alone.

It’s a shared, equal journey between governments, industry, academia, unions, interest groups, workers, consumers.

All of us working together, as a community.

Similarly, that’s the opportunity before us a nation later this year.

All of us in this room with humility.

All of us across the nation in hope.

Our families, our friends, our co-workers.

We can all grasp the outstretched hands of our fellow Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders towards healing.

We can all rise to the moment and say ‘yes’ to recognising First Nations peoples in our constitution through an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice to parliament.

Because, friends, if our founding document has space for a foreign monarch whose throne has existed for a thousand years…

Then surely, we can summon the decency to constitutionally recognise sixty thousand years of continuous connection and kinship with Country.

May we answer that gracious, patient call for respect, truth and unity with one word.


I thank John Grimes, Terri Butler and the Smart Energy Council for the invitation to be here.

It’s great to share the stage with fellow Australians who are deeply committed to addressing climate change.

Let me particularly congratulate Penny Sharpe for becoming NSW Minister for Climate Change, Energy and the Environment in the new Minns Government – I know you’ll do us proud, Penny!

More importantly, let me thank you.

Despite nine years of absent federal government leadership, the renewable energy sector has been leading from the bottom-up.

Manufacturers, distributors, innovators, financiers, researchers and the like – together you’ve been:

Making big investments in new technologies,

Building jobs of the future,

Heeding the facts of science,

And answering the moral imperative – for humanity, for our planet.

The Albanese Labor Government is taking more ambitious action on climate change.

We are not wasting a moment in making up for lost time towards 2030 and 2050.

As you know, there is so much to do.

Climate inaction hasn’t just harmed our economy and our environment.

A decade of denial has harmed our relationships in the Pacific.

A decade of denial has harmed our military preparedness amidst increasing strategic uncertainty.

The Defence Strategic Review makes clear that Climate change is now a national security issue. 

We cannot any longer allow climate denialists to impede what is necessary for our national security.

Unless we arrest bad trends and keep 1.5 degrees within reach, adverse climate change will continue to cause our nation more severe harm every year.

Not just in Cobargo or Lismore, but across Pacific nations too.

The Albanese Labor Government will consider climate change an important factor in our Defence planning.

In the Government’s response to the Defence Strategic Review Recommendations, we agreed that “Defence should accelerate its transition to clean energy to increase our national resilience, with a plan to be presented to the Government by 2025”. 

Let me focus today on how Defence and Industry can partner, collaborate and take action to address the climate emergency together.

Inside Defence first.

The former government failed to recognise climate change as a serious national security issue for Defence.

That’s why I was proud earlier this year to launch the Defence Renewable Energy and Energy Security Program.

This $64 million program will deliver sixty megawatts of solar energy and twenty-five megawatt hours of battery energy storage to defence bases.

While that’s enough to power the equivalent of about 15,000 households each year, we know much more action is needed.

As the Commonwealth Government’s largest energy user and land holder, Defence has a significant opportunity to seize in going renewable.

There are plenty of ways that Defence, at home, can actively contribute to delivering this commitment.

On the road, Defence can be a leader and help drive Australia’s electric vehicle uptake.

By using its purchasing power, Defence could help drive market investment into renewable energy by purchasing green power from the grid, potentially saving hundreds of thousands of tonnes per year.

In thinking differently, this is how the climate imperative can dovetail with operational need and strengthen capability.

By recognising the interconnected nature of these challenges, we can develop strategies with a clear line of sight to address both climate and security concerns.

A headline of this approach will be our $3.8 billion investment over the next four years to strengthen the resilience of our major northern bases.

You will see part of this at critical air bases stretching from RAAF Base Learmonth through to the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, as well as air bases in the Northern Territory and Northern Queensland.

These bases are often inaccessible in wet season and vulnerable to legacy grid pressures.

By adopting more green technologies, such as solar power and batteries, Defence can help to address some of its major logistics vulnerabilities in operating these bases.

Turning to Industry.

Perhaps under-recognised, relative to traditional players, there are many Australian firms who are making big achievements in using renewable energy towards defence and national security capability.

And I’m proud to celebrate that my electorate of Kingsford Smith is home to some big achievers.

5B Solar in Botany has developed a folding solar array for easy and rapid installation at industrial scale.

The prefabricated deployable solar panels are hinged at either end, allowing them to fold up neatly into a shipping container, and be offloaded using a forklift.

Such an idea offers considerable potential for military and disaster relief purposes in remote, deployed field environments.

While Ocius in Randwick has developed the BlueBottle Uncrewed Surface Vessel, five of which have been procured by the Royal Australian Navy so far.

Powered by sun, wind and waves, the BlueBottle platform offers considerable future potential towards a number of roles – both military and civil, here in Australia and for export.

Both innovations by 5B and Ocius offer two other highly attractive attributes beyond harnessing leading renewable, clean technologies.

One: it’s the fact that they’re both relatively inexpensive.

And two: they’re employing workers in advanced manufacturing and high-tech jobs.

Both climate and national security challenges offer opportunities to create more secure, highly-skilled and long-term jobs.

And through the new Advanced Strategic Capabilities Accelerator, Defence is ready to stand with and support Australian clean energy innovators.

It can be easy to be despondent, but I’m inspired by the big opportunities which are emerging.

Along this line, four observations from the Defence Strategic Review have stuck with me.

First, that we must take a more ‘whole-of-nation’ approach to defence and security.

Second, we need a greater ‘sense of urgency’. 

Third, ‘business-as-usual’ is not enough.

And fourth, that the nation must fundamentally make a substantially larger commitment of national resources to defence and security.

But in coming years, positively… I believe that climate change and the need for military capabilities, together, can drive new cutting-edge innovation, new jobs and new advanced manufacturing.

Technological break-throughs by Australian researchers, delivered to market by Australian entrepreneurs and firms, made by high-skilled Australian workers.

So let me leave you with this message today:

Within Defence, our door is open for your ideas, your innovation, your integrated solutions.

We need your new thinking for climate adaptation:

New ways to enhance military preparedness.

And new ideas which can deliver more resilient capabilities cost effectively.

Help us to step up and take more positive action.

Because the climate innovation opportunities available between Defence and Industry are significant.

Could renewable energy power the major naval sustainment facilities?

These are some big ideas.

They are more than possible.

But only if Defence and Industry are ambitious together.

Let me again congratulate the Smart Energy Council for your leadership and for driving this annual event.

The climate emergency isn’t just an economic, environmental or social risk.

It’s a clear national security issue to Australia.

The Albanese Labor Government understands this.

More importantly, we believe it.

With risk comes opportunity.

If Australia can seize the once-in-a-generation opportunity ahead of us, we will thrive in a net zero world – and that includes Defence.

Thank you.


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