Subjects: Opening and closing remarks at National Press Club Defence debate.
Firstly, thank you to the Club for hosting an important debate today. Can I acknowledge all of those in the audience who wear our country’s uniform or have in the past, and thank you very much for your service.
To our Ambassadors here today and a very warm welcome to each of you. In particular, I point out to those who are watching today, you didn’t see the acknowledgement of the Ukrainian Ambassador before, for which there was a round of applause. We don’t often see at the Press Club, but to respect and to honour you, Sir, and your people and what the Ukraine is going through at the moment.
Ladies and gentlemen, as we know, for the past three years, our nation has been beset by some of the most challenging international circumstances faced by any government in our lifetime. Navigating our country through a once in a century global pandemic has, of course, not been easy.
But there is no one alive in our country today who has done this before and on any metric – however you look at it – Australia has weathered the storm better than almost any nation on earth. Decisions taken by the Morrison Government literally saved tens of thousands of lives and hundreds of thousands of jobs.
We’ve kept our country safe and we’ve kept our economy strong. Australia has emerged from the pandemic in a position of strength and with cause for optimism about the future. But we know that we can’t take that for granted. The world around us has changed and we’re facing a future that is more uncertain and a region that is less safe.
What seemed unthinkable five or 10 or even one year ago to be honest, has become our reality. War has returned to Europe, and we are today 70 days in to Russia’s immoral and illegal invasion of Ukraine.
China’s intimidatory use of grey zone warfare tactics, like hacking and like economic coercion, is threatening the sovereignty and prosperity of every Indo-Pacific nation. We live in times echoing the 1930s with belligerent autocrats seeking to once again use force to achieve political outcomes.
If history has taught us anything, it is that when dictators are on the march, you can only preserve peace by preparing for war. You can only deter aggression from a position of strength. The Morrison Government is committed to building that stronger, safer Australia.
Ukraine has demonstrated very clearly, if anyone needed reminding, that direct military action can only be repelled by a direct military response. We know this and so do potential aggressors.
The Morrison Government is committed to building a larger, stronger and better equipped Australian Defence Force. We are increasing the size and the capability of the ADF by around 30 per cent, taking the total permanent force to almost 80,000 personnel. We are investing more than $270 billion into defence capability, this decade, and we’re undertaking the most significant renewal of the Royal Australian Navy since the Second World War.
We’re revolutionising Australian offensive cyber capabilities, investing $10 billion into doubling the size of the ASD, the Australian Signals Directorate, and turbocharging our ability to strike back against cyber conflict. The Government understands that Australia must have an effective, deployable and integrated military force if we are to deter aggression.
The nuclear-powered submarines that Australia is building at Osborne through the AUKUS agreement, add an entirely new dimension to such calculations. The range, the stealth, the survivability of nuclear powered submarines make them an incredibly powerful deterrent and capability for our country, underpinning the security of our nation for the next 50 years. But it goes beyond that. We’ve purchased or built and brought into service significant and serious capability, which has made the ADF a stronger and more lethal deterrent.
This has included joint air-to- service stand-off missiles to enable our FA-18 Super Hornets and our F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to hit targets at a range of 900 kilometres. We’re also acquiring long range strike capabilities, including Tomahawk cruise missiles, to be fielded on our Hobart Class Air Warfare Destroyers – the most potent warships ever operated by our Navy.
We’ve acquired 24 MH-60R Seahawk Maritime Combat Anti-Submarine and Anti-surface warfare helicopters, and we’ve built three of the six planned all Australian Loyal Wingman Uncrewed combat aerial vehicles.
Now in contrast, the Labor Opposition likes to speak a big game on Defence. But just like on borders, Australians need to look very closely at what Labor says before you see what they actually do in government.
When the Coalition came to office in 2013, Labor had cut Defence spending to the lowest levels since 1938 at 1.56 per cent of GDP. In their 2012-13 budget, Labor cut defence by over 10 per cent in real terms. It was the largest year-on-year fall in funding since the end of the Korean conflict. They delayed, cut or cancelled over 160 projects – not because the projects were behind time – but because they re-allocated that money to other higher priorities.
Now we’ve undone Labor’s damage and we’ve lifted defence spending to 2 per centof GDP. There would today have been $55 billion less in Defence had Labor still been in government. This election is about deciding the choice and whether you risk Labor with our national security.
On the 21st of May, when Australians walk into that polling booth, they will be faced with a choice. Our country’s grappling with security challenges of scale and complexity that we have not experienced since the Second World War.
Australians have a choice about who will lead our country through a dangerous and uncertain time. It’s a choice between an experienced Morrison Government that has invested in our security, has made tough decisions and has a track record of keeping us safe and our country safe.
Or the alternative: a Labor Party with a weak leader and a track record of failing to properly fund our Defence Force. It’s a choice between a Morrison Government that has a plan for a stronger Australia and a Labor Opposition that has no plan to keep us safe.
Under the Coalition, Defence spending has increased by over 60 per cent. Navy spending is up by 76 per cent, Army up by 49 per cent and Air Force by 132 per cent. Under Labor Defence spending was cut and it was cut and it was cut further. They delayed or cancelled or cut 160 projects.
The truth is that Labor can’t manage the economy and they can’t manage national security. They did it in the Defence Force just like they did it in our national security and law enforcement agencies. Our country at this time cannot afford Labor at the next election.