Address to the Northern Australia Defence Summit

Release details

Release type

Related ministers and contacts

The Hon Matt Thistlethwaite MP

Assistant Minister for Defence

Assistant Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

Assistant Minister for the Republic

Media contact

Ben Leeson on 0404 648 275

Release content

17 May 2023

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today, the Larrakia people – and pay my respects to their Elders past and present.

Later this year, I hope we can all walk together by recognising First Nations people in our Constitution and through a Voice to Parliament.

As Assistant Minister for Defence, let me also respect the many ADF personnel and veterans here this morning.

The nation is proud of you and your service.

Thank you, Allan, for your introduction and the great work that Sitzler does with Defence...

And to the team at Australian Defence Magazine – thank you for the opportunity today.

To Chief Minister Natasha Fyles…

Thank you for hosting this important event, and for your strong advocacy for Territory workers and businesses.

To my parliamentary colleague, Luke Gosling, the Member for Solomon…

Always fighting for the North!

Thank you for your tireless advocacy and support for our ADF sailors, soldiers, aviators and their families.

To other Defence, Government and Industry leaders here…

Ladies and Gentlemen…

It’s great to be back in the Top End.

I was last here in February for commemorations at Adelaide River to mark the bombing of Darwin. 

More than 80 years on, northern Australia remains at the forefront of our strategic thinking.

And the Northern Territory makes a significant contribution to our national security.

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

Industry partners are busy supporting capabilities like Navy’s Armidale Class patrol boats at HMAS Coonawarra...

As a symbol of our enduring alliance with the United States, the twelfth rotation of forward-deployed US Marines is underway here in Darwin…

Besides the North’s strategic importance, it’s home to one of Australia’s most dynamic and diverse populations.

And Darwin offers great potential as a gateway for stronger economic and cultural links across the Indo-Pacific.

The INPEX project, for example, showcases the importance of the Australian-Japan relationship.

While Dili, Timor Leste’s capital, is less than ninety minutes away.

Let me congratulate Qantas for making Dili part of its international network – those links strengthen our connection to our region.

A secure Northern Territory – as part of a peaceful, free and open Indo-Pacific region – is essential to Australia’s national security and prosperity.

Let me share some thoughts with you towards that theme in opening today’s summit.

Last month the Albanese Labor Government released the public version of the Defence Strategic Review.

With it, we also released the National Defence Statement and our response to the Review.

And we thank His Excellency Professor Stephen Smith and former Chief of the Defence Force, Sir Angus Houston for their work on the independent Review.

Australia’s strategic circumstances are the most complex and challenging they have been since the end of the Second World War.

Our region, the Indo-Pacific, faces increasing competition that is that operates on multiple levels – economic, military, strategic and diplomatic – all interwoven and all framed by an intense contest of values and narratives.

A large-scale conventional and non-conventional military build-up which lacks transparency and reassurance …

Alongside a reduced warning time for conflict…

The risks of military escalation and miscalculation are rising. 

Against this backdrop, it is increasingly clear that Australia’s defence lies in the collective security of the Indo-Pacific. 

We must work with our international partners and neighbours to promote and uphold the global-rules based order.

The ADF requires stronger capabilities to enhance its contribution to the collective security and balance of the region, alongside our partners, to promote balance, peace and security.

Which is why, for the first time in 35 years, the Government is recasting the mission of the Australian Defence Force.

Labor is doing the hard policy thinking…

And making the tough decisions.

The Government’s response to the DSR will prioritise investment in six immediate areas of action:

The acquisition of conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarines through our AUKUS partnership

Long-range precision strike and making advanced munitions in Australia.

Improving the ADF’s ability to operate from our northern bases.

Working with industry to boost innovation, including through the establishment of the Advanced Strategic Capabilities Accelerator

Investing in our people – recruiting and retaining a highly skilled Defence workforce.

And deepening our diplomatic and defence partnerships in the Indo-Pacific, as I mentioned earlier.

When Labor came to office, we inherited a trillion dollars’ worth of Liberal debt.

With nothing to show for it.

And a budget with structural spending challenges in several portfolios.

Over the past twelve months, we’ve worked hard to steady the ship.

Big challenges still remain, like inflation.

While this year’s projected surplus is welcome, we know many more tough choices lie ahead to get the Budget back to health over the long run.

And that’s critical to funding our defence needs.

Over the next four years, the Albanese Government will invest more than $19 billion to implement the immediate Review priorities I’ve just outlined.

These immediate priorities will be delivered within Defence’s existing resources, including the reprioritisation of 7.8 billion dollars from the Integrated Investment Program.

But we have been clear that over the medium term Defence funding will grow.

Defence spending as a proportion of GDP will lift above its current trajectory to be 0.2 per cent higher by 2032-33.

Next year, we’ll deliver the first biennial National Defence Strategy which will build on our initial investments.

A disciplined, simplified and more predictable approach to defence planning and spending.

One of these priority areas is investing in long-range strike capability, and the manufacture of munitions here in Australia.  

This will significantly enhance Army’s capability.

It will see Australian Army’s current range for artillery grow from 40 kilometres to in excess of 500 kilometres.

In January, we announced Australia will acquire the land-based, long-range, surface-to-surface High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), which includes launchers, missiles and training rockets.

The HIMARS system is expected to be in use by 2026-27.

And the accelerated acquisition of with the Precision Strike Missiles (PRISM).

Serious combat power that can hold potential adversaries at-risk.

Turning from the big picture to what some of this means for the Top End…

Projecting across Australia’s northern maritime and air approaches is central to the ADF’s regional posture and presence.

This is another immediate priority for the Labor Government.

We’re investing $3.8 billion to strengthen our northern network of bases, ports and barracks over the next four years.

Because we can’t just prioritise new capabilities.

Our bases and enabling infrastructure are just as critical – to maintain, to resupply, to stockpile fuel and ammunition, to host data centres, and so much more.

This investment includes $2 billion for critical air bases, among them RAAF Base Darwin and RAAF Base Tindal.

$1 billion for upgrades to land and joint facilities – major training areas including Robertson Barracks.

And $600 million in maritime facilities, such as Darwin’s HMAS Coonawarra naval base.

Many of these upgrades were recommended under the Gillard Labor Government – through the 2012 Force Posture Review and 2013 defence white paper.

Prioritising Defence infrastructure investment is also a vote of confidence in the North’s defence industry.

There’s huge potential for local businesses – big and small – to play a crucial role…

Closely partnering with the NT Government, unions and local communities.

The new, high-skilled, long-term job opportunities are significant as well.

In regional and remote areas, I’m determined that we maximise economic opportunities for local firms – particularly Indigenous-owned businesses and workers.

We can build on the many success stories that we see across the Territory’s defence bases.

Take, for instance, base services – things like catering, cleaning and waste management.

The essential services that keep our bases running smoothly.

Defence’s base services contractors engaged over 100 Territory sub-contractors to carry out work worth more than $160 million dollars between July 2022 and March this year...

Out of those sub-contractors, the majority are small and medium-sized enterprises, and 21 of which are indigenous businesses.

Let me give you an example.

Pattemore Consultants is an indigenous business based in McMinns Lagoon, not far from here.

They were hired to refurbish three accommodation buildings at RAAF Base Tindal in a project valued at about $2.6 million dollars.

Or take Ventia, a key service provider for the Defence estate.

Around 15 per cent of Ventia’s NT workforce identify as indigenous, and nationally Ventia employs over 250 veterans.

These good, secure jobs deliver for the Defence estate, support local families and meaningfully close the gap.

Nationwide last financial year, Defence awarded thousands of contracts to Indigenous businesses, with a combined value of more than $1 billion.

That’s a great result.

It’s terrific to see big companies like Sitzler – one of today’s sponsors – on board.

As the managing contractor for the $747 million dollar project to upgrade NT training areas and ranges, Sitzler awarded works packages to several indigenous-owned companies, including…

AKJ Services, who delivered the new Driver Training Area at Robertson Barracks.

And Barpa, who’ve been engaged to construct new range-control facilities at Kangaroo Flats.

As we accelerate infrastructure work across the North…

I’m committed to seeing better outcomes for Indigenous companies and their employees.

Finally, let me turn attention to one of the Territory’s greatest resources – its abundant, renewable energy.

Climate change is one a serious national security issue.

In February, with Luke Gosling here in Darwin, I announced that Labor would invest $64 million in the Defence Renewable Energy and Energy Security Program.

This will deliver solar energy and battery storage systems at ten Defence sites nationwide.

Including a large-scale, eleven-megawatt solar farm at Robertson Barracks.

It’s two and a half megawatt battery will save about 8,000 tons of emissions per year.

Additional projects will be delivered at RAAF Bases Darwin and Tindal, Larrakeyah Barracks, and Harts Range.

These projects don’t just reduce emissions.

They make remote ADF bases more resilient.

They reduce vulnerabilities by reducing dependency on fuel supply chains for back-up power generation.

And that makes operational sense.

Help us to step up and take more positive action.

There’s lots that Defence and Industry can do to tackle climate change.

But only if Defence and Industry are ambitious together.

From improving infrastructure and investing in renewable energy to enhancing military capabilities, the North will undertake extensive projects that will significantly impact the region.

However, the Albanese Labor Government fully trusts the North's ability to deliver on these objectives.

Teamwork and collaboration are key.

Inside Defence and the ADF.

Across defence industry, and in partnership with the Northern Territory Government led by Natasha Fyles.

With local communities and unions.

The potential benefits are substantial, as these projects will both strengthen our security and create new long-term jobs.

Together, I know we’re all up for the challenge.

I look forward to working with you as northern Australia remains at the forefront of our nation’s defence.

Thank you.


Other related releases