Television Interview, Sky News

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The Hon Pat Conroy MP

Minister for Defence Industry

Minister for International Development and the Pacific

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(02) 6277 7840

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17 April 2024

SUBJECTS: Defence Integrated Investment Program, Solomon Islands election.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Joining us live with more is the Defence Industry Minister, Pat Conroy. Minister, thank you for your time. We spoke here on Sky News a bit earlier with a top defence expert who described this as a modest increase in spending. As we've been reporting, it'll lift to 2.4 per cent of GDP, but not until 2034. What do you say to those who are arguing the spending needs an urgent lift to that level sooner in order to plug the capability gaps that we are facing over the next decade?

MINISTER FOR DEFENCE INDUSTRY PAT CONROY: Well, with respect, whatever commentator said that is talking utter rubbish. This is the single biggest increase as a percentage of GDP since the Korean war era in terms of dollar terms. We haven't seen an increase of this size in decades. As I said, by the end of the decade, the share of the national economy that will be spent on defence will be 20 per cent bigger. And importantly, $5.7 billion additional will be spent in the forward estimates in the next four years and 50 billion additional over the next decade. These are huge sums of money by anyone's measures, and anyone describing this as modest is, I think, being incredibly unfair and inaccurate.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: It's not just commentators making the point that in the shorter term, there are these huge capability gaps. We just heard from Andrew Hastie, the Coalition's Defence spokesperson, in a news conference a few minutes ago, and he was suggesting the Coalition would be outspending your government on this front. We heard from Minister Marles pointing out that enemies could do a lot of harm to Australia without stepping foot in Australia, obviously highlighting the importance of submarine and missile spending today, outlined today. But the vulnerabilities in the meantime, while we wait for the delivery of those, is the point that a lot of critics are saying we need more done sooner.

MINISTER CONROY: Well, let me make a couple of points. First, Andrew Hastie did a press conference where he admitted that he hadn't even read the documents, so he's got zero credibility on it. He's now talking about increasing funding when yesterday he couldn't even commit to increasing defence funding beyond the 2.1 per cent baseline they took to the last election. They have a massive black hole in defence funding and until I see Angus Taylor in a shadow budget document releasing something, I just, there's no credibility there. We are acting with urgency. $5.7 billion of additional funding over the next four years. We're bringing forward the manufacturing missiles. We'll be manufacturing missiles in this country next year. The last government produced one thing, a media release on manufacturing missiles. We're funding them and we'll start making them next year, we're bringing forward the manufacture of the infantry fighting vehicles. We're bringing forward by seven years producing landing craft heavy to help transform the Australian army into one that can do more amphibious operations. We're bringing forward the delivery of high mobility artillery rocket systems that are being so crucial in Ukraine so that the first one will be in country next year. We're acting with urgency. We're also filling the submarine capability gap that the last government left us by getting Virginia-class submarines ten years early. So, we're acting with urgency. We're matching that urgency with more funding and, quite frankly, the Opposition has zero credibility in this area. They had six or seven defence Ministers in nine years. They added $42 billion of promises of new equipment without increasing the defence budget by a dollar. By contrast, we're taking a measured approach where we match our rhetoric with dollars.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: My colleague Tom Connell was at that address today and he spoke with us earlier, breaking down the numbers in the document here. He made the point that there's quite the range of spending in that integrated investment programme, a spare $90 billion or so if needed. Why do you need to allow for so much extra for cost blowouts? We know Defence projects have been plagued by blowouts for decades. Why is it so hard to get estimates for Defence procurement right?

MINISTER CONROY: Well, let's be very clear. There is no cost blowout built into this plan. What we produce is ranges for every single project, ranges of estimation. So, to protect the Commonwealth's commercial position, if we told the private sector, right, we're going to spend exactly $1.5 billion on a piece of equipment, guess what? They're going to bid $1.5 billion when they might have originally said we could do it for $1.2 billion. So, producing ranges preserves our commercial position. The sum total of all the equipment in the integrated investment programme is $330 billion, and that's what the Cabinet has authorised and approved and what will be in the budget next month. That's really important that we're doing this in the same way that governments of both persuasions have done previously. $330 billion is a record amount of funding and that's what has been projected to allow us to afford the equipment that we're planning on buying.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: You are also the Minister for the Pacific. The Solomon Islands elections are being held. There are fears if the incumbent is re-elected, then the nation's ties with Beijing will only intensify. Just how much do you believe is at stake here for Australia and the Pacific more broadly at this election?

MINISTER CONROY: Well, it's great that Solomon Islands is going to the ballot box today. Any time people get to express their democratic will is great. And we've rebuilt our relationship with Solomon Islands over the last two years since we've came to power after the last government comprehensively mismanaged it. Importantly, we've got 130 Australian Federal Police supporting security of the elections in conjunction with police from Papua New Guinea and Fiji. And we've got around 300 Australian Defence Force personnel providing logistics support. So, this is a great case of the Solomon Islands being supported by the whole Pacific family to have their elections and have the people express their democratic will. And of course, we will work with whatever government is elected there, as we have done in elections recently, such as in Tuvalu and other places. So, this is a good day for the Solomon Islands, it's a great day for their people and we'll work with whoever's elected.

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Minister Pat Conroy, appreciate your time. Thank you.

MINISTER CONROY: Thank you. Have a great afternoon.


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