|Subjects: Delivering enhanced weapons for our ADF; Anthony Albanese flip flopping on policy; George Christensen; national security; border protection policy; Senator Seselja’s visit to Solomon Islands.
Its great honour to be here at NIOA, one of Australia’s great defence companies employing people here in Brisbane, but right across the country. It’s a very important collaboration we announce today. I want to say thank you very much to Luke Howarth and Vivien Lobo for being here with me today and many other colleagues across the country who have significant defence industries within their own electorates.
We have about 100,000 people across the country who are employed in defence industry, providing support to the men and women of the Australian Defence Force, and I want to pay tribute to all of them because they help keep our country safe.
The announcement today is $527 million tranche of this particular program, and there will be a number of companies over a period of time that will be involved in the delivery of services to the Australian Defence Force, weapons systems and munitions etc, that will help keep our soldiers safe here and abroad.
Late last week, as you know, we had a medal presentation at Amberley and in Lavarack to the men and women who had been in Kabul for the uplift of the 4,100 people. Quite remarkable scenes as people recall and the situation there was precarious to say the least. We need our soldiers, the men and women of the Australian Defence Force, to have the best possible equipment and investment that we’re making here will allow that equipment to be delivered with a significant benefit to the Australian economy in the process. It gives them the best chance of lethality to deal with that threat that they would have faced in Kabul as they faced in Afghanistan over the last 20 years, and as they could face in any future conflict
It provides them with greater situational awareness and greater survivability as well, which is incredibly important of course. If they are in a fight with a combatant, they need to have the best equipment, the best awareness and the best capacity to survive that particular conflict.
So NIOA is an incredible company – one of many that will be involved in this tranche of the investment that we announce today. Ben I might ask you to say a few words and then I’m happy to take some questions.
Good morning on behalf of our CEO, Rob Nioa, I’m very proud that today’s announcement recognises the extraordinary work undertaken by NIOA, but in very close collaboration with Army and the Capability and Sustainment Group, or CASG.
Today’s announcement represents a long term commitment, significant private investment and a singular focus on growing sovereign industrial capability to support Australia’s warfighters.
Tranche one of this program being announced today, has involved a global market solicitation process to select and evaluate 11 separate weapon systems, including combat and sniper systems that will deliver for the ADF soldiers, sailors and airmen a step change in capability.
Close combat systems include fighting knives, personal defence weapons systems and shotguns, whilst sniper systems include any material and any personnel systems and their associated ancillary ammunition, optics, camouflage clothing etc.
As a 100 per cent Australian owned defence prime, NIOA takes very seriously the capabilities we are now charged with delivering under the LAND 159 program.
This program has involved managing over 200 expressions of interest from industry partners looking to take part in the program. We’ve undertaken almost 870 separate live fire tests serials in our 100 metre indoor range here in Brisbane, with 31,000 rounds fired to test and integrate best of breed weapon systems.
We’ve captured over 2.2 terabytes of high speed video assessment in integrating and evaluating these systems. Very soon they’ll be in the hands of our soldiers delivering them a step change in capability.
So we’re excited to be moving into the next stage of this important program that will also ensure the ADF soldiers are ultimately equipped to undertake their jobs effectively, safely for many years to come.
Thanks Ben. Okay, any questions?
Minister, Four Corners revealed fresh allegations of torture and sexual assault by ADF soldiers in East Timor in 1999. Will Defence be taking any action to investigate these allegations?
We might deal first with questions in relation to today’s announcement, and then I’m happy to take questions more generally.
Minister, how soon will this gear be rolled out?
The investment starts straight away and this tranche rolls out to 2028. Obviously there’s a $2 billion in total over the course of this decade. Now, that’s only possible because we have put significant investment back into Defence.
We’ve had a rapid build-up because when Labor was last in power, they reduced spending in Defence, as you know, to the lowest level since 1938. We have been able to invest in our men and women in the equipment and the infrastructure that they need, but investments like this wouldn’t have been possible under a Labor government.
Labor always finds a higher priority than Defence; let’s be very clear about that. Anthony Albanese when he was deputy prime minister, was around the cabinet table when they made decisions to strip money, billions of dollars from the men and women of the Australian Defence Force.
The equipment that we’re purchasing today is best in class. It does give our men and women of the ADF the best possible chance in any fight and it’s a disgrace, frankly, that Labor found every other priority apart from Defence.
At a time in the Indo-Pacific, when there’s great uncertainty we need to have the best capability. We need to have the best deterrence. We want to make sure we keep peace and stability in our region. Labor will always find a reason as to why they can’t invest in Defence. They did it when they were last in government and they would do it again if Mr Albanese’s elected as prime minister.
Minister, are you making a spending announcement in the caretaker period?
We’re making an announcement of funding the decision has been taken by Government. It’s a $2 billion decision that’s been taken and it will be spent over the decade. LAND 159 and a number of other programs that we’ve been working on for a long period of time, have been out to market, they’ve gone through all of that process. We’ve worked with companies like NIOA and I was in Melbourne yesterday with Aquaterro, and that money is in the budget and it’s a decision that has been taken by Government.
Can you give us an update on the Rheinmetall LAND 400 decision? When’s that going to be made? Is it going to go ahead?
Well look, there’s obviously advice [inaudible] publicly commented on before, that Defence want to come back to ask some questions of the two that have been shortlisted in that phase three.
That timeline is likely to be about September I’m advised from Defence, and we’re sticking to that timeline. So we won’t have an announcement to make on before the election, but obviously the two companies, including one that you’ve mentioned, have been shortlisted and that’s the probity process at the moment.
Minister, George Christensen has defected from the LNP. He’s now joined One Nation. What’s your reaction to that?
Well, I don’t think anyone’s really surprised. George obviously has been unhappy for a long time. George has been a colleague and we wish him well. That’s otherwise an issue for George.
Is he a rat? Is he a Liberal Party rat?
No, no he’s not. He’s resigned from the party, he’s made a different decision and that’s an issue for him.
Does it make it harder for the Government to retain power, given it’s such a tight field at the moment?
I don’t think George is going to run in a Lower House seat. That’s an issue for George to discuss, but I don’t think that’s going to be the case.
Are you expecting him to air any dirty laundry on the campaign trail?
I don’t think so. I think George has a greater respect for the membership of the LNP who have supported him for a long period of time and I don’t think that’s George’s style.
Given the turmoil within the LNP in the run up to this election, do you think his criticisms of the Liberal National Party coalition here in Queensland have some validity? Are there problems within the party?
Well, the Coalition holds 23 of 30 seats in Queensland. Excellent members like Luke Howarth and Trevor Evans, Terry Young; I mean these are people who have worked their guts out for their electorates. Over the course of the floods, there’s quite remarkable work that Julian Simmons and Trevor Evans did for their electorates. Llew O’Brien up in Gympie, and I’m incredibly proud of the team we’ve got in Queensland, and I think that we can hold those seats.
I desperately hope that we can win Lilley, because we’ve got a great candidate in Vivian and Lilley is a seat, as is Blair potentially, that could join the 23. I just don’t get any sense as I move around that Anthony Albanese has formed a connection with people in Queensland.
I’ve got to say this about Anthony Albanese, I’ve known him for about 20 years and I can tell you, I thought I knew who he was, but he’s twisted and contorted so much over the last couple of months it’s hard to recognise Anthony Albanese in his current form.
Now he said he wanted to be Bob Hawke; well obviously that didn’t survive a new cycle. He wanted to be John Howard; which was laughable. Then he said he wanted to be Annastacia Palaszczuk, which would send a shiver down anyone’s spine. What I fear though, is that we’re going to get Anthony Albanese if he’s elected at the May election and that would be a disaster for Queensland and for our country. He has no affinity with Queensland whatsoever.
This chopping and changing and you see this in his interview today in News Limited papers, it’s unbelievable that he’s seeking to abandon positions for the sake of trying to get through the campaign without scrutiny.
As I say, I don’t recognise Anthony Albanese in his current form. I’ve known him for 20 years and I’d say that those in the Labor Party would be laughing behind closed doors at the moment because this guy is trying to pretend to be someone that he’s not.
When it comes to the boats policy – I mean he says that he’s in lockstep with Scott Morrison and I in protecting our borders – the one element that is the key to success is Operation Sovereign Borders, is Temporary Protection Visas, and he’s not committing to Temporary Protection Visas. OSB doesn’t work with Labor only signing up to half of it.
So don’t pretend that the boats won’t restart under Labor because what they’re doing is promising the policy that got Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard into trouble.
So this guy who says that he believed in climate change is now not the biggest issue it’s China; that he had a belief once in not sending people to Christmas Island or to Nauru, but now he does; this guy will do and say anything because he wants to try and walk unnoticed to The Lodge.
Australians are going to call it out, and I think they already have. I think the penny has dropped for a lot of Australians that Anthony Albanese is not the real deal. He’s not genuine, he’s not sincere, and he’ll twist and contort and tell anybody anything they want to hear. But I think Australians and Queenslanders are much, much smarter than that.
Minister on the Four Corners allegations…
Yes mate, back to your first question; obviously there’s a process set up within Defence. The Office of the Special Investigator has been established – I established that when I was Home Affairs Minister. So there are criminal investigations that underway, and all of that is a process that’s properly dealt with by the police. It is not a political issue and I don’t seek to make it one. So I think it’s best that investigations are undertaken in the way that you would expect. If people have fresh allegations to make, then they can contact that organisation or defence or the police, the Australian Federal Police, and those matters will be dealt with accordingly.
The ADF investigation in 2003 found the majority of the Timorese men, which were civilians, not criminals or members of militia. So on that basis, will you be issuing an apology to the Timorese people?
Well I just refer you to the comment I just made.
Do you have any concerns about the allegations raised in the Four Corners program?
As I say, there is a process that’s been set up and any allegations are properly referred to the police, not publicly speculated on, I don’t think that’s helpful.
Minister can you explain, what is Zed Seselja doing in the Solomon Islands during the caretaker period?
Well, we’re Ministers in the Government. I signed authorisations yesterday for the Australian Signals Directorate for operations that are underway, so the work of Government doesn’t cease during caretaker period. There are conventions around caretaker where major decisions that might bind an incoming government need to be consulted on, but in terms of the work of Zed Seselja; I think he’s done a fantastic job in his role and he’ll continue to do that.
The Solomon Islands is an incredibly important partner for us and at the moment, it’s important that that conversation continue. There are many national security reasons for him to be there and I’m very grateful that he is.
Can you explain what they are?
No, not publicly.
Do you believe Anthony Albanese when he says he puts China as a bigger threat than climate change? Now that he’s Opposition Leader?
I don’t mate. I can’t believe the bloke who says, you know, I vehemently believe in this for 20 years, and then for 20 days before the election, he believes the opposite. Now it’s not sincere. It doesn’t add up and it doesn’t pass the pub test.
Anthony Albanese, as I say, I’ve watched him across the dispatch box. I’m the Leader of the House, I’ve been a Minister, I’ve watched him in the Gillard years, the Rudd years, I’ve watched him as Leader of the Opposition; I hear what he has to say, I’ve heard what he said publicly over the years, I’ve seen speeches and opinion pieces that he’s read; he’s now wanting you to believe that he’s the complete opposite person of what he’s been for the last 20 years.
He’s been the leader of the hard left of the Labor Party, and now he wants to tell you that he’s John Howard- lite, or that he’s Bob Hawke reincarnated, or that somehow he’s Annastacia Palaszczuk, in a sort of suped up 2.0 version. It just doesn’t add up. The guy is not credible, and I think Australians are starting to sniff a fake here.
There will be more questions asked of Mr Albanese because on his Border Protection policy, he’s basically rehashing what Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard had. That is a recipe for the boats to start.
We know that there are people movements up in Sri Lanka and Vietnam, and we know that there’s a lot of uncertainty within Europe at the moment. The preconditions are there for the boats to recommence, and they would be looking at Labor’s policy at the moment and thinking, you know, rubbing the hands together, fantastic. Bring it on; game back on.
If you look at Brendan O’Connor, my opposite number, at least for the moment, there were 12,000 people who came on his watch. Women and children drowned when Brendan O’Connor was the Home Affairs Minister. We don’t even know whether Kristina Keneally would be the home affairs minister.
So I think the Albanese roadshow has run into some pretty rough territory. I think, you know, they’ve got a flat tire at the moment, they’ve got a long way to go between now and the 21st of May, and I think Australians are rightly scratching their heads, saying no wonder Mr Albanese didn’t want them to know who he is.
Minister, you’ve held refugees and asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru and here in Australia for nine years. You’ve slowly been releasing them just before the election campaign. Isn’t it a bit disingenuous to say that people should be afraid of Labor when you’ve actually changed your policy in terms of holding these people and releasing them and allowing them to go to New Zealand?
Well again, I mean that’s just like reading directly from Labor talking points because that’s not factually correct. What we’ve done, when I was Minister for Home Affairs, I didn’t put one child or woman or man into Nauru or Manus. I didn’t put them into detention. Scott Morrison and I closed the detention centres; 17 of them that Labor opened.
We didn’t have people drowning on our watch. We tidied this mess up of Labor’s making. It cost them $16 billion, and they took billions away from the men and women of the Australian Defence Force to try and plug the holes in the gaps that they created in the budget.
Now, we don’t want to return back to that. We have strong border protection in this country. We have great uncertainty in the Indo-Pacific. We’re watching in Europe at the moment, hoping and praying that we don’t see a repeat of the 1930s with a spread into Poland and elsewhere.
Our country needs to be strong, not weak, and under Scott Morrison, our country is strong and we’re best able to deal with the issues that will confront us in a national security sense. The people smugglers won’t try and risk their arm against the Morrison Government, I will tell you that. They know that we have their measure that we’ve stopped the boats. The threat will never go away, but clearly under Anthony Albanese, he’s sending signals now – bad signals – to the people smugglers that the Labor Party has exactly the same policy as Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, which equates to boats restarting and people being back on water and that’s not what they want for our country.
We need to support the men and women of the ADF, and that’s why we’ve put a record amount of money into this budget to support the soldiers and the sailors and the aviators and we’ll continue to do that because we need to acquire equipment more quickly, we want to deter any Chinese aggression against our country or in our region.
Anthony Albanese standing up today telling you that he’s had this latter day conversion; that all of a sudden China is a risk – Penny Wong is not saying that, and there’s no doubt a split within the Labor Party at the moment as to how they should handle this issue because Penny Wong would be saying to the Australian public if she was foreign affairs minister; “just trust me. I’ll go to Beijing. I’ll sit down with the Chinese government, with my superior negotiating skills I’ll resolve all of these matters.” You know what Beijing would be saying? They’d be saying; “well, sure, we’re happy to have the conversation, as long as you stop ordering those missiles, as long as you stop buying that equipment.” and Penny Wong would fall for it.
So don’t underestimate the danger of the times ahead and we have to be realistic about the threat. We’re dealing with it, we’re investing into the ADF to make sure that we have that deterrence and there’s a huge difference at this election between the Prime Minister and what Mr Albanese has to offer in terms of his own national security team.
Speaking of China, what can Zed Seselja take to the Solomon Islands in a caretaker period when he can’t make any policy decisions, he can’t make any aid announcements?
What’s he doing in the Solomons in terms of what is what you’re talking about with China in the region? What guarantees can you offer them?
To be frank if I might, if the SBSs can’t work that out, then we’ve got some serious problems with one of our great national broadcasters. Thank you.