Thursday, 22 June 2017
Questions without Notice
I thank Senator Fawcett for his question, particularly given his role as the chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. It is indeed just on 12 months since the last election and a little over 16 months since the Prime Minister and I released the defence white paper, the Integrated Investment Program and the Defence Industry Policy Statement. In the 16 months since then we have been focused on delivering on those plans. Indeed, in the budget we reaffirmed our commitment to increase the defence budget to two per cent of GDP, by 2021, three years ahead of the election commitment we made in 2013.
We have made very significant progress on our plans to modernise Australia's Navy. We have begun the design of our future submarines. We are conducting industry sessions right around the country to maximise Australian industry involvement and we have signed the intergovernmental agreement with France for the Future Submarine program. We have shortlisted companies and issued tenders for the Future Frigate and the Offshore Patrol Vessels, which will both be built in Australia. We are advancing the acquisition of the New Combat Reconnaissance Vehicles for the Army—which in fact I was able to inspect this morning, at a reasonably chilly Fairbairn—as they undergo part of their trials at the moment for air transportability. We finalised the cost-sharing for the Force Posture Initiatives and started the Enhanced Air Cooperation Initiative this year, as well.
That is a very brief description of some of the key activities the government is delivering to ensure we keep our nation safe. In fact, in this financial year, through the approvals process of the cabinet, we have progressed 63 projects, which is close to double the highest previous number. That is emblematic of our commitment to ensuring that we implement the provisions of the defence white paper and the Integrated Investment program and work within the Defence industry policy statement to ensure that we are supporting Australian industry in that process and achieving the best capability for the ADF.
We have more than 2,300 Australian Defence Force personnel deployed around the world and as part of our operations to secure Australia's maritime borders. In Iraq, where they are now, Daesh has lost more than 55 per cent of the territory it once held. Our Special Operations Task Group there continues to support the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service in its efforts to liberate Mosul. Our Air Task Group also continues to make a very significant contribution to the fight against Daesh. The task group at Taji, our training group, has graduated more than 24,000 Iraqi trainees, including 4,000 police trainees. We have recently agreed to increase the Australian Defence Force commitment to Afghanistan by 30 personnel—from around 270 to 300—as part of our current 'train, advise and assist' mission. It is in Australia's national interest to ensure that we do not let Afghanistan become a safe haven for terrorists again. (Time expired)
As the white paper said, we are determined to create a more potent, agile and capable Defence Force and to deliver on the investment and capability that Senator Fawcett has referred to. That includes our new satellite capabilities, new night-fighting equipment and further investments in electronic warfare, to name just a few things. Last November the Royal Australian Air Force took possession of the first P-8 Poseidon aircraft—a cutting-edge surveillance anti-submarine aircraft—and the first EA-18 Growler electronic attack aircraft are now also in service. With the joint strike fighters, which made their first visit to Australia in March, they will create a powerful, cutting-edge fifth-generation Air Force. Last week, Navy took provisional acceptance of the first air warfare destroyer, which will significantly enhance the capability of the Navy—and I have already spoken about the projects in relation to the Future Submarines, the Future Frigates and the offshore patrol vessel. We are working on this with absolute focus to ensure we create the ADF capability that we need. (Time expired)