Interview with Drive ABC, Western Australia

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The Hon Melissa Price MP

Minister for Defence Industry

Minister for Science and Technology

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1 July 2020

Interview with Andrew Collins, Drive ABC, Western Australia
Topics: Defence Strategic Update and Force Structure Plan
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ANDREW COLLINS: Melissa Price is the Minister for Defence Industry and the Member for Durack in WA. Melissa Price hello to you.

MELISSA PRICE: Good evening, Andrew. Thanks for having me on. I think it's a little warmer where you are. But I am in Canberra for a couple of days. But I'll put up with the cold weather for these opportunities to be involved in this very, very welcome announcement.

ANDREW COLLINS: Now, you probably don't realise I'm in Albany, so I probably will beat you, but

MELISSA PRICE: Ok. You might beat me.

ANDREW COLLINS: First let's talk about-let's talk about,

MELISSA PRICE: Sorry, can I just say, that I have been in Port Hedland, in Karratha and Geraldton last week. So I really enjoyed the warm weather. So I guess that's the contrast.

ANDREW COLLINS: Okay, this is a lot of money. $270 billion over 10 years. What are the opportunities for regional WA here? What amount of that investment will make an impact in the regions?

MELISSA PRICE: Well, the first thing that I'd like to tell listeners about is that in WA, people will know that we've got critical Defence Force operational bases in maritime and air and land, we know we've got the special forces down in Swanbourne training facilities and through this plan they'll be around a $2.5bn investment over the decade in these WA assets, so what I'm talking about is the infrastructure at the bases. But in addition to that, of course, we already had a $200 billion dollar programme and we've already got those particular programmes that will continue. A lot of those are already happening down at Henderson. But in addition to that, there will be the other opportunities, I'm talking Defence Industry, Defence manufacturing and of course, as the Defence Industry Minister that's what I'm particularly focused on.

ANDREW COLLINS: Now Associate Professor Ben Lyons from the University of Southern Queensland said that our trade position could be damaged by this move. Here's part of what he had to say.

BEN LYONS: There's a lot of companies in Australia that depend on China either primary for their primary source of sales or income or they are reliant on someone else, a customer of theirs that does deal with China a lot. And when I talk about that that's particularly the mining and resources sector which has a lot of flow on business to secondary just like the automotive industry used to have in Australia. So there are a lot of people saying why are we doing this or what is or why is our approach towards China being this aggressive.

ANDREW COLLINS: What's your response to those comments, Melissa Price?

MELISSA PRICE: Well, firstly there's nothing like a pandemic like we're experiencing at the moment with COVID-19 for a nation and especially in the Defence portfolio to really focus on what is it that we need to be able to be good at? What is it that we need to be self-reliant upon? And this has really been my push since I've been in the job to make sure that we are contributing as much as we can from an Australian industry content perspective to our Defence platforms and we always haven't got it right. But over the last 12 months we've gone ahead leaps and bounds, and well you ask me what's in it for regional WA and that's what I'm particularly focussed on. How can we-

ANDREW COLLINS: But what Ben Lyons was talking about there was the potential for retaliatory moves from China because of what appears to be a rather aggressive at least more aggressive stance with this announcement, could that hurt your electorate?

MELISSA PRICE: Well, I think people know, the story with Brazil at the moment who, of course, is a large supplier of steel, sorry iron ore to China and at the moment, I don't think there's any let up of the price of iron ore. So I don't think our producers of iron ore are feeling under threat at the moment with respect to their contracts with China. So I'm not sure that that concern is there.

ANDREW COLLINS: Okay, now, Sean L'Estrange in an opinion piece in the West Australian today has called for more troops to be deployed to Western Australia through this. Asking for three to three and a half thousand more troops to be stationed here. Could that be a possibility? What's your response to that?

MELISSA PRICE: I did read Sean's contribution and look, Defence's presence and investment in Northern Australia more broadly including in Western Australia, I believe we'll gradually increase the support, a more capable future force to be able to protect the North. But you know, I'm not the portfolio minister for personnel. So it's not really appropriate for me to talk in great detail, but I expect that will be the subject of further strategic review.

ANDREW COLLINS: Now, what do you say to people and there's a few texts coming through in this regard, who see this as a staggering price list for defence investment while universities and the art sector as well as some other industries are withering on the vine?

MELISSA PRICE: Well, I think we need to go back in history and the facts matter here, Andrew. So, back in 2016 we issued the Defence White Paper and that put Australia on a very important path to increasing our nation's defence capability. But also to make sure that we can build things at home and that's what that pathway put us on. And we've made many decisions and we've commenced many capability programmes since then, in submarines and frigates. As I said, many of those programmes are now ongoing in Henderson. But Australians would expect its Government to be reviewing those assumptions that were made when we developed the 2016 White Paper, you know, we've got to ensure that it's fit for purpose. And so we've had to go back as you would expect and review those assumptions and you know, we know that the strategic environment that we are in now is changing. We know that there's the confidence in rules based order is being undermined. And as you've heard, some of the clips from the Prime Minister we've got conduct in what's called the 'Grey Zone' for forms of assertiveness, disinformation, economic coercion. You know, Australia must be prepared and that comes with a price tag and not only are we building the platform to protect Australians but we're also developing skill sets in Australia so that we can be self-reliant and I think, as I said, not so long ago it's nothing like, there's nothing like a pandemic to help you focus on, what is it you actually need to be able to do at home to be able to protect yourself and that's what this $270 billion dollars is about.

ANDREW COLLINS: And we appreciate you coming on.

MELISSA PRICE: Good on you, thanks a lot.

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