22 May 2023
Warren, thank you very much. It’s a great pleasure to be here with you tonight.
I want to say thank you very much to News Corp, to Michael Miller, Gemma Jones, Cameron Stewart, Anna Caldwell, Melissa Librandi, to Sam Weir, to others who are here from News Corp’s stable tonight. Thank you to all of you for sponsoring tonight.
And thank you Matt for hosting us here at the War Memorial. It’s a national institution and we should remind ourselves of how fortunate we are to be in these halls in this great country.
I want to pay tribute to all of our veterans – especially those of the Korean War and the Vietnam War as we commemorate the 70th and 50th anniversaries respectively of the end of those conflicts, which we mark this year.
I’d also like to acknowledge my good friend – as he pointed out, Richard Marles – he pointed that he was a good friend so that I might be less inclined to sue him for defamation after that contribution he made tonight.
To the Premier of South Australia, Peter Malinauskas.
To all of my defence friends who are here tonight.
I want to say thank you very much to the VCDF – Vice Admiral David Johnston, one of our nation’s greatest leaders.
Also, to Vice Admiral Jonathan Mead, Chief of Nuclear-Powered Submarine Task Force. He did an amazing amount of work to bring to fruition the AUKUS deal, without him, we wouldn’t have been able to seal the arrangement with the United States and the United Kingdom.
Also acknowledge Vice Admiral Mark Hammond and others who are wearing our nation’s uniform here, tonight.
I acknowledge our British High Commissioner, the United States Ambassador for being here as well tonight – great friends of our country.
To all of defence industry, academia, participants in this great event – thank you very much for being here.
Very important that I acknowledge Andrew Hastie, Luke Howarth, Phil Thompson, other parliamentary colleagues who are here tonight. I thank them for their passion in supporting our Defence Force in this country.
Elbridge Colby, one of the sharpest contemporary defence strategists, said that the ‘decent peace we seek is the product of a reckoning with the unpeaceful.’
Judging by the comments from leaders at the Quad and G7, it’s clear we are certainly reckoning with the unpeaceful.
Putin, as we know, is on full display and reminds us that the days of despots are not gone.
That the age of autocrats is not behind us.
Whether it’s in Eastern Europe or the Indo-Pacific, authoritarian regimes have become emboldened to use force and coercion to achieve their ends.
I certainly welcome the Government’s 2023 Defence Strategic Review.
As many commentators have acknowledged, it’s a continuation of what the former Coalition Government set out in our 2020 Defence Strategic Update and Force Structure Plan.
The similarities are almost indistinguishable with regards to deterrence, capability and force posture objectives.
And of course, the reason for that is that we were advised by the same people present here tonight, as well as many others from Russell and the defence establishment – they are best in class, and I am very proud to have worked with them as Defence Minister and the current Deputy Prime Minister is very pleased, I’m sure, to have them as his advisers now.
I also commend the Albanese Government’s commitment in carrying forward our AUKUS agenda.
As I pointed out in my Budget in Reply, the government hasn’t committed any new money to Defence at a time when it needs it most.
And its cuts to Army’s programs to fund others are deeply concerning and will quickly weaken our capacity.
Morale will slide, as will retention rates.
Nonetheless, this precarious period in which we live requires bipartisanship when it comes to our nation’s defence.
And I think the most important thing that our adversaries and friends can hear at the moment is that there is a bipartisan position in relation to AUKUS and the strength of our defences and our deterrence capability in our country.
The last thing our adversaries and our friends need to hear now is the bickering, or the cheap political points being made when we’re talking about such a serious discussion.
In Japan in recent days, world leaders, including Prime Minister Albanese, have been very critical of China.
In the corridors of Canberra, our brightest policy minds speak of how the military build-up of China in our region is ‘occurring without transparency or reassurance’.
They speak of its threat to the ‘global rules-based order’ and how all nations must work to maintain that order.
Such observations are as important as they are true.
But in these observations, there’s an assumption that the CCP has an interest in transparency.
That it could be convinced to change its behaviour and provide strategic reassurance.
That it agrees with – and indeed values – the rules-based order.
Yet so many of the actions of the CCP over recent years suggest the complete opposite.
When we apply democratic standards to authoritarian regimes, we slip into a dangerous denial of these regimes’ true behaviour and intent.
Diplomacy of course is paramount and must never be neglected, but we must also be realistic lest we risk drifting into wishful thinking that diplomacy can always save the day.
So while we continue with our strenuous efforts in diplomacy, we must put the accelerator down on defence deterrence.
We must learn the lessons of history.
We must be cognisant that despite the best minds and efforts, diplomacy doesn’t always succeed – as much as we hope it always will.
US President Ronald Reagan spoke of finding peace through strength.
Right now, our country, our region, our friends need to find that strength through speed.
We must speed the delivery of defence capability.
In the Second World War, industrialist Essington Lewis was put in charge of munitions and aircraft production.
He brought other industrialists into the fold.
He cut through lengthy tender processes to produce defence equipment at speed.
Lewis’ approach may not be acceptable today, especially as defence capabilities are far more complex to build than 80 years ago.
But he serves as inspiration to do things differently.
Our defence enterprise is well-intentioned and full of patriotic and hard-working people.
But for too long, capability delays and risk aversion have plagued Coalition and Labor governments alike.
We simply cannot afford to continue to run at the same pace.
Under AUKUS, five nuclear powered submarines – four from the US and one from the UK – will effectively be based in our waters from the year 2027.
The Americans don’t relocate significant assets on a whim, and the timeline is telling.
Layers of bureaucracy need to be stripped back to condense acquisition timelines, and more commercial acumen and less defence process is part of the solution.
AUKUS is a major win for jobs and industry in our country, but the most important consideration is capability, acquisition and deterrence.
We owe it to our men and women in uniform who are charged with the heaviest responsibility – to protect our people and our country, particularly in uncertain times.
As retired Australian Army Major General Mick Ryan wrote in his book, War Transformed:
‘People are the foundation of every military capability. They are also at the heart of every form of military advantage.’
Both the Coalition’s Defence Strategic Update (DSU) and Labor’s Defence Strategic Review (DSR) place an emphasis on building and bolstering the Defence workforce.
As we have seen in Ukraine, the character of war continues to change.
In modern warfare there is a growing emphasis and importance on cyber, on space and asymmetric capabilities.
In short, there are vastly more opportunities to be involved in Defence today than there were in the past.
For example, cyber operatives, satellite controllers, information officers, drone pilots and missile forces.
The nature of modern conflict is that many involved in operations on the frontline won’t be on the physical frontline.
We only need to look to Ukraine to see the vital role that more than 50,000 women are playing in the defence of their country Ukraine both in combat and non-combat roles.
Just as there are new opportunities in Defence, the same goes for our defence industry.
A growing emphasis on asymmetric capabilities – including those which are smaller and can be produced in quantity, relatively quickly and inexpensively – means more opportunities and possibilities for small and medium businesses in our country.
How brilliant it is that an Australian company has produced cardboard drones which are being used by Ukraine’s armed forces.
So there is much greater scope to appeal to people from all walks of life to contribute to defence and defence industry.
One of the things that we were most conscious of when we put AUKUS together was workforce.
We always believe that we can achieve capability because of the strength of our partners and our relationships, despite (inaudible) from them in for the engagement in our region was strong and productive.
But over COVID it was of course impossible physically to have a presence within those nations, but our support – particularly around COVID – strengthened relationships, it didn’t weaken them.
Defence must not only continue to attract the best people, but also the people with the right mentality who might be called upon to serve in difficult circumstances – much more difficult than we have recognised or known for decades.
Of course, some of the people who join defence today will be involved in the most ambitious defence venture in our history; our nation’s acquisition and building of nuclear-powered submarines.
The government will purchase between three and five US nuclear-powered Virginia-class submarines – an established, proven and in-production design.
And develop with the US and the UK a new first in type nuclear-powered submarine – the SSN AUKUS – incorporating technologies from all three countries.
We have embarked upon a multi-generational mission.
And a homegrown nuclear industry will grow around this endeavour.
As we proceed with our nuclear-powered submarine plans, I think our nation would be well-served to have a conversation about how a nuclear-power industry could complement this defence objective.
Both the DSU and the DSR talk about ‘national resilience’ and ‘self-reliance’.
The former ANSTO CEO has written to the Prime Minister outlining the national security risks and vulnerabilities of intermittent renewables and massive grids – particularly if there is a significant ramp up of military production in our country.
He mentioned that nuclear power will be essential for energy ‘reliability, robustness and resilience.’
It seems to me that there are strong correlations between national security and energy security when it comes to nuclear-powered submarines and next-generation, zero emission small modular reactors.
I suspect in this regard the next speaker and I share more in common than we both might like to acknowledge when it comes to the conversation about nuclear power – I want to be good friends with you too Premier…
I want to commend Premier Malinauskas for being willing to express common sense on this issue.
As a significant beneficiary of jobs and industry under AUKUS, South Australia is likely to be asked by the Albanese Government to dispose of nuclear waste, including end of life reactors off the submarines.
It will be a significant undertaking, but a mature nation like ours shouldn’t allow those detractors to create a fear and scare campaign.
We safely dispose of nuclear waste now in our country.
And of course, we have significant uranium deposits in South Australia which will become increasingly important given 32 countries have adopted nuclear technology and 50 more are contemplating doing so.
It would be difficult to quantify the amount invested in military research and development by countries with nuclear powered submarines.
The investment to date means the reactor on our subs will not need to be refuelled for 30 years.
The R&D will make future generations of the technology even more energy efficient.
Recycling of waste and zero emissions make it a compelling conversation.
So, ladies and gentlemen, we face many, many pressing challenges ahead:
Speeding up defence capability acquisition.
Getting more people and the right people into the Australian Defence Force.
And seeing through the AUKUS agenda, our plans for nuclear-powered submarines and ensuring our energy security.
There’s a great national need for us to prevail in all these challenges.
Winston Churchill said that ‘difficulties mastered are opportunities won’.
I think it’s within our national character – as it has always been – to master these difficulties.
And it’s our necessary mastering of these difficulties which will help us deter the dangers present and to preserve peace in our times.
Thank you very much.