Australian International Airshow Dinner
Speech at the Australian International Airshow (Avalon) Official Dinner
25 February 2018
SUBJECTS: Australian Defence Force planes;Australian International Air Show
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: To his Excellency, the Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove, and Lady Cosgrove; to the Chief of the Air Force Leo Davies who’s shown [indistinct] today; to the Chief of the Defence Force General Angus Campbell; to my parliamentary colleagues; Mike Kelly representing the Opposition, the member for Eden-Monaro; Martin Pakula, the local minister from Victoria representing the Victorian Government; the Assistant Minister of Defence David Fawcett, who’s also here. I know there are many other distinguished guests that I should name but they’ve been named several times and I think I’ll leave it at that because it’ll take up a little bit of time going through all these distinguished guests again.
To those who’ve travelled from overseas, and interstate and far and away to be here as well as those who are locals - welcome to this magnificent Avalon conference that we’re holding here for a week in Victoria. I know most of you are in town for this year’s Australian International Air Show and of course you won’t be disappointed – Avalon never disappoints. And I hope you also enjoy the stars of this year’s show; our newly delivered F-35A Joint Strike Fighters and I hope you enjoy the awe-inspiring aerobatics of the PC-21 Roulettes who have their new colour scheme. But of course, there’s also the classic war birds that are on display; among them is a Hudson Bomber, a veteran of the Second World War. She reminds us not only of our proud history but also how far we’ve come, how much the world has changed. By today’s standards she seems like an ancient artefact but as many of you know, when she first arrived in the Royal Australian Air Force 80 years ago, she was state of the art.
Since then, ingenuity and technology propelled the world forward in unimaginable ways. Today’s age is marked by rapid change, unprecedented in both its pace and its scale. From a Defence perspective, this means Australia must combat today’s threats while also preparing for the threats of the future; threats that do not yet exist. These unsettled times call for considered actions and that’s why back in 2016, the Coalition Government considered in great detail how Defence can best protect and advance our national interests. Likewise, we considered what our men and women in uniform need from us to do their jobs safely and effectively. We created the most comprehensive Defence White Paper in Australia’s history, released 30 years ago yesterday. It analyses our strategic environment; it outlines our defence priorities; it details what capabilities our Defence Force needs to protect our interests in a more complex world.
Never before have we had such a strategy-led approach to the defence of our nation. We’re building a future force that is more capable, agile and potent. As Prime Minister Morrison put it last year, while Australia would always seek to befriend and not to antagonise, we must do so from a position of strength, preparedness and capability. To that end last December, as Australia’s first of two F-35A Joint Striker Fighters touched down at RAAF base Williamstown, our Air Force entered a new chapter. Two F-35A Joint Striker Fighters now call Australia home - 70 more will follow over the next five years in what is the largest Royal Australian Air Force acquisition in its 97-year history.
They join our fleet of Growlers capable of disrupting, deceiving and denying a broad range of military electronic systems. Together, they’re a critical part of the Air Force’s potent war fighting edge and the centre of our air combat and strike capability. But our Air Force is also equipped with new P-8A Poseidons based at RAAF Base Edinburgh, in my home state. With advanced censors and mission systems, the P-8A Poseidon is an important part of Australia’s future maritime patrol and response strategy. The first aircraft arrived in the late 2016 and by the late 2020s, our fleet of up to 15 will be complete.
In the last two years, our Poseidons have already been involved in numerous operations and exercises including Operation Gateway which supports Australia’s efforts to counter people-smuggling in our region. Defence will also acquire an advanced, unmanned surveillance system of at least six MQ-4C Tritons to complement our Poseidons. Just last year, the Government announced a $1.4 billion investment to acquire the first of these aircraft and supporting systems and infrastructure. Also last year, the Government announced that our Air Force will be equipped with a General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper variant, Australia’s first armed remotely piloted aircraft system. It’ll be used to watch and protect Australian Defence Force and Coalition land forces. It’ll allow military commanders to make faster and more informed decisions. It will allow them to conduct strike and reconnaissance operations without risking the safety of air crew.
So for those of you attending the air show this week much of what you will see is brand new. Since the last show, the Coalition Government has taken delivery of not only these new Joint Strike Fighters, Growlers and Poseidons but also C-27J Spartans, KC-30A Tankers and commenced our initial forays into space. These acquisitions are all part of the Coalition Government’s $200 billion build up of our military capability, the largest in our peace time history.
This unprecedented investment is not of course limited to the air domain, as much as I am sure Leo might like it to be. We’re also undertaking the largest regeneration of our maritime capability since the Second World War. We’re enhancing naval capability with twice as many regionally superior submarines to be known as the Attack Class; three new Air Warfare Destroyers, two of which are already in service; nine new Anti-Submarine Warfare Hunter Class Frigates; and 12 new Arafura Class Offshore Patrol Vessels. And our land forces will support a stronger Army with new equipment, a new armoured vehicle fleet, and a new air defence system.
In the years to come Australia will be better equipped to deter and defeat threats. But it goes without saying Australia’s best defence strategy is always to maintain peace. Today, perhaps more so than ever, we have a part to play, we have a responsibility to shoulder in shaping our strategic environment and it’s a particular place in the world where we have a greater responsibility than anywhere else. An area where we have shared deep interests, a region where our efforts can have the biggest impact and that’s in the Indo-Pacific – the part of the world that Australia calls home.
Part of our Defence Strategy is to step up both the posture and the tempo of our engagement in the region using Australian capability and influence to shape it. We want to be a good neighbour and we want to safeguard the peace and prosperity of that neighbourhood. Last year when I became Minister for Defence I outlined where we must focus our efforts to better promote security and stability in the Indo-Pacific. We have four broad priorities. The first is to promote a safe, secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific region. The lessons of history teach us the prosperity we’ve all enjoyed in the Indo-Pacific is underpinned by a secure environment. That’s why Australia vehemently advocates a common strategic culture where agreed rules and norms always govern the behaviour of states. It’s also one of the reasons why we regard the United Stated as our most important security partner. Today the Indo-Pacific is an engine room of growth and prosperity in the world. The United States has used its considerable power to sponsor rules and institutions in the region, and this has provided stability and benefited countries of all sizes. But frankly we cannot and we should not continue to expect the United States to underwrite that security alone. Within our region Australia is pursuing stronger military to military relations with a range of partners and I see this as our second priority.
It’s important we engage more deeply with those who also share a values- rules-based global order and are prepared to defend it. Last month I travelled to Japan and met with Japan’s Minister for Defence Takeshi Iwaya as well as other senior defence officials. Dominating our discussion was how Australia and Japan could work more closely together to contribute to the peace and security of the Indo-Pacific. While in Japan I was briefed on the Japanese National Defence Program Guidelines. Australia strongly, strongly supports Japan’s efforts to build and modernise their sovereign capabilities and to play a strategic role in the Indo-Pacific. It is commensurate with their great economic strength.
This was the second time in just the last few months that I’ve met with Japan’s Defence Minister. Last October in Sydney, I co-hosted the Australia-Japan 2+2 Foreign and Defence Ministers’ meeting with my good friend and colleague Marise Payne. There Australia and Japan agreed to a new suite of initiatives to drive our defence and security relationship forward including an initiative to enhance the complexity and sophistication of our exercises. This allows us to deepen our understanding of each other’s defence forces and increase our ability to cooperate together.
India is another country with whom we’re strengthening our defence engagement. Every two years, as many of you know, our Air Force conducts Exercise Pitch Black in the Northern Territory. Aircraft and airmen and women from defence forces around the world come to take part from Canada, France and Germany, Indonesia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and the United States. And many of those countries, of course, are represented here tonight. It’s a testament to our strong relationships as well as our commitment to regional security. And last year for the first time India also participated in Exercise Pitch Black.
Last month I visited China with whom we have a longstanding defence relationship. China’s Defence Minister and I signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Defence Cooperation. It demonstrates our shared intent to work together, benefiting our entire region. And in Townsville last year at Lavarack Barracks the Prime Minister detailed how Australia would step up in the Pacific and take our engagement to a new level. Our security is profoundly linked with our partnerships in this region and the Pacific step up is a multi-billion dollar series of initiatives to enhance our engagement in the region. Within Defence it includes a focus on people-to-people engagement, security cooperation and capacity building initiatives. It includes training to support the military and security forces of the Pacific Island nations in priority areas. It builds on significant partnerships already in place, such as partnerships with Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Vanuatu. Last month our Prime Minister stood alongside Fiji’s Minister for Defence and National Security, both with shovel in hand breaking ground on the Black Rock Training Company- training camp in Fiji. We’re partnering with Fiji to redevelop Black Rock camp into a regional hub for peace and police training as well as pre-employment preparation. It will deliver stronger interoperability between our militaries and our police forces. It’s a proactive defence engagement strategy in action.
Cooperation and engagement between nations is critical. If we’re to defeat the common threat of terrorism, defence forces in the region must do so together. And that’s my third priority, dealing with the threat of terrorists coming to or returning to South East Asia from the Middle East. Last year, Australia hosted the inaugural South East Asia Sub-Regional Defence Ministers’ Meeting on Counter-Terrorism. The meeting agreed to practical steps for cooperation between the region's defence forces. The next meeting will be hosted later this year by Indonesia, who’ve really stepped up in leadership in this area. All that I've mentioned so far, shaping and influencing our region, helping other nations build capacity and resilience depends on Australia being a trusted and respected partner.
Which brings me to our fourth priority, which is enhancing our own military capability. We want to make sure that Australia has a manifestly stronger, broader, and deeper military capability. Nothing says that more clearly than the Government's commitment to increase the defence budget to 2 per cent of Australia's gross domestic product by 2020. I’m also particularly proud of the emphasis we’ve placed on supporting Australian industry to deliver that increased capability in the last three years. Last year we released the Defence Industrial Capability Plan, setting out the Government's vision and objectives for the development of Australia's sovereign defence industrial base. It's important, particularly in these unsettled times, that Australia can rely on its own industry to meet the most critical needs of the Australian Defence Force. And whilst I acknowledge we can't build everything here, as a former Defence Industry Minister, I'm a firm believer that if we can, and the price is right, then we should. Last year the Government released the Defence Export Strategy to provide a blueprint to help us drive our defence exports. A wonderful success story that’s going to be showcased throughout this week of course is the F-35 program. Australian industry has now collectively been awarded over $1.3 billion of production contracts for the global F-35 program. Australian-made parts will be fitted to every F-35 produced by Lockheed Martin. And defence industry from right across Australia have been big winners.
In fact, just a couple of weeks ago, Australian companies were awarded 343 out of a possible 388 components in the latest round of maintenance repair, overhaul, and upgrade assignments. A terrific achievement and a major boost for our defence industry; building on the previous round, where we won 64 out of 65 possible components that could have been- undergone maintenance repair, overhaul and upgrade in Australia.
Companies like TAE Aerospace, RUAG Australia, and MOVE will all share in the success, as well as Marand, Ferra Engineering and Levett Engineering. But most importantly, that's a boost to our defence capability. Government takes seriously supporting the men and women who put on the Australian Defence Force uniform every day, many of whom are here tonight. Australian Air Force, air men and women sign up to protect our skies, our country, and the land we love. They signed up to protect us and we must do all we can to protect them. So I thank you for the role you play in supporting them, in helping to keep them safe. I believe wholeheartedly, that both today and in the years to come, that Australians have good reason to be confident of our standing, influence, and impact in the world and our region. These are unsettled times, times of rapid change, but our Defence Force is well equipped and well prepared for the challenges and opportunities ahead. Thank you, and I wish you all the best for a successful air show and a productive 2019.