Address to the Defence Connect Budget Lunch, Parliament House, ACT

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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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12 May 2023

I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today and pay my respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging.

As the Assistant Minister for Defence, 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 today.

My Parliamentary colleagues;

Leaders of defence industry,

This is a time of truly momentous reform in Defence, and I thank Defence Connect for your ongoing contribution to helping industry to stay abreast of these developments.

Reform is being driven by the demands of our strategic environment, and by the purposeful response of a serious and responsible Government…

Committed to do what is necessary to ensure the ADF is fit-for-purpose for the challenges of today and tomorrow.

My focus today will be on the Albanese Labor Government’s response to the Defence Strategic Review and how we’ve delivered on that in the Budget…

And the particular implications for our bases, which are fundamental to the way Defence deters threats and protects our national security.

And I want to talk about the critically important investment we are making in our people…

Who support the safety, peace and prosperity of our region…

And in the case of the ADF, put their lives on the line to defend Australia and protect our national interests.

The Budget handed down this week, is of generational significance for Defence, for defence industry and for the future security of Australia.

The Albanese Government will invest over $19 billion dollars over the next four years to implement the key priorities identified in response to the Defence Strategic Review.

The Budget is bold, it’s decisive.

And it’s a Budget which doesn’t shy away from the hard decisions.

Australia is facing the most difficult  strategic circumstances since the Second World War.

This requires a new approach to Australia’s defence planning, force posture, force structure, capability development and acquisition.

That means hard decisions have been made to cancel or reprioritise Defence projects or activities that are no longer suited to our strategic circumstances.

And we have to reapply those funds to the projects and activities that will make a difference to our national security and to the peace and stability of our region.

The Government has taken immediate action to reprioritise Defence’s capabilities in line with the six priorities identified in the Defence Strategic Review’s recommendations.

Accordingly, the Budget includes investment in:

Conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarines through the AUKUS partnership;

Developing the ADF’s ability to precisely strike targets at longer-range and manufacture munitions in Australia;

Lifting our capacity to rapidly translate disruptive new technologies into ADF capability, in close partnership with Australian industry;

Improving the ADF’s ability to operate from Australia’s northern bases;

Actions to improve the growth and retention of a highly skilled Defence workforce; and

Deepening our diplomatic and defence partnerships with key partners in the Indo-Pacific.

First among those priorities is the acquisition of conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarines through our AUKUS partnership.

It’s the single biggest investment in Australia’s defence capability in our history.

And it’s a multi-dimensional project that will span decades.

Our Government has committed $9 billion dollars over the Forward Estimates to this great national project.

Work to deliver the pathway for Australia’s acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines is already underway. 

The funding commitments we have built into the forward estimates provide the resources and funding certainty to progress the delivery of this complex endeavour as quickly as possible.

The Budget includes funding to update existing infrastructure, and construction of new infrastructure at HMAS Stirling in Western Australia to support the operation and maintenance of visiting nuclear-powered submarines from the United Kingdom and the United States.

Acquiring conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarines will also involve a generational uplift of skills to create the workforce to build, operate, maintain and sustain this transformational capability.

So the Budget includes funding for the new Skills and Training Academy in South Australia; and

4,000 additional Commonwealth supported places at universities and other higher education providers over four years, for courses that support the skills required for the nuclear-powered submarine program, including STEM and management disciplines.

There is also funding within the Budget for the commencement of early construction and design works for the submarine construction yard at Osborne Naval Shipyard.

Importantly, funding will also establish the new Australian Submarine Agency which will be responsible and accountable for the management and oversight of Australia’s nuclear-powered submarine program.

Long-range strike and other guided weapons are fundamental to our ability to hold an adversary at risk in Australia’s northern approaches.

The ADF must hold sufficient stock and have the ability to manufacture certain lines as well.

The Albanese Government has committed $4.1 billion dollars over four years to acquire more long-range strike systems and manufacture longer-range munitions.

When it comes to the manufacture and acquisition of long-range strike and long-range munitions, it’s not either/or – it’s both.

That is why the Government has supplied this funding in the Budget.

We need the right capabilities for our strategic circumstances. And this funding supports our determination to get this vital deterrent capability in place as soon as possible.

One of the key priority areas identified in response to the Defence Strategic Review and supported in the Budget is improving the ability of the Australian Defence Force to operate from Australia’s northern bases.

It is fair to say that Northern Australia is at the forefront of our strategic thinking.

The Army must be optimised for littoral operations in northern land and maritime spaces, and provide a long-range strike capability.

Air Force must also be equipped to support operations in the north through surveillance, air defence, strike and air transport.

Upgrades and development of the northern bases network are a key priority, including:

$2 billion dollars for critical air bases stretching from RAAF Base Learmonth through Cocos (Keeling) Islands, as well as air bases in the Northern Territory and northern Queensland;

$1 billion dollars for upgrades to land and joint estate capabilities; and

$600 million dollars in maritime estate investments including HMAS Coonawarra, HMAS Cairns and the Harold E Holt Naval Communications Station.

Investment in land and estate will be centred on major training area upgrades in the Northern Territory, and upgrades at Robertson Barracks in Darwin and Lavarack Barracks in Townsville.

You will have seen Ministers on the ground in the Northern Territory straight after the announcement of the Government’s response to the Defence Strategic Review, speaking directly with our personnel, with base managers, with defence industry and with the Territory Government as we map out the fastest and best way to achieve these upgrades.

I will be traveling to Darwin again next week to continue work on these vital and important plans.

Hardening northern base infrastructure is essential to strengthening Australia's posture and to accelerate preparedness.

Our investments also offer huge opportunities all around the country, including key economic opportunities in regional and remote areas.

In particular, it provides work for indigenous owned businesses and employment for indigenous workers.

It makes sense for Defence to tap the deep local knowledge in our First Nations communities to ensure the Defence infrastructure we build and maintain is as strong as it can be. 

And it makes sense that we tackle the one of our nation’s most serious security threats: climate change.

The Defence Strategic Review recognised the truth that climate change is now a national security issue.

Climate change will increase the challenges for Australia and Defence, including increased humanitarian assistance and disaster relief tasks at home and abroad.

And the Review recognised that Defence also needs to focus on clean energy transition.

Programs like the Defence Renewable Energy and Energy Security Program are making a vital contribution to this mission.

They reduce emissions, they make Defence more energy secure and they save money for the Defence Force that we can spend on capability.

As we modernise our bases, clean energy will be part of making Defence more resilient and meet the Government's commitments to reduce emissions and boost renewable energy throughout Australia.

There is no more important asset to Australia’s defence than our people.

Defence is comprised of committed, passionate and highly skilled Australians, who are proud to serve and work hard to keep our country safe.

In an increasingly competitive environment, the Albanese Government is committed to ensuring our personnel and their families are looked after in service, and following service.

The Budget prioritised investment to recruit and retain an expanded Defence workforce, and a continued commitment to strengthen the compensation and wellbeing support system for ADF members, veterans and families.

With initiatives like the $395 million dollar pilot for an ADF continuation bonus, the Australian public can trust the Albanese Government to attract, grow and retain the ADF workforce, while also investing in those who are currently serving our nation. 

I’d also like to highlight the commitment for Defence to conduct a holistic housing feasibility study aimed at ensuring the housing support needs of ADF members, both for subsidised housing and for home ownership, are met.

It’s an example of practical policy development, grounded in research, which is designed to deliver the critical insights we need to support and enable a mobile workforce.

Initiatives in this Budget will make a big contribution to stabilising, building and sustaining a Defence workforce over the medium term to 2040.

Australia’s Defence Force personnel and veterans make a solemn commitment to serve and defend our nation.

Their families also make significant sacrifices to support them.

It is our duty to repay this in kind by providing effective transition, health and wellbeing support.

The Albanese Government is investing an additional $328.1 million to support the more than 340,000 veterans and dependants accessing services through the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA).

This builds on the $537.5 million invested in the October 2022 Budget as part of our commitment to ensuring a better future for veterans and their families.

We’re making significant investments that will further reduce the veteran compensation claims backlog inherited from the former government.

This includes:

$64.1 million in 2023-24 to retain more than 480 DVA staff who are working to deliver frontline services to veterans and families;

$254.1 million over four years to modernise and sustain ageing IT systems, and ensure more timely payments and access to services for veterans and families through DVA.

These investments support the Albanese Government’s response to the interim recommendations of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide.

The Albanese Government is also expanding eligibility for the Acute Support Package (ASP) introduced in the October 2022 Budget to include grandcarers – grandparents who are full-time carers of children of veterans.

This expansion acknowledges the different challenges experienced by families and provides services such as childcare, counselling, household assistance, education support and financial aid for veteran families in crisis.

The Government is also funding critical support capabilities and programs including $2 million to continue important mental health awareness and suicide intervention training for volunteers supporting veterans.

The measures announced in this Budget are in addition to important reform work that is currently underway. We are investing to improve access to support services now, while developing a pathway to simplify and harmonise the complex, century old, veteran compensation system into the future.

Finally, I want to reaffirm here the Government’s commitment that defence industry will be our critical partner in delivering the infrastructure, capability and skills we need to meet this moment, to respond to the challenges in our strategic environment and keep Australia safe and secure.

Defence industry plays a vital role in equipping and sustaining the Australian Defence Force and that role will only grow in importance.

The Budget delivers the funding security to ensure that Defence will deliver what is needed.

But we also need to be very clear that business-as-usual is in the past – and speed and agility will be a key metric for the future.

That is true across the board, whether it’s services on a base, or new infrastructure, or innovation or new capabilities.

It is vital that the businesses who partner with Defence acknowledge this demand on us all and rise to this challenge.

Thank you.


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