Doorstop Interview, Parliament House, Canberra

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The Hon Pat Conroy MP

Minister for Defence Industry

Minister for International Development and the Pacific

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Peta Donald - 0435 521 326 - media@defence.gov.au

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24 July 2023

SUBJECTS: 20 new C-130J Hercules aircraft for the RAAF, RAAF capability, Defence Strategic Review, strengthening northern bases, Australian jobs, AUKUS.

MINISTER FOR DEFENCE INDUSTRY PAT CONROY: The C -130J Hercules aircraft have been the workhorse of the Royal Australian Air Force since 1999. They've been deployed on every major defence operation during that period. Whether it's assistance in Bougainville, peacekeeping in Timor-Leste, whether it's the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the C-130J, the Hercules have been there. And more recently, the Hercules transported vaccines around our region during the COVID pandemic, as well as providing vital assistance during our recent natural disasters, the bushfire emergency and recent floods. It's been the Hercules that have been there to help the Australian people. And recently this year, it was two Hercules aircraft that went up and transported Australian citizens during the Sudan crisis. These are the workhorses of the Australian Air Force.

And today I'm proud to announce that the Albanese Labor Government will be almost doubling the fleet, going from 12 Hercules aircraft to 20. This investment of $9.8 billion will almost double the fleet and represents a massive uplift in capability in mobility and transport for the Royal Australian Air Force. So, in future, when we need to help out our region or transport troops and equipment around the world, it'll be these new Hercules aircraft that are there. Often when people are in trouble and they see the Royal Australian Air Force symbol, it'll be on a Hercules aircraft. So, this is great news. It's another example of the Albanese Labor Government investing in the national security of the nation, investing in humanitarian responses, investing in the peace and prosperity of our region. Very happy to answer any questions.

JOURNALIST: Eight extra you're buying, is it?

MINISTER CONROY: Eight extra and replacing the 12. So, those aircraft have been in service since 1999. They've been used very heavily, 150,000 flight hours. So, those 12 will be replaced. And not only will it be a like for like but an increase to 20 aircraft in total. Deliveries will start in 2027 and the first twelve will arrive by 2030.

JOURNALIST: What's the thought process or data that you have to essentially double the fleet?

MINISTER CONROY: Almost doubling the fleet gives us more capacity to deploy them on multiple operations at the same time. And that's the critical driver. As I said, these are the workhorses. We've got the C-17s as well, the Globe Masters and the smaller Spartans, but the Hercs are the right size to do lots of jobs. They've got a great range, they can land in unprepared fields. So, advice from Defence was that there'd be a very significant increase in capability by almost doubling the fleet.

JOURNALIST: So, will these planes also possibly replace the Spartans in the long run, in terms of the battlefield environment?

MINISTER CONROY: Well, the last government made a decision that the Spartan aircraft, which are smaller, are more suited for humanitarian responses. So, the Hercules is the workhorse and that's why we're increasing the number and replacing -

JOURNALIST: So, the Spartans will remain in the Air Force?

MINISTER CONROY: The Spartans will definitely remain in the Air Force. Their role is really humanitarian relief and around the region they do great work there. This complements what the Spartans offer.

JOURNALIST: These have been in production for decades. The almost $10 billion price tag. Does that just show how expensive purchasing FMS from the US is? And why 20 rather than the 24 approved by Congress?

MINISTER CONROY: The 20 is the right number, based on advice. And these aircraft are a significant upgrade on the C-130J’s that are in service at the moment. They've got better electronic warfare self protection, they've got better performance and they've got stronger airframes. So, while it's got the same name, it's a better aircraft. And Defence went through an exhaustive process of comparing other capabilities, other options that are out there on the global market. And I can say hand on heart that the Hercules are the best aircraft for what we need. This is a great day for the Australian Air Force. This is a massive uplift in our mobility. This $9.8 billion will almost double the number of aircraft.

JOURNALIST: Over the weekend, the Chief of the Air Force says he's not confident that Australia can defend our northern bases. What do you make of those comments and what's being done to upgrade them?

MINISTER CONROY: Well, the Chief of the Air Force was reflecting on what the Albanese Labor Government inherited. And what we did was commission the Defence Strategic Review. And the Defence Strategic Review said one of the critical six priorities that we immediately need to work on is hardening our northern bases. And that's why we allocated billions of dollars to do that work. And obviously, the Chief of the Air Force is reflecting that assessment and the need for that money to go into whether it's RAAF Base Tindal, Scherger, our naval port at Darwin, the army base at Townsville. We need to harden these facilities and that's why the Albanese Labor Government is allocating billions of dollars to do that.

JOURNALIST: Speaking of the DSR, the ABC has been told the government will soon confirm two new KC-30s. Is this needed for force projection? And if so, why was it not in the DSR?

MINISTER CONROY: I'm not in a position to comment on hypotheticals that are out there. I'm here announcing a massive increase in the Air Force's mobility through the acquisition of 20 Hercules aircraft, the most modern and most capable transport aircraft in the world.

JOURNALIST: The government has also been saying that this avenue, how it is going to be good for jobs. Can you explain the benefits that will come to Australians and to locals around the country?

MINISTER CONROY: Yeah. There are hundreds of jobs that will be created or maintained through supporting the Hercules aircraft around Windsor in northwest of Sydney. And so that's really important. Those maintenance jobs are critical to keeping those aircraft in the air. So, by almost doubling the fleet, you're going to increase the work there. So, hundreds of jobs will be supported around RAAF Base Richmond. And secondly, there are Australian companies that supply parts into them. Quickstep is a very advanced composites company that will really do great work in the supply chain there as well. They're two examples of the 100,000 jobs that rely on the Australian defence industry right now.

JOURNALIST: We're hearing that at the ALP National Conference, AUKUS might be debated. Is that true, is it under any threat?

MINISTER CONROY: We're a democratic party and I expect most issues will be debated at the National Conference next month. But I'm very confident that the conference will support AUKUS. This is the policy of the Albanese Labor Government because it's in our national interest. It is in our national interest and we're getting on full speed with implementing it. I was in the United States last month discussing the legislation that's required in the US system. We're getting on with the job and I'm very confident that the National Conference will support us. We're the party of national security and national defence. From John Curtin to Fisher to Hawke and Keating, it's the Australian Labor Party and the governments we form that really protect the interest and the national security of the Australian people. But thank you very much.

ENDS

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