Doorstop Interview, Hunter Valley

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Related ministers and contacts

The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Defence

Media contact

02 6277 7800

The Hon Pat Conroy MP

Minister for Defence Industry

Minister for International Development and the Pacific

Media contact

(02) 6277 7840

General enquiries

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20 May 2024

SUBJECT/S: Defence’s budget increasing; Australian Defence Industry; Inquiry into Jack Fitzgibbon; Afghanistan Oversight Panel; New Caledonia

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Well, look, it's fantastic to be here at 3ME in Cardiff, and it's wonderful to be here with both the local member but the Minister for Defence Industry, Pat Conroy. Last week's Budget contained a historic increase in defence spending- $5.7 billion over the forward estimates- $50.3 over the next decade. And this uplift in defence spending will have a significant contribution to an uplift in Australian Defence Industry. And we see that right here at 3ME. And what we are looking for in Australian Defence Industry is cutting edge technologies which are taking our defence force into the future- and that's what 3ME is doing right here in terms of working on battery technology, which enables the electrification of a range of platforms, including those in the Australian Defence Force. 3ME have electrified the first Bushmaster, and I was fortunate enough to be one of the first people to drive that very specific vehicle. And it's example of the kind of technology- cutting edge technology that we're seeing right here in Cardiff. This is fantastic for the Australian Defence Force and for what its doing and taking the Australian Defence Force into the future, but it's really fantastic in terms of the opportunity to export this technology to the world, including the United States. And there's a high degree of interest there around the technology which has been generated here. This is a function of the spending that the Albanese Government is doing in defence. It is improving our nation's defence capability. But it is also improving our nation's defence industry, and with it defence technology and with that high tech jobs.

MINISTER FOR DEFENCE INDUSTRY, PAT CONROY: Thanks, Richard. It's a pleasure to have the Deputy Prime Minister in Cardiff- in the mighty Hunter Valley- and it's a great testament to the workers and management here at 3ME. This is a company that is working on improving the great Bushmaster – the vehicle that saved hundreds of lives on deployments around the world. And now they're looking at taking it to the next stage by electrifying it. They're also helping health and safety in our coal mines and our hard rock mines right now with electrifying mining vehicles. This is Australian ingenuity, to an Australian company working in Cardiff. I remember visiting here, when the factory was still being built a few years back, and to see it go from strength-to-strength is a testament to the ingenuity of the workforce. I was over in America promoting Australian jobs and Australian exports only a few weeks ago, and the first company that I was promoting was 3ME at a massive defence show. So, this is a great story for our area. The $50 billion increase in defence budget means adding more workers to the defence industry- we've got 100,000 people working in defence industry, we've got thousands in the Hunter region. And our funding commitment means more jobs in the Hunter, more jobs in Australia, more jobs helping the Australian Defence Force, making it safe and producing more economic revenue for this country. Thank you very much. 

JOURNALIST: Thank you Deputy Prime Minister. Why is electrification of defence force (inaudible)?

MARLES: Well, the electrification of our vehicles is critically important- this is the way in which vehicles are going to operate into the future. There's a lot more versatility that comes from being able to have electric vehicles. But as the broader economy decarbonize, we're seeing that within defence industry, as well. And what we're going to be seeing is technologies develop in the broader economy, which makes them fundamentally important and sustainable in the context of defence technology, defence industry, or defence capability as well. But the challenge of doing this in a defence context, is to make sure that they are sustainable, they have durability, but robust, robust in a conflict environment. And that's what's being developed here and what is so impressive about this technology.

JOURNALIST: How many do you have that are electrified at the moment and what is the goal?

MARLES: Well, we've got one prototype Bushmaster, which is electrified now. And that speaks to the possibility of how we can do this going forward. I mean, we are very mindful that this is the direction that the world is heading in. And this is the direction that we need to see our fleets heading in as well. So, the answer to what is the goal, I would say this is the first step along a path that we're going to have to walk in a very significant way, which is why the work that's been done here at 3ME is so important. And obviously, it's not just the Bushmaster, we will be looking at the possibilities of electrifying ultimately, all the kind of drive trains that we have, where it's possible.

JOURNALIST: Is it something that has to be a prototype, like a new build? Or can it be retrofitted?

MARLES: Again, good question. And how you move down the pathway of electrifying a fleet is something that we need to be examining. And again, it's why the research that's being undertaken here, in combination with the Defence Science and Technology Group within Defence is so important. And it really is ground-breaking, innovative companies like 3ME which are helping us walk into this future. 

JOURNALIST: I just want to ask you a question about Jack Fitzgibbon. How concerned were you about the news on the weekend that some members of his squadron had tested (inaudible)?

MARLES: Obviously, this is a matter which is still under inquiry, and so I'm not going to comment specifically about that whilst inquiries into this tragedy are occurring. It would not be appropriate for me to go into that, other than to say, the inquiries which are being undertaken right now- and there are multiple- will be thorough and will look at every issue surrounding Jack Fitzgibbon’s death. And we will ultimately find the answers.

JOURNALIST: Will those inquiries be made public once they’re finished?

MARLES: Look, they will be carried out the normal way. There'll be transparency around them but there will elements of those inquiries- which are always the case- which are not public domain. But this will be a transparent process. 

JOURNALIST: There were reports that the soldiers who packed the parachutes on that day had not tested positive. Can you provide any more details about when exactly they did test positive?

MARLES: Again, I'm not going to go into the details of that, and it wouldn't be appropriate for me to do that, whilst there is an inquiry on foot in relation to this tragedy.

JOURNALIST: A recently released report from the Afghanistan Inquiry Oversight Panel has warned that the lack of responsibility and accountability taken by senior officials is causing resentment in ADF ranks. How much longer will it take the top brass to be held to account?

MARLES: Well, firstly, we very much thank Oversight Panel for their work. They have been invaluable to me as the Minister in ensuring that we are able to fully implement the Brereton Report to the fullest possible extent. And that's the commitment that we took when we came to government. The Brereton Report is a profoundly significant piece of work in the face of obviously, extremely disturbing allegations. And it is really important for who we are, as a nation, for the character of our country, that the Brereton Report be fully implemented. And the Oversight Panel has been working closely in its advice to me as to how that can occur. In terms of when each element of it will be fulfilled, the answer to that is, we are going to take the time necessary to make sure that each of the recommendations and each of the processes is done in the most thorough and robust way. And it will take the time that it takes, but we are going to get this right and we are going to do it in the most thorough way.

JOURNALIST: The latest update from French authorities is that they have regained control of the road from Noumea to the International Airport, given that, has France now granted permission to send a RAAF flight into New Caledonia?

MARLES: Look, we're working closely with France about that. And we're talking closely with the French government in respect of the situation in Noumea. Obviously, this is a matter which is concerning, but it's also a matter which is in the hands of the French authorities. We're also speaking closely with our own consulate in Noumea. What I would say for Australians who are in Noumea now, firstly, listen to the directions of local authorities. You can follow the advice which has been provided through Smart Traveller, and obviously be in touch with the consulate. But we will continue to liaise very closely with the French government in relation to this.

JOURNALIST: Penny Wong said that the Defence Force is ready to fly out. Which branches and what role will they play?

MARLES: Well, we are ready. Again, we're going to work closely with the French authorities around what's possible and what is needed. And this is an evolving situation. We're looking closely at it, but it really is in the hands of the French or authorities but we stand ready to act, if and when that is possible. 


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