Address to the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia

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The Hon Pat Conroy MP

Minister for Defence Industry

Minister for International Development and the Pacific

Media contact

media@defence.gov.au

(02) 6277 7840

General enquiries

minister.conroy@dfat.gov.au

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6 December 2023

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, and 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.

Chief Executive Officer April Palmerlee,

Chamber Members,

Distinguished Guests,

Friends All.

INTRODUCTION

It is terrific to be back at AMCHAM, and I thank you very much for the invitation to join you for this lunch.

AMCHAM is part of the ballast of the Australia-US Alliance, bringing people together to promote our shared values and pursue our shared interests.

I’m thankful for the commitment of AMCHAM members who do so much to advance engagement between our two nations. 

It’s an honour to be here to talk about how the Albanese Government is advancing our defence and security partnership to help build security, peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific.

The Prime Minister’s state visit to the United States last month capped an extraordinary period of growth in our "Innovation Alliance," advancing new areas of cooperation on science and critical and emerging technologies.

One aspect you might have missed was his visit to the headquarters of FEMA – the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

He became the first head of a foreign government to do so.

The Prime Minister’s purpose was to see how we can work even more closely together and share expertise in emergency response.

All nations seek to support their citizens when disaster strikes.

Great nations seek to support each other.

Indeed, American firefighters have flown here to help fight our bushfires, with some tragically losing their lives – and Australians have helped to fight wildfires in the US.

But allies go above and beyond, taking each other into the heart of our national interests, with trust and a genuine commitment to work together to keep our people safe and secure.

Prime Minister Albanese’s FEMA visit exemplified the deepening cooperation and collaboration between Australia and the US that is occurring across the board.

And that deepening relationship is exemplified in the trust, cooperation and collaboration between our Defence and national security agencies that is the bedrock of our alliance.

AUSTRALIA-US ALLIANCE

From the largest-ever iteration of Exercise Talisman Sabre to the commissioning of the USS Canberra in Australian waters …

From the extraordinary span of outcomes from AUSMIN in July to the Prime Minister’s state visit last month …

Our defence and security relationship is going from strength to strength.

At a time when the world confronts profound challenges, our shared commitment to the right of every sovereign nation to peace and security …

… and our shared resolve for every sovereign nation to respect the rules based order, is stronger than ever before.

As the Minister for Defence Industry, my responsibility is to animate the defence materiel and capability agreements between our nations.

To ensure that whether the agreement is for a straightforward acquisition, a collaboration on new technology, or capability acquired or developed as part of our AUKUS trilateral partnership, it is brought to fruition as soon as possible.

It is a job made immensely easier by the close relationship between Prime Minister Albanese and President Biden: two leaders who see the world in much the same way.

Who are committed to the fundamental importance of working together across the spectrum of defence and national security to reinforce the fabric of peace in the Indo-Pacific.

ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE ALBANESE GOVERNMENT IN DEFENCE

There are years when it seems like not a great deal happens in defence policy … and then there are months when years happen.

And I think the Albanese Government has a justifiable claim to have achieved the latter.

With the release of the Defence Strategic Review (DSR) we have begun the far-reaching recalibration of Australia’s defence that will ensure the ADF is fit-for-purpose to contribute effectively to Australia’s national security.

It is obvious, but always worth restating, that the DSR – and the Government’s response to it – recognises that Australia must continue to work closely with our ally and principal strategic partner the United States, through the Alliance.

That close cooperation with the United States is central to achieving balance and stability in the Indo-Pacific.

The US Alliance has never been more important to Australia’s security and to the security and prosperity of the region.

The nature of the strategic and national security challenges we face means that the Government has embarked on implementing the recommendations of the DSR with a controlled sense of urgency.

My focus has been on tooling up defence industry and the defence industrial base to deliver on the DSR’s priorities – first and foremost, the delivery of a conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarine capability to Australia as part of our AUKUS partnership.

On the first of July, the Government established the Australian Submarine Agency under the leadership of Vice Admiral Mead as the single point of accountability for Australia’s conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarines.

The Australian Submarine Agency’s responsibilities include acquisition, delivery, construction, technical governance, sustainment, and disposal of Australia’s nuclear-powered submarines.

Australia is moving at pace along the pathway, meeting the milestones so that we are ready, willing and able to acquire – and eventually, to construct – and make best use of this world-class capability.

In the United States last month, at the Honolulu Leadership Dialogue, I discussed in detail the sustainment requirements for UK and US submarines under Submarine Rotational Force-West from 2027, and for Australia to acquire Virginia-class submarines in the early 2030s.

And I spent time at the US Pacific Fleet training centre to gain a better understanding of the infrastructure we will need to train an Australian workforce to operate nuclear-powered submarines.

I’m incredibly proud of the Australian officers and sailors who have already graduated from the US Navy’s Nuclear Power School.

More officers, and sailors, are following in their footsteps.

They will form the nucleus of the Royal Australian Navy’s nuclear-qualified submariners.

I’m acutely aware there can be no submarines in the water without industry to sustain them.

So we’ve moved swiftly to get the first Australian industry cohort into short-term targeted placements with UK industrial partners – Babcock, BAE Systems, and Rolls Royce.

We have placements in both UK and US facilities, putting our people where they can observe, learn, and inform our future actions.

In addition, through this process we are actively identifying material ways that we can contribute to partner programs.

The Australian Submarine Agency is in the marketplace now seeking Expressions of Interest from potential Australian suppliers who may be able to offer their products and services in support of the nuclear powered submarine programs of Australia, the United States and United Kingdom.

Because we are determined to pull our weight, to be equal partners in uplifting the submarine capability of all three AUKUS partners.

HENDERSON CONSOLIDATION AND NAVAL SHIPBUILDING

Building the SSN-AUKUS nuclear powered submarines in Australia will be a transformational uplift for Australian naval shipbuilding and the wider Australian defence industry.

It is an uplift we are embarking upon in close partnership with our partners in the US and the UK.

In that context, the announcement the Deputy Prime Minister and I made two weeks ago on how we are securing Australia’s shipbuilding capability at Henderson in Western Australia was very significant.

And I thank the staff and members of AMCHAM for your understanding of my need to reschedule today’s event because of that announcement.

As one of two major shipbuilding hubs in Australia, Henderson is an asset of national importance and pivotal to the build and sustainment of vessels for the ADF.

But the Defence Strategic Review observed that there was not enough work to sustain the number of shipbuilders at Henderson, and the Government agreed to a recommendation to examine industry consolidation options.

Now we have acted on that recommendation through a new strategic partnership with Austal Ltd at Henderson.

This will secure Henderson’s future as a vital naval shipbuilding complex with the capacity and capability to meet the evolving needs of our Defence Force.

It will deliver a secure pipeline of work at Henderson, providing industry with greater certainty and helping to secure long-term skilled jobs, infrastructure investment and productivity in the local economy.

Under the strategic shipbuilder pilot, Army’s Landing Craft Medium and Heavy (Littoral Manoeuvre Vessels) will be built at Henderson by Austal, subject to successful commercial negotiations and ongoing performance.

This will accelerate and expand the delivery of vessels that will provide Army with the ability to conduct littoral manoeuvre operations, consistent with the recommendations of the Defence Strategic Review.

A sovereign and enduring naval shipbuilding and sustainment industry at Henderson is central to the Government’s commitment to ensuring continuous naval shipbuilding in Australia and delivering the capabilities needed to keep Australians safe.

It will also support the industry uplift and the workforce development we need for the construction and sustainment of nuclear-powered, conventionally-armed submarines under the AUKUS partnership.

GUIDED WEAPONS AND EXPLOSIVE ORDNANCE ENTERPRISE

Let me turn to another area where the Australian Government is implementing an ambitious defence capability uplift in partnership with Australian and US defence industry.

This year’s AUSMIN in July was critically important to the development of Australia’s Guided Weapons and Explosive Ordnance (GWEO) Enterprise.

At AUSMIN, Secretary Austin made a commitment to “race ahead on accelerating Australia’s priority access to munitions through a streamlined acquisition process.”

Australia and the US are working together on a flexible guided weapons production capability in Australia, with an initial focus on the potential for co-production of Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (GMLRS) missiles by 2025.

Producing GMLRS missiles in Australia will be a stepping stone towards production of more advanced, longer range weapons in the future. 

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

Australia is forging ahead on building the industrial foundations and other enablers to underpin an expanded munitions industry. 

I’ve announced our investment of $220 million in munitions production at factories in Mulwala in New South Wales and Benalla in Victoria.

It’s an investment that is future-focused – ready to support what we need to do now but also tooled toward future production demands – with new technology that will produce a broader range of munitions, faster and more safely.

We are also investing in critical enablers like research and development and increasing the local maintenance and expanded storage network to accommodate a larger guided weapons and explosive ordnance inventory. 

ADVANCED STRATEGIC CAPABILITIES ACCELERATOR (ASCA)

When the DSR was released, the Government immediately took action to reprioritise Defence’s capabilities in line with the Review’s recommendations.

One of the six priorities was the need to lift our capacity to rapidly translate disruptive new technologies into ADF capability, in close partnership with Australian industry.

I’m very proud to say that within three months of the release of the DSR we established the Advanced Strategic Capabilities Accelerator – ASCA.

This was an election commitment of the Albanese Government – it was inspired in part by the game-changing achievements of the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, DARPA.

ASCA is a uniquely Australian organisation, designed around faster acquisition and better links between Defence and industry, to deliver the capabilities the soldiers, sailors and aviators of the Australian Defence Force need.

Like DARPA, ASCA does things differently.

It takes a mission based approach to problem solving.

Its focus is to pull through innovation into asymmetric capability, with a new, fast and flexible approach to procurement.

Australian defence industry, including start-ups, small businesses and researchers, have skills and capabilities that are unique.

They have tremendous potential to create and develop asymmetric advantage for Australia – but until now, we haven’t found the right way to tap them.

That’s the job ASCA has been created to do.

It represents the most significant reshaping of Defence innovation in decades.

In its first month of operation, ASCA released a request for information from Australian industry and research institutes in relation to development of sovereign uncrewed aerial systems and trusted autonomy capabilities.

They received 250 responses, a fantastic result.

It’s early days, but we see this as a strong signal from the innovators of Australia that they are enthusiastic about this new approach.

ASCA’s work will also deliver advanced technologies supporting Australia’s contribution to AUKUS Pillar 2 advanced capabilities – working alongside the respective Defence Innovation Units of the United States and United Kingdom to innovate and deliver advanced capabilities that will give our forces decisive advantage.

ITAR/EXPORT CONTROL

Right now we have a landmark opportunity to create a seamless defence industrial base across the three AUKUS countries.

It will make all of us stronger and more resilient.

That’s why I’m encouraged by the steps underway in the US system to achieve meaningful export control reform.

For our part, Australia is taking steps to deliver on our commitment to examine our export control regime to streamline the flow of defence information and technology between our countries.

Last week we introduced legislation that will strengthen our export control framework whilst facilitating much greater defence trade, innovation and collaboration with our AUKUS partners.

These reforms in Australia and the US have the potential to transform our ability to effectively deter, innovate and operate together.

DEFENCE INDUSTRY DEVELOPMENT STRATEGY 

As I’ve said before, the recommendations of the Defence Strategic Review are the “what” of Australia’s defence planning, and the Defence Industry Development Strategy will be a big part of the “how.”  

The Strategy will establish the framework and principles for the direction of defence industry policy, with a clear plan for implementation.

It will address all the most critical factors affecting our defence industrial base, from workforce, to sovereign industrial capability priorities, to procurement.

And it will look at how we support the sustainable growth of defence exports, which are essential help to build supply chain resilience for ourselves and our partners.

The Defence Industry Development Strategy is going to give Defence, and industry, the clarity needed to get on with building the Australian industrial base and working with the industrial bases of our partners in ways that reinforce our collective resilience.

DEFENCE STRATEGIC REVIEW: NEXT STEPS

The best analogy I can come up with for DSR implementation is that it involves multiple marathons conducted in multiple sprints.

The speed of change in our strategic environment means these reforms need to happen with a sense of urgency and rigour.

That’s why Defence has established a DSR Implementation Taskforce with a sole focus on making sure these changes are implemented across the Defence enterprise, according to the Government’s priorities, as quickly as possible.

To date:

  • We’ve announced a major restructure of the Army to align it with the challenges in Australia’s strategic environment.
  • And a $3.8 billion investment to improve the ability of the ADF to operate from Australia’s northern bases.

We are also getting on with the job of equipping the ADF to respond to the strategic circumstances outlined in the DSR, through securing critical capability outcomes including:

  • $1.6 billion dollars to expand and accelerate the acquisition of HIMARS long-range rocket systems for Army.
  • The purchase of 20 new C130J Hercules aircraft.
  • The commitment of $765 million to deliver the second tranche of the Joint Air Battle Management System.
  • Over $1.5 billion to upgrade the RAAF’s 14 P-8A Poseidons and to acquire a 4th Triton uncrewed aircraft.
  • And the purchase of more than 200 Tomahawk cruise missiles.

The independent analysis of naval surface combatant capability has been completed and the Government will respond in the New Year.

And the Defence Estate Audit will report by the end of the year.

We’re investing in the growth and retention of a highly-skilled Defence workforce, in the toughest recruiting environment in a generation.

And work is well under way on the National Defence Strategy which will be released in 2024 and updated biennially.

It’s a huge job – and a hugely important job.

But sprint by sprint, marathon by marathon, we are creating the integrated ADF that is fit for purpose to address the challenges of the day and into the future.

CONCLUSION

I’ll give the last word today to US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin.

He referred to 2023 as a “momentous year for the ‘Unbreakable Alliance’.”

Secretary Austin was right, and I acknowledge here today that he has been a driving force behind many of the defence developments that are making our nations stronger.

But in his words, lie a challenge.

We have made momentous decisions in 2023.

Now we have to make 2024 a momentous year of delivery.

That’s at the heart of my job as Defence Industry Minister, it’s at the heart of my plans for 2024, and I look forward to working with the members of AMCHAM as we make the alliance stronger and our nations, and our region, more secure.

Thank you.

[ENDS]

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