Chief of Army Symposium, Perth

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The Hon Matt Keogh MP

Minister for Defence Personnel

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

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Stephanie Mathews on 0407 034 485

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29 August 2023

I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today, on the banks of the Derbal Yerrigan, the Whadjuk people of the great Noongar nation of South Western Australia, and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.

I am proud to be a Minister in a Government that is giving all Australian’s the opportunity to vote ‘Yes’ in a referendum to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as the First Peoples of Australia through the establishment in our Constitution of a Voice.

Thank you to Barry Winmar for your Welcome to Country.

As the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel, 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.

I extend that respect to all who join us today who serve and have served in our nation’s uniform.

Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Stuart;

Distinguished guests;

Ladies and gentlemen,

Before we get underway, I do want to acknowledge how difficult the last month has been for the Army family, and indeed just on Sunday for our US Marine family too.

When people sign up for the Defence force, they know they are putting their health and wellbeing on the line.

They know they might make the ultimate sacrifice.

That’s of course something we hope no serving member, or their family will have to encounter.

Defence is a huge organisation, and yet it is such a tight knit community.

I know that you all have been acutely impacted by the events of the 28th of July. 

I want to acknowledge your pain, and while no words will ease this loss, I want you to know how proud our nation is of you all, and how grateful we are for your service, and the particularly that of Captain Lyon, Lieutenant Nugent, Warrant Officer Laycock and Corporal Naggs.

It’s terrific to welcome the Chief of Army Symposium 2023 to my home state of Western Australia.

Thank you to all the ADF personnel who made such an incredible contribution to helping Western Australians during our state’s flood emergency in January this year.

From the soldiers from Army’s 5th Aviation Regiment who airlifted fuel to remote parts of the Kimberley ….

To those who delivered more than 500 tonnes of emergency relief supplies and relocated people from flood-stricken communities.

13th Brigade, the Pilbara regiment…

They all did an amazing job, they saved lives, and I know people in those communities were incredibly grateful.

The deep and abiding links between Army and Western Australia stretch back to the Anzac convoys, and when Western Australia on its own stood up the 10th Light Horse.

Today, Western Australia is home to more than three thousand Army personnel and active reserves, from Taylor Barracks in the Pilbara to Irwin and Campbell Barracks, both just down the road, and they include some of the most innovative and elite personnel in the modern Australian Army.

The story of our Army, is a story of constant adaptation, faithful to its mission to prepare land power to enable the integrated force in peace and war.

Today our country faces significant challenges.

The independently-led Defence Strategic Review commissioned by the Government confirmed that we face the most complex strategic circumstances we’ve seen since the Second World War.

We face intensified great power competition in our region at a time when the character of conflict and threats have also changed.

Western Australians have a deep appreciation of the complexities of our strategic environment.

For a long time we’ve felt the tyranny of distance.

Now we find ourselves inside the most dynamic region in the world, and our great export industries benefit from the power of proximity.

But we also know that technology has shrunk the distance from potential threats.

We have a vast coastline and offshore energy assets to protect, and one of the most thinly dispersed populations in Australia across our north.  

The Government’s response to the Defence Strategic Review is ultimately about maximising and protecting the benefits of a connected Australia and minimising the threats to our national security.

To maximise deterrence, denial and response options for the Government, the ADF must harness effects across maritime, land, air, cyber and space to deliver enhanced and joined-up combat power. 

As part of that, our Army must be optimised for littoral manoeuvre operations by sea, land and air from Australia, with enhanced long-range fires.

Now and into the future, however, it is people that will remain the Army’s most important capability.

People are essential to each and every one of the incredible innovations that are being showcased during this Symposium.

The Defence Strategic Review identified that investing in the growth and retention of a highly skilled Defence workforce is a priority.

The Government is seizing this once-in-a-generation chance to make Defence’s workforce a stronger, more effective and integrated team, including a single centralised and integrated ADF personnel management system, now led by the new Chief of Personnel, Lieutenant General Natasha Fox.

We have a big mountain to climb on recruitment, there’s no doubt about that.

And we’ve taken on that challenge, with a new approach, a new brand, and a new recruiting model delivered in partnership with ADECCO.

Four new and improved ADF Careers Centres are now open in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.

And they are complemented by a purpose-built mobile recruiting centre –– which has already started touring rural and regional Australia.

These centres are an open door to people looking to start a new career, to change careers, or return to a career in the ADF.

We’re focused on fixing recruiting timeframes so they align with community expectations, and that means days, not months.

We need more people to join the ADF, but importantly we also need our people to stay and enjoy their ADF careers…

So we’re focused on enabling our people to fulfil their career aspirations in a professional and supportive working environment, so that Defence is a place they choose to stay…

because the work is fulfilling, they can continue to learn, the culture is right, their commitment to Australia is rewarded, and their families are supported.

We’ve introduced initiatives like the establishment of a Continuation Bonus for eligible personnel.

And to provide cost of living relief for more ADF members and veterans, the Government has expanded the Defence Home Ownership Assistance Scheme to improve access to home ownership for eligible personnel earlier in their careers, and expanded family access to Defence Health.

It is vital to support our people during and after their service, which is why we’re developing a joint Defence and Veteran Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy and we’ve recently released the nation’s very first Veteran Transition Strategy.

We have to make sure that when people do leave the ADF, for whatever reason, they are supported to make a success of their post-defence lives.

Practical initiatives like the Veterans Temporary Employment Register will also provide a new pathway for transitioning ADF members and veterans into the Defence Department as public servants, allowing us to retain more of the valuable knowledge and experience that you gain in service, and allowing them to continue to contribute to our sovereign capability.

I do want to spend a little time talking about the Reserve, because a third of the ADF is made of Reservists and they are a vital component of our workforce. 

We not only need maintain the Reserve, we need it to grow and we need to evolve it into a new range of highly skilled fields.

The largely part-time workforce of 13th Brigade right here in WA demonstrates the amazing potential.

13th Brigade is in the business of innovation, applying new and emerging technology to innovate and to adapt legacy systems.

There’s a cavalryman whose day job uses swarming drones to make light shows and a sergeant with a PhD in Physics.

They are just two among more than a thousand like-minded and skilled individuals in 13th Brigade.

To give you just one example of the vital importance of its work, during Exercise Highball, 13th Brigade worked closely with the United States Army high mobility artillery rocket system platoon, to evolve and enhance HIMARS, an unmatched mobile land-based firepower, in novel ways, and in partnership with other systems and sensors, giving their “shoot and scoot” capability a run, a capability that will enhance survivability for both crew and platform.

13th Brigade is on the frontline of military innovation and transformation, as are units like them across Australia

Defence needs to continue to build a world-leading STEM-capable workforce of Australian Defence Force and Australian Public Service personnel.

That’s why we are investing in training programs and thinking hard about the best way to introduce people to the great career options that Defence can offer.

Reservists also play an important role in disaster relief – like helping the community during the flood emergency in the Kimberley - and while we are incredibly grateful, we do need to think differently about how we respond to natural disasters.

The Minister for Emergency Management, Senator Murray Watt, has launched a consultation process to investigate the capabilities that the Commonwealth Government needs to have to support state and territory-led crisis response and recovery efforts as an alternative to the ADF.

This is not about removing Defence from disaster response.

Where extreme emergencies occur, and Defence has a unique capability to bring to bear, Australians will expect the ADF to be there.

But in line with the Defence Strategic Review, the Government acknowledges that the ADF’s role in providing assistance to the civil community following natural disasters comes at a cost to force preparedness, readiness and combat effectiveness..

The Government has also accepted the DSR recommendation for a review of the Reserves, to ensure it is fit for the future, to evolve to provide the capability we will need from it over time in our new strategic circumstances.

The Review and the Government’s response to it provides the first re-casting of our Defence Force in more than 35 years. It will ensure we have the capabilities needed to defend Australia and our national interests in light of our current strategic circumstances.

And we’re making the hard decisions to deliver these priorities. Over the Forward Estimates, the Albanese Government is investing over $19 billion to deliver on the DSR’s six priority areas. This will be delivered from existing provisions and a $7.8 billion reprioritisation of Defence’s Integrated Investment Program.

The Defence Strategic Review has also made it abundantly clear we don’t have time to waste, and as we pivot to new priorities this will of course impact on our most important capability, our people and their families.

Change can be hard, uncertainty is hard also but to fail to response to the strategic circumstances we now confront would, in the end, be the most difficult.

The future of Army is in good hands, and I wish you well for a most successful and productive Chief of Army Symposium.

Thank you.


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