Door Stop Interview at the RAAF Base Williamtown – 6 May, 2015

Door Stop Interview at the RAAF Base Williamtown

F-35A Sod Turning

 

MINISTER ANDREWS:

This is a major project so far as the RAAF is concerned, so far as the Australian Defence Force is concerned, and particularly in relation to the local community here at Williamtown.

This is a major investment. It means that this will be the premier location, as it is now, and in the future, for our fighter pilots. It will be here for decades to come and will ensure that we not only have the capacity so far as the assets in the air are concerned, but the ability on the ground to be able to maintain them, to service them, and most and importantly to train our airmen and women so that can be at the forefront of ensuring we have the security and safety of Australia that we require into the future.

AIR COMMODORE ROBERTON:

From the perspective of Air Combat Group and RAAF Williamtown it’s a pretty exciting moment for us. Because it’s the realisation of a lot of effort from a lot of people over many years and it marks the beginning of these aircraft transitioning. It will affect not just RAAF Base Williamtown but the Royal Australian Air Force, into the next generation force that we are going to become.

Our first pilot is actually there flying the aircraft right now and having the facilities ready to catch these wonderful new aircraft and systems. This all makes the women and men of Air Combat Group pretty excited.

QUESTION:

How firm are those dates for the first lot of planes to come and how many will come?

AIR COMMODORE ROBERTON:

The Government has authorised 72 of the F-35A aircraft and the first aircraft are already off the production line for Australia. But we won’t bring them back to Australia and RAAF Base Williamtown until 2018/19. In the meantime we will continue to send women and men over there for air force training – for both maintenance, and as pilots.

QUESTION:

And do you know how many squadrons there will be once this is all up and running?

AIR COMMODORE ROBERTON:

The F-35A is going to replace our F-18A Classic Hornet fleet. Here at Williamtown, that is both Number 3 and Number 77 Squadrons and our Training Squadron, Number 2 Operational Conversion Unit.

QUESTION

…That must mean a lot of jobs for other bases as well?

AIR COMMODORE ROBERTON:

There is a lot of local work for industry, but it is a big transition for the defence force people as we introduce this next generation aircraft.

QUESTION:

Minister there has been long standing criticism of JSF engine troubles, plus blow-outs, why won’t that same thing happen in Australia?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Any new acquisition for Defence, whether it’s on the land, in the air in relation to this project, or for the navy, always has a development pathway. That’s the same with this project. If you look back to the F-111, the previous aircraft; there was a designed development pathway.

All indications at the moment are that this pathway is meeting critical requirements. I’ve been briefed by the Americans in relation to this and they are confident that the planes will roll off when we expect them and ensure that we have the capability we desire in the future.

QUESTION:

Are they still the best option?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Quite clearly they are the best option. It’s clear, they’ve gone to Australia and America and other countries around the world. We are moving into a world in which we need much more joined up operational ability in terms of, not just the aircraft, but being able to remote to command and control systems on the ground, and at sea etc. Those so called enablers are going to be critical capability in future.  When the Defence White Paper comes out later this year, and when the related papers come out in relation to the structure of our defence force, you will see that these enablers are going to be critical to the program.

QUESTION:

Last month the Pentagon released a paper criticising the capability, that’s only a month ago…

MINISTER ANDREWS:

…I don’t know of any Defence acquisition project in the last few decades that hasn’t had a bit of criticism from time to time. As I said, there is a development pathway. We are well and truly down that pathway and we are confident in Australia that we will have these fighter jets and that they will meet the capability requirements that we have for Australia. They will be a very important component of our future security and safety.

QUESTION:

There’s the budget next week. The Government has committed to 2% of the GDP funding for Defence.

MINISTER ANDREWS:

The 2% GDP is to be achieved within a decade, so that’s a gradual progress towards that figure.

QUESTION:

Will there be anything outlined next week?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Well, I’m not going to reveal what’s in the budget next week obviously, but in Defence we make decisions as we go and not simply as part of the budget process. For example, we recently announced that we will be acquiring two C-17 transport aircraft.  We tend in Defence to do that outside of the confined budget process, and that will continue in future as well.

QUESTION:

The budget situation at the moment – will this project be quarantined from any cuts?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

This project is committed to. This is an integral part of us acquiring the Joint Strike Fighter. We have to have the facilities on the ground. We have to have the hangers, we have to have the tarmac, we have to have the training facilities, we have to have the simulators, etc.

That’s all part in parcel of what we have agreed to in terms of this project. We are committed to this project so in terms of investment here in Williamtown, Tindal and elsewhere around Australia, but particularly here in Williamtown, this is a major investment over the next few years of this project.

QUESTION:

When you tweeted that the Greens is anti-family, what did you mean by that?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

If you look at the Green’s policy over the years there’s a whole range of things where I think they put a lot of interests in front of family matters. I’ve been on record for a long time as being a critic of the Greens so far as the political space is concerned.

Having said that, can I say that I wish Senator Milne all the best, I think that she has been an articulate spokesperson for the Greens and for her Party, and I think that in occasions like this we should say, regardless of the political affiliation of background, I wish her best luck for the future in whatever she chooses to do.

QUESTION:

In what matters are you referring to exactly?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

A range of matters – I’ve been critical of the Greens in a whole range of areas in relation to the ways in which they put environmental concerns at the forefront, sometimes I think at the expense of other concerns so far as Australia is concerned. I’m not planning to rehearse those arguments at this stage, I’ve covered them a great deal in the past and I wish Senator Milne all the best.

Thank you very much.