3 March 2023
SUBJECTS: announcement of 9 Squadron for the MQ-4 Triton capability; Avalon Air Show; Drone Capability; Top Gun; DSR; US Air Force interoperability; TikTok; LAND400 Phase Three; Defence office; Superannuation.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Well welcome everyone. I'm here with Air Marshal Rob Chipman, the Chief of the Air Force. We're about to talk about the Air Show and a pretty exciting capability behind us. And I'll get Air Marshal Chipman to speak about that as well. Happy to answer questions about the day. But when we get to that point, I'll ask Air Marshal Chipman to leave. So, if we can restrict our questions while he is with us to the Air Show and Air Force capability, that would be appreciated.
Can I start by welcoming everyone to sunny Geelong. It is nice and sunny and balmy and warm as we are all experiencing, but it really is great to see the Air Show back. We're expecting 45,000 people to come through the gates this afternoon. And we'll be seeing about 200,000 people over the course of the three days. And this is one of the really big events for Geelong. It is great to see it back. It's actually back bigger and better than ever, in terms of the number of exhibitors, the number of displays, and I think everyone from a Geelong perspective- wearing my hat as the Member for Corio, we are really just so excited about the return of the Air Show- hotels, pubs restaurants are completely full in town, it is wonderful to see. It's also wonderful to see what is on display, the ingenuity that is on display from the Australian Defence Industry bodes so well in terms of the Air Force capability going forward. But it says so much about where Australian defence industry is at, the contribution it can make to our own defence force, but the contribution that it can make having Australia be taken seriously as we export this ingenuity around the world- and that helps build Australian strategic weight. And the importance of that is really seeing Australian defence industry through a strategic lens, what the strategic value of defence industry to our nation.
Today we've got a really nice announcement behind me you see a model of a driverless, not the real thing. But today we're announcing that 9 Squadron, of the Royal Australian Air Force is being reformed after a break of 34 years. There's a lot of lineage to this Squadron- 9 Squadron was originally formed in 1939. It did maritime surveillance during the Second World War. It saw service during the Vietnam War and for the keen military historians among you, you will have noticed that 9 Squadrons insignia is on the tail of the Triton. And 9 Squadron will be reformed to operate this capability the Triton uncrewed aircraft. It will be based at RAAF base Edinburgh although the airframes that you see behind me will actually operate out of Tindal. This is a large UAV, it's got the wingspan of a 737. It can fly for up to 24 hours and it will be able to provide the persistent reconnaissance and surveillance, of our northern maritime approaches which is so important in terms of the defence of our nation. It's also going to be really useful in terms of surveilling illegal fishing both in our own waters, but also the waters of our Pacific neighbours. So it's a really exciting capability. We've got three on order. The first comes into the possession of the Commonwealth next year. We've already got people as of November last year training on this system in the United States. It's a Northrop Grumman platform, and we're really excited about what it's going to offer the Royal Australian Air Force. So those words I might ask Air Marshal Chipman if he would like to make some words.
CHIEF OF AIR FORCE, AIR MARSHAL ROBERT CHIPMAN: Thank you very much DPM. We are delighted with the announcement that 9 Squadron will be reformed to this historian Squadron in the Royal Australian Air Force’s history. But the only things I would like to add to the squadrons history is that in World War Two it saw operational service with Navy flying from our cruisers, HMA Ships, Hobart, Perth, Sydney, Canberra and Australia from the Arctic all the way down to the Southwest Pacific. And 22 serviceman lost their lives in World War II serving with 9 Squadron. In Vietnam, the Squadron was involved in some of the most iconic battles with the Australian Army, including the Battle of Long Tan, and two crewman lost their lives in the Vietnam War. So it is a Squadron have a lot of history. On the emblem, you'll see an Australian native bird- it's the black browed albatross. The black browed albatross is renowned for spending a long time on in overwater flights, which makes it the perfect symbol, for the perfect Squadron for us to establish the MQ-4 Triton capability.
JOURNALIST: Should we read this announcement as confirmation that the government will be getting a full complement of Triton that it has ordered? And if I may, the SYPAQ cardboard and rubber band drones that you viewed yesterday? Why do you like that capability? And if it's so good, why hasn't the government bought it for the ADF?
MARLES: Well, so in respect of your first question, we've got three of the Tritons on order. And as I said, we will be taking possession of the first of those next year. Perhaps your question alludes to the IIP, which does provide for more in the future. But at this stage, we've got three that are on order, and that's the extent of our acquisition. Look, in respect of the cardboard drones, that is a very cool technology, which is seeing service in Ukraine right now, has been developed with the assistance of the government, and we'll continue to work with the government of Ukraine to see about its ongoing usefulness. And they certainly are very excited about it. We've had the Ukrainian Ambassador here yesterday, talking about it. I mean, this is an example of Australian ingenuity. And it, I mean, we can look at its usefulness in our context, but in the context of what has been faced by Ukraine, it has a high degree of value. But what I love about this is that this is an example of Australian ingenuity on the display, being supported by the Australian Government. And the fact that we are seeing that export, and the utility of that, has Australia be taken more seriously. And that's how defence industry can add to our strategic –
JOURNALIST: Would you buy it for the ADF?
MARLES: Well, I mean, ultimately, that's a question of the assessment of our own needs, which are clearly different from those of Ukraine. But the fact that we've got a technology being developed in Australia, which has use in that theatre, is something we should all feel proud about and helps boost Australia's strategic weight.
JOURNALIST: Minister, how close it the National Security Committee looking at TikTok and (inaudible)?
MARLES: So I'll answer that question. But can we just do more, if there any others about the announcement?
JOURNALIST: Yeah. Standing up 9 Squadron, how many personnel? Does the RAAF have the capability at this stage to operate this effectively? Three aircraft going onto maybe seven.
CHIEF OF AIR FORCE: So we've got people that have been training on the Triton for a number of years. Already in the United States now training on the capability. We've been thinking about how the Air Force needs to grow to accommodate some of our new capabilities- that's already planned, and it's paid for in our investment portfolio going forward. That's not to say that we don't need to grow. But it's to say that we've already thought about that and catered for it.
JOURNALIST: At the Air Show, have you detected any recruitment efforts here, are you getting any interest for people wanting to join?
CHIEF OF AIR FORCE: We have 200,000 people visit the Air Show and we'd like all of them to think about a career in Defence. We think we've got a great offering. This is amazing technology, a real sense of purpose about our organisation, and they get to work with a great team. So there, are two Defence Force recruiting stands here at the Air Show at the exits or entrances to the show. And that we'd like all of you to, to come to talk to the recruiters and think about a career Defence.
MARLES: It is a very cool service within our military. I got into trouble on Monday by describing it as the coolest service with a number of army generals looking at me in a kind of disappointed way. But the Army's very cool too. But this is a great opportunity for people to say our Air Force on display.
JOURNALIST: So Top Gun is highly-
MARLES: I know that people have been making that point. Top Gun is a work of fiction, if I can just remind people of that but it definitely displays air capability.
JOURNALIST: So when will we see the Review, are we getting closer, the long await of the Defence Review?
MARLES: Again, I made this clear on Monday, we will be – the government has the Review, it was presented to us in the last couple of weeks. We will be releasing an unclassified version of the Review, along with the government's response to it in April.
JOURNALIST: Will the LAND 400 Phase 3 decision be made before the Budget?
MARLES: I will answer that. Have we got any more?
JOURNALIST: How much does the Triton cost?
MARLES: That is actually – there was a public figure out there, I will come back to you with it.
JOURNALIST: Just in general on unmanned capabilities, is the government- have successive governments dropped the ball on unmanned?
MARLES: No, I don't accept that. I mean, I don't think, again, Air Marshal Chipman might want to make some comments in respect of this. We are seeing autonomous systems, uncrewed vehicles, not just in air warfare, but across all the domains becoming an increasing feature of warfare, but we're certainly seeing it as an increasing feature of airpower. As you look around the displays that have been present over the last few days, there are some amazing capabilities, which are there in terms of uncrewed platforms. And I think, as people can see what air power looks like in the years and the decades ahead, arrays of platforms, which may have a crewed plane in the centre of it, utilizing uncrewed platforms around it, is the future. And you can see that future on display here. Now, the Air Force and the Integrated Investment Plan is looking at a number of those platforms. And we already operate platforms within the Defence Force today. And I think we are very much at the cutting edge of that. But what I take comfort from is when you look at the defence ingenuity on display, but the Australian Defence ingenuity on display - inaudible-. But this is just fantastic in terms of what defence industry can offer to the world.
CHIEF OF AIR FORCE: Australia has a long history of operating UAS, all three services have a history of operating UAS. And in this in the Royal Australian Air Force, we've actually introduced and retired UAS from service
CHIEF OF AIR FORCE: Haven't been thinking about them, it's about getting the right balance.
JOURNALIST: If I can ask a question of the Air Marshal. There's a lot of US aircraft here today. How important is interoperability with the US Air Force and what needs to be done to enhance that?
CHIEF OF AIR FORCE: We work very closely with the US Air Force. We think of interoperability as being a technical, think it as being procedural, we think about it as being human. So we think about interoperability when we design and deliver aircraft. And it's very important to us to make sure you get that right from the outset. So that we are able to continue to operate with the US forces. But it's the people to people links, it's the exercises and it's their support to activities such as Avalon where we can really make sure that we spend our money interoperability into the future for the US Air Force –
JOURNALIST: Is there a specific program that you can talk about or effort that you're looking to enhance that interoperability?
CHIEF OF AIR FORCE: So an example of where we achieve deep interoperability with the United States is through cooperative development programs, we are in cooperative development program with the United States to develop the Triton -
JOURNALIST: Richard, on TikTok. Can we expect any further restrictions on that technology? And what are you making of what's being discussed in the U.S.?
MARLES: Home Affairs is going through a process right now of reviewing social media platforms and their place on government phones, government equipment, and we will take advice from the relevant intelligence agencies about that in terms of the appropriateness of any given social media platform in respect of any device that is used throughout the Australian Government. Obviously, there are differing levels of security which apply to different devices in different places – a Defence phone needs to be more secure than a phone from the Parliament. But we'll take the advice from our relevant security agencies and intelligence agencies around how best to deal with it. I can assure you that TikTok is not an issue on my phone because I don't really understand it.
JOURNALIST: The LAND400 Phase Three decision, will that be before the Budget and will the declassified DSR go to the scope or need for that project?
MARLES: I can't commit to the first question. We certainly won't be making any decisions in relation to Phase Three of LAND400 until the DSR comes out. And as I said earlier, we'll be releasing the DSR – a public version of the DSR – in April. Obviously the Budget is in May, so I think we just need to wait until the DSR does come out.
JOURNALIST: On the matter of explosive ordnance. How close are you to convincing the U.S. to allow us to manufacture stuff here?
MARLES: Well, we are working with the United States under the GWEO Enterprise to see more explosive ordnance manufactured in Australia. I think this is a joint – well certainly a desire of the Australian Government, but I think a desire of the American Government as well, because being able to have that capability in Australia builds the net industrial base of both countries. What underpins your question a little bit, which is an important point to discuss, is ITAR regulation, and indeed, the regulation around the export of defence materiel.
I mean, regulations around defence materiel, obviously, are understandable. We have regulations as well. But what's really clear is that if we are going to maximise the ambition, or realise the ambition, of Pillar Two of AUKUS, we really do need to be trying to build a seamless defence industrial base between the United States, Australia, and indeed the U.K. and Canada, which has a more seamless industrial base in North America. We are working with the American Government to try and reduce those barriers. It is a big task, but I think there is a very significant commitment at the highest policy level to achieve that outcome. And that is going to help in terms of our ability to do more of the manufacture of that really (inaudible).
JOURNALIST: Back on LAND400, you previously said that Minister Conroy will bring forward the submission. How does that work when it comes to Cabinet? Do you have to excuse yourself from that decision?
MARLES: Well, I mean, there's not obviously a personal conflict, but given I’m the local member, and there is a company that's based here which is one of the two tenderers, I thought it is the right thing to do to have Minister Conroy bring that program forward, and it's very much in his hands.
JOURNALIST: So just to confirm that when it comes to Cabinet, you'll be involved?
MARLES: I mean, I don't have a personal conflict, clearly. And so I think it's important that Cabinet members play their role in Cabinet. But this is a decision process which is being led by Minister Conroy, and he is handling it.
JOURNALIST: Minister, why did your department do an $800,000 re-fit (inaudible) office?
MARLES: Well, let me be clear, in relation to it, obviously I wasn't told that this was happening before it happened. I did seek and do have an office in Russell, which is where the Department of Defence is located, I think it is important that I as the Defence Minister have a presence in the Department of Defence we mean to govern. I think that’s an important difference, to be frank, from the former government. The office that I occupy had a couple of thousand dollars spent on it to refurbish it to allow me to occupy it. I'm really comfortable with that. I'm definitely not comfortable with what was being proposed, and so that's not an office that I intend to or have occupied.
JOURNALIST: Do you think $800,000 for an office is excessive?
MARLES: Well, I think the top floor of Russell was being refurbished. I certainly know this: I didn't ask for that office, I wasn't advised that that was what was going to happen. I'm not going to occupy it. I'm really happy to occupy the office that I do, which was refurbished at the expense of a couple of thousand dollars on one of the lower floors of Russell.
JOURNALIST: DPM, the U.S. Congress’ Select Committee on China has heard that there was some concerns about Australia's security environment in relation to sort of receiving U.S. technology, and that this could be a concern going forward. Just wondering how much are we going to have to beef up our security environment to protect, you know, the crown jewels of U.S. military technology?
MARLES: Look I'm actually not aware of that report. But what I would say is a couple of answers to this. Firstly, the levels of security that exist now, in terms of certainly the management of information within the Australian Government system, within Defence, is of the highest degree. And I would want to assure the Australian public about that. In a short period of time, we'll be announcing the optimal pathway for Australia acquiring a nuclear -owered submarine capability, and being a nuclear steward, in this context is a really important part of that announcement. And it does involve a really significant hardening of security in a physical sense with buildings and fences and the like, but also in an IT sense, around the information which goes with that. And we're very cognisant of the challenge that's involved in that. The announcement that we will make will talk about the way in which we intend to meet that challenge. And I think there is a high degree of confidence within both the United States and the United Kingdom about Australia's ability to do that.
JOURNALIST: The Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, this morning accused you of not being across the details of how the new tax on earnings for super balances over $3 million dollars is calculated. Are you across those details?
MARLES: Yeah, look firstly, what we are announcing in superannuation is a very modest change. This is only applying to people who have a superannuation balance of $3 million. And what it involves is a reduction, not a removal, but a reduction in the tax break, which applies to the earnings in respect of those superannuation balances. And we are looking at the simplest way in which this should occur, and that is applying this on an annual basis, is detail that will be worked through in respect of this when legislation is brought before Parliament. Obviously we will consult people about that. But this is a really, really modest change.
I think it says something about what the Leader of the Opposition is interested in. I mean, the Leader of the Opposition has nothing to say on climate change, has opposed action on that. He opposed action on protecting manufacturing jobs in this country, opposed action on developing our housing in this country, voted against easing pressure on power bills. But when it comes to how calculations are performed on the earnings of superannuation funds over $3 million, on that issue, you see the Leader of the Opposition wanting to storm the Bastille, and I think that says everything about his priorities. Thank you.