Northern bases vital to national security

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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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16 May 2023

More than 80 years after the end of the Second World War, Northern Australia remains at the forefront of our strategic thinking.

The Northern Territory makes a significant contribution to our national security.

Right now, soldiers from the Regional Force Surveillance Group (including NORFORCE) are hard at work providing remote-area, land and littoral surveillance and reconnaissance.

Industry partners are busy supporting Defence capabilities like Armidale Class patrol boats, and the people of the Northern Territory are hosting the US Marines, who arrived here in March as part of the 12th iteration of Marine Rotational Force – Darwin.

The north is strategically important but even more than that, it’s home to one of Australia’s most dynamic and diverse populations.

Protecting the people of the Territory and their interests – including their interests in a peaceful, stable and secure region – is essential to defending and protecting Australia’s national security.

In April, the government released the public version of the Defence Strategic Review (the Review), the government’s response to the Review and the National Defence Statement 2023.

The review makes clear that our region, the Indo-Pacific, is witnessing the biggest conventional military build-up since the end of the Second World War.

That is why, for the first time in 35 years, the Albanese government is recasting the mission of the ADF based on the strategic environment we now face.

Central to that idea is the capacity to project.

And as the review observes, our northern bases are fundamental to our ability to do so.

That’s why enhancing the ADF’s ability to operate from our northern bases is one of our top priorities.

And we are taking immediate action.

Already, the government has announced a $3.8bn investment to upgrade and develop our northern network of bases, ports and barracks over the next four years.

We recognise Army requires the equipment it needs to be able to operate in the littoral environment and to provide long-range strike capability.

Air force aviators must be equipped to provide support to joint operations in our north.

So we will invest $2bn for critical air bases, among them RAAF Base Darwin and RAAF Base Tindal; $1bn for upgrades to land and joint facilities and $600m in funding for naval infrastructure, such as HMAS Coonawarra in Darwin.

There will be major training area upgrades in the Northern Territory and there will be upgrade work underway at Robertson Barracks.

This work provides significant opportunities for businesses big and small to work with Defence and play an important role in safeguarding our nation’s security.

Strengthening northern bases will create jobs in regional and remote areas.

We are committed to maximising opportunities for local industry, particularly Indigenous-owned businesses, and we’ll build on the success stories that we see on our Defence bases across the Territory.

Last financial year, Defence awarded thousands of contracts to Indigenous businesses across Australia, with a combined value of more than $1bn, which exceeded the government’s target.

As we accelerate infrastructure development in the north, I expect this will usher in improved outcomes for Indigenous companies and their employees.

We are also developing one of the Territory’s greatest resources – its abundant, renewable energy – to tackle a serious national security issue: climate change.

The review recognises that climate change has the potential to significantly increase risk in our region.

In February I came to Darwin and with Luke Gosling and announced that the Albanese Labor government would invest $64m in the Defence Renewable Energy and Energy Security Program.

These projects reduce emissions, enhance Defence’s energy reliability, save money that we can redirect towards capability, and alleviate stress on the local energy grid.

Australia’s north is critical to our future force posture and accelerated preparedness which is why these investments are beginning now.

But we are also focused on planning for the future.

We know there needs to be a far greater focus on thinking about the future of our northern bases, which is what you will see going forward with the first National Defence Strategy in 2024.

We have great confidence in this region’s Defence industry to continue delivering and are completely committed to investing for its future.

This opinion piece was first published in the NT News on Tuesday, 16 May 2023.

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