Press Conference: Release of the 2015 Defence White Paper Community Consultation Report
Ladies and gentlemen. I’m pleased to be here in Perth today with my good friend and colleague, Senator Linda Reynolds. Particularly today because today is the first anniversary of her swearing in to serve the people of Western Australia in the Australian Senate. Congratulations Linda. She is doing a wonderful job not only on behalf of the people of Western Australia, but the people of Australia more broadly.
Today is a day of a number of announcements in the Defence portfolio. You may have seen that we have made a decision to purchase two additional KC-30A refuelling and transport aircraft. There is the $200 million redevelopment of the Campbell Barracks, and Linda and I had the privilege of visiting the headquarters of the SAS this morning. There is also an announcement on the East coast of a $274 million redevelopment of Williamtown Air Force base just north of Newcastle, which is the home of our fighter squadron and will be home to the future Joint Strike Fighter aircraft.
Today, the Government also releases the report on Community Consultations for the 2015 Defence White Paper and this includes a number of recommendations made by the Expert Panel.
The report, Guarding against uncertainty: Australian attitudes to defence, sets out issues raised by the Australian community at meetings held right around Australia and in written submissions to the Defence Issues Paper 2014.
The Government is committed to building a strong, capable and sustainable Australian Defence Force that can protect Australia’s security and strategic interests. The safety and security of the people of Australia is the first priority of the national government.
The Defence White Paper, which will be published later this year, will set out Australia’s vision for our defence strategy over the next two decades – so right out to 2035.
This Report reveals a clear need for enhanced efforts to raise public awareness of Defence roles and missions, how it performs these tasks, and the underlying policy rationale.
The Expert Panel heard repeated concerns that much of the Australian community did not have a good understanding of the present-day Australian Defence Force.
Indeed, many people told the Panel that they did not feel they received enough information or explanation about the ADF and defence policy into the future.
As a result of these consultations and the report to us, the Government will ensure that, as part of the Defence White Paper process, we work with Defence to address these broader concerns in the Australian community.
Other matters covered in the report include: Australia’s security – the key threats and opportunities, Defence policy settings for the next couple of decades, Australia’s alliance with the United States, international engagement, capability and the defence organisation and defence industry here in Australia.
The Government’s compact with Defence is the proper alignment between three things – our nation’s strategic aspirations, the tasks that we ask Defence to perform, and the resources required to carry out those tasks in the professional way that they do.
This compact had been broken and this Government is determined to fix it.
The 2015 Defence White Paper is therefore central to our objective in this regard. It will provide Defence with an enduring planning basis, certainty and stability that aligns strategic objectives, tasks and funds.
The Community Consultation Program, the report of which I am releasing, was held between July and November of last year and was led by the external Defence White Paper Expert Panel. It heard views directly from more than 500 Australians, and received some 260 written submissions from the public, industry and community organisations, as well as State, Territory and local governments.
I am grateful for the community’s regard for the ADF contribution to this important process.
I would like to take the opportunity to thank the Chairman, Mr Peter Jennings, and the other members of the Expert Panel for their work in drawing together the views of the community in this report.
This report will form a very substantial basis for our understanding, and the community’s understanding, of the role of the ADF and will be a major input into the Defence White Paper to be published later this year.
I welcome Minister Andrews here for two days to Perth. He has a very keen interest in our Defence capabilities and, in particular, he is going to have the great opportunity to see that we are truly a State of innovation here in Western Australia. Not only in shipbuilding, but across many other industries. So I would like to thank the Minister for his keen interest in our shipbuilding capabilities here in Western Australia and I look forward to Western Australia having a fair opportunity to bid and tender for our future shipbuilding capabilities, because what the Minister will see down in Henderson is we have internationally competitive military and civilian shipbuilding capabilities and we have the workforce and we have the facilities to tender competitively for Australia’s future ships. So Minister, welcome and thank you very much for coming, on behalf of all Western Australians, and seeing what we have to offer here in the West.
Now, any questions?
Minister, obviously Australia will go to tender for warships in the coming years. Can you guarantee that States like WA will get their crack at bidding for those contracts to build ships and jobs won’t just be given out on the basis of local needs in other States to build jobs on the East Coast?
Well, when I go back to first principles, and as I said in my earlier remarks, the safety and security of the people of Australia is the first consideration of the Government. That means that we have to have the military equipment, the military assets, whether it is the Army, the Navy or the Air Force, that have the capability of delivering what we want to achieve. That’s the most important thing. That’s the primary consideration in relation to any equipment we buy, whether it’s a new assault rifle, whether it’s a tank or a recognisance vehicle, whether it’s a ship or a plane – it has to meet the capability requirements of the Services involved so that it can do what we want to do.
The reality is that, in terms of shipbuilding, the previous Government didn’t commission a new naval vessel in an Australian shipyard for six years. Six years. They had bought a vessel from overseas, from the UK. So we’re going to fix that and that’s my task to do that. Now I believe that part of this is to try and ensure that we have a sustainable shipbuilding industry for Australia. The reality is that over the next two to three decades we are going to virtually replace the Australian Navy. We have two new Landing Helicopter Dock vessels that are currently being serviced and commissioned, they will come into operation over the next year. But then we’ve got to build new submarines, new frigates, new offshore patrol vessels. In addition to that, we have put a tender out for 21 Pacific Patrol Boats that we are going to give to neighbouring countries in the South Pacific. When you add all of that up that means that in 20 to 30 years we are going to virtually replace the Australian fleet. That means there will be real opportunities for Defence industries in Australia. My job as the Australian Defence Minister is to ensure that we have the capability, and where possible that we can support a sustainable shipbuilding industry in this country.
Senator…will you incur the wrath of your East coast colleagues?
Well, as a West Australian Senator I wouldn’t be doing a very good job if I wasn’t advocating for our industries in Western Australia, because we clearly have the capability to deliver capability here, on time and on budget, and as the Minister said, the capability Australia needs. I may be incurring the wrath of some of my colleagues over East, but I would like to point out that other State, like South Australia, already get about $750 million worth of GST from the West Australian tax payers, so I think that it’s fair that we have a fair opportunity to compete more for this role. So as a West Australian Senator I am happy to have that debate with any of my Senate colleagues from any other state.
Do the Minister’s comments reassure you?
Absolutely. Absolutely, and that’s all as a State we’re asking for, is a fair go. We can deliver the capability for Australia and we do it competitively and we absolutely have a chance to bid and be part of any future shipbuilding projects.
In that case, when you are designing the off shore patrol boats to allow for a possible Perth bid,…but couldn’t bid for the Pacific Patrol Boats because of the steal hull.
There is a good reason for the Pacific Patrol Boats to be steel-hulled, and that is that in the conditions in which these patrol vessels need to operate, the climatic conditions are such that it was decided by Navy, and by Defence, that a steel hull vessel was best.
When it comes to my primary responsibility, the safety and security of the people of Australia, it that means that we have to have any piece of equipment capable of doing the job. And that will vary from piece of equipment to piece of equipment. But let me go back to the broader proposition of shipbuilding and that is that we will virtually be rebuilding the entire naval fleet over that next 25 to 30 years. So there are many opportunities over that time for the Australian shipbuilding industry. We commissioned the RAND Corporation to look at surface ship building in Australia, to tell us what we need in order to have a shipbuilding industry in Australia. Our aspiration is the have a continuous build in Australia. That will require us to have an efficient industry in order to achieve that, but if we can work with industry wherever in Australia in then that can be good for Australia.
So, it take it that if you require a steel hull for Pacific Patrol Boats, those made for the offshore patrol vessels will also need a similar hull. So Austal may not be able to bid?
Look I’m not getting into the details of the design of different vessels at this stage. There are experts who do that. But what I am saying is that there is going to be a very significant amount of work in terms of shipbuilding for Australia over the next couple of decades that that means opportunities for shipbuilders in Australia.
Minister, is it appropriate to raise the cost of alcohol drinks on ADF bases?
Look this is a matter which goes to the operational issues so far as the ADF are concerned. As I understand various items have been subsidised to a different extent on bases. There are obviously health issue concerns that are there I think that the decisions that have been made in relation to that are an appropriate balance.
Are you concerned that it is going to encourage drinking off-base?
That’s a matter for the Chief of Defence and the Service Chiefs, and the Commanders of various bases. I have the upmost confidence in their ability and indeed I have the confidence having been out to Campbell Barracks this morning to see “the elite of the elite” so far as the Australian Defence Force is concerned. The thing that has impressed me more than anything else in the six months or so since I have been in this role is the absolute professionalism of our service men and women. They do a truly remarkable job. I remarking to the troops out at the SAS base this morning that here we are in the Centenary of ANZAC, commemorating those battles at Gallipoli and the First World War, but truly we are commemorating the efforts and the contributions that are being made by hundreds of thousands of Australian in our defence force over the last century, and that professionalism is something which as an Australian I’m truly proud, and I think that all Australians can be very proud of.
Is the Government bent on….on terror to detract from other issues?
Well, regrettably, terrorism is a major problem. We have seen it on the streets of Sydney. We’ve seen it on the streets of my home town in Melbourne. We are fortunate that a number of other plots have been interrupted. As you know, there are prosecutions pending at the present time. There have been matters that have been dealt with by our courts. We look around the world – I was in Singapore about three weeks ago. People in my position in other countries throughout our region are equally concerned. When I talk with Defence Ministers, as I did in Brussels at the NATO meeting just last week, this is an issue which we share right through out the world. So, it’s a sad reality. We all wish that it wasn’t the case, but we live in a more uncertain world and unfortunately some of that concern is being imported into countries like Australia and we have to be therefore ready deal with it. As I said, if the first priority of a national government is the safety and security of its citizens, which it is, then these matters very seriously and be ready to respond and if possible to disrupt any of these activities and ultimately, that means disrupting and degrading the source of it, which is the Daesh or ISIL in the Middle East.
Do you have a message for Australians going to fight with Kurdish forces against Islamic State?
Look out message is simple. We don’t believe that Australian’s should be involved in this conflict. It is very dangerous. I’ve seen reports of a person from Australia killed in that conflict recently. We don’t believe that people should be going and fighting overseas in this conflict because of the dangers to them. In some cases we would simply say that to go and fight for Daesh or ISIL means they are fighting against their very fellow men and women and children of Australia and that’s something we are, as you know, taking a whole series of measures to preclude people from doing that.
…will you stop DHA’s intention to put private housing within 200 meters of Campbell Barracks?
I was out there, and obviously this is something which was mentioned to me, and can I say that I understand the concerns of families in the areas. We need to balance up a number of things. Obviously this is aging housing infrastructure, and we want to provide, particularly to the SAS and the personnel there and their families, the best housing conditions that we can apply to them. There is a security assessment going on at the present time and that security assessment will clearly provide information to the government, to DHA and to anybody involved in this decision to the way in which we go forward. But can I say directly to the defence personnel there and their families, I am personally mindful of the issues they have raised and we will continue to be mindful and take into account the assessment in relation to the security issues.
Thanks very much.