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Speech to open the 'Pacific 2008 Maritime Congress and Exposition', Sydney.

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Tuesday, 29 January 2008 080129

Speech by the Minister for Defence to open the

‘Pacific 2008 Maritime Congress and Exposition’

29 January 2008

Darling Harbour, Sydney

E&EO ……………………………………………………………………………..


Thank you Vice Admiral Shalders for your kind introduction.

It’s a great honour to be here today to open the Royal Australian

Navy Sea Power Conference, the International Maritime

Conference and the Pacific 2008 Maritime Exposition.

Like the former Government, the new Rudd Labor Government

places a high value on this event and the role it plays in bringing

you all together, challenging your thinking, and promoting

excellence in strategic policy and capability development.

And we are here in force. I’m very pleased that the Minister for

Defence Science and Personnel Warren Snowden and the

Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Procurement Greg Combet

have allocated time to come along over the next few days in order

to get to know you all better.

Of course events of this magnitude don’t come together easily. I

thank all those involved and acknowledge in particular, Vice

Admiral Shalders; Rear Admiral David Holthouse (Chairman of

Maritime Australia); and Mr John Jeremy (Chairman of the

International Maritime Conference organising committee).

Each of the events I’ve been asked to open today commands an

important place on the international defence and maritime industry


All three will make a valuable contribution to addressing the

important maritime and naval issues we face in the coming



As most will be aware, I was appointed Minister for Defence late

last year - a great privilege and honour for me, but also an

opportunity which carries with it, enormous responsibilities.

The role of the Australian Defence Force is to defend Australia, its

people and its national interests. This is an important, difficult and

often dangerous job.

The ADF performs a wide range of challenging tasks in this role -

some very close to home and others much further a field. Its

people have always responded to these challenges magnificently

and I know that the ADF’s efforts are deeply appreciated by the

broader Australian community.

Certainly, in the time I have worked in the portfolio, I’ve been

extremely impressed by the professionalism of ADF personnel and

their sense of commitment, loyalty and duty.

The ADF has approximately 3500 soldiers, sailors and air men and

women deployed overseas serving Australia’s national interests.

Around 500 of them proudly wear the uniform of the Royal

Australian Navy. We also have approximately 500 ADF personnel

currently undertaking border protection activities.

Each of them, in varying degree, face danger every day and I take

the opportunity this morning to assure them that the Prime Minister

and I and, indeed, the whole Government, are committed to

ensuring they have the equipment, the protection, the training and

the support they need to perform their duties effectively and as

safely as is possible.

Today’s Message

This is my first formal public address since becoming the Minister

for Defence and I could have chosen no better forum in which to

deliver it.

As it is my first speech, I thought it timely to address the important

question; what does the election of the Rudd Labor Government

mean for Defence and defence industry?

While the time available to me today does not allow me to go in to

every detail, let me respond to that question by making four key


First, one of the new Government’s highest priorities is the

commissioning of a new Defence White Paper.

The strategic document from which we are working was developed

in the late 1990’s and released in the year 2000. The world has

changed so much since then.

September 11, subsequent terror events in London, Madrid, Bali

and Jakarta, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the proliferation of

nuclear weapons - including North Korea’s nuclear tests and Iran’s

emerging nuclear program, emerging fragile states in the South

West Pacific, rising tensions in the Taiwan Straits, and paradigm

shifts in the global distribution of power.

All these developments and events demand a review of our

strategic outlook. Indeed, we should have had that review some

time ago.

In the absence of the analytical rigour an up-to-date White Paper

should provide, an apparent drift and disconnect has emerged

between high level guidance and capability and force structure


The White Paper process will be essential to ensuring we have a

sound basis for making the hard decisions needed to establish

Defence’s mission and what capability it will need to do what we

ask of it.

Which brings me to my second point. Fulfilling the future capability

needs of the ADF will take money and plenty of it. That’s why the

Rudd Government has committed to growing the Defence budget

by 3 per cent real over the course of the next decade. This is a big

call given the broader inflationary environment we’ve inherited but

the commitment is set in concrete.

That is not to say we won’t be looking to find savings and

efficiencies. Every defence dollar wasted is a dollar not available

for expenditure on crucial capability or the needs of our defence


Which takes me to my third and fourth points.

Defence procurement

The delays, cost blow-outs and failure to deliver we’ve experienced

in defence procurement in recent years cannot be allowed to


Promising to fix all the problems raises the bar high but that is no

reason not to try. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean a

bigger stick but rather, the Government will have a key leadership

role to play in ensuring our capability ambitions are realistic,

allocation of risk is fair and reasonable, the competitive

environment is optimal, the labour market meets the needs of

industry and the regulatory environment is not self-defeating.

The Rudd Government will make sure that Australian industry,

including small to medium enterprises, is given every opportunity

to compete for work, based on open and accountable processes.

Growing the Australian defence industry will be vital to maintaining

a strong and effective ADF.

The Government is committed to ensuring that a competitive

defence industry is maintained in Australia so that a reasonable

choice of suppliers is maintained. In particular, we want a strong,

viable and responsive shipbuilding, maintenance and repair

industry to be retained.

One of the things that causes me to feel confident we can do better

on the procurement front is the appointment of Greg Combet as

the Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Procurement. Greg has

extensive experience in industry policy, skills formation and project

financing. While my visit today will be relatively short, Greg plans

to be around both today and tomorrow. I encourage defence

industry players to seek him out and to share their views,

aspirations and ideas with him. He’s a good listener, a hard

worker and he’s smart. So get in his ear because he certainly has


Of course it would be wrong not to acknowledge there have been

some good news stories on the procurement front.

I’m pleased to see so many representatives of local defence

industry here today. Many Australian companies - large and small

- have made crucial and positive contributions to major defence


Many of them have been particularly important in delivering on

rapid acquisition of new equipment and services to support ADF

deployments at a time of high operational tempo. The Government

appreciates the timeliness and responsiveness of industry in

supporting these rapid acquisitions.

We are all pleased that some of the equipment provided to the

ADF by Australian firms is now capturing the attention of military

forces worldwide - Austal’s patrol boats and Thales’s bushmaster

are just two examples of the export potential of Australia’s defence


Recruitment and Retention

My fourth point today is about people.

The single biggest challenge currently facing the Australian

Defence Force is its people and skills shortages.

On this front I can again afford to be ambitious because I have the

support of two more smart, experienced and hard-working people

in Minister Warren Snowden and Parliamentary Secretary Dr, and

former Colonel, Mike Kelly. Warren will be attending the

conference from tomorrow so it’s a good chance to get to know

him. Of course, his brief extends to the DSTO, giving him a large

stake on the capability front, but I want his key focus to be people.

As the Member for Lingiari in the Northern Territory and a long-standing member of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs,

Defence and Trade, Warren knows these issues well and has a

great understanding of the needs of Defence personnel and their

families. Of course, it goes without saying - so too does Mike


We must, as a government, establish effective ways of recruiting

more people and retaining those we’ve invested so heavily in. All

the capability in the world is nothing without the people needed to

operate it, use it, and repair and maintain it.

The Government has already demonstrated its commitment in this

area, and made a down-payment, with the development of a trial

program to deliver free health and dental care for ADF families.

It’s clear to me that we need more family friendly initiatives which

will help defence families take the decision to stay rather than

leave when offered alternative careers in civilian life.

We must also become more creative on the recruitment front.

Success won’t so much be determined by the size of the spend but

how well we spend. Talking to Generation Y in their language

through the mediums they rely upon for their information will be

crucial to making gains. We may also need to find ways of giving

them short-term exposure to the ADF without the commitment

involved with the Reserves, the Cadets and the Gap Year initiative,

as important as they are. These days, even a month-long

commitment is an eternity to an Australian teenager.

We must also broaden the recruitment pool. Females make up

more than 50 per cent of the Australian population but just 13 per

cent of the permanent Australian Defence Force. They also leave

earlier. Significantly of the approximate 3,500 ADF personnel

currently deployed on global operation only 164 are women.

By not doing more to break-down cultural barriers - both those

which discourage enlistment and those which restrict female

progression through the ranks, we are substantially reducing our

potential recruitment pool.

In the 21st Century women are heading up some of the world’s

largest corporations. Here in Australia, a woman now regularly

acts as Prime Minister. Yet Defence continues to send the

subliminal message; “come and join the Navy, Army or Air Force,

but don’t ever expect to lead your chosen service”.

We all currently operate in a strong labour market where

competition is intense. Organisations willing to provide talented

and ambitious young women with a career path to the top,

currently enjoy a competitive advantage over the ADF in their

quest to secure their services.

Giving effect to cultural change in an organisation like Defence is

no easy task but it’s a challenge we can’t afford not to tackle.

The Navy

Of course, no where is our people and skills shortage being more

acutely felt than in Navy.

And the theme of the Sea Power Conference reminds us of the

important role Navy will play in protecting the national interest and

securing our region. Again, this underscores the importance of

addressing Navy’s people crisis.

The Conference theme is timely.

Continuing growth of international trade has increased the

importance of maintaining safety and security at sea.

We all recognise that any interruptions to the global maritime

trading system can have a rapid and detrimental economic impact

- not just on the countries directly involved.

For example, a disruption in the oil flow from the Middle East to

Northeast Asia would quickly affect the Australian economy.

Australia’s maritime geography has had a strong influence on our

history and our view of the world. Our maritime waters are

extensive, ranging from warm tropical waters in the north to the

frigid Antarctic waters in the south.

Today, despite having less than one per cent of the world’s

population, Australia has search and rescue responsibility for more

than ten per cent of the earth’s surface.

As a relatively isolated island continent, Australia is particularly

dependent on maritime trade. Safety, security and freedom of

movement at sea are critical to Australia’s economic prosperity and


So Australia must work with other nations to keep global trade

moving and to promote ‘good order at sea’; issues. Not just for

Australia, but the entire global community.

In terms of security, Australia’s geography means that we need the

ability to move offshore and reach beyond our immediate

environment to help influence and respond to events.

By securing our maritime environment we protect Australia’s

national interests while contributing to regional security and


The professionalism and ability of our maritime forces enables us

to carry out the full spectrum of maritime war fighting and security

activities with confidence - ranging from high level combat

operations through to humanitarian assistance missions.

Our maritime forces are flexible and adaptable, which makes them

ideally placed to respond quickly and decisively to a range of

situations. They extend Australia’s reach and influence and have

the poise and persistence to operate independently wherever they

are needed.

Importantly, the new Government fully supports the decision to

acquire two new amphibious ships and three air warfare destroyers

for the Navy. These purchases will increase Australia’s maritime

reach, flexibility and adaptability - the critical attributes that I have

just mentioned.

In particular, the amphibious ships will be a massive boost to

Australia’s ability to deploy and sustain forces offshore. They will

significantly enhance Australia’s operational impact where ever

they are deployed. In addition to an important combat role, they

will also be valuable in support of humanitarian assistance and

stabilisation operations.

The air warfare destroyers will be a powerful strategic force that

will provide greater protection for ADF operations.

Not only will they be capable of traditional combat roles (including

the provision air defence), they will also be significant command

and control platforms. This function means that they will be able

support a range of other operations.

Continuing the theme of maritime capability, many of you will also

be aware that I have directed the Department to start initial work

on developing our future submarine capability.

This will be a long-term task, but the increasing development of

underwater capabilities in our region means that it is vital that we

maintain our edge in submarine operations and that our anti-submarine capabilities continue to evolve at good pace.

However, while this Government is committed to the purchase of

amphibious ships and air warfare destroyers, I want to reiterate my

earlier comments about making sure that Defence spending is


Many of you will know that I have ordered a review of several

defence projects. These reviews reflect my concerns about some

of the financial and contractual performance aspects of some big


I want to emphasise these are not witch hunts. And they certainly

do not reflect on the ability or competence of ADF personnel.

Rather, they are a responsible review of projects - some of which

should never have been commenced - and which are long over-due, well over budget and for which the capability those who

commissioned them sought remains no more than a promise.


Let me close today by again saying how proud and excited I am

about being Australia’s Defence Minister - and how much I look

forward to working closely with a professional and dedicated

organisation such as the ADF and the defence industry which

supports it.

We will of course face a series of important challenges in the years

ahead, but I am confident we can move forward together.

To our high profile international visitors, including distinguished

Defence leaders, can I wish you a pleasant and successful visit. I

look forward to meeting as many of you as possible.

Finally, I wish you all a wonderful three days. Thank you for

allowing me to be part of it. I declare the three events officially