Press Conference, Darwin

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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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8 May 2024

SUBJECTS: Funding for NT Defence; Integrated Investment Program; Industries supporting the Defence sector; 1 Brigade transformation and extra roles; NT development; China’s aggression.


LUKE GOSLING: Good morning, and thank you for coming down here to the Darwin Convention Centre where we've got the ABN Defence Summit, Northern Defence Summit on here today. The north, we are very used to having many, many ministers from our Federal Government, the Albanese Federal Government, here in Darwin and throughout the Territory. Not only do we have two Defence portfolio ministers here in the Minister for Defence Industry, Pat Conroy, and the Assistant Defence and Veterans Minister, Matt Thistlethwaite here, but also Linda Burney in town today. 

We understand that the defence of Australia requires a whole-of-government approach. We know that Defence Industry is vital, that's why we're putting many more billions of dollars over the forward estimates, and certainly over the next 10, years around an extra $50 billion into Defence and a large proportion of that is coming into hardening, networking our northern defence bases. 

It is true that in this financial year, just this financial year, there is three quarters of a billion dollars going into NT Defence bases. That's $750 million into NT defence bases in just this financial year alone with more that will be coming, and this will be in the Budget, more coming in the forwards and then certainly over the next 10 years, much more funding. 

And it's important. We are in times of increased tensions in our region. We need to be prepared. We need to have the ability to deter and that's what the Defence Strategy has been all about and we are certainly, with the Integrated Infrastructure Program, making sure that there is real funding there to do the work that we need across the north and that's great for local jobs, that's great for local businesses, and we've seen many local businesses get that start that they need and they're doing great work. 

We're also working with our US partners and allies here in the north and we're proud to play that role here in Darwin and across the Northern Territory. So great to have you up here, Pat, and thanks for everything you're doing for the Territory. 

MINISTER FOR DEFENCE INDUSTRY PAT CONROY: Thanks, Luke. It's great to be up here with my friend, Luke Gosling, the Minister for Solomon, and my friend, Matt Thistlethwaite, talking about how the entire Australian nation relies on the NT. The defence of Australia starts in Darwin and starts in the Northern Territory and so we're up here today meeting with Defence Industry, meeting with the Territory Government, and I'm confirming today that the Albanese Government will be spending $14 billion to $18 billion over the next decade in hardening and developing bases throughout northern Australia. 

The NT is critical to the defence of the nation, not just in defending Australia, but projecting power out into our region against any potential adversary. This is one part our $330 billion investment in the Integrated Investment Program which is the equipment that we will be providing to the Australian Defence Force to deal with the most challenging strategic circumstances since World War II. 

I'm proud to say that the NT already punches above its weight. Darwin's obviously a garrison town. You've got RAAF Base Tindal. You make a disproportionate contribution to our defence, and you do so to our defence industry as well. There are over 5,000 Territorians in the defence industry already; 1,000 Territorian companies support the ADF; and it contributes around 7.5 per cent to the economy of the NT, and that will only grow under the Albanese Labor Government. You've got the $14 billion to $18 billion investment in hardening our bases. You've got investment in long-range strike for the Australian Army. You've got investment in the Triton long-range surveillance aircraft owned to Tindal. You've got investment in the landing craft that will transform 1st Brigade here. So that's 5,000 workers will increase. That contribution to the NT economy will increase. That will all contribute to the economy here as well as increasing the safety of Australia and Australians by having a stronger Australian Defence Force ready to deter any potential aggression.

JOURNALIST: Talk there about jobs and economic opportunities in the Northern Territory. Do you think that more industry needs to be based here to support the Defence sector? 

MINISTER CONROY: Well, sustainment is two thirds of what we spend on our defence equipment. You spend a third on buying equipment and then two thirds over the life of a program on maintaining it. And as we move more equipment up here, you will see more work being done up here on the defence industry. There are some great innovative defence industry companies up here that can supply parts into equipment, not just for Australia, but for or allies like the US. So I think it's a great opportunities. Truly the sky's the limit for NT defence industry. 

JOURNALIST: There was obviously that review last year that was released that sort of pointed to the need to reform Defence and bring Defence up to the north. So is this sort of $14 billion to $18 billion commitment a response to that, or what is it a response to? 

MINISTER CONROY: Absolutely. It was a key recommendation from the Defence Strategic Review which was the need to move forces to the north, harden our bases up here to deter aggression, and the National Defence Strategy and Integrated Investment Program confirmed that, and it will be next week's Budget that $14 billion to $18 billion investment to harden bases up here, as we move more capability up here. 

We're transforming 1st Brigade to be focused on [indistinct] manoeuvre which means having amphibious capability, and you will see 26 gigantic landing craft being based in Darwin, North Queensland, and Brisbane, and that means more jobs and more capability up here.

JOURNALIST: How much of the $14 billion to $18 billion could we expect to see in the Northern Territory? 

MINISTER CONROY: The truth is the lion's share will be in the Northern Territory. Yes, a limited amount will go to north-west WA and northern Queensland, but so much of the ADF is based here, which means so much of the money is going to be coming to the Northern Territory. 

I'll give you a couple of examples. Nearly $400 million on the Robertson Barracks redevelopment, $1.5 billion on RAAF Base Tindal, hundreds of millions of dollars going into the US force posture initiative training areas. They're just a few examples of the billions of dollars that will go into the NT to develop these bases which means a safer and stronger ADF and more jobs for Territorians.

JOURNALIST: We heard late last year that 1,000 roles will be shifted more, after recommendations of this review. What sort of further increases will we see in the future? 

MINISTER CONROY: They are the critical ones, that extra 1,000 roles. Partly that would be about the transformation of 1st Brigade as it starts acquiring these landing craft, medium-sized ones, and gigantic ones. Ones that could be up to 5,000 tonnes. So you can see more army personnel working on that. You will see more Air Force personnel working on the Triton armed crewed aerial system, that will be based out of Tindal. These are 737-sized aerial drones that will provide 24-hour, 7-day-a-week coverage of our maritime approach. So they're the sorts of roles that you will see coming up more. 

JOURNALIST: The injection of up to $18 billion, will that have an impact of growing the Territory's [indistinct], because we've been promised for years that there will be a lot more development and developing in the north cities like Darwin, like Broome and Townsville. Is that something that you are hoping will come out of this as well? 

MINISTER CONROY: Well, the money's already flowing. As Luke Gosling, the Member for Solomon stated just then, $750 million is being spent on Defence estate projects right now in the NT. So it's already 7.5 per cent of the entire Territory's economy is Defence spending and that will grow as the lion's share of that $14 billion to $18 billion flows into the NT. And, importantly, that work is being awarded to local contractors. So, for example, on the billion dollars flowing to RAAF Base Tindal, 93 per cent of that is going into local companies. North of 10 per cent of the work is going into Indigenous work force and Indigenous companies. So this is great news for Territorian workers, Territorian families. My message to kids out there who are thinking when they're finishing school what to do, take up a trade, go to uni, study engineering, you could have a job for life work on the most advanced Defence projects up here in the NT.

JOURNALIST: Just a question on the Chinese aircraft that fired [indistinct] of an Australian Navy chopper. The PM raised those concerns with China, has Beijing responded? 

MINISTER CONROY: I'm not in a position to update people on the response from China. But what I can say is it's very firmly our view that this was unsafe and unprofessional. It was completely contrary to international rules and norms. The Australian Sea Hawk helicopter and HMAS Hobart, which was based and was operating in international waters in the Yellow Sea, near South Korea, it was part of the UN effort to enforce sanctions against the oppressive regime in North Korea. This - they were doing their job, and they did not deserve to be subjected to unsafe and unprofessional practices by the Chinese military, and we will continue to make that very clear to the Chinese Government that this is unacceptable. 

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that China is behaving more aggressively in places like the Yellow Sea and South China Sea? 

MINISTER CONROY: We've been very clear that every military around the world, including China, has to operate in a safe and professional manner and too often we are seeing these incidents. We saw HMAS Toowoomba late last year. We saw the incident with the Air Force, P8 Poseidon aircraft. We're seeing incidents in the South China Sea with unsafe interactions with, for example, the Philippine Navy. We call on all nations to abide by international rules, to abide by the laws of the sea, and to always operate in a safe and professional manner. 

JOURNALIST: You say we're in the most challenging time since World War II. What are you most concerned about? Is it China? 

MINISTER CONROY: Well, what we're seeing is the biggest build-up of militaries, the biggest arms race in our region since 1945, and the DSR and the National Defence Strategy make it very clear that we're seeing a very significant investment in the Chinese military without any strategic assurances that you would normally see. 

Prime Minister Albanese, when he gave the Shangri-La keynote address last year, made the point that as we've got two great powers in strategic competition, we need to put in place guardrails to manage that competition. During the height of the Cold War, there was firm communication channels between the Soviet Union and the United States, from the President and General-Secretary of the Communist Party down to the military. So if there were issues, people could talk. And that's why it's important to put guardrails in place to manage this GR strategic competition. Thanks very much.



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