House debates

Tuesday, 14 February 2023

Ministerial Statements

National Security

5:05 pm

Photo of Matt BurnellMatt Burnell (Spence, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like take note of the statement made to the House by the Deputy Prime Minister in his capacity as the Minister for Defence on 9 February 2023. The ministerial statement provided the House with an appraisal of Australia's sovereign capabilities, speaking broadly to security challenges within a local and global geopolitical landscape, which we reside and participate in. However, this ministerial statement was holistic in the sense that it spoke to the maintenance of Australia's sovereignty in the face of our strategic partnerships, as well as the challenges that we face in the present and in the years ahead. We were presented with blueprints for how Australia can coexist in a complex, challenging strategic environment and prosper by utilising our talents, our natural advantages and our ability to innovate and by punching well above our weight as a nation.

The ministerial statement touched on a few core themes worth mentioning here. The first is the current set of strategic circumstances that Australia finds itself in—the state of play in a geopolitical sense. Next, it began to describe Australia's position in the world and particularly our role within the Indo-Pacific region. It also further outlined a set of broad principles that Australia prescribes to when it operates alongside strategic partners and allies—namely, how Australia ensures that it acts in a manner consistent with its interests and at its behest alone.

The ministerial statement devotes a large section to outlining the importance of Australia's strategic relationship with the United States of America, describing the United States as 'our most vital security partner', as well as outlining the benefits of joint facilities and partnerships with the United States and the terms in which our strategic allies—namely, the United States—operate on our soil. Lastly, the minister's statement speaks to the future of this strategic partnership, the AUKUS partnership—a security partnership forged between Australia, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States of America.

Australia is fundamentally a lucky country. It has relative political stability coupled with strong established alliances and partnerships in the regions surrounding our lands and beyond. Australia is, after all, a country girt by sea. A natural advantage in many ways this may be, but, on the other hand, it can be isolating to an extent. There are many out there, sadly, who view this isolation as something that we should actively seek out. As one of the founding member states of the United Nations, this is a very unfortunate attitude for some out there to possess.

Since the end of the Second World War, we have been at the forefront of ensuring that diplomacy should be tried before violent alternatives are sought. The ministerial statement itself contends that we live in an age of strategic circumstances that are the most complex and challenging since the end of the Second World War as well. It is why we need to seek out friends, strategic allies, and join them to further our goals and extend offerings of friendship where relationships are at best mixed. It would be wrong to see the blue ocean abroad and label the map, 'Here be dragons', for we know Australia's involvement in our region is a positive one, in the sense of both our soft diplomacy—fostering and encouraging shared values and ideals with our neighbours—and unlocking new and exciting avenues for trade.

It would appear that I have spoken on an issue without speaking about my electorate of Spence, a state of events that I simply can't endure any longer because, as a proud local member, I feel obliged—duty-bound, in fact—to highlight some of the numerous ways that Australia's strategic needs have been enhanced and fulfilled within my electorate of Spence. As many would know, my electorate includes RAAF Base Edinburgh, along with the Edinburgh Defence Precinct, which was built around the base and contains a number of organisations, both government and civilian, with a large focus on defence manufacturing and technology.

Speaking of manufacturing, the heart of the northern suburbs of Adelaide was first established to operate as a satellite town around our manufacturing industry. I, like many of my constituents, lament the death of General Motors Holden a few years back. The death of car manufacturing was felt not just in the loss of jobs but in the loss of our soul in the north. It's why I am especially proud, long before the ministerial statement was delivered last week, to take every opportunity that I can get to come into this place to speak about defence industry and associated advanced manufacturing capabilities that exist within Spence. Many of the big players in defence industry circles operate within Spence, primes such as Lockheed Martin Australia, Saab Australia, Raytheon, General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman. I am sure many members of the Edinburgh Industry Alliance, had they been listening to the minister's statement, would be heartened that there is a coherent strategy in place to utilise hubs such as the Edinburgh Defence Precinct.

Within the precinct renowned innovators operate, with engineers had at work innovating the next big technological advances that will give Australia the leading edge. As it so often is, defence research has been the catalyst for technological advances in the civilian sector. Many of those advances have been born out of the minds that work in the Defence, Science and Technology Group, or DSTG, such as the architects behind the invention of the black box flight recorder.

There are always big things happening at RAAF Base Edinburgh, one of the hubs that help to ensure being girt by sea remains an advantage. The base is home to the P8-A Poseidon, which can perform maritime surveillance operations. It's SIGINT capabilities within the base are second to none. I am proud that Australia can hold its own in that respect, but it's always a little better when it's happening in your own backyard.

My electorate of Spence is also home to a number of agricultural ventures and secondary food industries, such as the Safcol cannery, which, at extensive scale, contributes to safeguarding Australia's food security for tomorrow while feeding Australians today. We can all do our part within our patch in this great country, but it gives me comfort to know that my electorate of Spence is well poised to strengthen our sovereign capabilities and make a positive contribution to our national security.

The ministerial statement made by the Deputy Prime Minister may not have received widespread coverage on every evening news channel, but you can guarantee that many an embassy or high commission down the road would have been tuning in. This statement sets a tone for many countries that interact with Australia. Whether it be a strategic relationship, one involving trade or whether your nation is seeking Australian support, financial or in-kind, to fund a number of development goals, you will know, in broad terms, where you stand and how the government will look to interact with you under different sets of circumstances. It represents a modicum of consistency in an ever-changing world and geopolitical landscape. I am content knowing that the nation states are going to have a similar realisation to the Australian public—that being the realisation that the adults are in charge of the Australian government, and it is ready to adapt to changing headwinds and grow our country in its international standing, and also its economic outlook in the process.

It is true to say that these times may have challenges associated with them, but they can still be exciting ones, where our country grows to meet those challenges and ends up better off as a result of doing so. As a nation, we can have a booming defence industry, yet lead the region with our diplomats. There is no opportunity cost. It just takes the right kind of leadership to foster this—leadership that I am confident we have at the helm. I thank the House.

5:14 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

These words:

Here is their spirit, in the heart of the land they loved; and here we guard the record which they themselves made.

were spoken in 1948 by Charles Bean, and they appear at the temporary entrance to the Australian War Memorial. They evoke great patriotism and great nationalism.

They are in the right place because, hopefully, as everybody who walks through that national monument—that Australian treasure—and past those words they read them and might just take them in and reflect on them after their visit is over. Indeed, in the War Memorial, that proud national monument, the names of 103,000 men and women who sacrificed their lives in the service of our country in wars past and deployments present are on the rolls of honour.

This is a motion about Australia's sovereignty, and I will reflect on this and two former Labor prime ministers. The first is Billy Hughes, who fought the good fight in World War I. Certainly, when the Treaty of Versailles was being drawn up he wanted to make sure that the blood of Australians was not forgotten, and the blood that was shed in Gallipoli, on the Western Front, in Africa and on other front lines was very much respected by those putting the treaty together.

The other Prime Minister I want to mention is John Curtin. We all know the furious communications that occurred between London and Canberra when the 14th Prime Minister of this country said that he was bringing our troops home. Our troops were needed here. Not a lot of people realise that there were more bombs dropped on Australia's north-west and north in World War II than were dropped on Pearl Harbor. We were under threat—we were under attack. I know that Gundagai, in my electorate, was the scene of a famous wartime cabinet meeting between Mr Curtin and his colleagues, and they made the right decisions at the right time. We need our governments to do just that: to put our country and our people first. As the shadow defence minister said in his contribution to this debate:

Let me begin by saying that the opposition shares the minister's view that our sovereignty, our territory, our values and our way of life are a sacred duty of the Australian government and, indeed, of this parliament. On this question, the coalition are of one mind and spirit with the government, for if we cannot secure and defend ourselves we have failed at the most basic duty entrusted to us by the Australian people.

He's right. And the Deputy Prime Minister, when he spoke about those very traits, was correct too. We need, in as bipartisan a manner as we can, to defend absolutely that sacred duty.

I am proud to be the federal member for Riverina, which takes in Wagga Wagga, the only inland regional centre of its size with all three arms of the Defence Force. We've just had a changing of the guard, as such, at the Kapooka base, where Colonel Tim Stone has taken over as the commandant there. He has the huge responsibility of leading the recruit training at that base. Every recruit does their basic training at that base just south-west of Wagga Wagga. We're very proud to be a military city. If you spend any time in the Royal Australian Air Force you may very well end up at Royal Australian Air Force Base Wagga Wagga, at Forest Hill. It's a very important logistics base and a very important training camp.

Combined with that camp is a Navy base. We're a long way from the nearest drop of seawater, but we have a Navy base in Wagga Wagga. They do a lot of important strategic work. I know that when they have their special occasions in Wagga Wagga's Victory Memorial Gardens there are many young Navy personnel there in uniform. What is remarkable is their youth; they are so proud to turn up and represent that proud form of service in our tri-service city.

This motion before the House is important, because we need to have a commitment to national security. And it doesn't matter who is in government; it doesn't matter what side of politics: We can't drop the ball when it comes to national security. And I have to say, we never have, as a coalition. We've always put our national security first. I know the commitment that we made when we returned to government in 2013 to, I have to say, readjust some of the thinking and some of the spending that had lapsed. It was important that we do so at that time. It was the former coalition government that increased investment in defence to more than two per cent and invested more than $270 billion into capability to 2030.

I'm very pleased to say, as a former Assistant Minister for Defence and a former veterans' affairs minister, that considerable spending—almost $1 billion—is going into upgrading the infrastructure at both RAAF Wagga and the Kapooka base, and I mentioned earlier the importance they both play in our national security. That is going to replace, in RAAF's case, some of the very ageing 1950s and '60s infrastructure that was badly in need of replacement. At Kapooka it's going to take them to the next level. In training they do an obstacle course. They put those young recruits, men and women, through their paces, and they turn out the best, the bravest and the boldest, and that's who we need wearing our khaki. It stretches back to Gallipoli and even before that—that level of commitment by Australian soldiers. Indeed, Kapooka has been there since the Second World War. RAAF Wagga has had a commitment there on the old Allonville property since the late 1930s, and Navy has been in Wagga Wagga since 1993.

As I said, the coalition made sure that our investment was what it needed to be, and I must say that our investment was highest when the now opposition leader was Minister for Defence. So, he has a commitment. He has a track record for making sure that we've got the right money in the right places. I heard the member for Herbert, himself a former infantryman, talking during the debate on the matter of public importance today about making sure our soldiers have the right kit, and that's so, so important. I know that the member for Bendigo is proud of the fact that her home town produces the Bushmaster. Indeed, as part of a coalition government, I'm glad Labor has, since coming into government, backed our commitment to Ukraine to provide those vital personnel carriers so they can do what they can to repel the illegal invasion by Russia.

There is a lot of pressure on Australia and on the Indo-Pacific and elsewhere across the globe at the moment. A lot of pressure is being brought to bear on those who want to preserve democracy and those who believe in freedom and peace. And Australia has always been there, whether in Afghanistan, with our previous commitments to that, or whether in the current deployments, peacekeeping and otherwise, that we need to make sure that we are a part of—make sure we're on the right side—and that we are always there. I commend our ADF. I commend those people who run the Australian Defence Force for doing just that.

And it's a big ask of those who serve in this place, because we are the ones who commit Australian soldiers and other defence personnel into battle. We do that, and it's a heavy burden to bear. I never thought it would be until I was part of those motions and debates before the House of Representatives when we were talking about Afghanistan and other conflicts that we've fought in during the recent past. The coalition will always be there. Sovereignty is so, so important. The level of trust on Labor at the moment is very high, because they are the ones in government now, but they certainly have bipartisan support when it comes to national security.

5:24 pm

Photo of Gordon ReidGordon Reid (Robertson, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Before I begin, I want to agree with the member for Riverina. Defence of Australia's sovereignty is a bipartisan issue because defence, national security and Australian sovereignty affect everyone. They affect everyone in this room. They affect my community, in Robertson, on the New South Wales Central Coast. They affect people in the member for Reid's electorate and that of the member for Riverina. They're so important that we have a bipartisan approach to our national security and to Australia's sovereignty, because they affect us all.

With that, I say the Albanese Labor government is committed to the safety and security of our people in every electorate, in every corner of the company, rural and remote, metropolitan and regional, coastal and inland—everyone. We realise that this is of paramount importance.

As was said by the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Defence recently when this statement was brought before parliament, the risk of conflict is now less remote than it was in the past, and we now live in a less safe and less stable world. This highlights to me, to every member of this parliament and to our community the importance of international diplomacy and the fact that we need to work collaboratively with those within our region, particularly those throughout the Indo-Pacific. Our interests are not only onshore. Our interests are not only within Australia but across the entire Indo-Pacific region, across our neighbours, and peace and security throughout our region are what we must absolutely strive for. Every person in this place must continue to champion that for the sake of Australia's sovereignty.

As was also noted by the Deputy Prime Minister, we have benefited from our trade with China and we absolutely value a productive, mutually beneficial relationship with China and seek as a government to stabilise this. Furthermore, Australia and the government must continue to work collaboratively and constructively with countries throughout our region to continue to reduce tensions but also to maintain the peace and security which has led to years of ongoing economic prosperity right throughout the region.

Our international partnerships and relationships are vital in advancing our interests and allow us to navigate the complex strategic environment that is our region and that is our world. We must ensure that the norms, the principles and the rules throughout the Indo-Pacific are reinforced by our partnerships with nations throughout our region. Moreover, it is important that, with these partnerships, we champion a free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific. That is done by pooling resources and combining our strengths. In doing this, we can deter conflict. We can have a free and open region. We can have peace.

We are continuing to strengthen our cooperation and partnerships with our neighbours throughout the region. I am talking about the likes of Japan, South Korea, Singapore, India, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, a nation I have spoken about in the chamber before—teman-teman di utara, our 'friends to the north'—a nation we will continue to strengthen our relationship with now and into the future.

Our continued commitment to investing in groups and bodies that champion peace prosperity throughout our region such as ASEAN and the Quad is paramount. It is crucial to stability, security and, importantly, economic development in the Indo-Pacific and the broader region. To give some further examples that were discussed by the Deputy Prime Minister in parliament earlier this week, for over 30 years our friends the nation of Singapore, in South-East Asia, have trained in Australia to mutual benefit and for Australian sovereignty. From major exercises in the Shoalwater Bay area to helicopter training and pilot training at RAAF Base Pearce, Australia's been proud to support Singapore in building its capabilities. This cooperation continues to our shared security and, furthermore, to ensuring a secure Australian sovereignty.

Singapore training in Australia has brought significant advantages, particularly for sovereignty, including investment in our ADF facilities and economic benefits to Australian business. And they have helped us in our times of need. Singapore have definitely helped us in our times of need. The Singaporean armed services made a significant contribution to our local communities here in Australia during the Black Summer bushfires in 2020 and the floods in 2022.

I want to reiterate what the Deputy Prime Minister said: we are no longer blessed with a benign strategic environment. The world is a less safe place than it was years ago, and that's why we need to work collaboratively with our partners through the region—in particular, I should stress, Indonesia, our friends to the north—and make sure that we champion those ideals that I've mentioned to make sure that we have peace.

5:31 pm

Photo of James StevensJames Stevens (Sturt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

STEVENS () (): I take the opportunity to talk about defence sovereign capability at every opportunity in this place, particularly as a proud member from the city of Adelaide, and it won't surprise members that I'd like to focus my remarks on naval capability—where we've been, where we are and where we are going to—from a sovereign capability point of view.

It's vital for any nation to have sovereign capability to produce the major assets, the major capabilities that underpin our national security capacity. Not surprisingly, that wasn't always the case in Australia's history. In the early days of the Royal Australian Navy, the United Kingdom was the provider of most of our major capital ships and our technical capability and capacity. The Oberon class submarines that preceded the current Collins class submarines were a British vessel. But it has been the case that over the last few decades we have dramatically developed our own capability in naval shipbuilding in Australia, and this is vitally important for our future.

The Collins class submarines were conceived and built in Adelaide, and that was really the milestone decision of the federal government, the Hawke government—I give them credit for that, of course—to develop a naval shipbuilding capability centred on Adelaide, and the future for that couldn't be brighter going forward. We have six Collins class boats, as they've informed me submarines are called—not vessels or ships but boats—which were all built in Adelaide and continue to be maintained in Adelaide. The full-cycle docking that occurs there is effectively a complete rebuild of the submarine. They take the boat out of the water, crack into the pressure hull, which is a very significant thing to do, and when the full-cycle docking happens every 10 years on each of those six that is a major ongoing piece of engineering capability that we have in South Australia. Frankly, it is as significant, some say even more significant, than the original construction of the submarines themselves, such is the significance of full-cycle docking, which happens a couple of times in the lifetimes of those submarines.

And the Collins? The previous government made the important commitment, which I understand this government is sticking with, to the life-of-type extension to the Collins which we need in order for the Collins to still be the capable boats, the capable submarines, that the Navy need while we transition to nuclear propulsion. This is also happening in South Australia. I was very engaged in the campaign, to make sure the awareness was there within the decision-making structures of Navy, Defence and the then government, that the commitment to keep that in South Australia was maintained. Indeed, that commitment was made at the same time as the announcement of AUKUS.

The air warfare destroyers—all three—were also built in Adelaide, and so from a surface vessel point of view we are also very proud in South Australia of the capability that we have for surface vessel construction. That was underscored by the decision, in 2015, that the nine future frigates would be built in Adelaide. That was a very welcome decision, a very significant decision, to replace the Anzac class frigates. There are nine Hunter class type 26 based variant frigates to be built in Adelaide, by BAE and their partners, including the ASC, and that was a very exciting decision for South Australia.

When you add the extremely exciting opportunity of constructing submarines that now will be nuclear propelled submarines in Adelaide, we are unquestionably the major naval shipbuilding hub of at least the Southern Hemisphere—and, in some metrics, one of the largest and most diverse naval shipbuilding capabilities on the planet. There are not too many shipyards, anywhere, that are building the variety of vessels that we have the capability to build in Adelaide. In the last decade or so, naval shipbuilding capability has completely consolidated to my home city of Adelaide, my home state of South Australia, and it wouldn't surprise the chamber to know I'm very excited about that. It is an enormous opportunity, from an industry point of view, for my home state.

What it also underscores is the significance and how far we've come, when it comes to sovereign capability, in naval shipbuilding. We will have, in the Royal Australian Navy, every vessel—and any decisions, into the future, I am confident, will also involve national sovereign construction, here in this nation, centred in Adelaide. What that means is the Royal Australian Navy's capability is all sovereignly constructed and maintained and means that—whilst we're very committed to the alliances that we have and they are very important to us—the fundamental capability of the Royal Australian Navy relies on no-one but the people of this country. It means that none of the decisions that might need to be made, from a national security point of view, in the interests of our country, are ever going to be reliant on anyone else other than our sovereign capability. That is what this debate is about, in taking note of that statement.

We've all made contributions in committing towards the bipartisan imperative of sovereign capability of our national security. That doesn't mean that we don't want to take the opportunity of acquiring the absolutely best capability that is available. We are very lucky, and it's one of the very significant elements of our important alliances, particularly now within the AUKUS framework, that we will always seek to get the best capability and the best technology for our armed forces, both the technology that's developed here and that which is available from our major allies and partners.

The United States and the United Kingdom have made the decision, through the AUKUS structure, to provide us with an unbelievable capability that we would have no ability to develop ourselves, which is the nuclear propulsion of submarines for the future submarine capability of our Navy, and that is a great example of the benefit of that. But we're equally proud of the technology, research, development and capability that we are creating here in Australia.

We're a valued partner to a nation like the United States, evidenced by their decision to entrust us with this very closely guarded technology around nuclear propulsion and the other partnerships we have with them. The most important thing is that they are also entrusting us, and we are working with them, on developing capability to manufacture that capability here in Australia and have the sovereignty underpinned by that local domestic capability.

We're also investing in and ensuring that the defence sector industry in Australia is capable of meeting those needs and is producing all of that capability here. I've got some great defence firms in my electorate. All members, no doubt, have stories of SMEs and businesses that people have created which are employing people and contributing into the supply chains that are providing that national security capability at the highest standard, but which are also getting the economic dividend that is very important with the enormous amount of expenditure involved in defence capability here within the Australian economy.

We always want to make sure that we've got the highest standard of capability. We also want to make sure, from both a national security point of view and an economic point of view, that the enormous amount of investment we are making is giving the most significant economic dividend and that we've got the security of having that capability within our nation so that we're never reliant on anyone else except for ourselves. That is something that I'm very confident will always be bipartisan in this place. In all the major discussions and debates we have, I'm very confident that there will always be a complete consensus on the importance of Australians having the capability to make our own decisions in our own interests, without having to rely on anyone else. That is what sovereignty is all about, and on that basis I commend this motion to the House.

5:41 pm

Photo of Luke GoslingLuke Gosling (Solomon, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak about defence minister Marles's ministerial statement on securing Australia's sovereignty. As previous speakers have alluded to, securing our sovereignty is the government's top priority. It is the capacity of our people, through their government, to determine their own circumstances free from coercion. It underpins every other public good that the state delivers, from essential services to our economic growth and from our secure borders to meaningful action on climate change. While it is not the only one, defence capability is a key determinant of sovereignty.

In a world where the threat of armed conflict is less remote and foreign interference is more prevalent than ever, it has never been more important to guard our sovereignty. This is urgent, because we face the most difficult circumstances, strategically, since the Second World War. An example of that is Russia's illegal and immoral war in Ukraine. It gives us daily proof that industrial war, large-scale war, is no longer a thing of the past, as we had all hoped following the carnage of the Second World War. In our region, the Indo-Pacific, we see large military build-ups rivalling any in the post-war period. We are also seeing increasing strategic competition, with a more assertive China seeking to shape the world around it in our region, and grey-zone activities that bring tensions to our shores. So we now live in a less safe and a less stable world.

This is why we must ensure the security of our strategic geography in our region and also the viability of our trading and supply routes. And it is why we must work with like-minded countries and partners, and our United States ally. Our partnerships represent a network of states that reinforce norms, principles and the rules based system to ensure a free, open and, of course, prosperous Indo-Pacific. Our government, the Albanese government, is strengthening our partnerships with not only the US, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and India but also PNG, Indonesia, the ASEAN group and the Quad.

While all these relationships strengthen Australia's sovereignty, by maximising our influence, today I would like to take this opportunity to speak to our US ally, which has been central to our national security since the 1940s. The Labor Party is proud to have led the wartime government that laid the alliance's modern foundations during the Pacific War. Our 1951 alliance with the United States is one of the most important bipartisan achievements of Australian diplomacy and one that enjoys broad public approval. Now our government is committed to building on that record.

A significant step change in our security cooperation with the United States was the establishment of the bilateral Force Posture Initiatives by the Gillard government in 2011. This began with the first rotation of US marines to Darwin, which has ramped up to the full rotation strength of 2,500 troops. I'm sure honourable members will remember when President Obama visited Darwin—we certainly do in my electorate of Solomon. Successive Australian governments have held the view that a strong and active US military presence in the Indo-Pacific is vital for deterring threats to the stability of the region. There is one development in the alliance that is hard to miss—namely, that it is becoming increasingly Australianised. What I mean by that is that the alliance is growing more visible on Australian soil, above all in the north of our country—in Darwin, in the Northern Territory.

I've already mentioned the ongoing deployment of marines to Darwin, which was expanded at the 2022 AUSMIN meeting in Washington DC to include rotations of US Army, US Navy and US Air Force elements, including bombers and fighters, training out of Australian bases over the coming years—Tindal, near Katherine, being foremost among those bases. AUSMIN communiques are worth paying attention to because they function as the shared to-do list, if you like, of our alliance.

The latest one committed the allies to supporting enhanced US Force Posture Initiatives by co-developing northern Australian bare bases and associated infrastructure, including runway improvements, parking aprons, fuel infrastructure, explosive ordnance, storage infrastructure and facilities, to support the workforce. An example of this is the stockpiling of jet fuel at a US owned storage facility in Darwin. These Force Posture Initiatives, which Japan has been invited to participate in, strengthen Australia's security, which in turn increases America's ability to deter blatant challenges to the rules based order of the kind we see in Russia's illegal war of aggression against Ukraine.

As the 2022 communique states, Australia and America are concerned by excessive maritime claims in our region that are inconsistent with international law. As Australia's strategic real estate increases in significance to our great and powerful American allies, so too does our alliance continue to deepen. I see this trend continuing over the next decade for, essentially, geopolitical and geostrategic reasons.

America's Force Posture Initiatives in the region respond to their need to disperse forces and to not over rely on its bases in other nations in our region—South Korea, Japan and Guam being examples that face growing limitations. But Darwin and our other northern and southern Australian bases offer good options, safer options, for our allied forces to consider. It would be wrong to reduce the alliance to this simple arithmetic, but it is undeniably helping to shape its future.

Our trilateral AUKUS partnership with the US and the UK is the next chapter in our strategic co-operation. The strongest deterrent and strategic effect that Australia can hope to contribute to the alliance is, without doubt, the acquisition of a nuclear powered, conventionally armed submarine force. This was not its only promise, which also included long-range strike capabilities, but it was the main thrust of the 2021 AUKUS technology-sharing agreement between Australia, the UK and the US. Obviously, this was not a bilateral deal with our US ally only, but it must inevitably be understood in the context of the alliance. While the UK is an extremely close defence partner and not a treaty ally, these submarines are highly likely to operate in an alliance framework. Far from increasing our dependence, as some argue, AUKUS will strengthen Australia's sovereignty by delivering nuclear powered but conventionally armed submarines.

To update the House: in January 2023, in my capacity as Chair of the Australia-United States Parliamentary Friendship Group, I led a state-department-sponsored visit to the United States by a bipartisan delegation of members and senators. It was clear to me that, in the United States of America, there's increasing fondness and a realisation of the importance of us within the alliance, and it is in good shape.

5:51 pm

Photo of Tony ZappiaTony Zappia (Makin, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's always interesting, listening to the member for Solomon, because he certainly knows what he's talking about when he talks about defence, because of the experience of his own service.

Last Thursday, the Deputy Prime Minister made a ministerial statement entitled: Securing Australia's sovereignty. It was an important statement that outlined Australia's national security and sovereign capability. We heard today that the Defence Strategic Review has now been handed to government. I'm sure that that review will add to those very issues, and I'm sure we'll also be hearing more about it. But I want to quote three phrases from the Deputy Prime Minister's statement last week: firstly, 'The world around us is uncertain'; secondly, 'We now live in a less safe and less stable world'; and, thirdly, 'Our partnerships build our national capability and security.' I'll come back to some of that if time permits, but I think that those statements sum up very well the issues that we are confronted with and how we are to respond, if we're going to strengthen our national security and sovereign capability.

National security and defence—when we think of those two concepts, the first image that I suspect comes to most of us is the image of the men and women in uniform serving in the Army, Navy and Air Force. They enlist in a dangerous service for our country and for our people. We honour their lives, their service and their sacrifices through numerous services throughout the year, with Anzac Day, I believe, now being Australia's most significant national day. We honour their service with a world-class national war memorial, probably the most visited national facility we have in Australia, and the regular Last Post services held there.

Today, on 14 February, as part of National Servicemen's Day, we honour and remember those people who were referred to as 'Nashos', and, as a nation, we think about the 280,000 plus who were called up to serve between 1951 and 1972. More than 15,000 of them served in Vietnam, where, I understand, more than 200 lost their lives and around 1,200 were wounded. In my own region, the National Servicemen's Association of Australia, South Australian Para Districts branch, has, for years, provided a friendship and support group for the Nashos. Over the years, I've had a close association with the Para District branch, and I've not only learnt so much from them but also made very good friends from amongst those Nashos.

This Sunday 19 February, I know there will be commemoration services remembering the Bombing of Darwin on 19 February 1942, which then went on for some months, until November 1943. That bombing was perhaps the worst mainland attack we've experienced in this country. At least 236 people were killed—perhaps a lot more. It's difficult to get the precise statistics. Some 400 were wounded. Again, as a nation we commemorate those people who served, made sacrifices and lost their lives.

Within my own community and my own region, particularly in Mawson Lakes, at Edinburgh and the Australian Submarine Corporation, we have hundreds of defence-related industries and have had them for some years. I note that other members who have contributed to this debate have referred to south Australia's contribution to our national defence and a number of defence-related industries that we have in South Australia. Amongst and within those industries, we have world-leading expertise and knowledge. I've been through several of them. I've listened to their presentations. I've looked at what they do and how they contribute to global affairs through their expertise, and it never ceases to amaze me how good and how important their work is. It is work and know-how that is complemented by dozens of manufacturing firms who equally have expert skills and capability, and they are also critical to Australia's sovereign capability because we cannot secure our country without a strong manufacturing sector.

Regrettably, under the last coalition government, our manufacturing sector was crippled, and certainly that was the case in South Australia when the coalition government turned their backs on the Australian carmakers. They then offshored defence manufacturing. Doing that led to a loss of so much engineering, specialist trade, design and even some science skill that not only benefited the carmakers, the defence industries and so on but also benefited the broader community and other manufacturers throughout the country. Their research and development dollars that were also lost had a flow-on effect throughout the country. Maintaining a strong manufacturing sector is as critical as putting together all the other components of securing our country and making sure that we have the strategic capability to do so.

We just had a debate in the main chamber about defence spending in this country. I say this with regard to the last coalition government. We hear a lot about their commitment to defence spending in this country. The reality is this: in the last nine years under which they were in government, our submarine program, which was a critical issue at the time they came to office, ended with the wastage of over $5 billion on the French contract, which went nowhere. At the change of government nine years later, we did not even have a contract in place to replace our submarines. Now, I stress that point for this reason: only the other day I made a 90-second statement about the importance of maintaining a workforce in the defence area—a workforce with absolutely specialised skills that we cannot afford to lose, because, as we were told by leaders from that workforce, many of those skills take many years to develop. It is not simply a case of doing an apprenticeship and then being able to work within those industries. After the apprenticeship, you need to go into the sector and do some real work to further develop your skills.

If we don't have a continuous build in naval construction, then those skills will be lost. Already many of them are and it has been claimed that, in order to rebuild our naval construction workforce, we need to start finding skilled workers from elsewhere. But the reality is we need to ensure that there is continuous work, and we will only do that if we get on with building our naval requirements here in Australia and we have a continuous build in place. That message has been told to this parliament loud and clear for year on year, and regrettably it seems that it is sliding away.

The Albanese government have committed to rebuilding Australia's manufacturing sector, and we've done that through the National Reconstruction Fund. That fund goes to the heart of rebuilding Australia's manufacturing capability, but, again, what are we seeing? We're seeing the opposition opposing the establishment of that fund, opposing the very purpose for which it has been designed and opposing the programs that it will sustain, which I would have thought the opposition would have seen were in the national interest. Regrettably, that is not the case. It seems to me that if we are going to rebuild our national manufacturing capability, which goes to the heart of securing our national security and our defence capability, then we need to get behind that fund.

Debate adjourned.