Minister for Defence
Senator for Western Australia


Good morning ladies and gentlemen. And it’s wonderful to see so many friends and colleagues from many aspects of my life and from business here in Western Australia.

And thank you Sean for that warm and short introduction – thank you.

Firstly, I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today, the Whadjuk people of the Noongar nation. And I also pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging. And particularly as Minister for Defence, I also pay my respects to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women who have, and continue serve our nation with such great distinction. And many thanks to Business News for inviting me here to speak today.

It’s a privilege to join so many WA business leaders and also defence experts here this morning – and it’s a great reminder of the depth and breadth of talent, entrepreneurship and promise we have here in the West.

I also acknowledge and thank all of those who have and continue to serve our nation such as my friend and colleague Andrew Hastie who have served our nation in uniform and I thank them for that. I also acknowledge my predecessors in the Defence portfolio, David Johnston and also Stephen Smith. We are custodians of a role which comes with great responsibility and is a great privilege and we have done so since we came together as a Federation in 1901.

Ladies and gentlemen, firstly, I’d like to address at the outset this morning, a very serious matter that I’m sure will be on the minds of many, if not all of you in this room. Yesterday, General Angus Campbell, the Chief of the Defence Force, released very confronting findings of the Afghanistan Inquiry. It was a complex, it was extensive and it was lengthy. General Campbell has made it very clear in his address to all Australians that he has accepted all of the report findings and all of the report recommendations. And he has also confirmed and I think said very, very clearly that he will lead the ADF through the difficult process of comprehensively addressing each and every one of those recommendations.

Accountability for the Defence response is critically important.

This is crucial to maintaining the highest standards possible that Australians expect of our military. To provide reassurance, confidence and trust, and we must learn from this inquiry’s very grave failings. To provide further assurance to the Australian people and to the Government, I have established an oversight panel of three eminent and very highly qualified Australians. But the findings announced by the Chief of the Defence Force should not and must not, must not cast a shadow on the service of the vast majority of men and women who have and today continue to serve with such great distinction for our nation.

Their contributions to the mission in Afghanistan were carried out to the highest standards asked of them. I am profoundly conscious that this process continues to be extremely challenging and enormously distressing for many individuals and also their families impacted by this Inquiry. Defence will keep working hard to make sure people get the right support whenever they need it. I strongly encourage all current and former serving ADF members and their families to reach out for all assistance and any assistance they need. These are only the very first steps in what is going to be a very long process. General Campbell is now getting on with the job. And as Australians would expect, I will be paying very close attention to the implementation, and I will report regularly to the Parliament and through the Parliament, to all Australians, on the progress of this implementation.

I now want to give you my perspective on a much, much broader picture. In my first speech to the Senate in 2014, I observed that I was a very passionate Western Australian and also a very proud Australian. Two separate but not inconsistent identities. It was just as true then as it is today.

Firstly, I will share with you how I see the geo-strategic circumstances that are now confronting our nation – and how I am addressing these challenges as our nation’s Defence Minister. And then I will share with you why as a Senator for Western Australia I know that WA matters – and it matters a great deal to our nation’s economic and also our strategic future. What an astonishing first 18 months it has been as our nation’s Defence Minister. A position of great privilege – and also of great responsibility for a girl from Gooseberry Hill.

I start with this truism. Security brings peace, and peace brings prosperity. You cannot have one without the other. There is no prosperity without security. For any of us. I came into this role, pretty well prepared, with a long career in both politics and also in the military. I came with expectations. And I came with a very clear plan. As Defence Minister, I must have a very clear-eyed view of the world today. To see things as they are. Not as we would wish them to be. It is very clear to me that the world that I – and that many of you in this room – that the world we grew up in is no more. And it is not coming back. While we have not changed as a people – the behaviours of others in our region has. For decades, Australia’s location at the junction of the Indian and Pacific Oceans has been a strategic blessing – providing a long run of stability, of peace and also of national prosperity.

However, the stark reality for all of us is that we are now facing the most consequential strategic realignment since the end of World War Two. And our region, the Indo-Pacific, is at the epicentre of this change. These developments in our region will not only shape Australia’s future – but they will be pivotal to the course of the 21st century. We have entered a critical phase in our nation’s economic and strategic history. And I say this as not a cause for alarm – but for clear eyed and deliberate whole-of-government and also whole-of-nation action.

Here are the key regional challenges from my perspective. Major regional powers have become more assertive. Strategic competition – primarily between the United States and China – is driving dynamics in our region. Across the Indo-Pacific, nations are modernising their militaries and accelerating their preparedness for conflict. And regional military forces are developing and adopting disruptive technologies – at a faster pace than ever before. The traditional decade-long warning period for a major conventional attack – no longer applies. Further to that, some nations are increasingly employing what we call grey zone tactics – such as cyber-attacks, foreign interference, supply chain disruption and economic coercion.

These are the new ways of interfering with national sovereignty. In this grey zone, when the screws are tightened, influence becomes interference, co-operation becomes coercion, and investment becomes entrapment. COVID-19 also remains an active and unpredictable threat – and it has dramatically altered the global economic but also the strategic landscape. As our Prime Minister recently observed: We must prepare for a post-COVID world. One that is poorer, one that is more dangerous and one that is more disorderly. This is the reality we now face together as a nation.

My role as Defence Minister is to ensure that our defence forces are prepared for these 21st century challenges. To that end, in my second month as Minister I set Defence leadership three priorities. Strategy, capability and also reform. In July, I delivered on the Strategy objective when the Prime Minister and I released Australia’s 2020 Defence Strategic Update. This is a plan for Australia to shift our defence posture in our region. Our new military objectives are far more focused. They are to Shape, to Deter, and to Respond.

Firstly, to shape our strategic environment for peace and also prosperity. Secondly, to deter actions against Australia’s interests. And thirdly, to be able to respond with credible military force, when required. Australia is not alone. We do this with our partners – in pursuing these three objectives to maintain a safe, a secure and also a prosperous region.

Along with the Strategic Update, the Prime Minister and I released the Force Structure Plan – which includes a record $270 billion investment in Defence capability over the next decade. This is a nationally significant, forward-looking investment in our defence capability. Quite frankly, we are doing it because we need the defence capability. We simply must have this capability for our nation.

In addition to the traditional Navy, Air Force and Army capabilities, we added the new military domains of Space and Cyber information warfare. And we underscored the need for Australian industry to be a fundamental input to defence capability. Defence cannot do this alone. Having set the strategy and capability priorities for Defence, I will shortly be releasing the plan for my third priority – that is the reform of the Defence enterprise.

It’s critical that we have a strategically agile organisation to allow us to respond to our security environment and also to fulfil our ambitious military objectives. And of course, as any leader knows, as you push ahead with these big-picture changes, the work of the ADF went on. It went on even as two “black swan” events hit our nation. When Bushfires swept across the Eastern States last summer, the Australian Defence Force undertook the largest domestic disaster relief operation in our nation’s history. And before the last embers were extinguished, an even bigger ADF effort began to help State and territory authorities deal with the eruption of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since becoming Minister I have visited 21 countries, held more than 70 bilateral meetings and welcomed six overseas counterparts to Australia. And even as the pandemic changed the way we all live – the essential work of defence diplomacy continued albeit virtually. But nothing can replace face-to-face diplomatic meetings. In July, Foreign Minister Marise Payne and I were the first Government Ministers to embark on an official overseas trip since the pandemic began. We headed to Washington DC for the annual AUSMIN talks with our counterparts for critically important discussions and new agreements. And last month, I visited close regional partners, Japan, Brunei and the Philippines, continuing our important regional defence cooperation.

Ladies and gentlemen, let us now turn to the strategic importance of our home state.

Australia is a three-ocean nation. We all sing about our home being girt-by-sea. But this has significant implications for Australia’s strategic prospects, for our planning, and for our priorities. We are a trade-dependent island continent, and our imports and exports are almost entirely transported by sea. Think of those bulk ore carriers from Port Hedland. Or the LNG ships from the North West Shelf. They carry this nation’s economic lifeblood, ferrying Western Australian commodities to the trading ports of the world. Like most of you in this room, I grew up looking North and West – out to the Indian Ocean. Not East to the Pacific. To a region which today has great significance to Australia’s national security and future prosperity.

Increasingly our focus, and our partners’ strategic focus is pivoting to the Indian Ocean. The US recognised the importance of the connectivity between these Indo and the Pacific regions when in 2018 it changed the name of the US Pacific Command to the US Indo-Pacific Command. We have had a very busy year this year working with our partners in the Indo-Pacific despite the threats of COVID. We conducted seven maritime activities with Japan – and activities with 11 regional partners as part of our Regional Presence Deployment. Most recently, we conducted quadrilateral engagement in Exercise Malabar. This maritime exercise – with India, Japan and the United States – highlights and reinforces our interoperability, our strategic trust and our common interest in an open, secure and prosperous region. And India and Australia are natural partners in the Indo-Pacific. This year, as part of the Australia-India Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, we signed two landmark Defence Arrangements. Both of these will enhance military interoperability and cooperation between our defence science and technology organisations.

Given that strategic context, let’s look at what this means for WA industry and also for our State’s prosperity. Starting with the Maritime Domain. This Government is resolutely committed to protecting Australia’s maritime interests – through a sovereign naval shipbuilding program that is securing thousands of multi-generational jobs for Australian workers. Predominantly in South Australia and right here in Western Australia. And I am so proud of the role WA is playing a vital role in this naval shipbuilding endeavour.

But let’s start with some context. When we came into Government in 2013, there was no National Naval Shipbuilding Plan. No decisions had been made on our future submarine fleet. And so, faced with Labor’s inaction on shipbuilding and sustainment, we made – and we will continue to make – nationally significant decisions to protect our nation’s sovereign interests. This Government has committed to a $183 billion dollar National Naval Shipbuilding enterprise.

An entire industry of multi-generational, high-tech jobs created to build and sustain more than 70 naval vessels here in Australia. In this year’s Force Structure Plan, we doubled down and committed to building more than 45 navy vessels right here in WA. That alone is an investment of up to $16 billion dollars right here in WA.

Here’s a snapshot of WA shipbuilding underway at the moment:

·         21 Guardian Class Patrol Boats – built by Austal and employing more than 200 workers – with nearly 70% local content.

·         10 Arafura Offshore Patrol Vessels – built by CIVMEC, employing more than 400 workers – with 60% local content.

·         And Six Evolved Cape Class Patrol Boats – also built by Austal with 67% local content.

·         And the sustainment and upgrades to our ANZAC Class frigates by BAE continues, supporting more than 200 WA jobs.


And there’s more to be built here:

·         up to eight minehunter and hydrographic vessels

·         and possible builds for two multi-role sealift and replenishment ships and also a Pacific Support Vessel.

Ladies and gentlemen. From zero to boom in just seven years right here in Western Australia.

This Government’s commitment to continuous shipbuilding and sustainment in Australia is unprecedented in its scale and also in its ambition. I have absolutely no doubt that in this room there are a few boat owners here today – maybe dreaming of an early mark and heading off to Rotto for the weekend. What all of you know is that buying a boat is one thing – but maintaining it is something completely different. Now, it’s a little more complicated when it comes to warships and submarines – but let me say this: Naval sustainment and upgrades are already big business here in WA.

And it will continue to be so for many decades. Around half of Australia’s surface combatant fleet and all six Collins class submarines are homeported right here in WA.

Some of the vital mid-cycle and intermediate docking work on our Collins class submarines is carried out by ASC here at Henderson. I am very proud to say that there has been no greater advocate for naval shipbuilding here in WA than me. Since becoming a Senator for WA, I have actively encouraged strong investment in the Henderson Maritime Precinct, which has been transformed into a hub of more than 100 companies. But now it needs work to bring it up to world standard. The State Government must now deliver on its long discussed master plan and also start much needed upgrades at Henderson. This will ensure we have facilities that support higher levels of automation, efficiency, and flexibility – and also the scalability it so desperately now needs.

And this is good for Western Australia and it’s also great for Australian shipbuilding.

Today, I am delighted to announce some new expenditure in Defence here in Western Australia. The Federal Government will build a significant new defence facility right here in WA. A new $300 million dollar defence investment. WA, I’m very proud to say, will be the home to Australia’s new sovereign Maritime Underwater Tracking Range. This will allow our Navy and also our allies and partners to fine-tune our submarine and anti-submarine warfare tactics.

The best way to describe it is think of it as a giant three-dimensional underwater laboratory that helps us maintain our technical advantage over potential adversaries. The range will track vessels as they exercise and as they manoeuvre. It will create new opportunities for local research and innovation sectors to participate in the installation and also the sustainment of this new facility. This is yet another opportunity for WA businesses and WA’s brightest minds to make sovereign contributions to our nation’s defence.

The increasing strategic importance of WA is also bringing economic benefits to our state. Under the Force Structure Plan, the Morrison Government has committed $2.5 billion to upgrade Defence facilities right across our State.

These include:

·         Irwin Barracks in Karrakatte,

·         RAAF Base Curtin near Derby,

·         RAAF Base Pearce in Bullsbrook,

·         Yampi Sound Training Area in the Kimberley,

·         HMAS Stirling at Garden Island,

·         Campbell Barracks in Swanbourne.

·         And Defence Establishment Harold E Holt and RAAF Base Learmonth in Exmouth.

The C-Band Radar and the Space Surveillance Telescope in Exmouth are both central to our space domain awareness with the United States. While in Exmouth in July, I announced a further $87 million boost to our vital Defence space facilities. And of course, nobody in Western Australia should ever overlook or forget that we have 7,800 Defence personnel – and their families – who are based right here in WA. They contribute to the local economies right around our state.

May I also recognise my colleague and my good friend Melissa Price, the Minister for Defence Industry. Melissa is championing the cause of local industry here in WA and right around the nation, and she is doing a brilliant job in the process. But shipbuilding and space are not the only areas where WA makes a significant contribution to our national security.

As a Senator for WA, I have long advocated for the critical minerals industry. So important for devices that drive our lives today. And now as Minister for Defence, my advocacy has a new impetus because of the many uses of critical minerals and rare elements in high-end technologies, including in defence technology. For example each F-35 Joint Strike Fighter contains 417 kilograms of rare earths. And as many in this room know, many of these critical minerals have very, very vulnerable supply chains globally. So I am working hard with international partners to build this industry here in Australia, and bolster the security of those assets we need both for our daily lives, but also for our defence capabilities.

Ladies and gentlemen, in conclusion.

We are in challenging and very unfamiliar times.

Conventions and norms are being tested. Our strategic environment is changing rapidly.

The COVID-19 pandemic has called on all of us to be creative, agile and practical, all at once, while navigating the unknown and moving quickly.

Opportunities have arisen in the midst of massive disruption and difficulty. This is the message I want to leave you with today. To equip our Defence Force with the capability needed to protect Australia’s security interests into what is an increasingly uncertain future – the Morrison Government is investing billions of dollars in defence across the nation and here in Western Australia.

You have an unprecedented opportunity in your own enterprises and your own pursuits to seize this moment – and benefit from this investment, not just in WA but in projects right across our nation.

And if you do, you will be contributing to Australia’s strategic, economic and sovereign interests.

West Australians have a long, proud history of success through innovation and entrepreneurship.

Our time has come once again.

Because the business of Defence is very good for WA businesses, and it’s great for the state of Western Australia.

Thank you.


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