Press Conference - CAF Announcement
28 March 2019
SUBJECTS: CAF Appointment; One Nation Preferences; ANAO report Frigates capability
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, good morning everyone and thank you for coming this morning to Russell Hill for what could probably be one of my very last announcements as the Minister for Defence. I bring an apology from the CDF who is opening an Indigenous memorial this morning here in Canberra and has been delayed, but he’s being represented by David Johnston, the VCDF. And can I start by saying that in the nature of the military, Leo Davies, the Air Marshall who has been responsible as Chief of the Air Force for the last three years, his term is coming to a conclusion and he will finish up in July this year. And he’s done a tremendous job. It’s been great working with Leo Davies. His and my tenure in the Defence portfolio has basically overlapped for three years and he’s been a tremendous advocate for One Defence, for Project Jericho, for bringing the Air Force very much into the thinking across Defence these days, which is at that the battlefield is managed by not just one part of our services but by all the services working together. He’s been a real enthusiast for that vision and been a driving force behind it. So congratulations to Leo and I wish him very well in the future.
Today, we are announcing the new Chief of the Air Force will be Air Marshall Mel Hupfeld. Mel Hupfeld has been the Chief of the Joint Operations Command and has extensive leadership and operational experience through senior positions, including the Air Commander Australia and the Head Force Design. He will take up his role as Chief of the Air Force in July this year and I very much look forward to his service. Apart from being a very distinguished member of the Air Force, he’s also of course a South Australian, which is a very big plus in my books, and as he leaves the Joint Operations Command, the Chief of the Defence Force, will promote Major General Greg Bilton to Lieutenant General and he will become the Chief of the Joint Operations from 28 June 2019. Major General Bilton, soon to be Lieutenant General Bilton, has extensive experience and leadership in operations as the Deputy Chief of Joint Operations, as the Commander of the 7th Brigade and as the Deputy Commanding General of the United States Army in the Pacific. I look forward to working for a short time with currently Major General Bilton and I look forward to the success that will inevitably come with the appointment of Air Marshall Mel Hupfeld to the very important role of Chief of the Air force.
QUESTION: First of all, what do you see as the biggest challenges for the new people you’ve appointed today, and particularly with Air Force and fifth- generation? What are expectations do you have for those?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, Leo Davies leaves the Air Force in very good nick and has established a record, a foundation, for the way that the Air Force will operate into the future. Obviously, over the next few years, the taking over control of the F-35As as they come off the production line, finish their testing and training in the United States, and then take up operations here in Australia will be a major factor. There had been 12 that we’ve taken responsibility for under Leo Davies and over the next few years under Mel Hupfeld, there’ll be an increasing number. I think by the end of this year, there’ll be closer to 18, 24 the year after that. But you can get the details of those figures if you’re interested in them. But it means that that’ll be a significant challenge to bring those into full operation here in Australia and that’s a very significant capability. Also, the management of the Poseidons, the Triton program, the build-up of our capabilities in terms of the whole of the battlefield, working with the other services, ensuring that One Defence continues to be the watchword of the Defence Department and the ADF. I think these are all the ongoing challenges to any Chief of the Air Force and I’m sure that Mel is very much looking forward to that.
QUESTION: Major General Bilton will also be overseeing what’s happening in Iraq. Do you expect we will be starting to look to draw down on our commitment being given as [indistinct] state and territories [indistinct]?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, of course, in most recent times, we have been able to announce the final defeat of Daesh, their removal from any territory. They continue to exist as a threat, as a terrorist organisation. And we already announced Major General Bilton will be responsible for the changing of our focus at Taji to one where we are training the trainer. We don’t anticipate that we’ll be withdrawing significant forces from Taji in the immediate future. But inevitably, as we build up the strength of the Iraqi forces and train their trainers, our role there will start to diminish over time; and New Zealand and Australia are working with other allies like Singapore, have trained 43,000 of the Iraqi security forces over the time that we’ve been operating the Taji training base. That’s an enormous achievement. But in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in the Arabian Sea, there are Australian forces serving all around the world, in the Golan Heights, Lebanon, in Sinai, the Sudan, and we continue to have a very significant role across the South Pacific. So, the operations of Major General Bilton at the Joint Operations Command is central to our national security and I’m sure he’s very much looking forward to taking on that full responsibility.
QUESTION: Minister, on another matter, Pauline Hanson has been filmed talking about conspiracy theories relating to the Port Arthur Massacre. What’s your reaction to that?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: The ongoing saga of One Nation will see its final denouement at the election in May, and the Australian public will make an assessment about whether they want to continue to support One Nation; that’s their democratic right to choose. At the last election, which was a double dissolution election, One Nation senators required half of the quota that’s required of a normal election. And I think that most of those people will struggle to be re-elected, and I think that’s a good thing. The best thing that people who are toying with voting for One Nation can do is not vote for One Nation and vote for the Liberal Party or the National Party, depending on what seat they’re in, because that’s the kind of stable government Australia needs. A government that’s focused on the economy, on reducing the burden of tax, on delivering a surplus budget, on national security, on building the infrastructure that Australians deserve, and the services that they require. That’s not going to be achieved by creating instability by voting for One Nation. I think these stories in the last few days have made it even more apparent why One Nation’s bubble should be pricked.
QUESTION: I know no preference deals have been done, but how come the Coalition hasn’t been able to commit to putting One Nation last?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, we’re seeing Labor getting themselves into quite a mess over preferences by these watch well catch cries, like put One Nation last. The ACTU is saying put the Liberals last. So the ACTU thinks the Liberal Party is a more heinous party than One Nation. So this is the problem when you start allowing slogans to replace sensible policy discussion. You make a decision about preferences when you know all the candidates running. There may well be a particular candidate in a particular seat who’s even more heinous than One Nation. Is the Labor Party saying that Fraser Anning’s party should be placed above One Nation? For Liberals and Nationals, if there’s a Communist Party candidate running, would we place them above One Nation? There are some Greens candidates in the last Victorian state election that had particularly unfortunate things to say about women on social media; should they be placed above One Nation? So this is why Labor should not simply grab headlines by making these statements about putting One Nation last. Preferences should be decided when you know all the candidates running, and then you can make a decision.
QUESTION: Minister, Australian workers typically receive four weeks’ annual leave a year yet we saw George Christensen apparently spend on average 11 weeks in the Philippines alone. Should he have to repay his salary for that time out of the country when he’s not doing his job in his marginal seat?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: I haven’t read any of those stories about George Christensen’s travel. What George Christensen does in his private time is not my affair.
QUESTION: But it’s not in his private time to take 11 weeks a year of annual leave though, is it? It’s pretty extraordinary for a politician.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: He can answer those questions.
QUESTION: Minister, what do you think of Facebook’s new ban on praise, support, and representation of white nationalism on Facebook and Instagram? Do you think that that goes far enough for what the Government would like to see from these social media giants?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, the Government has met with these social media giants, as you call them, this week to try and bring about change in the way they operate, here in Australia in particular. The Government will have more to say about that over the coming week, and I think it’ll be important. It’s very important that we protect particularly young people from the vagaries of the internet. And I look forward to that happening down the track. I think it’s bizarre, quite frankly, that what you couldn’t get away with in your newspapers, you can apparently get away with saying on the internet. I’ve always thought it was a mistake to have allowed that to happen. I don’t believe the anonymity of things like Twitter should ever have been allowed to have developed in a way that they have, where you can have people saying things about other people on Twitter that you’d never be able to publish in The Sydney Morning Herald.
QUESTION: Minister, can you guarantee that under the Coalition, Australia’s gun laws will not be in any way weakened?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: The gun law reforms of the Howard era are one of the signature tunes in the last 25 years in politics and one of the great achievements of the Howard Government. There has been absolutely no weakening of those gun laws whatsoever. And people suggesting that there have are actually just trying to create fear in the community which should not be present. I hope that New Zealand will adopt Australia’s very strong gun laws, and I’m sure we’d work with them closely in helping to advise them of the success of our gun laws. And I’d wish other countries, like the United States, would adopt our gun laws because I think it would be better for all of the people in our communities. So I don’t believe there’ll be any prospect whatsoever of any weakening of our gun laws, particularly in light of Christchurch. But whether Christchurch had occurred or not, there’s absolutely no appetite in the public sector, in the public policy sector for there to be any change to our gun laws.
QUESTION: Minister, a Defence question. The Auditor-General released a report last week onto the Anzac frigates, sort of suggesting effectively that their operational tempo is exceeding what they were designed for, carrying more crew, more days at sea and things like that, essentially that they were wearing out and it was mainly compromising their seaworthiness at times. Is that a concern at all? Are we working our military assets too hard?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, I always welcome the ANAO’s reports and they always give us an opportunity to do our job better. And we’ll always study the ANAO’s findings. And then if we can implement changes that make what we’re doing more efficient, we will do so.
QUESTION: You have no concerns about the seaworthiness of the backbone of the fleet?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: No, I have no concerns about the seaworthiness of the backbone of the fleet whatsoever. Okay, thank you very much.