Press Conference, Defence Accommodation Precinct Darwin

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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

The Hon Natasha Fyles MLC

Chief Minister Of The Northern Territory

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3 July 2023

SUBJECTS: Defence Accommodation Precinct Darwin; Defence Strategic Review; Talisman Sabre; US Marine rotation; Lee Point development; Defence Housing Australia; Darwin Airport.

LUKE GOSLING, MEMBER FOR SOLOMON: Good morning, everyone and welcome to what was formerly known as the Centre for National Resilience. As we mark this important transition today, we want to acknowledge that we are meeting here on Larrakia land, and in NAIDOC Week, we recognise, particularly their elders. The First Nations people of this region played a significant part in the naming and design of this facility, and many First Nations people have worked here, as the NT government has provided such crucial support to the community. I spent two weeks here at Howard Springs and subsequently returned to Parliament; it's an excellent quarantine facility. It's played many roles, including aid during natural disasters, and now it contributes to our national defence. Here with my NT colleagues, Chief Minister Natasha Fyles, and the Minister for Infrastructure Planning, Eva Lawler from Palmerston just across the way. My mate Matt Thistlethwaite, Assistant Minister for Defence and Veterans’ Affairs, but also for the Republic. Matt is a frequent visitor up here and it's great to have him here today. We're here for the handover of this fantastic facility, which from tonight will be housing members of the Australian Defence Force in town for the Talisman Sabre exercises. The Defence Strategic Review clearly indicated that Northern Australia is crucial to the defence of Australia and working with our allies and partners. However, our bases have run out of room, and this facility will make a massive contribution to housing not only ADF members but members of our allies and partners. Without further ado, I'll hand over to Natasha Fyles. Thanks very much for attending.

NATASHA FYLES, CHIEF MINISTER OF THE NORTHERN TERRITORY: We're standing here at the site of the former Inpex workers' village that housed three and a half thousand people during the construction of the Inpex project. We then saw 60,000 Australians come through Howard Springs as the Centre for National Resilience during our response to COVID; 20,000 high-risk international arrivals, and not one case of COVID was able to escape this facility. We now enter a new phase with this site becoming Defence Accommodation Precinct Darwin. The Northern Territory Government is excited to partner with the Commonwealth Government, and I acknowledge Minister Matt Thistlethwaite, who is here in the Territory today. This will provide accommodation for Defence personnel not only from Australia but from our allies. We often see defence exercises being undertaken during the peak tourism season, and with limited capacity on our defence bases, this provides an opportunity for accommodation. It's fantastic accommodation; it has communal areas, a swimming pool, tennis courts, basketball courts, and facilities that allow hardworking Defence personnel from Australian Defence services and allies to be comfortably accommodated whilst they undertake their important work. We know through the Defence Strategic Review the important role Northern Australia currently plays, and that role will increase over the coming years. The Northern Territory Government is really excited to sign this agreement with the Commonwealth Government, a five-year agreement that will see this site used for defence accommodation. I'll now hand over to Federal Minister Matt Thistlethwaite.

MATT THISTLETHWAITE, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Thanks, Chief Minister. It's great to be back here in Darwin for the signing of this very important agreement between the Australian Defence Force and the Northern Territory Government. This agreement makes perfect sense. We know that this wonderful facility, a three and a half thousand bed facility, has served a great purpose during the COVID years. Thankfully, we no longer need it for quarantine, and it will now be handed over to the Australian Defence Force and renamed as Defence Accommodation Precinct Darwin. This will enable it to house Australian troops and visiting forces into the future in excellent accommodation facilities. Single rooms with ensuite facilities, health facilities, recreational facilities, hospitality facilities, all in close proximity to Darwin. It's about 10 kilometres to Robertson Barracks and just over 20 kilometres to Larrakia Barracks and our HMAS Coonawarra. So, this facility makes a lot of sense for the Defence Force to ensure it can use it for the accommodation of troops into the future. It will also be used immediately; we're going to have 1300 troops positioned here over the coming months as part of Exercise Talisman Sabre. But there are a lot of other exercises that occur here in the North, such as Exercise Pitch Black, Pacific Endeavour, and of course, we have the annual Marine rotation. So, this facility is going to be very well used by the Australian Defence Force and by international forces into the future. This is part of the Albanese Labor Government's commitment to building defence resources and strengthening Northern Australia. Over the next decade, we will devote $3.8 billion worth of investment to improving base capabilities and infrastructure in the North. I want to thank Chief Minister Natasha Fyles and the infrastructure minister for the work they've put into ensuring this facility is top-notch, for the commitment, and the partnership that is ongoing between the Albanese Labor Government and the Northern Territory Government for the future defence of our nation. It's a wonderful partnership that is growing from strength to strength, and the handover and signing of this lease today, for the next five years with two, five-year options ongoing, is a great symbol of that commitment, strength, and partnership between our governments. So, thank you everyone for being here. Thanks to the Northern Territory Government, and this facility will be used right away. We're happy to take some questions if anyone has any?

JOURNALIST: Could you tell us a little bit about the nature of the leasing arrangements? How much money will the Commonwealth Government be giving to the Territory Government?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: The lease is initially for five years with two five-year options. It will cost about $50 million a year; that's for the lease payment which is around $8 million a year. The rest of it will be sustainment costs. The maintenance of the area will be the responsibility of the Territory Government, but all the facilities and the management of the facilities will be undertaken by the Defence Force.

JOURNALIST: The 1300 personnel that are coming into the facility, where are they all from? Already in Darwin or are they from across the country and the world?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, Exercise Talisman Sabre is the largest multinational force exercise that the Australian Defence Force undertakes, and there'll be personnel from well over 10 nations over the course of the next three months. Predominantly there will be United States personnel. There'll be some Australian personnel, Singaporeans, and other nations that are involved in this multinational exercise, and it's a wonderful opportunity for us to improve the interoperability of the Australian Defence Force with our important allies.

JOURNALIST: How long have discussions been going on for in terms of taking over the lease from the Territory Government?

CHIEF MINISTER: This is a fantastic facility. And as I mentioned, it's had a history: the Inpex workers' village, and the Northern Territory Government took responsibility for the facility during COVID and served the Territory and the nation well during that period. With that response ending, we had been looking towards what was the next phase for Howard Springs. So there had been a range of conversations at my Cabinet level, but also with the Commonwealth Government. We think the fit with Defence is an excellent one, particularly as I mentioned, with a number of defence exercises taking place during peak tourism season, and also our bases quite full during that time. In terms of formalities, it's been over the last few months that we've been working on an agreement, and I want to reassure Territorians there'll be no cost to them from Defence using this facility. If we need to use it for an emergency type response for Territorians, we have negotiated that in the agreement with Defence. So, this is a partnership between the Northern Territory Government and the Commonwealth Government on what is a fantastic site here in the Top End, that can serve Territorians and now serve Australians more broadly.

JOURNALIST: So, regarding that, obviously most recently disappeared used to house evacuated from the Outback. do you envisage that nice can still be used for that purpose if there is a natural disaster?

CHIEF MINISTER: So, we'd have ensured in the negotiation if there was a need for the Northern Territory, and I'm hoping there's no more pandemics around the corner. But if there was a need, such as a pandemic or natural disaster, and this was decided to be best used for territory, and we can split that up in terms of the damage from the people that were passed to you said it was only wear and tear, we obviously know it's for all that damage been fixed. I acknowledge some time ago that it was more than wear and tear. I understand that the works for repair are continuing to minister Moreover, to add more to that.

EVA LAWLER, NT MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE: Thank you, so the final works occurring right now. So literally, the last lot of windows that contract is about to be announced. And that worked by so obviously the areas that have been identified where these new people will move in a different areas where the work that's being finalised, but the thing that we gave during estimates $298,000 for those repairs, once we have finalised those figures, we'll be able to provide that, but that work is ongoing and will be completed very soon. Well as the stage that finalised tender for that second stage, so stage one of windows, there was about 100 windows in that first contract, stage two of the window appears is just about to be finalised. Once that's finalised, that will be underway. And as I said, hopefully in the coming probably in the next four weeks that will be finalised. As I said, it has been a matter of getting and moving around that but there's been work on the ground here since the evacuation. So, it's been working around the areas that weren't used by the evacuees even so obviously the tavern area, the large kitchen area as well. Started I do acknowledge the amazing work that the staff, infrastructure staff have done. So, they've been in those areas, some of those areas haven't been used for quite a substantial amount of time. So, whether that's repairing dishwashers, kitchen areas, and things like that, that work’s been underway.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned in the opening statements that the bases have basically been running out. We go into a little detail and if that's your check that that about where people have been, you know, what kind of a crush was that?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, we were at the RAAF Base Darwin this morning for some NAIDOC Week celebrations. And there's some temporary accommodation that's been constructed there over the course of the last couple of years to cater for the increased rotations in Marines, but also the increasing exercises that have been taking place here in the North. So that's been temporary accommodation. The beauty of this facility is an ongoing solution to accommodation problems. And I'll also say that it's important for the city of Darwin as well, because these rotations and exercises tend to take place in the peak tourist season here in Darwin. So, the importance of this facility is it will take pressure off the local accommodation market during a crucial time for the NT tourism season. And that will ensure that there's more beds for tourists to come to this wonderful part of Australia.

JOURNALIST: Regarding your defence review that was released earlier this year. It says that it's a work to increase the US Marine presence in the top end. Is this a way of doing that? Is this to envisage this we'll see bigger rotations or even a permanent presence of US Marines?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, the US Marine rotation has been occurring for a number of years now. And each year, the number of Marines has been increasing because the interoperability between our two nations as allies has been increased. But it's not only the US. We've also been growing the collaborations that we have with other nations, as well as well as the 10 nations that have been involved in Talisman Sabre. And we're only going to see more and more of that into the future. So, it will cater for the increases in rotations. But it's also important to point out that we're going to see a lot more Australian troops working in this area. We've got big plans to grow the Australian Defence Force. Northforce, the operations that occur here in the north of Australia are an important component of that. And when you're talking about training people, particularly here in the North, this facility provides that wonderful accommodation to ensure that they get top notch facilities and that they can undertake the best training possible in the defence of our nation.

JOURNALIST: Does this mean there's likely to be a permanent US presence?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, it's an ongoing rotation. It's been something that's have been occurring for many years, and it reflects the alliance that Australia has had for a very long period of time, with the United States only going to be strengthened by important partnerships in the future like

JOURNALIST: I've got a few questions from a colleague so the there's be few hiccups with the Lee Point projects which the federal government has contributed to do you still stand by that project?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Luke Gosling, the local member has been lobbying me heavily about the point they wanted to see greater environmental offsets. When I was here a few weeks ago, I went to Lee Point with Luke and we had a look firsthand what's proposed there in terms of development, we know that this is a mixed development to DHA, Defence Housing, Australia development. It's also a Northern Territory, government development to provide important housing. And we looked at what was proposed, and we've lobbied the environment minister for greater environmental offsets to ensure particularly protection of natural habitat for the Gouldian Finch. Thankfully, the environment minister has agreed to those additional offsets. So, there's an additional buffer that's been built in particularly around the dam to protect that important habitat for protected species. So, thanks to Luke's good work the government has listened, and we've increased those environmental offsets but now the project has been approved by the environment minister, it will start to proceed to provide that important long term defence housing, but also more housing for Territorians.

JOURNALIST: The NT government asked Defence to clear up what's going on with defence works proposed Darwin airport, which is seeing some commercial uncertainty over a long period of time. What clarity can Defence give for that?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Yeah, this is a very important project, and it goes to hardening of the North. We're seeing increasing numbers of visitors to the Northern Territory. So, the runway is getting more use in terms of civil aviation, but also much more use in terms of defence aviation, as well. So, it's time that they're only strengthened to ensure that can cater for those additional flights that are coming into the airport, because negotiation that's going on between Defence and the Airport Corporation at the moment to ensure that we minimise the disruption to civil aviation through these works. So, what we're trying to achieve is ensuring that the work can take place in the dry season, but also ideally at night or at nonpeak times, so that we're minimising that disruption to civil aviation. And people come into town to visit which is important, obviously, for the local economy itself. We're working through those issues. It's recently been approved by the Public Works Committee of the Federal parliament, it's ready to go. And once those issues are worked through with the Airport Corporation, the work will commence, and it's expected to be completed in 2024.

JOURNALIST: We're already seeing some flights cancelled because of this works. I mean, it's a sign that it's not going as smoothly with these negotiations?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: We certainly don't want to see any flights cancelled to this very important part of Australia and our economy. But we do need to make sure that this work does take place. It's pretty important to the viability of the Defence Force here in the North, and ultimately it will pay dividends, I think for the local economy because you'll be able to get larger and more frequent visits from aircraft to this area. So, it's an important project. We're doing our best to try and finalise those negotiations as quickly as possible. Because we want the work to start as quickly as possible. The sooner it starts, the sooner it finishes. And the sooner the local economy can benefit from the increasing flights. And the sooner that the defence force can increase their presence with flights as well.

JOURNALIST: Chief, has the uncertainty around this project been problematic?

CHIEF MINISTER: So, this has been a matter between the Defence Force because it is a military runway and the Airport Corporation. We have been making sure that there is minimal disruption for Territorians, for both Territorians coming and going from Darwin but also visitors, so making sure that we've had that heard but we do want to see this resolved quickly with as little disruption to runway access so that we can see flights as normal as possible.

JOURNALIST: And just on Lee Point, what advice do you have, if any to the protesters and do you understand why they're concerned?

CHIEF MINISTER: I mean, this has been something that the Commonwealth Government, as we just heard from the federal minister have gone back and taking on board those concerns that have been raised providing additional corridors and additional space for the Gouldian Finches. And so, we're pleased that the Commonwealth through the EPBC have looked at this. And I think that's been through the hard work and advocacy of the Federal Member, Luke Gosling.

JOURNALIST: Lee Point protesters say that DHA is in breach of the development permit by building fences for preparatory work. That's maybe a question for Eva, but they said because there's not been a study completed into migratory shorebirds. Do you know where that study is at?

CHIEF MINISTER: Oh, let's be clear that this project that has been Defence land going back decades, it was the site of the radio control towers in the 80s. I can remember conversations, Defence were always clear that they would need it for a purpose, Defence Housing for over a decade have identified that as a site for a defence housing project, which they are leading but it's not only providing defence housing but there's the opportunity for Territorians to buy houses there. We had concerns raised from community groups they have been thoroughly looked at by Tanya Plibersek, the Minister for Environment around ensuring and we've seen additional space for native wildlife added to the reserve and also corridors, so we do need to have homes built for Territorians. And we do need to protect our environment. And I think that that has been balanced. And I know that those community groups will make sure every process is followed, but that's exactly what the Commonwealth Government has done and from a territory government perspective. We've strengthened planning we’ve strengthened environmental legislation we'll make sure that it's certainly dealt with. Thank you very much.



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