Land Forces Official Dinner

05 Sep 2018 Speech




Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Rick Burr and Bronwyn. General Robert Brown, Commanding General of the United States Army Pacific, and Patti, welcome.

It’s fantastic to have you, among so many of our friends from the region, with us here in Adelaide tonight.

And of course welcome to my great friend Premier Steven Marshall.

Welcome all to Adelaide: home of the Poseidon and soon the Triton maritime patrol aircraft, of the JORN over-the-horizon radar at the Edinburgh super base, of Air Force’s 87 Intelligence Squadron, of Army units like the 7th Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment and 16 Air Land Regiment in one of the best postings in the Army, up in the Adelaide Hills.

The home of our naval shipbuilding enterprise, of ASC, of the Air Warfare Destroyer and the Collins class, with the Naval Group Future Submarine and the BAE Hunter class frigates soon to come.

Home of innovative companies like Supashock, Myriota and Consilium Technology; of much of the Defence, Science and Technology Group, and the headquarters of the Centre for Defence Industry Capability.

And home, of course, to me and my family, including my wife Carolyn, who is here with us tonight.

Looking Back

My first Land Forces as Defence Industry Minister was two years ago.

I had just taken on the portfolio, the first Cabinet level Defence Industry Minister, in a time when a Coalition Government had decided to make the biggest investment in our defence capabilities since the Second World War.

I was lucky then that a great Defence Industry event was about to unfold on my doorstep and long may that continue here in Adelaide.

I had long been interested in Defence and defence industry.

In my maiden speech as a some-might-say precocious 25 year old I had pointed to the importance of defence and related science and technology industries to the economy, and particularly spoken of defence exports.

So my first Land Forces was a great experience.

Such a sense of energy, of optimism, of hope.

Companies of all sizes, from all states, promoting all manner of wares.

Drones to watch from above, and Drone Shield to stop them.

Armoured vehicles to protect our troops, and anti-armour weapons to attack other people’s troops.

Rifle scopes that can see in the dark and camouflage clothing to make you invisible.

Learning all of this was like drinking from a firehose – project numbers, vehicle types, capabilities.

I learnt of Defence’s ability to speak in tongues: Land 400 Phase 3, instead of Infantry Fighting Vehicles.

Land 2110 instead of chemical, nuclear and biological protection gear.

And my absolute favourite: why not call a spade a spade, a shovel a shovel, and just call a helicopter a helicopter, and not a ‘rotary winged asset’?

Conversing in acronyms just makes you unintelligible to most outside the Defence bubble, and many within.

My job is to communicate our work, our successes and our challenges to the public - not to confuse them.

But my abiding memory of that first event was one of cautious hope.

Defence Industry – and I’m sure many of you were here two years ago as well – were frankly so pleased to have been recognised with their ‘own’ Minister.

A Minister as part of a Government with the biggest commitment to invest in military capability in peacetime.

The appointment was particularly welcome following Labor’s time in office where the Defence budget was used as an ATM for so many years.

But many of you would have wondered if anything would really change.

I don’t blame you for thinking it may just be the same old way of doing business.

I trust I, we, have given you confidence that we stand by our word.

I’ve tried to make as many decisions as I can to build up our military capability to better meet our ever evolving threats and challenges.

That’s why you fight to get into government - to make decisions and to make a difference.

So we’ve decided on AMSEG for our offshore patrol vessels, Naval Group for our submarines, and BAE for our Hunter Class frigates.

And in each of those decisions we drove the companies as hard as we could towards Australian content. And we’re keeping that pressure on.

We’ve delivered a Naval Shipbuilding Plan to lay out how this great national endeavor will take place.

We’ve decided the ten Sovereign Industrial Capability Priorities, and issued the Defence industrial Capability Plan to lay out how we’ll develop our defence industry as a whole.

We’ve picked the Boxer for our Combat Reconnaissance vehicles - the best vehicle for the job, that will let the Army fight and win the land battle for many years to come; and the tender is open now for the much bigger Infantry Fighting Vehicle project.

Hanwha, BAE, General Dynamics, Rheinmetall, and anyone else considering tendering: I’m excited to see what comes in. Make plans on a wide canvass.

We took the Combat Reconnaissance Vehicles from a very low percentage to 65% in terms of Australian Industry Content.

I hope you’ve used this conference to meet some of the best of Australia’s defence industry, and I look forward to seeing how you’ve optimised Australian content in your bids.

We’ve locked in the Triton and Poseidon combination to help control our northern approaches, as well as delivered over $1 billion dollars in Australian work for the Joint Strike Fighter.

We’ve committed $68 million dollars of Innovation Hub investment to bring new technologies up to the point where they are ready for Defence.

We’ve not just hit, but exceeded, expectations.

We have not just committed to a $200 billion investment in military capability over 10 years, but have also implemented the structure to deliver it and to further develop our defence industry.

Defence industry businesses used to tell me they struggled to get meetings at Defence. Now they say they are being pursued and chased by the department.

In my new role I get to have a particular appreciation of the ‘why’.

Why is it so important to have the best kit?

Why is it so important to have a strong industrial base in Australia?

Why must innovation be at the centre of what we do?

When I think of these questions, I think of three things.

First, I think of those who serve in uniform. I’ve got a great soldier in my office who serves as my ADC and is a constant reminder of why I am here in this role, and why we are here in this room tonight.

We share a common commitment to making sure our fighting men and women get what they need to do their jobs.

Many of you here have served yourself, and I know you could not for a moment think of telling one of your mates still in uniform that you didn’t do what you could to ensure the price was right, the gear was the best, and that it came in on time.

Secondly, I think of our defence industry.

A factory on the outskirts of Sydney like Thomas Global, near Brisbane like Haulmark Trailers, or the shipyards at Henderson in WA.

A factory producing world class equipment for the ADF, exporting it overseas, coming up with new ideas and sending them to Defence to try and improve capability.

It’s not that Defence business isn’t competitive – I just got through a Frigates tender, remember – but it’s competitive in a way that even the companies that don’t win still want the best for the client and hope the winner succeeds - because it‘s about delivering the best capability possible to our military.

The defence industry that we are now developing is a vital part of our capability, and a vital part of the defence of our nation into the future.

Finally, I think of the map.

The world is a dangerous place and we are living in more uncertain times.

Our region is a volatile one, and a vital one.

We sit on the border between two great oceans, in a part of the world that is, as the Chief of Army phrases it, “in motion”.

By 2050 almost half of the world’s economic output is expected to come from the Indo-Pacific.

It’s home to eight of the ten most populous nations on Earth, 50 per cent of the world’s population, and the largest democratic nation in the world.

Home to busy and vital sea lanes, the life-blood of the global economy, many of the world’s largest cities, and an array of different cultures, peoples and languages.

Seven of the world’s ten largest militaries and five of the world’s nuclear nations are also within the Indo-Pacific.

And not only are many of our neighbours increasing their military spending and preparedness levels, non-state actors and domestic and external threats are on the rise.

So thinking of those three things I know why we are here, and why it is so important that all of us deliver on our collective endeavour to defend our nation.

As Minister for Defence, to address this challenge, I want to focus on four things.

They are:

  • Managing great power competition in the Indo-Pacific.
  • Pursuing enhanced military to military relations with Japan, Indonesia, India and the South Pacific.
  • Enhancing Australia’s military capability and maintaining our defence technology edge in the region, and
  • Managing the return of terrorist foreign fighters to Southeast Asia.

Our region plays host to the defining great power competition of our generation.

China’s GDP is growing rapidly, forecast to be almost twice the size of the United States by 2030.

At the same time the United States remains our closest friend and ally.

The Australian Government is firmly committed to maintaining a constructive, positive relationship with China founded on our broad mutual interests, and on mutual respect, for our mutual benefit.

Our long friendship with both nations, and our close economic and people to people links place us in a unique position to help manage this vital relationship.

Our military to military relations – embodied by everyone in this room, and all those nations that attended the Chief of Army’s seminar – are of fundamental importance.

We’re already particularly close to Japan and Indonesia, indeed I will visit Indonesia next month and I will host the 2 plus 2 Minister’s meeting with Japan in Sydney in October.

I want to bring us closer to India.

We’re natural friends, partners, and allies; with a similar system of government – India’s democracy is every bit as rambunctious as ours – and we have significant people-to-people links.

And in the South Pacific I see a natural role for Australia and for our Defence Force to work with and support our friends and allies.

On capability I will continue what I started in Defence Industry: delivering the platforms needed to take our defence force to the next level.

We will soon be one of the most advanced defence forces of any size in the world.

We are the twelfth largest economy in the world, and we are the twelfth largest defence spender in the world. We’ve got to keep our eye on the ball to keep delivering what our troops need.

And finally we can’t underestimate the risks posed by returning foreign fighters in Southeast Asia.

We can play an important role here, not only in the intelligence and security space but also in training our allies.

Those are my four priorities.

This is a demanding portfolio.

Things are going to go wrong, and mistakes will be made.

Rick is going to be standing in front of my desk one day telling me how some diggers got in trouble at the Mad Cow; Kim - or he’ll probably leave this to his replacement - is going to tell me that we’re paying thousands over the odds for something, only for it to arrive late, and Greg will describe an idea I have as ‘very courageous, Minister’.

As Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science I often spoke about the importance of taking risk. That taking a calculated risk was worthwhile. That learning from mistakes is important.

That applies to Defence.

We face unusual challenges, and we will not solve them with the usual thinking.

So I am glad of the team I have around me.

I want to thank particularly the industry policy division of the Department. For a long time you were unappreciated.

Then you got your own Minister, and your workload went through the roof. I don’t apologise for that.

I hope you’re used to it now, because it won’t slow down under Steve.

It is fantastic to be joined by Steve Ciobo in this portfolio. His experience in trade will make him an amazing advocate for our exports overseas, and his enthusiasm for industry will mean the focus I started will continue.

To be joined by David as assistant minister is such a blessing – he knows defence in a way only one who has served in uniform can do.

I do apologise in advance to both of them, however - I love defence industry, and I’m going to stay involved in every aspect of it.


I spoke this week at the Chief of Army’s seminar and in the room then, and here in the room tonight, are the leaders of the armies and defence forces of our region.

Men and women across the Indo Pacific who put on the uniform of their nation each day to protect their countries and maintain the stability of the rules-based order in our region.

Men and women who risk their lives for a greater good.

We are all part of our great national endeavour: soldier, sailor, airman or airwoman; as well as welder, systems integrator, project manager, electrician. And Minister.

We all serve in our own way, and I will, in this role, continue doing what I can to ensure the safety and prosperity of our great nation.

Thank you.