Address to the Indo-Pacific Sea Power Conference

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The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Defence

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7 November 2023

Can I start by acknowledging the Gadigal people, that traditional owners of the land on which we meet today and pay my respects to their elders past and present. Can I acknowledge Vice Admiral Mark Hammond, the Chief of Royal Australian Navy. Can I acknowledge Vice Admiral Rtd. Tim Barrett who is today representing AMDA. I also acknowledge Justin Giddings, a very proud Geelong not-for-profit which is our host of this event today. Can I acknowledge Anoulack Chanthivong and thank him for his speech, the Minister for industry and trade in the New South Wales Government. I acknowledge Susan Close, the Deputy Premier of South Australia, a proud defence industry state, a proud defence state. Can I acknowledge a good friend, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the Minister of State for the Indo-Pacific in the UK Government. Anne-Marie is in this part of the world constantly, in fact she’s in Australia so much that we are preparing the citizenship ceremony as we speak. And that’s ok in Britain because you’re allowed to be a dual citizen and service in their parliament, so we look forward to that. Can I acknowledge Vicki Treadell the UK High Commissioner and through you, all the diplomatic corps here today. Most significantly, can I acknowledge the more than 40 delegations from around the world who are here today including more than 20 chiefs of navy, as you've just seen, and the more than 800 representatives of defence industry companies who will be participating in Indo Pac over the next few days. As Tim has said, this is the largest Indo Pac in the history of Indo Pacs, which goes right back to the year 2000 and it says a lot about the work of AMDA and the success of this event that it continues to gather people here in this magnificent city in increasing numbers. So welcome to all to Sydney.

To have industry and navies together in one room with governments is profoundly important, because together you literally produce global sea power. Together, you produce the navies of the world, which keep us safe. And so for the defence companies here, I want to thank you for your innovation and for your industry. And for those who are in uniform today, can I thank you for your service. But as you are about to embark upon the next few days of meetings, I ask you to keep one most critical thing in the forefront of your minds and that is that navies are the coolest service. And before anyone stands up points out that maybe I said that to chiefs of air force at Avalon earlier this year, and yes, technically that is true, the evidentiary base for that comment earlier in the year was Top Gun. And having made that comment it was then pointed out to me that is actually a movie about navies, after ‘Ice Man’ ends up being an admiral. So I do understand the error of my ways. I did make a mistake. Simply, who cares about Top Gun when you’ve got Hunt for Red October, because that is a serious movie.

We meet today at a hugely consequential moment in global affairs. The unfolding tragedy in Gaza is a reminder of the fragility of peace. The war in Ukraine is not just a conflict between neighbours, it is on the part of Russia an attempt to undermine the global rules-based order which has been in place since the end of the Second World War and return to a much more brutal paradigm. Because this is a large power seeking to subjugate a smaller neighbour, not by reference to any international law, but by reference to power and might. It an affront to the global rules-based system and it cannot be allowed to stand.

But we see an increased pressure and stress placed upon the global rules-based order right around the world and here in our regional as well. Rules such as freedom of navigation. Australia is an island trading nation and we are deeply invested in freedom of navigation. It goes to the core of our national interests. And ours is a growing economic connection with the world. In 1990, 32% of our national income was derived from trade. By 2020, that number had risen to 45% of our national income. And there is a physical manifestation to that economic connection. The vast bulk of that trade is by sea.

And so this year as we've been considering the Defence Strategic Review, we have been contemplating the idea of where our national interest lies, but much more significantly where national security lies. Because it doesn't really lie on the coastline of Australia, on the border of our nation. The truth is that any adversary who sought to move against this country could do an enormous amount of harm before ever having to set foot upon our shores. The truth is that our sea lines of communication are fundamental to our way of life and to our prosperity. And so having a Navy, which is able to project and which is able to protect those sea lines of communication is as important to us today as it has been at any point in our country's history.

But Australia's story is actually the world's story. Today 50% of global GDP is derived from trade and 80% of that trade is seaborne. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, freedom of navigation is at the very heart of the lifeblood of the global economy. Of global prosperity. Navies have the capacity to wage war. Navies, in times of peace, project a nation's power. But navies also assert and protect freedom of navigation. The UN Convention on the Law of Sea, the global rules-based order. Navies are at the heart of maintaining our way of life in the world and keeping us safe.

This year is a hugely significant year in the history of our Navy. In March of this year, we announced the means by which Australia would acquire a nuclear-powered submarine capability. It really is the biggest leap in our military capability probably since the very establishment of the Royal Australian Navy back in 1913. And being just the seventh country to have this capability, we are though very clear about our strategic purpose. The point of this capability is to make Australia's contribution to the collective security of the region in which we live. Because the defence of our nation doesn't really mean that much unless we live in a safe and secure Indo-Pacific region and most specifically, it is there to assert the global rules-based order within that region.

During the course of this year, we have undertaken a review of our surface fleet. A review which was handed to government at the end of September, that we are currently considering and that we will respond to in the first part of next year. It offers a blueprint for our surface fleet for decades to come. And together what we are doing in respect of our submarines, what we are doing in relation to our surface fleet will define the Royal Australian Navy for the first half of this century. It is profound work.

So this conference today could not come more significant moment for Australia's national interest. I really want to thank all of you for bringing your expertise, your insight and your intelligence to that conference. We are very much the beneficiaries of that and we are deeply grateful for it. I also hope that for those of you who have come from abroad and for those representing defence industry, you find the next couple of days stimulating, invigorating and productive. It's definitely going be a really significant Indo Pac conference this year. And so with that, it is my enormous honour to officially declare the Indo Pacific 2023 International Maritime Expo open.


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