Press Conference, Darwin, Luke Gosling

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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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21 February 2023

SUBJECTS: Defence Renewable Energy and Energy Security Program; Local jobs; Defence Strategic Review; Port of Darwin.

LUKE GOSLING, MEMBER FOR SOLOMON: Good morning, everyone. And thanks for coming out here adjacent to Robertson Barracks to have a look at this fantastic renewable energy project funded by the Federal Government that's really going to assist Defence in more secure energy and also reduction in emissions, which of course, is important but a reduction in the costs of energy to the massive Robertson Barracks up here in Darwin. It's awesome to have my colleague, the Assistant Minister for Defence and for Veterans, Matt Thistlethwaite here. He's been with us for a couple of days now, with some more time to come meeting with a whole range of stakeholders up here. We're down in Adelaide River commemorating those who were lost during the bombing of Darwin 81 years ago, and today having a look at the future, the future of energy supply for our northern bases, but I'll let Matt explain the rest. Thanks very much.

MATT THISTLETHWAITE, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Thanks, Luke. Luke, of course, is a veteran, served our nation and I thank him for his service and the great job that he does advocating for our Defence Forces and Veterans in Canberra. Thank you for joining us for this important announcement today of the Defence Renewable Energy and Energy Security Program. This is a $64 million program in which Defence will invest in renewable energy projects at 10 Defence bases throughout the country. Half of those are in the Northern Territory and this is the biggest of them here at Robertson Barracks. This is an 11-megawatt solar farm with a two and a half megawatt battery. It will produce about 40% of the energy needs for Robertson Barracks and will of course reduce the cost of energy for the Army and Defence not to mention the 8000 tonnes of CO2 that are saved in the process. The great thing about this project is in the construction phase and the development of it there were 18 Northern Territory businesses that were engaged in this project. Six of those are First Nations businesses and 11 of them are small to medium sized enterprises, local jobs in the local community, supporting the Government's program of reducing carbon emissions and investing in renewable energy and supporting our Defence Force. This is a great program. I'm very, very proud to be here with the Member for Solomon Luke Gosling today to announce it. It will become operational in quarter four of this year. This will take pressure off the local energy grid for Territorians and it will supply the energy needs of the base. So it's a great win for the Territory. It's a great win for the Defence Force, and it improves our environment. We're happy to take some questions about this and any other topics you want to raise.

JOURNALIST: Of the 10 Defence sites, where else are the Defence sites across Australia?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: So five of them are in the Northern Territory. There's Larrakeyah, Harts Range, RAAF Base Darwin, Robertson, and there's a couple in Western Australia. There's two in Western Australia. And there's a couple in South Australia as well. And Larrakeyah as well. I was at Larrakeyah yesterday that's included in that as well. So half of the projects are here in the Northern Territory, and the reason is quite simple. The Northern Territory has an abundance of sunlight, and renewable energy and Defence is the largest landowner in the country, 70 bases throughout the country with an abundance of land. So it makes sense to make sure that we're investing in renewable energy projects throughout the country, because they'll reduce the energy costs for the Defence Force. And when you do that, it means that you've got more funds to invest in capability improvements into the future.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned this is the biggest project, how many solar panels are actually in this specific base that we're on now?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: There are thousands of solar panels in this project. It's 11 megawatts of power that are generated through this project and there's a two and a half megawatt battery there as well. And the other projects in the Northern Territory, and throughout the country are similar projects. Some of them are solar panels. Some of them are battery technology, all aimed at reducing emissions, reducing power costs, and investing in the future.

JOURNALIST: Funding for this for, you know, these type of projects, does that come out of existing Defence budgets? Or is this extra money that the government is putting into Defence budgets for these projects?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: So this is a new project for $64 million. This particular project here is through a power purchase agreement. So Defence lease this land to an operator that develops, constructs and operates the project and supplies the energy needs to Defence at a fixed price. That will reduce the energy cost by about 40%, but a $64 million investment in various projects throughout the country.

JOURNALIST: So you're powering the equivalent of almost 4000 homes here. I mean, wouldn't those investments be better made in sort of residential areas where people are dealing with higher prices?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, the beauty of this project is that it reduces emissions and it takes pressure off the energy grid, it will take pressure off the broader energy grid in the territory. The energy that's sourced from Robertson Barracks comes from the same sources that households in the local community source them from. The beauty of this project is that it takes part of Robertson Barracks off the grid, and it takes some of that strain off the broader domestic energy supply, so that some of those pressures are reduced. But ultimately, it's also about this government's investment in renewable energy more broadly, our 'Powering Australia' policy, a $20 billion investment in rewiring the grid to take more renewables. So not only is Defence leading the way that the government is leading the way in encouraging more Australians to invest in renewables.

JOURNALIST: When will work be finished on all the projects across Australia?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: They'll roll out over the course of the next seven years. So this is a seven year project. And some of those projects will be operational in this year, and this is the first of them, and the biggest of them, but they'll roll out of course in the next seven years.

JOURNALIST: When you say the biggest is that across Australia, this one?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: In terms of Defence, this will be the biggest of the projects in terms of the energy that's produced and the number of panels for the Defence projects that come under this scheme.

JOURNALIST: Obviously a priority as well if it's one of the first ones? 

ASSISTANT MINISTER” Yeah, that's right. We made sure that the NT got priority on these projects because of the abundance of solar energy up here in the top end, and it makes sense to have projects like this here in the Northern Territory should be the first bit that will roll out and we'll set the pace for others throughout the country.

JOURNALIST: How important is it to keep growing Defence capabilities, especially in the top end?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Yeah, it's vitally important. I visited Larrakeyah Barracks yesterday. I'm about to go and do a tour of Robertson Barracks and RAAF Base Darwin this afternoon. And what I've been seeing is an increase in the capability to Defence bases here in the Northern Territory and an increase in the personnel. And we've visited that will continue into the future. The Defence Strategic Review has been handed to the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister. They'll work through the government's response and that will be released in the coming months that we envisage that the top end and the Northern Territory in particular is going to continue to be vitally important to the nation's defences.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask about the status of the Darwin Port, your government’s Darwin Port review, and the terms of reference of that review?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: The Prime Minister announced last year that we would review the sale of the Port of Darwin. That review is continuing and the Prime Minister's Department is leading that, there are a number of agencies that are involved including the Defence Force, much of that involves classified information so I can't go into that in detail, but once that review is concluded the findings will be released and the government will make a decision on the basis.

JOURNALIST: That review of the terms of reference is classified?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: The terms of reference are, as far as I'm aware, classified at this stage, yes.

JOURNALIST: What was the advice that the Prime Minister got about steps forward given that the 2021 review found no national security grounds for review?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Look, there's been controversy regarding the sale. And the Prime Minister and the government responded to that controversy when we were in government. We made a commitment that if we were elected, that we would review the sale and that's what we've done. So we've got to let that review take its course. It will proceed, it will be handed to the Prime Minister and then a response will be made from the government and that will be made public.

JOURNALIST: Will Landbridge be one of the stakeholders having input in that review?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: I believe that many stakeholders will be consulted about that process and have the opportunity to have their input.

JOURNALIST: Is Landbridge one of them?


JOURNALIST: So, what, sorry, last one, when's that going to be finalised that review?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: There's no definitive timeline yet. I can't tell you that at the moment. But it will be, it's taking place at the moment, that's being led by the Prime Minister's Department and in due course it will be released and people will have the opportunity to respond to that. Thanks, everyone.


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