Press conference, Avalon, Victoria

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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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8 December 2023

SUBJECTS: Contracts signed for Army’s infantry fighting vehicles; Geelong manufacturing; Independent analysis of Navy’s surface fleet; AUKUS legislation before US Congress; Hamas-Israel conflict; NZYQ High Court decision.

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Welcome everyone to Hanwha’s facility in Avalon, in Geelong. It’s great to be here, and it's great to be here with Major General Richard Vagg who is the Head of Land Capabilities in the Australian Army. And today we're announcing that in the last week, the Government has signed a $4.5 billion dollar contract with Hanwha Defense Australia for the production of 129 infantry fighting vehicles, the Redbacks. And this is part of a $7 billion program, the biggest program in the Australian Army's history. It will see 129 infantry fighting vehicles built right here in Geelong. And this is the first facility that Hanwha has established outside of the Korean Peninsula. And it represents a strategic objective for Hanwha to have a manufacturing facility outside of the Korean Peninsula, and it’s right here in Geelong. Not only will the infantry fighting vehicles be built here, but so too will the self-propelled howitzers and the supply vehicles which go with them. So this is becoming a major manufacturing facility for Hanwha, a major manufacturing facility right here in Geelong. What we're going to see with this program is 1,800 direct jobs, more than 2,000 jobs around the country being created by this program. It will have more than 90 different suppliers, a third of which will be coming from Victoria. From the point of view of Geelong, and as the local member for this area, the member for Corio, this is a really significant moment in the economic history of Geelong. Geelong has a proud history of making vehicles, now we're going to be making infantry fighting vehicles. And it's a really exciting evolution in the manufacturing history of this town and manufacturing has been central to the story of Geelong right throughout our history. Hundreds of jobs that will be here on an ongoing basis as part of this capacity, in a new burgeoning area, industrial area around Avalon airport. And we are situated, really, at part of the best transport and logistics precinct in the country. And this is a long held dream, I think, for those of us in Geelong to see the manufacturing of this kind playing out here and to see it in a high tech way with Hanwha is really, really exciting. But today is a great day for the Australian Army. These vehicles will play an enormous role in improving the capability of our Army, the capability of our Defence Force. And we are very excited as a Government about signing off on this. As I said, this is the largest program in the Australian Army's history and it represents a massive step forward in capability.

MAJOR GENERAL RICHARD VAGG, HEAD OF LAND CAPABILITY: Thank you, Deputy Prime Minister. This is a very exciting day for Army. The Redback behind me is the best vehicle of its type in the world. It will see service with the 3rd Brigade from 2027 and will offer our soldiers incredible world class capability in terms of firepower, protection, and mobility.

MARLES: So I'll take questions on this, and if there are any other questions of the day I might just leave them for a moment so I can excuse General Vagg. Are there any other questions on this announcement?

JOURNALIST: One locally, which you already touched on. But, I mean, did it feel like this opening up is a bit of a turning point as far as Geelong and the northern suburbs getting manufacturing jobs back after a bit of a rough period?

MARLES: Well, Harrison, we've experienced in the last decade or more some significant closures in the Geelong region; Alcoa, the production capability of Ford, although there still retains a design capability here at Ford. So it's been a difficult decade. But if you look around us here at Avalon, it is a remarkable area. A bit of a symbol is there’s now a coffee shop that has just set up here, you don't have to buy your coffee to bring it here. That says that there are people being located. And we were here just a few weeks ago opening the Australia Post facility, now we've got Hanwha here, across the road we've got Cotton On, Petstock. It is a significant industrial precinct. But what we're really looking for is high-tech manufacturing and that's why we're so excited about Hanwha being established here, because this is manufacturing of the highest technology and it really does represent a return to the kind of manufacturing that we were doing in Geelong. I mean, what people forget in terms of the making of cars in Geelong is it was the highest tech manufacturing we were doing in the country, right here where Ford were making its cars. So what we're doing now with Hanwha is a return to that. And that's why I say, in the history, in the economic history of Geelong, this is actually a really, really significant day.

JOURNALIST: Minister, outside of this factory they say Australian defence industry is suffering death by review. What’s your answer to that?

MARLES: Well, I don’t accept that at all.  I mean, we are seeing more being spent on procurement in our first year in Government than what was spent in the last year of the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government. So we are doing a lot of foundational thinking. That needs to happen. But the wheels keep turning, and it keeps turning in terms of procurement and it keeps turning in terms of defence spend. In each and every year of the forward estimates we are spending more on defence than what the former government had planned to spend. So it is important that we get our thinking right. We've had our lost decade in terms of capability under the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government. We are actually getting our strategic focus correct, but in doing that we're making sure that the wheels keep turning and we're spending more on procurement than was spent under the former government.

JOURNALIST: As a follow up then, why is it taking so long to release the shipbuilding review?

MARLES: Well, it’s not taking so long. I mean, we did a review in a matter of months and the Government's response to it will happen in a short matter of months after that. And we've got the time to get that response right. We're going to take the time to get it right. The whole process in the context of how these decisions are considered is actually happening really quickly. Thank you General Vagg, are there any other questions?

JOURNALIST: AUKUS – there’s optimism AUKUS enabling legislation could pass through both houses in the US by the end of the week. What does this mean for the progress of the partnership?

MARLES: Well, we're certainly heartened and hopeful by the news coming out of the United States over the last 24-48 hours. This is, of course, a process that's playing out the United States Congress and I want to be respectful to that process. It's obviously a matter for the US Congress. But we are hopeful of a good result. And if we were to achieve that good result, what's in prospect is a once in a generation change, both in terms of creating a seamless defence industrial base across our two countries, but also in terms of the huge decisions that form part of underpinning Australia's pathway to acquiring a nuclear-powered submarine capability, not least of which will be the transfer of Virginia class submarines to Australia. But there is still a way to play out. We are very hopeful, we're heartened by the news. But let's watch it play out and not get ahead of ourselves.

JOURNALIST: One more on that. There are reports two of the initial US submarines under the AUKUS pact will be from the inventory and one off the production line. Will this ease concerns about manufacturing delays?

MARLES: Well, we are confident that the agreement that we reached with the United States government back in March of this year around the supply of three Virginia class submarines, the first of which would be flagged as an Australian vessel in the next decade, will close the capability gap that opened up under the former government and will be a critical part of us walking the pathway of acquiring nuclear-powered submarine capability. And being able to do that in a way where we have an evolving submarine capability from where we are right now with the Collins class submarines. There is processes that need to be gone through, some which are legislative which we're seeing play out in the Congress right now and we'll be respectful of the American system in terms of those processes playing out. But we're confident that this will occur.

JOURNALIST: And Foreign Minister Penny Wong’s office has confirmed she will travel to Israel in the new year. Is it right for senior ministers to travel at this time?

MARLES: Well, I mean, we maintain good relations with Israel as we do with a number of countries in that region and of course across the world. The Foreign Minister will work out her travel, as she does. I know sometimes as we're coordinating our travel this is all itineraries which are worked out pretty close to when that travel occurs. But ultimately, that's a matter for the Foreign Minister but her travel is entirely appropriate.

JOURNALIST: And on immigration, how can the Government say community safety is a priority when the number of released detainees reoffending continues to rise?

MARLES: We certainly understand the anxiety which has been felt in the community around the release of these people. And we understand it because in High Court we argued against the release. And our position is that they should not have been released. The High Court made its decision and having made its decision, from that moment, the Government, working in cooperation with the Opposition, have been putting in place the most stringent measures to apply to those who are being released. And that includes a preventative detention regime, which was passed through the Parliament with the support of the Opposition. So we've been working with the Opposition to put in place the most stringent conditions, including preventive detention, to keep the community safe. And community safety is front and centre in terms of all of our thinking around responding to the High Court decision, around putting in layers of measures and protections. And we have been working with the Opposition in doing that, they have supported the detention regime that we have put in place– the preventative detention regime that we have put in place.


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