Press Conference, Lavarack Barracks, Townsville, QLD

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The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Defence

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02 6277 7800

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28 September 2023

SUBJECTS: Army restructure; Aviation sector; Privacy laws.

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Welcome everyone here today to Lavarack Barracks, the home of the Third Brigade here in Townsville. Following the Defence Strategic Review and the Government's response to it, today the Government is announcing a major restructure of the Australian Army and I'm joined here today by Major General Richard Vagg, the Acting Chief of Army. We need to be making sure that we have the army of the future. The Defence Strategic Review has asked of Government that we seek to have a defence force which is focused. Focused on providing for the peace and security of the region in which we live. And the implications for army is to move from having a series of like combat brigades to having three combat brigades which retain each of them the core capabilities of a combat brigade, but each of them having their own specialisation. And that's what we are announcing today.

So, as a result of this restructure, what we will see is that the 1st Brigade, based in Darwin, will be light, agile, easy to deploy. Three Brigade, which is based here at Lavarack Barracks in Townsville, will have a focus on heavy armour – tanks, infantry fighting vehicles. It will bring to bear the greatest lethality in any conflict. And Seven Brigade, based in Brisbane, will be between the two. It will have a heavy motorised capability, but will also be able to deploy. What this will see in consolidating three combat brigades across Brisbane, Townsville and Darwin, is a move of defence force personnel from both Brisbane and Adelaide to here in Townsville. And this offers the opportunity of seeing in Adelaide the standing up of what will be a new 10th Brigade, which will have a long-range fires capability, along with integrated air and missile defence. This will be the cutting edge of army technology. Alongside that will be the retasking of the 1st Armoured Regiment, which will be focused on bringing through into quick operation the newest technologies and innovative practices for the Army. And what that will mean is that we have our highest tech capabilities in Adelaide, close to the defence industrial base which exists there. We will have our three combat brigades in our northern bases, which is exactly what the Defence Strategic Review sought in the recommendations that it made, the recommendations which were accepted by the government.

This is an important step forward for our Army. This builds an Army which will be able to project, which is what we are seeking to do as a result of the Defence Strategic Review. And this is the basis upon which we will be creating the Army we need for Australia's future. General Vagg.

MAJOR GENERAL RICHARD VAGG, ACTING CHIEF OF ARMY: Thank you, Deputy Prime Minister. These changes will result in world-class, relevant and well-resourced units and formations. The organisation will allow us to train as we would fight and position our equipment where it's most needed. We've got a unique opportunity with a number of new equipments starting to be delivered from next year, so we can position them at the point of need. It's important to remember that adaptation is in Army's DNA. As we adapt to this new structure, we'll have an Army that is optimised for operations in the littoral environment.

MARLES: Great. Questions?

JOURNALIST: Can you please provide a breakdown of how many people are moving where?

MARLES: Well, we will see a significant movement of people. In terms of here in Townsville, over the course of the next two to three posting cycles – so, that's really over the next five to six years – we'll see an increase of around 4-500 personnel here, which will see a significant growth in the defence capability here. In Adelaide, there will be a dipping of numbers in the short term, but through till about 2027-28, actually, it'll end up being a return to the existing numbers that have been in Adelaide – or are in Adelaide up until this point in time. And we will see similar numbers as we currently have today in both Darwin and Brisbane. There are obvious challenges, for example, in relation to housing here, which is where we will see the greatest growth. We're working with Defence Housing Australia in relation to that, along with the Queensland Government. It is a challenge, but we do have time. This is not happening immediately. This is a restructure that, as I said, will occur over the next two to three posting cycles. So, we've got five to six years in order to bring this into effect.

JOURNALIST: The Townsville Mayor has today said that there was hardly any consultation on where these soldiers going to be housed with them. And the Mayor's been said that the Defence Housing needs to get their act together. What's your response?

MARLES: Well, I certainly think it is a challenge in terms of housing here, but with that challenge comes an opportunity. And as I said, we're not doing this tomorrow, we're doing this over a period of time. So, we've got the time to get this right. It'll be four, five, six years over which we will be bringing the additional personnel to Townsville. And that really represents an enormous opportunity for this town, an enormous economic opportunity for this town. We will work really closely with the Queensland Government, with Defence Housing Australia and with the City of Townsville as well, to make sure that we get the detail of this right. In terms of the announcement today, we have consulted very closely with state and territory governments and as we bring these changes into effect over the next few years, we will work closely with local communities, including the City of Townsville.

JOURNALIST: Specifically, will you be working with state governments on housing people? Insurance premiums here are through the roof trying to build houses, it's really going to be a massive, massive issue for building houses for 500 troops and X amount of family members. How specifically are you going to work with state government (inaudible)?

MARLES: Well, again, we'll work through the details of that with them. We're very mindful of the challenges that need to be addressed here, of the additions to housing stock, but we do have the time to get this right. It's not as though all those people are here tomorrow. This is something which is going to take place over the next four, five, six years. And we'll be working with both the Queensland Government and with the City of Townsville, along with Defence Housing Australia, to work out those details and to get this right.

JOURNALIST: What's the logic in moving people back out of Adelaide when, 10 years ago, Defence decided to move them there because it was lower cost and better for families?

MARLES: Well, I think this is about making sure that we are meeting the challenge that's been provided to us by the Defence Strategic Review, having a focus on our forward bases. It is also about consolidating our assets, which is important in terms of making sure that they are the most effective that they can be. So, for example, here in Townsville, having a focus, a speciality, if you like, in relation to heavy armour, will greatly enable this brigade to bring lethality to the battle space. And that's what we need to be focused upon first and foremost. I think the other point to make is that in bringing to bear three highly capable combat infantry brigades with their own focus is actually the best way in which we can attract the soldiers of the future to our Army. Recruitment and retention is an issue, but by making sure we’ve got world class brigades with world class capabilities and world class specialisations, that’s the way we’re actually going to attract people into our Army.

JOURNALIST: Is Adelaide getting a dud deal out of this? I mean, you promised that Adelaide is going to be playing a key role in the AUKUS deal. Are you sort of giving with one hand and taking away with the other?

MARLES: Not at all. In fact, there's a huge opportunity here for Adelaide because Adelaide is going to be the centre, really, of high technology within the Australian Army by the standing up of a new 10th Brigade, which will be focused on long range fires, on integrated air and missile defence being based at Edinburgh  in Adelaide. That is a huge opportunity for Adelaide. What it is doing is bringing our technology into– Army's technology, into a place which is in close connection with Defence industry, where that technology is being developed. So again, we get a synergy there. Over the medium term we're talking about the same number of people in the Army being based at Edinburgh, being based in Adelaide. So, I think this is a great opportunity for Adelaide.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned retention, moving this many soldiers around do you think that you'll potentially see some resignations or some sign offs from the Army because of this?

MARLES: No. As I say, we are doing this over a period of posting cycles, so as soldiers and the families of our Army expect to move in the course of their normal posting cycles, that's how we will bring this into effect. So we don't see that there will be any particular disruption against what would normally occur in a posting cycle. But I think on the positive side, in trying to bring to bear three highly effective world class combat brigades, that provides really exciting opportunities and really exciting prospects and careers for people who are in Army. And that's the best thing we can do to both attract people to serve in the Army and to retain people’s service within the Army.

JOURNALIST: Is there additional funds for DHA with this announcement today and the review of troops? There’s empty DHA houses in Townsville at the moment, so what investment can be done to get those houses up to scratch? Because a lot of them are empty, because they're not up to scratch. What money is going towards DHA and what more are they going to have through housing, etcetera?

MARLES: Well again, we– as I said in answer to your earlier question, we're mindful of the challenge in respect of housing and it is a specific challenge here, given we are talking about over the course of the next five or six years, more people coming to Townsville. We will work through with DHA those challenges in a methodical way. We've got time to do it, to make sure that we get this right and we know that we do need to get it right. But Townsville is a fantastic part of the world, as you all know, and we see that having more of our Army based here again is actually something which will attract people to serving.

JOURNALIST: I've just got a question, sorry, I’ve just got a question regarding– it’s a state question. Is the $31 billion inland rail project still coming to Queensland?

MARLES: Yeah, so we'll just stay on this and then we can come back to general questions.

JOURNALIST: General, can you just talk to me about why wasn't Adelaide deemed suitable to retain the 7th Battalion?

MAJOR GENERAL VAGG: I think the Deputy Prime Minister has explained how we're going to consolidate the relevant capabilities in the relevant brigades. I think it's really important to understand that linking and delinking of battalions is not new. We delinked 7RAR from 5RAR to enable us to produce more forces to put through the Middle East. This linking process is part of what we normally do. I think it's important to focus on what is going into Adelaide; the long-range fires brigade, the integrated air and missile defence capabilities and the rerolling of 1st Armoured Regiment into an innovation and experimentation brigade once again will bring the numbers of personnel up to where they are now, but it'll introduce some amazing capabilities and do some amazing things for the industry base that sits within Adelaide.

JOURNALIST: And given its geographical location as well, how does it make sense for the long-range missiles to be based in Adelaide? Will they be launched from there?

MAJOR GENERAL VAGG: The systems that we're buying are highly mobile, deployable for a C-130, C-17 Air Force aircraft. The point of putting them in Adelaide is they are technical, they require data and in the infusion of targeting data, which we can do in Adelaide. And then we can force project them to the point of need using the integrated force and our own assets within Defence.

JOURNALIST: Given its geographical location, how does it make sense for long-range missiles to be based in Adelaide? Will they be launched from there?

MAJOR GENERAL VAGG: The systems that we're buying are highly mobile, deployable by C-130, C-17 Air Force aircraft. The point of putting them in Adelaide is that they are technical, they require data and technical targeting data which we can do in Adelaide, and then we can force project them to the point of need, using integrated force and our own assets.

JOURNALIST: Given recruitment and retention issues does the does the restructuring mean you need less people? Are you removing the need for certain roles? So you can address that?

MAJOR GENERAL VAGG: No, we're not removing roles, (inaudible) reduce hollowness. What we are doing is we're consolidating assets and people to the point of need. We can't get away from the fact that there is a recruitment and retention issue that's been publicly spoken about. Government has directed the formation of the Lieutenant General Natasha Fox as the Chief of Personnel to directly address that issue. But to get to the nub of your question, we will have relevant, world-class, properly resourced brigades, and that is one of our best retention tools, because it's an enjoyable place to serve. When a soldier has the right capabilities at hand.

JOURNALIST: The first wave, basically when are people going to move to Townsville?

MAJOR GENERAL VAGG: Those movements will start from 2025 and we will phase them with the delivery of key pieces of equipment as they're introduced. As I stated earlier, we've got a really unique opportunity now because, because our modernisation is now starting to mature. As those bits of equipment are delivered, we will bring them to the place of need. And then we'll bring the people with those pieces of equipment.

JOURNALIST: With the (inaudible) do you believe that those army bases (inaudible) in the inner-city suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne, would you be interested in those being divested to build houses in Queensland?

MARLES: It’s a good question, and I don't want to pre-empt the review but I think the point of the review is to make sure that the defence estate is working in the best possible way for the Defence Force, noting that what the Defence Strategic Review identified was that the most important platform that we have enabled to, in order to project is our northern bases. I mean, that's where the focus of the Defence Force needs to be. I think it's natural then coming out of that to look at the entirety of the Defence Estate, which is massive, which as you've rightly said, has a whole lot of properties in different parts of Australia, and there's a lot of history behind why they're there. But we need to be thinking about the future, and the kind of estate that we need, which can be operating in the most active way for that future. So we are looking at all of that. I mean literally all of that, in terms of what we need to do to make sure that the Defence Estate is working in the best possible way to underpin the work of the Defence Force.

JOURNALIST: I have one final question, either of you can answer. Is there like a working number of, say we’ve got 500 troops moving, that means we're going to have 3.5 people moving with them? Like is there kind of a working number that ties in their families?

MARLES: I mean, there is an assumption of the number of people that come with those personnel. And that obviously then forms part of the work that Defence Housing Australia does in terms of what we need to do around housing capacity.

JOURNALIST: Is there a working number?

MARLES: Well, I don't have a working number to hand, but as I say that say forms part of the work that is done and will be done over the course of the next few years Defence Housing Australia to make sure that we have the capacity.

JOURNALIST: Just a question from our Sydney office, Qatar Airlines have claimed –  

MARLES: Just we'll get to it. Is there any more in relation today's announcement?

JOURNALIST: Is it fair to describe Townsville as the army capital of Australia now?

MARLES: Look, I think – I'll give you a go at this as well as the Acting Chief of the Army. Townsville is one of the great garrison cities of our country. I mean, along with Darwin, it's one of the two places which has a huge focus of our Defence Force, and it is a massive centre of the Australian Army's activity. Obviously, the Air Force has a presence here as well. And in saying that the observation I would make, and it really does come through in the Defence Strategic Review, the very presence of Townsville, the community here beyond the Defence Force, is a national asset. All that is done here, you know, the shopkeepers, cleaners, service providers is so important because it's upon that foundation that Defence is able to have the basis here that it does. And what becomes really clear to us as a government is just how critically important Townsville is as a national asset, and I think what comes out of today's announced restructure of the Army is a massive vote of competence in Townsville.

MAJOR GENERAL VAGG: Army is a national institution. It's made up of a team of teams. We’re full time service, we’re part time service. We don't have a first among equals, we operate best when we operate as that collective group of teams of teams.

JOURNALIST: I've just actually– just really quick while you’re there. It's the New Zealand election at the moment and one of the topics is defence spending in the country. Do you think, given that New Zealand spends under 2 per cent of its GDP on defence spending, do you think they rely maybe a little too much on the Australian Army?

MAJOR GENERAL VAGG: That's clearly not my position to make a statement on.

JOURNALIST: Minister just on Qatar Airlines because there just aren't Qatar (inaudible) operations in Australia by Christmas? Do you think Australians deserve to have access to cheaper airfares by Christmas?

MARLES: We want to have the most competitive skies that we can have. It's why the Government has announced a white paper process in respect of aviation. It's why we brought on more capacity, in turn more access (inaudible).

JOURNALIST: What difference are the new privacy laws going to make and what are the important changes in there? 

MARLES: The Attorney-General has been undertaking a review of our privacy laws. I think, as highlighted really by the data breaches that we saw last year, every Australian in their day to day interactions in the economy expects to have their data treated with security and with care. We need to make sure that we have the best privacy laws in place, which ensure that our data is treated with care and with security. That's the work of the review that's being undertaken right now and in due course the Attorney-General will have more to say.

JOURNALIST: Inland Rail, is the project coming to Queensland?

MARLES: Again, I'll leave others to answer that question. Thank you


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