Address to the AIDN National Gala Dinner

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The Hon Pat Conroy MP

Minister for Defence Industry

Minister for International Development and the Pacific

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(02) 6277 7840

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26 June 2024

I’d like to begin by thanking Ngunnawal Elder Aunty Violet Sheridan for her Welcome to Country, and acknowledge the Ngunnawal people as traditional custodians of the land we are meeting on and recognise any other people or families with connection to the lands of the ACT and region. 

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.

Our host, Mr Carl Quarterman, Chairman of the National Board of the Australian Industry & Defence Network (AIDN);

Members of the Diplomatic Corps;

Federal Parliamentary Colleagues – and I recognise both serving and former colleagues; 

My Western Australian state colleague, the Honourable Paul Papalia, Minister for Police, Corrective Services, Racing and Gaming, Defence Industry and Veterans Issues;

Mr Greg Moriarty, Secretary of the Department of Defence;

Senior Defence Leaders; 

Members of Defence industry from across Australia;

Sponsors, Distinguished Guests, 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you Sarah for that introduction.

It gives me great pleasure to join you this evening for the AIDN National Gala Dinner. 

Earlier this year the Government announced the single largest defence export agreement in Australian history[i] when we inked the deal with Rheinmetall to build more than 100 new Boxer Heavy Weapon Carrier vehicles for the German Army.

They’ll be built at Redbank in Queensland and deliver $3.1 billion dollars into our economy, securing more than 600 jobs in Queensland alone.

The deal will result in opportunities cascading right through the supply chain, including to small and medium size businesses.

Small and medium size businesses are the core of AIDN’s membership and they are the foundations of Australia’s sovereign defence industrial base.

As big as the Boxer deal is, and as important as it is to businesses and workers in Redbank, we see it as the first among many big deals, as we look to be far more proactive in promoting the integration of Australian industry into global supply chains. 

And that means we stand on the cusp of an era of immense opportunity for small to medium businesses to grow their share of the Defence dollar.

Truly awesome opportunities lie ahead as we implement our AUKUS trilateral partnership.

Work is advancing at pace to deliver Australia’s conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarine capability.

It will be a game-changing capability for the ADF and a future-defining opportunity for Australia’s defence industry.

$30 billion dollars will be invested in Australia’s industrial base and there will be massive infrastructure upgrades and expansion amounting to at least $18 billion dollars.

We’ve already broken ground on the preliminary enabling works, started work on the concept design for South Australia’s new Submarine Construction Yard in Osborne, and announced the build and sustainment partners for Australia to acquire nuclear-powered submarines.

In addition, we are working with industry and the UK and US governments to identify products that can be manufactured in Australia to enhance the resilience of trilateral supply chains.

And we are working with our trilateral partners to identify long lead time procurement requirements and develop the supplier qualification processes that will enable Australian industry to integrate into UK and US supply chains.

We are moving at pace to deliver AUKUS. No capability acquisition is bigger, more important or more complex than acquiring and constructing nuclear-powered submarines for the Royal Australian Navy.

It underscores the Albanese Government’s unwavering commitment to making Australians safer, and also safeguarding their interests. But it is only one part of the picture. 

To deliver on the priorities outlined in the Government’s National Defence Strategy, the Budget delivered a generational investment in Defence, including an additional $5.7 billion over the next four years of the forward estimates.

This is the largest increase to Defence spending over a forward estimates period in decades.   

And we are focussed on fulfilling the recommendations set out in the Defence Industry Development Strategy, to make Defence a better partner to you as we grow and secure the sovereign defence industrial base.

Defence procurement is changing to meet the strategic circumstances outlined in the National Defence Strategy.

Consultation and engagement with the industry is underway, including with AIDN, as we focus on simplifying Defence’s approach to contracting, increasing its risk appetite and shortening the time it takes to receive project and contract approvals. 

Since we released the rebuilt Integrated Investment Program, have gone our of our way to provide industry with tailored briefings, including more targeted, classified briefings.

Organisations like the Office for Defence Industry Support – ODIS – are stepping up their tempo of engagement and refocusing their efforts around the Sovereign Defence Industrial Priorities (SDIPs). 

We are already seeing the benefits of the more focused approach that is being driven by the SDIPs.

Take OLP Robotics, a business providing programming and automation services to the manufacturing sector.

Automation is vital to the future of Defence, but given that OLP is based in Perth, its contribution to continuous naval shipbuilding and sustainment is the most relevant.

So ODIS’s engagement with the business is focused on this priority.

With the assistance of ODIS, OLP has successfully sold its Cobot Welding System to BAE Systems Australia and ODIS is supporting the company to offer its Robotic Welding training syllabus into the TAFE sector. 

It demonstrates the power of the new approach, nailing down Defence to focus on exactly how and where it needs the sovereign defence industrial capability and then empowering Defence to deliver practical help to businesses like OLP Robotics to support them to deliver. 

We have awarded contracts to Australian small and medium enterprises to bolster their capability in supporting our industrial priorities. To name a few examples - a $33 million contract to Albury company Australian Target Systems (ATS) to supply leading edge target systems and a $30 million order with Queensland-based Craig International Ballistics to manufacture body armour.

And they reflect the Government’s commitment to ensuring that regional businesses are represented in the robust Sovereign Defence Industrial Base we are seeking to grow and expand.

Just last week, I announced the Defence Industry Development Grant will be open for applications. This new grant will have over $150 million over four years to uplift Australian small and medium businesses in the areas of our sovereign defence industrial priorities, exports, skilling and security. We’ve allocated more money and merged the previous grant programs into one, making it simpler for Australian businesses to go through the application process.

I know that security is key focus within the Australian defence industry and Defence is looking to step up the support it gives to small and medium enterprises on this.

Recently, the Defence Industry Security Program held its inaugural forum in Canberra, with almost 1000 attendees. 

The theme was “Secure Partnerships” to highlight the importance of working with industry to sustain security and protect sensitive, innovative technologies. 

Defence Contract Managers were invited to the second day of the DISP forum, as a way of helping to ensure they understood what we were asking of industry – and what we expected of them. 

In March, the Australian Parliament passed landmark legislation to strengthen our national security and support local industry by unlocking defence trade, innovation and collaboration with our AUKUS partners. 

The Defence Trade Controls Amendment Act 2024 (DTC Act) protects our cutting-edge military technologies by enhancing our export control regime. This new legislation also removes red tape in defence trade with our AUKUS partners by supporting the establishment of a licence-free environment for Australian industry, higher education and research sectors.

The benefits of the licence-free environment are significant.

They will remove the requirement for approximately 900 export permits, valued at $5 billion  dollars per year, which would otherwise be required under current export controls from Australia to the United States and the United Kingdom.

They will fast-track the delivery of leading-edge defence capabilities into the hands of our forces more efficiently, maintaining our collective capability edge.

The Safeguarding Australia’s Military Secrets, or SAMS Act, also aims to safeguard sensitive Defence information, including military techniques, tactics and procedures, to Defence’s current and future capabilities that continue to effectively protect all Australians. 

This is critical to ensure that Australia is seen as a safe and secure place to do business, which is vital as we continue to develop and advance our defence capabilities.

And it is especially important given the growing scale and scope of the threats we face.

Every business - from the smallest start up to the biggest Prime - that does business with Defence is a target.

Strengthening security across the industry is essential, and organisations like AIDN have a critical role to play.

Friends, the foundations of the future of Defence are now in place.

And it falls to us – to Government, to Defence and to industry – to work in partnership to deliver them. 

I am committed to working with you now and into the future, to safeguard Australia’s national security. 

Thank you.



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