Address to the Hunter Defence Conference, Hunter Valley NSW

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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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23 August 2023

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

As the Assistant Minister for Defence, Assistant Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Assistant Minister for the Republic, 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.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak at the start of your discussions here at the Hunter Defence Conference.

It’s a pleasure to be joining you today.

To be here talking directly to organisations that are applying their unique expertise and contributing to the security of our nation.

This event is so important.

Because it brings together prime contractors and small to medium-sized enterprises, along with representatives from governments, universities and Defence.

This is what we want to see.

Experts from different sectors coming together to make connections, to collaborate, and to focus on the same priorities.

For the benefit of the Hunter Region and New South Wales.

And, above all, for the benefit of our nation.

I’d like to acknowledge the dedication of Hunter Defence, which not only showcases the impressive capability that already exists within this region’s defence industry.

But also works hard to upskill those businesses that have the potential to contribute.

It’s vital that we open our doors to new ideas and the brightest talent from this region and beyond.

A capable defence industry network is one that is dynamic and growing, and innovative and inclusive.

So I’m delighted to extend a special welcome to those of you who are not yet working in the defence industry but think you have something valuable to contribute.

And I encourage the rest of you to reach out to newcomers to find out what they have to offer, and think about how you can help them take the next step.

You’ll be hearing more about the Albanese Government’s support for our nation’s industrial base tomorrow evening when my colleague Pat Conroy, the Minister for Defence Industry, speaks at the Gala Dinner.

But this morning, I’ll begin our conversation by setting the scene.

As you know, Australia is facing increasing competition in our region, the Indo-Pacific.

And we’re seeing this competition playing out in different ways – diplomatic, economic and military.

The military build-up in the Indo-Pacific is the largest we’ve seen since the end of the Second World War.

And the risk of escalation or miscalculation is increasing.

At the same time, the world is dealing with the follow-on effects of the COVID pandemic.

And Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine is causing immense human suffering, while driving the global food and energy security crisis, including in the Indo-Pacific.

Climate change is a national, regional and global security threat that we have to address, now and into the future.

This is the most challenging strategic environment we’ve had to confront for many decades.

And the Albanese Government is committed to doing what is necessary to ensure that we keep Australians safe, and maintain our way of life.

What this means is deploying every element of our national power as we seek to preserve the rules-based international order.

That has delivered a region that is connected, prosperous and stable.

And a region where sovereignty is respected.

I’m pleased this conference is focusing on the key findings of the Defence Strategic Review, and the implications of decisions the Government has made in response to the review.

Because it does represent a fundamental shift in Australian defence policy.

Centring on threats that might arise as a result of the major-power competition playing out in our region.

The ‘Defence of Australia’ doctrine that for decades guided our approach to defence policy is no longer fit for purpose.

Australia’s strategic circumstances require a new strategic conceptual approach.

That’s why the Albanese Government agreed to adopt ‘National Defence’ as the strategic approach for defence planning.

‘National Defence’ is focused on defending Australia against potential threats arising from major power competition.

What this means is moving towards a whole-of-government and whole-of-nation approach to our strategic environment.

It means a new approach to the ADF’s force posture, the development of a fully integrated force and enhancing our advanced military capability.

It means being more active in our efforts to support the maintenance of a regional balance of power in the Indo-Pacific.

That’s why we’re deepening our diplomatic and defence partnerships with key partners in the Indo-Pacific.

As well as strengthening our defence capabilities.

Above all, our purpose is clear: to preserve Australia’s sovereignty and security while also promoting stability in the Indo-Pacific.

When we talk about embracing a whole-of-nation approach.

We’re talking about more than Defence and the capital cities.

Part of this is an effort to encourage more people to consider pursuing a rewarding career in the Australian Defence Force.

Because the ADF does need to grow in order to deliver the effects we need it to deliver.

But we also want industry, universities and other institutions to benefit.

We want people from all professions and walks of life to feel proud of their contribution to our nation’s security.

From the highly skilled workers at aerospace companies around RAAF Base Williamtown.

To the talented researchers at the University of Newcastle.

And the enthusiastic young people studying STEM subjects at local schools.

I’m confident the Hunter Region will be playing an even greater role in this whole-of-nation effort to boost our technological prowess, our prosperity and our national resilience.

For the Government’s part, as we continue to deliver on the outcomes of the Defence Strategic Review.

We’re investing in Defence.

We’re working in partnership with state and territory governments, with defence industry and research organisations.

And we’re accelerating the most important activities and capabilities.

We’ll release the first National Defence Strategy next year.

This will involve a comprehensive outline of Defence policy, planning, workforce, capabilities and resourcing.

And it will include further reprioritisation of the Integrated Investment Program.

To ensure we achieve the best outcomes for Australia by giving the ADF the capabilities it needs to keep us safe.

The Albanese Government has identified six priority areas in the Defence Strategic Review for immediate action, which will be front of mind in your discussions today and tomorrow.

Investing in conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarines through AUKUS.

Developing the ADF’s ability to precisely strike targets at longer ranges, and manufacturing munitions here in Australia.

Improving the ADF’s ability to operate from our northern bases.

Encouraging the growth of Defence’s highly skilled workforce.

Working in close partnership with industry to enhance our capacity to rapidly translate disruptive new technologies into military capability.

And deepening our diplomatic and defence partnerships.

In March, the Albanese Government announced the optimal pathway to acquiring conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarines – the single biggest investment in our defence capability in our history.

Today, there are two facilities that are capable of building nuclear-powered submarines in the US, and one in the UK.

Osborne in South Australia will be the fourth facility across the AUKUS partner nations’ combined industrial base.

There is strong demand across the AUKUS nations for industry support to build and maintain nuclear-powered submarines, which means more opportunities for Australian industry.

This is in addition to us building and maintaining our own sovereign nuclear-powered submarines in Australia.

We’re developing a world-class industry capability here in Australia not only to support the Royal Australian Navy.

But also to ensure that we’re making a valuable contribution to the AUKUS industrial base.

Because by working together, we’ll achieve better outcomes for all three countries.

There will be opportunities for Australian companies to connect with the supply chains for UK and US submarines.

We’re working with industry, and the UK and US governments, to identify products that can be manufactured in Australia to enhance the resilience of trilateral supply chains.

We’re also working with our AUKUS partners to identify long lead-time procurement requirements.

And to develop the supplier-qualification processes that will enable Australian industry to integrate into UK and US supply chains.

For this vital program to be successful, Australia must play its part.

And it’s clear that our industrial, scientific and educational sectors are keen to step up to deliver on the world stage, including organisations based here in the Hunter.

People from this region are no strangers to the idea of taking on an ambitious project and succeeding.

This is the place where BAE Systems Australia workers are carrying out sustainment of F-35 fighter aircraft.

It’s where researchers from the University of Newcastle are doing pioneering work.

Such as studying the relationship between the brain and the micro-organisms that live in the human gut.

So they can find out how to optimise soldiers’ cognitive performance.

And it’s where TAFE NSW is providing the training that workers need to prepare them for high-tech jobs with companies like Lockheed Martin Australia.

There are countless other examples.

Taken together, it’s clear to me – and it’s clear to Defence – that this region and its flourishing defence ecosystem can play a significant role in creating, building and maintaining our critical defence capabilities.

Whether I’m talking to the owners of defence businesses or meeting with the leaders of the ADF, one topic that all conversations have in common is workforce.

Across the board, we need people with the right skills.

This need is especially acute as we focus on delivering the ambitions of AUKUS submarine program.

The most significant industrial endeavour in our history.

The Government is taking a multi-faceted approach to upskilling the workforce to meet this challenge.

For example, we’re preparing to send our first industrial workforce cohort to shipyards in the UK and the US to be embedded across their nuclear-powered submarine programs.

These workers will bring their skills back to Australia to strengthen our sovereign capability.

We’ll continue to work in partnership with state governments, the education sector, industry and our AUKUS partners to plan and build the skilled workforce we need.

As you know, AUKUS is not just about submarines.

We’re also accelerating the development and delivery of asymmetric technologies in areas such as cyber and hypersonics under Pillar Two.

Again, industry is at the heart of our plans.

Because our industry partners – including the companies represented at this conference – are the ones who produce the cutting-edge military capabilities our nation depends on.

AUKUS Advanced Capabilities will generate new opportunities for collaboration between organisations in Australia, the UK and the US.

We must work hard to streamline engagement between industry and academia, within and across the three countries.

And we must strive to achieve a seamless defence industrial base.

This will enable us to realise the security and economic benefits of AUKUS.

The innovation, co-operation and dedication that I see here in the Hunter Region give me great confidence that we are right to be ambitious.

Thank you again for inviting me to kick off this important conference.

Make the most of this opportunity to connect with your colleagues.

And I look forward to hearing more success stories from this region.

As we continue to work together to safeguard our nation’s future.

Thank you.


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