Address to the Hunter Defence Conference Gala Dinner

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The Hon Pat Conroy MP

Minister for Defence Industry

Minister for International Development and the Pacific

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(02) 6277 7840

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25 August 2023

I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the Hunter Valley, the Wonnarua Nation, and I pay my respects to their elders, past, present and emerging.

As the Minister for Defence Industry, 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.

Our host, Tim Owen, Chair of Hunter Defence,

My Parliamentary Colleagues:

Meryl Swanson, the Member for Paterson; and

Dan Repacholi, the Member for Hunter,

Industry Leaders, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It’s great to be back at the Hunter Defence Conference.

I always think it’s a good sign when you get invited back to speak again to the same audience!

I want to start by thanking the members of the Hunter Defence industry for the approach you’ve taken to your engagement with me, and with my office, over the first 12 months of my tenure as Minister for Defence Industry. I won’t say they’ve all been easy conversations. Some have been pretty tough.

But all have been characterised by a genuine commitment to developing the best possible defence for our country.

I’d also like to acknowledge the work done by Hunter Defence itself, as a strong voice for promoting Hunter participation in the defence industry, by identifying opportunities for the region and by facilitating education, training and advice.

And I’d like to thank Hunter Defence for organising this Conference, and for inviting me to address you this evening.

It gives me an opportunity to reflect on the first twelve months of the Albanese Government in defence policy ...

To drill down into the Government’s direction for defence industry.

And to speak frankly with you about the challenges facing Defence and the industry alike, and how we can tackle them, together.

The most important and consequential decision of the Albanese Government was to keep our promise to conduct a Defence strategic review, to get it done quickly, and commit to its implementation as swiftly as possible.

And that’s exactly what we’ve done.

That speed was made necessary as we face the greatest strategic uncertainty since the end of the Second World War

And the 10-year warning horizon for a major regional conflict - the bedrock of our defence posture - has evaporated.

So the Government intentionally constructed a process to drive recommendations in six months, not in the two years that you normally see with a white paper process.

And that is why we are focused on rapid implementation of its recommendations.

Today you’ve heard from my colleague, Matt Thistlethwaite, the Assistant Minister for Defence on the topic of the Defence Strategic review, or DSR as we call it, and Michael Shoebridge has presented a session on DSR Strategy.

And I’m sure the presenters from Navy, Army and Air Force all mentioned the DSR in their remarks.

So I don’t propose to spend a lot of time this evening going over the detail of the multitude of recommendations.

What I do want to do is break down for you the four critical elements of the DSR as I see them.

Firstly, it commits the Government to a shift to a National Defence strategy that will deliver a focused approach to Defence planning necessary for our strategic circumstances, interwoven within a broader national strategy of whole-of-government statecraft and diplomacy in our region.

Secondly, it shifts us to an integrated and focused force: that means a modernised army with a focus on littoral manoeuvre and long-range strike, a more lethal Navy and a Royal Australian Air Force with even more strike options.

Thirdly, the recommendation of greater defence funding; which we will deliver;

And fourthly, systemic procurement reform..

Those four themes lead us to six immediate priorities, which are:

Pursuing AUKUS Pillar 1, the acquisition of conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarines;

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

Hardening of the northern bases;

A commitment to defence innovation;

An investment in both the ADF workforce and the public service;

And a recommitment to regional partnerships.

I want to begin by focussing on innovation, because innovation is such an incredible strength of the industry in the Hunter region.

Researchers and innovators across the Hunter already have impressive runs on the board in producing the innovation we need across Defence.

The University of Newcastle is a standout in terms of what it is delivering as a world-class research institution…

And just as importantly, what it is delivering in partnership with other universities and with defence industry in the region.

To give you just a few examples:

In partnership with Navy and the Defence Science and Technology Group, the university helped to create a Robo-Laser, a novel system for remediation of marine corrosion in confined spaces.

And the University of Newcastle worked with Macquarie University and Data61 to develop autonomous systems for the detection and management of malware.

From collaborating with Defence scientists on ground-breaking work on maritime motor performance, to structural integrity for ships and marine platforms …

To the innovations emerging from the Integrated Innovation Network Hub in Williamtown, which is closely engaged with RAAF Base Williamtown and with Defence industry …

The University of Newcastle isn’t just producing innovation, it’s producing STEM graduates who are both Defence industry-ready and innovation-ready to create the next generation of capability.

What has been fantastic to see is the way that the University of Newcastle has focused very deliberately on leveraging its closeness to the Hunter region’s defence sector …

It is the kind of approach that places both industry and the university in a very good position to make a significant contribution to innovation through the Advanced Strategic Capabilities Accelerator, or ASCA. 

ASCA was established less than three months after the release of the Defence Strategic Review.

With an investment of $3.4 billion dollars over the next decade – an additional $591 million dollars above what was already planned – it will take a mission-based approach to problem solving …

And a more agile and flexible approach to procurement to pull innovation into asymmetric capabilities.

This is the most significant reshaping of defence innovation in decades.

And industry will get quicker decisions from Defence, with an engaged customer because the end-users in Navy, Army and Air Force are involved right from the very beginning, developing the missions and designing the parameters.

ASCA has already invited submissions from industry, seeking support for an Australian ‘sovereign uncrewed aerial system challenge’ to be delivered under its innovation incubation program.

When we talk about transformation in defence, there is none greater than the acquisition of conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarines.

This will be a game-changing capability for our national defence and a game-changing acquisition for Australia’s defence industry

On 1 July, the Australian Submarine Agency was launched

It has hit the ground running to deliver what will be the biggest single investment in defence capability in our nation’s history.

The Government is investing $6 billion over the forward estimates in Australia’s industry and workforce, and $30 billion over the life of the program.

And this is not just about building Australian submarines. 

We will also be providing maintenance to visiting and rotational US and UK submarines, and we will support supply chain resilience challenges identified by our AUKUS partners.

The Government is committed to working with industry to develop opportunities for local content to meet the requirement of participating in the AUKUS nuclear-powered submarine program.

The ASA has already begun working in partnership with Australian industry, to ensure the first tranche of industrial workforce representatives will commence overseas placements in UK and US shipyards.

And they’ve held and participated in industry engagement activities that have attracted more than 2,200 registered participants across the country.

One of the critically important priorities identified by the Defence Strategic Review is the Guided Weapons and Explosive Ordnance Enterprise.

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

With $4.1 billion over the forward estimates, there is real money and certainty for business to invest.

We will be making missiles in two years’ time.

That’s an incredibly ambitious goal, but we are confident we can get there.

We’re currently working with industry, including Defence’s strategic partners, Lockheed Martin Australia and Raytheon Australia, to develop detailed and costed plans for domestic manufacture of guided weapons and explosive ordnance.

Government will consider these plans early next year. Some have asked whether this is another review. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Next year, the Government will deliver a fully costed and detailed plan on how we will build critical guided weapons in Australia.

We have already committed to manufacturing Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System missiles – or GMLRS.

These missiles are being used to great effect by Ukraine in resisting Russia’s illegal invasion and are in high demand globally.

They are also being introduced to the Australian Army, along with the associated HIMARS launchers.

Our intent is to manufacture a limited number of GMLRS missiles by 2025, moving to a higher rate of production from 2026.

And the US has committed to transfer technical data for the M795 155mm artillery shell in support of future production in Australia.

Australian industry already produces a range of munitions including small-calibre ammunition, aircraft bombs, military-grade explosives and some components for guided weapons.

Defence is working with industry partners to develop plans for a significant expansion of these industrial capabilities.

Last month, at the AUSMIN talks, we agreed with the US to give Australia’s Guided Weapons and Explosive Ordnance Enterprise a significant step-up.

Specifically, we will collaborate on a flexible guided weapons production capability in Australia.

This will boost our stocks, relieve shared supply chain pressures, supplement US holdings, and expand the combined industrial power of the Alliance.

When it comes to defence industry, our Defence Industry Development Strategy will be a critical step in delivering the reforms identified in the Defence Strategic Review.

It will establish the framework and principles for the direction of defence industry policy, and will be delivered by the end of the year.

In particular, it will articulate the strategic rationale for a defence industrial base, more detailed and targeted Sovereign Industrial Capabilities, and the critical procurement reforms needed to deliver the capabilities we need.

We need clarity on the industrial base we need and how we grow and support it

We need to think about it in the context of our most cutting-edge capabilities …

We need to think about it in terms of how we can collaborate with our partners to deliver capabilities that make us stronger and more secure – capabilities like the Joint Strike Fighter, something the Hunter region plays a critical role in.

We need to continue to innovate and develop our asymmetric technologies at speed.

We need to continue to support Defence exports.

Not only because of the economic benefit – although well-paying jobs for Australian workers will always be a central goal of this Government – but because defence exports support our partners and make us a more valued partner to them.

All of those things will be covered in the Defence Industry Development Strategy.

The Strategy will go to the heart of how we achieve all this in our national interest, with a detailed implementation plan that includes mechanisms to improve security within Australian defence businesses, so we protect what we know, what we invent, what we make and ultimately, what we sell.

At the beginning of my speech, I talked about the threats we face in our strategic environment.

It is the assessment of the Government that it is in Australia’s interests for Putin’s illegal and unjustified invasion of Ukraine to fail.

Aside from terrible damage and loss of life in Ukraine, the war is also compounding human suffering and propelling the global crisis in food and energy security, including in the Indo-Pacific.

Australia’s objective, along with our partners, is to empower Ukraine to end this war on its own terms … and to ensure that the only example Russia sets speaks to the international community’s resolve to impose costs on countries which seek to achieve their goals through the use of military force.

In the margins of the NATO Leaders’ Summit in Vilnius, Prime Minister Albanese underscored Australia’s steadfast commitment to Ukraine by announcing an additional 30 Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicles, bringing the total number of Bushmasters committed to 120.

This builds on the measures announced on 26 June 2023 of 70 assorted highly capable military vehicles; a supply of critical 105mm ammunition; a $10 million contribution to the Ukraine Humanitarian Fund; and Australia’s commitment on 10 July 2023 to deploy an E-7A Wedgetail Aircraft to Europe for six months.

This takes Australia’s total military assistance to Ukraine to approximately $710 million dollars, and Australia’s overall assistance to approximately $890 million dollars.

The rules-based order that has delivered Australia decades of peace and prosperity is under strain, and the war in Ukraine is grim demonstration of what that means.

In this more challenging world, the Defence Strategic Review is a call for Australia to bring to bear greater capability in pursuit of our national interest.

That is what the Government is doing, that is what the Government will continue to do, and I look forward to continuing to work with the Defence industry in the Hunter to build a safer and more secure Australia.

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