Infrastructure Partnerships Australia Industry Briefing: Defence Estate Audit

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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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17 November 2023

I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation and I 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.

Thank you for the invitation to address today’s Industry Briefing.

Industry is critical to the fabric of Australia’s Defence estate.

You build it, you maintain it.

So I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all those in industry who partner with us for the great work you do to ensure that our Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel have the infrastructure they need to protect and defend the nation.

Those of you who have been involved in the delivery of major infrastructure projects on our bases will have an inkling of the scope and span of Defence’s real estate holdings and infrastructure.

And the Defence estate is at the front of the Government’s mind, because Australia is facing a more complex and more contested strategic environment.

We face challenges including a large-scale military build-up in our Indo-Pacific region, increasing great power competition, rising tensions and a reduced warning time for conflict.

And climate change is amplifying all these challenges.

This was the context for the independently-led Defence Strategic Review delivered to the Government earlier this year.

The Defence Strategic Review involved a comprehensive and systematic look at all aspects of the Defence enterprise.

Its recommendations were focused on delivering an ADF that is fully fit-for-purpose to best defend Australia and its interests in the strategic environment we now face.

So while we are here today to talk about the Defence Estate Audit - which itself was a recommendation of the Defence Strategic Review - it’s crucial that we don’t look at the estate in isolation.

The purpose of the Audit is to help us to shape the Defence estate so we that we invest in ways that will make the greatest contribution to Defence capabilities.

The Audit’s two independent leads – Jim Miller and Jan Mason – will speak to you later today.

To give you an idea of the scale and scope of the task we set them:

Defence is the largest landholder in the country, with 2.8 million hectares under management.

The Budget for major infrastructure projects for this financial year alone is $2.4 billion dollars.

Defence owns or leases more than 1300 buildings, 70 major bases, 61 wharves and other maritime structures, 28 sealed airfields and more than 72 training areas and ranges.

When I ask people to think about the Defence estate, they usually conjure up images of firing ranges, or runways for fighter jets, or wharves for the naval fleet.

We certainly have all of those.

But the Defence Estate also includes highly classified data centres.

And vehicle testing tracks - and storage for fuel, munitions and guided weapons.

Defence is also the Government’s largest energy user.

The Defence Strategic Review recognised climate change as a national security issue and called on Defence to accelerate its transition to clean energy.

So we also need to advance that work at pace, including through the $64 million dollar Defence Renewable Energy and Energy Security Program.

The Audit’s purpose is to ensure the Defence estate meets operational and capability requirements, now and in the future.

In particular, we’ve asked the independent leads to examine whether the estate reflects contemporary needs in light of the Government’s decision to prioritise investment in Australia’s northern network of bases, ports and barracks .

The Defence Strategic Review rightly identified that our northern bases are a huge asset and critical to Australia’s ability to project force and hold an adversary at risk further from our shores .

The Government accepted the Review’s recommendation that the Australian Army must be optimised for littoral operations in our northern lands and waters, and provide a long-range strike capability.

We’ve also accepted the recommendation that the Air Force must be equipped to provide air support to joint operations in our north through surveillance, air defence, strike and air transport.

That means that ADF personnel numbers in the north will grow over the coming decades.

There will be some movement of personnel from Adelaide to Brisbane, Townsville and Darwin, to ensure that we deliver the focused combat brigades in the north that are needed .

Adelaide in turn will become the centre of Army's technological capability, with long-range fires, integrated air and missile defence.

At the same time, there is a massive body of work underway to implement our AUKUS partnership to operate and construct a nuclear-powered submarine capability for Australia.

Just last week, the Deputy Prime Minister joined with the Premier of South Australia to announce a land exchange for the new submarine construction yard to be built at Osborne, South Australia .

It’s a huge milestone in transforming Osborne into one of the most advanced technical hubs in the world.

And work is underway to prepare HMAS Stirling in Western Australia to serve an increased number of visiting submarines from our AUKUS partners and to become a base for Australia’s fleet of conventionally-armed nuclear-powered submarines.

We have to move at pace to get the estate and infrastructure ready to serve these aims and the many others outlined in the Government’s response to the Defence Strategic Review.

There is huge complexity in delivering the improvements and upgrades that are needed.

Planning has to cover a huge range of issues, from energy generation and transmission to fuel capacity and infrastructure, security and defensive capabilities, communications and ICT, storage and facilities.

Our bases have to support our personnel to do their jobs, but they also have to support crucial military exercises like Talisman Sabre, which this year was held over five states and territories, and involved more than 34,000 military personnel from 13 nations .

The Defence Estate Audit is enterprise-wide, covering every corner of the country, to look at how the Defence estate meets operational and capability requirements now and into the future.

It’s a big job, and I want to take this opportunity to thank Jan and Jim for the work they have put in already, including visiting our bases and talking to our people on the ground.

The Defence Estate Audit is a critical piece of work that will help the Government to ensure the estate meets Australia’s future security needs and allows effective, long-term management and sustainment .

Thank you.


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