Address to the ADM Northern Australia Defence Summit

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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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8 May 2024

I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today, the Larrakia people. 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.

Senior leaders of the Australian Defence Force; 

Distinguished Guests;

Ladies and Gentlemen; 

It is fantastic to be back in the Northern Territory, and I’d like to thank you for inviting me back to the ADM Northern Australia Summit.

This Summit is a central element of Northern Territory Defence week – now in its third year.

When it comes to defence, the Albanese Government is looking to the north.

Our plan looks to reshape the structure, posture and preparedness of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and Darwin will have a critical part to play when it comes to delivering all three elements.

Australia’s current strategic environment demands a new approach to defending Australia and its national interests.

It was a process the Albanese Government began when we initiated the Defence Strategic Review, and realised in the recently released 2024 National Defence Strategy.

The National Defence Strategy acknowledges that Australia’s future depends in large part upon protecting our economic connection to the world, upholding the global rules-based order, maintaining a favourable regional strategic balance and contributing to the collective security of the Indo-Pacific.

The NDS acknowledges the critical importance of delivering a networked and resilient set of bases, predominantly across northern Australia.

Northern Australia is central to delivering activities under the United States Force Posture Initiatives, including Marine Rotational-Force Darwin and Enhanced Air Cooperation. 

The training areas in the Territory are world class, and vital to our nation’s ability to conduct exercises with the US and key partners that improve combat readiness and interoperability. 

The changes we have announced to the ADF’s structure and posture will result in a growing Defence presence in the north, which comes with a commensurate need to provide housing for our personnel and their families. 

Our Government is investing through Defence Housing Australia (DHA) in Stage 2 of the former Defence site at Lee Point. This will provide much needed housing for local residents, Defence members and their families. The project delivers a significant number of residential housing lots in Darwin along with a new primary school area, open park space, active recreation areas and a community centre area.

There is no question that housing options are important to members of our Defence Force, and those weighing the decision to join. 

The 2024 NDS is clear that in order for the ADF to transform into the integrated, focused force we require, we must address issues around workforce recruitment and retention. 

The Government recognises the challenges facing all Australians when it comes to home ownership. This is particularly prevalent for a mobile workforce such as the ADF.

There is no question that attractive housing options are important to serving members of our Defence Force, and those weighing the decision to join. 

We are committed to looking at this in a coordinated and focused way which is why, in May last year, we announced a review into Defence Housing.

We asked Defence to look widely at options to improve housing support and policies for a modern and diverse ADF, including the experience and needs of ADF families. 

Defence is continuing work on opportunities to make policy and process improvements to improve the experience of our personnel and their families, and you can expect this to continue to be a focus of the Government.

Temporary housing is also essential to ensuring we can continue to provide opportunities to the ADF in the North as they conduct multi-national military training with our allies and partners.

We are committed to reducing Defence’s pressure on local hotel accommodation during major exercises.

The Defence Accommodation Precinct – known as DAP-D – exemplifies what we are seeking to achieve.

DAP-D is leased from the NT Government for five years with a further five-year option for the purposes of living accommodation.

In 2023 the facility, hosted 700 personnel. This year, over 5000 people are anticipated to use the facility. 

It’s providing a high standard of temporary accommodation for our personnel from Australia and partner nations when they’re conducting operations and exercises from here in Darwin.

And DAP-D provides employment for 80 locals, surging to around 150 during the peak exercise period.

Employment of First Nations people has also been a focus with 20 Indigenous employees now working at the facility. 

Accelerating investment in northern base infrastructure is one of the top priorities for Defence, to provide modern facilities for our personnel – and that of our key partners – to work, train and live in. 

There is approximately $880 million forecast to be spent in Northern Australia this financial year across 23 projects currently in delivery, including those at RAAF Base Tindal; the works underway as part of the US Force Posture Initiatives Northern Territory Training Areas and Ranges Project; and those at Larrakeyah Defence and Robertson Barracks.

Additionally, Parliament recently approved the RAAF Base Darwin Mid-Term Refresh Project - a $160 million dollar investment - to progress to delivery.

This project recently received Parliamentary approval will provide a new main entry and heavy vehicle entry to the Base, and upgrade potable water, firefighting water and sewer networks on the Base.

Laing O’Rourke is the Managing Contractor, and has a local industry engagement target of 96% within the Territory and an Indigenous participation target of at least 6%.

This is consistent with what we are looking to achieve across the Territory so that local businesses and indigenous-owned and staffed businesses get the benefit of this generational investment in Defence infrastructure. 

The Government’s Indigenous Procurement Policy operates across every project, in every location.

It provides work for indigenous owned businesses and employment for indigenous workers, and it allows Defence to tap the deep local knowledge in our First Nations communities to ensure the Defence infrastructure we build and maintain is as strong as it can be.

Just as important as what we do is how we do it, so that we ensure that the work that is done here in the Territory is environmentally sustainable and supports the local economy and community. 

The National Defence Strategy also reflects the Government’s commitment to adopt climate adaptation strategies and energy resilience as part of ADF basing requirements - and that work has already begun, because it will help ensure a sustainable and resilient ADF. 

A key element of this commitment is the $64 million dollar Defence Renewable Energy and Energy Security Program to deliver solar energy generation and battery storage systems throughout Australia. 

In January, I was here to switch on the solar farm at RAAF Base Darwin.

It is now powering 40 per cent of the base’s electricity – generating savings which can be redirected to the base’s more urgent priorities.

And it is reducing carbon emissions by 2,000 tonnes per year.

The Government is also funding renewable energy projects at RAAF Base Tindal, Larrakeyah Barracks and Harts Range, all of which are in development or delivery.

These initiatives are great for the environment and they are great for local communities, because they take the pressure of local energy grids by making Defence facilities more self-reliant.

I’m really proud of what the Government is achieving here in the Territory in Defence.

We are making investments that will ensure Australia is safer and more secure.

And we are doing so in ways that are making Defence more sustainable and resilient, and the Territory stronger and more prosperous.

We are also committed to continuing to listen to communities in the Territory, to working with local businesses to ensure we are making the most of these opportunities.

I’ve spoken with many of you on my visits to the Territory since the election of the Albanese Government, and I want to reiterate that my door is open to speaking with you about how we can work together to ensure the very best outcomes for Defence and for the Territory.

Thank you.


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