28 September 2023
SUBJECTS: Army restructure; Surface fleet analysis; Victorian Labor leadership.
KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles. Thanks for your time. Can you explain the rationale for today's shakeup of the Army that you've announced?
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, good to talk with you, Kieran. It is a really important restructuring of the Army and it comes in the wake of the Defence Strategic Review and the Government's response to it. One of the tenets of the Defence Strategic Review was to have a focused defence force around maintaining the peace and security of the region in which we live and having a defence force which was capable of projection. And really, that is the philosophies which have underpinned the restructure that we've announced today. So, whereas we have historically had, like, combat brigades, that is combat brigades which have all done roughly the same thing, what we are announcing today is that we will have three consolidated combat brigades which will all retain the core combat brigade capabilities.
But in addition to that, we'll now have a focused specialisation. So, the 1st Brigade, based out of Darwin, will be light and agile, easier to deploy. The 3rd Brigade, based here in Townsville, will have a focus on heavy armour, tanks, infantry fighting vehicles. It will be the brigade which will be able to bring to bear the greatest lethality in any fight. And then the 7th Brigade, based out of Brisbane, is, if you like, halfway between the two, having a motorised capability, but also with an ability to relatively easily deploy, and to have all of those brigades in our northern bases. The places from which we will project. What that will see is some movement of personnel from Adelaide and from Brisbane, particularly here to Townsville. That, in turn, affords the opportunity of being able to stand up a new 10th Brigade in Adelaide, which will be based on long-range fires, integrated air and missile defence. This is really high-tech, cutting-edge technology within the Australian Army, being close to the defence industrial base that we have in Australia and South Australia, being close to the Defence Science and Technology Group, so that there is a synergy there, so that what you end up with is the high-tech component in Adelaide. Our combat brigades focused on our northern bases, the place from which we project, and this, I think, offers the opportunity for a much more focused and effective Army, which can bring to bear the kind of projection that we are seeking to achieve in our defence force.
GILBERT: Around 800 army personnel to move from Adelaide to the north, most of them going to Townsville. Is Adelaide, at least in the short term, the loser out of the shakeup?
MARLES: No. So, firstly, it's not like this happens all tomorrow. This will be done over the course of the next two or three posting cycles. A posting cycle is every two years. So, in essence, we will be achieving this restructure through the normal movement that a soldier within the Army would expect during their career. So, it will happen in a gradual way and while there will be in the next year or two, a dip in numbers in Adelaide, within a relatively short period of time, the numbers in Adelaide will actually be back at the level that they are right now. The difference, of course, though, is that what will be in Adelaide is really going to be the centre of Army's technological capability, with long-range fires, integrated air and missile defence. And that's a huge opportunity for Adelaide. It really will mean that Adelaide is the technological centre of the Australian Army and that sits well, as I said, with the presence of the Defence Science and Technology Group, the presence of so much of Australia's defence industry based in Adelaide. So, this, I think, is a really good opportunity for Adelaide and the whole restructure will be done in a gradual way over the next four, five, six years.
GILBERT: With most of the personnel heading to Townsville, some to Darwin as well, the issue of retention has come up. What's your view on that? Are you worried about the ability for Army to retain their best, given we are facing a very tight labour market and likely to over the next cycle, when you're looking to make these changes, are you worried about retaining the people?
MARLES: Well, certainly recruitment and retention is a huge challenge within the Army, but across the Defence Force more generally. It is a focus of attention in the Defence Strategic Review and the Government's response to it. We would see this as being part of the solution in relation to the more general recruitment and retention challenge. This is really going to make clear the exciting opportunities that do exist within Army, give people a much greater sense of clarity about the pathways that they can take and that we see as something which will actually help recruitment and retention, and ultimately start the pathway towards growing the Army, which is ultimately what we need to be doing.
GILBERT: And you're talking about off the review, the Defence Strategic Review, the notion of projection. To those who've looked at the announcement and see the long range missiles and those high tech capability that you spoke about, it makes sense to have them near that industrial base, as you referred to earlier in our discussion. But what about the projection side of things? Does it make sense to have our long-range missiles so far really on the wrong side of the continent from any potential adversary?
MARLES: Well, those capabilities are a deployable capability, so, I mean, you will be deploying them to parts of the country from which they will undertake their fires, it's not as though they're going to be firing the missiles from Adelaide. And these are highly deployable capabilities that can be deployed by air and the like and so you can disperse them to the places around the continent that we need very quickly. But what's important is, given the high tech nature of these capabilities, to have their base be close to where the science and the tech is. And that's really, well that is Adelaide. But it's the opportunity for Adelaide to see that capability continue to evolve there.
GILBERT: So much is going to come down to our maritime capability as well. When do you receive the Naval Surface Fleet review?
MARLES: Well, I rather infamously and clearly put the moz on things earlier in the year that I said that we would receive this before Geelong won the grand final, but I assure you that has not given us the leave pass to wait for longer. It is my anticipation that we will receive this review tomorrow. In effect, that announcement, when we made it, was really seeking that we would get this review done by grand final day and that's really been the demand, if you like, that we've placed on the reviewers. We've been working closely with them and they are on time in terms of the work that they've done. So, we will receive this tomorrow and from there the Government will take a bit of time to consider its response to the review. It's worth understanding that this review is really looking forward in terms of our surface fleet over the next 10, 20 years and beyond. So, we do have a couple of months to– or a few months to look at this properly and make sure that we respond. Our anticipation is that we will have a formal response to this in the early part of next year, but it really is one of the key parts of the overall reassessment of our Defence Force, which has begun with the Defence Strategic Review that we announced earlier in the year.
GILBERT: Finally, as the most senior federal Labor politician from Victoria. It's the beginning of a new era; Jacinta Allan, Ben Carroll the Deputy from the right faction, he's the Deputy Premier. Is this in part, what we've seen the last 24 hours, the Labor caucus in Victoria saying we've had enough of the autocratic ways of Daniel Andrews and starting to push back and saying, you've got to share this around a bit, it can't be so centrally controlled?
MARLES: Look, firstly, I think Dan Andrews has done a remarkable job as the Premier of Victoria over the last nine years. He's won three elections, he leaves the party with a very solid parliamentary majority. He leaves on his own terms, on a high. I mean, Dan Andrews' career has been colossal and he really is a giant. And I think leading us through the pandemic, but also the big build which is transforming Victoria as we speak, we'll see every Victorian really benefit from the legacy of that. Jacinta Allan, Ben Carroll are two people I've known for decades now and they are fine representatives of the Labor Party. You're right in saying it will certainly be a new era. I think Jacinta Allan is going to be a fantastic Premier for our state and I'm really looking forward with a sense of excitement to what she will bring to the role. And every new leader has their own take on the role that they play and we will see that with Jacinta. But I think what we'll also see through both Jacinta and Ben's leadership is a continuation of a really solid state government which has benefited Victorians so much over the course of the last nine years.
GILBERT: Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles joining me from Townsville. Appreciate it.
MARLES: Thanks, Kieran.
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