Address by the Prime Minister: "Australia and the Pacific: A New Chapter"
Speech, 08 November 2018
Lavarack Barracks, Townsville, QLD
To our hosts, Commander 3rd Brigade, Brigadier Scott Winter AM, 3rd Brigade’s RSM, Warrant Office Brent Doyle OAM, and Commanding Officer 3rd Combat Engineer Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Jennifer Harris CSC. To the men and women of 3rd Brigade, thank you for your service. Thank you for your welcome here today, thank you for what you do for our country.
It’s important for me to come here today and make this presentation which I could have done to a lecture theatre down in the southern states or do it in Parliament House or somewhere like that but I thought it was important to come and make this presentation here today to the men and women who I will be asking and our Government will be asking to be part of the fulfilment of the plans that I am setting out today for our government and our nation.
It is great to be here at Lavarack Barracks.
Many Australian Prime Ministers have visited these Barracks and rightly so.
The first though was Harold Holt, who came to open them in 1966.
At the opening he let everyone in on a secret, that was the Army didn’t want the Barracks in Townsville.
They wanted the new barracks to be on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria.
They wanted it to be close to the existing Defence infrastructure.
Apparently that was a cheaper exercise as well.
But Harold Holt had a very different view. He convinced the Cabinet to actually override the Army’s recommendation.
He said at the opening of these Barracks: “if this continent is to be held secure, if we are to develop its potentialities he said, then we must press on vigorously with northern development”.
And that argument still holds as fresh today, which is why I’m delighted to be back in Townsville -- backing Townsville, backing Lavarack.
And supporting our defence forces and on coming to office a little over five years ago, our Government committed to increasing the Defence budget to 2 per cent of Australia’s GDP within ten years of coming to office.
We will achieve that in 2020-21, three years ahead of schedule.
That shows you the seriousness of our Government’s commitment to the capability of our defence forces and our serving men and women.
The long-term funding commitment is critical to executing the Government’s plans for Defence, and ensures that defence strategy, capability and resources are fully aligned.
Defence must have confidence in its funding so it can develop and implement long-term plans. Australian defence industry also needs funding certainty to confidently invest in the infrastructure, skills and capability so that it can play its part as a fundamental input to defence capability. They are part of the Defence team.
It's because of these long-term commitments that our Government can invest in programs like LAND 400 Phase 2, which I know is particularly popular up here, which will deliver 211 world-class Combat Reconnaissance Vehicles for the Australian Army.
These world-class vehicles will be manufactured and delivered by up to 1,450 Australian workers, using Australian steel, right here in Queensland.
But the beauty of our commitment to Defence capability is that these benefits actually flow right across the country. The supply chain for these new vehicles will reach right across the country – with up to 40 companies expected to be involved.
Indeed right here in North Queensland, there are small to medium sized companies who will have the opportunity to secure work on this $5.2 billion project.
Now of course, our Defence capability plans do not end there – from new frigates and patrol vessels, to the Joint Strike Fighter – all of these platforms draw on small and medium sized enterprises from right across the nation.
And ladies and gentlemen I am here to day to honour the service of the men and women of these Barracks, your pledge to service our nation in times of war and peace is no idle one. 3rd Brigade has acted on that pledge. In Iraq and Afghanistan and your role in the Philippines is vitally important. This year 3rd Brigade has deployed 800 members in some eight countries. From engineering support to amphibious landing training and command and leadership mentoring. And much of your efforts are in your own neighbourhood.
That’s our defence industry plan in action – creating the world’s best capability while investing in Australian industrial capability and know-how and securing highly-skilled and paid Australian jobs across the nation.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am here today to honour the service of the men and women of these Barracks. Your pledge to serve our nation, in times of war and peace, is no idle one.
3 Brigade has acted on that pledge – in Iraq and Afghanistan. And your role in the Philippines is vitally important.
This year 3 Brigade has deployed 800 members in some eight countries.
From engineering support, to amphibious landing training and command and leadership mentoring - and much of your efforts are in our own neighbourhood, in your neighbourhood, the Pacific – a long way from the Mornington Peninsula! As lovely as the Mornington Peninsula is.
You have done tremendous work with two of our biggest military partners in our region, Papua New Guinea and Fiji.
Their forces can now take on bigger responsibilities, working hand in glove with the ADF towards regional stability and security. That would also build on the ADF’s tremendous humanitarian response work in the region.
Australia’s national security and that of the Pacific they are intertwined - as the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper made clear, when it identified the Pacific as one of Australia’s highest foreign policy priorities.
My Government, the Government that I have the privilege to lead is returning the Pacific to where it should be – front and centre of Australia’s strategic outlook, our foreign policy, our personal connections, including at the highest levels of government.
This is our patch. This is our part of the world. This is where we have special responsibilities. We always have, we always will. We have their back, and they have ours. We are more than partners by choice. We are connected as members of a Pacific family.
It’s why the first leaders I hosted in Australia as Prime Minister have been from Solomon Islands, Fiji and Papua New Guinea.
It’s time to open, I believe a new chapter in relations with our Pacific family.
One based on respect, equality and openness. A relationship for its own sake, because it’s right. Because it’s who we are.
Last week in Sydney, I set out the foundational beliefs and values that guide our Government’s engagement with the world and to ensure we remain a prosperous, secure and united nation.
In Queensland - our gateway to the Pacific - I want to outline in more detail our ‘step-up’ now in the Pacific and why we are taking our engagement to a new level. And I wanted to do it here in Lavarack because it is with you who are charged, along with all our servicemen and women to put our plan into action.
Australia has an abiding interest in the Southwest Pacific that is secure strategically, stable economically and sovereign politically.
This is not just our region, or our neighbourhood. This is our home.
It’s where Australia can make the biggest difference in world affairs.
A strong, stable region keeps us more secure and enables our economies to grow and for our peoples to prosper.
While we have natural advantages in terms of history, proximity and shared values, Australia cannot take its influence in the Southwest Pacific for granted. And sadly I think too often we have.
Notwithstanding we build from strong foundations our Government has refocused more of our aid contribution to the region. We remain the largest aid donor to the Pacific. We maintain high standards of governance while aligning our assistance with the practical priorities of Pacific Island countries.
The Pacific Labour Scheme is a genuine win-win partnership.
It helps strengthen our economies.
It will give Australian farmers and businesses from aged care providers to tourism operators critical staff to run at full capacity, and gives Pacific workers the chance to earn higher incomes, gain skills and secure opportunities for their own families at home.
The Seasonal Worker Programme gives our fruit growers and crop farmers the workers they need at their busiest times of the year.
Since 2012, the Seasonal Worker Programme has provided an extra $144 million in income for families and villages in the Pacific and Timor-Leste. That’s life-changing for them, absolutely life changing and a massive help for our farmers as well.
Pacific labour mobility is one of the most important solutions for tackling workforce shortages, right now and into the future.
Australia is committed to building on those labour mobility opportunities for Pacific countries and ensuring that Pacific countries take priority.
Pacific labour to Australia is growing and we want to see this growth continue - so we are prioritising the expansion of Pacific labour mobility to help fill critical workforce shortages, where no Australian is available. And it is always our first priority to ensure that Australians are doing these jobs.
We will work closely with industry and Pacific governments to ensure the quality of both the Pacific Labour Scheme and its integrity and the Seasonal Worker Programme.
There are some 1,500 Pacific island students studying at Australian universities on scholarships, gaining the knowledge and skills needed to create opportunities in their home countries.
They’re matched by nearly two-and-a-half-thousand young Australians who have studied in the Pacific since 2014 as part of the New Colombo Plan that was pioneered and initiated by the former Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop and I commend her for that initiative.
As well, thousands of young Pacific islanders have received vocational education through the Australia Pacific Training Coalition, giving them Australian-standard qualifications.
We’re working with PNG and the Solomon Islands to install a high-speed undersea internet cable so their people can take advantage of the digital era and the digital economy.
We’re moving towards ratifying the PACER-Plus regional trade agreement to open up new markets and opportunities for ourselves and our Pacific neighbours and partners.
It’s a very solid base, but of course, economic development relies on security and stability.
Under the “Boe” Pacific Regional Security Declaration, we and our Pacific partners have committed to work more closely to keep our countries safe, secure and more prosperous.
The Pacific Fusion Centre, announced at the Pacific Islands Forum, will build on existing security architecture, including the Pacific Transnational Crime Coordination Centre in Apia, and Forum Fisheries Agency Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre in Honiara.
We are also working to deliver national security and law enforcement training in the Pacific at the executive middle management level through an Australia Pacific Security College.
Under our Pacific Maritime Security Programme we are delivering bigger and more capable patrol boats and aerial surveillance, and sharing more information to tackle drug trafficking, people smuggling and illegal fishing in the Pacific which is robbing Pacific Islanders of their livelihoods.
With Fiji, it’s turning the Blackrock Peacekeeping Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Camp into a regional hub for police and peacekeeping training and pre-deployment preparation.
With Solomon Islands, it’s a bilateral security agreement, building on the hard work of RAMSI.
With Vanuatu, it’s a boost to law enforcement assistance as we negotiate a new bilateral security agreement.
And last week, I signed an agreement with PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill to elevate our relationship with an annual leaders’ dialogue.
We’re cooperating to develop the PNG Defence Force’s Lombrum Naval Base which I’ve visited on many occasions on Manus Island to increase the inter-operability between our defence forces and our ability to tackle challenges like transnational crime.
It will mean more Australian ships can visit PNG. And after APEC in Port Moresby where I will be shortly, our police will continue the close relationship and cooperation they’ve built in the lead-up to that important meeting.
So the strategic architecture of our Pacific ‘step-up’ is taking shape, it’s in place. It is part of a larger vision of Australia as a force for good in the Pacific, working with others to ensure our region is secure, stable and sovereign.
We seek cooperation with others -- New Zealand, the United States, Japan, China, France and the UK all active in the region to ensure our engagement supports common goals.
Let me turn now to some of the other steps that I am announcing we are taking today, practical measures that we believe will make a difference.
The ADF already plays a pivotal role across a wide canvas, from traditional military engagement with counterparts, to humanitarian and disaster relief, to Operation Render Safe, where we assist in safely disposing of World War Two explosive remnants.
As part of our commitment to the Pacific, the ADF will play an even greater role, working with our partners on training, on capacity building, on exercises, on building interoperability to respond together to the security challenges we face.
To help achieve this, we will establish an enduring rotational ADF Pacific Mobile Training Team, which will be based in Australia, and will travel in the Pacific when invited to undertake training and engagement with other forces.
This will see ADF members like yourselves working more with regional partners in areas such as humanitarian and disaster response, peacekeeping, infantry skills, engineering and logistics and planning.
The Government will also put in place arrangements to ensure that Australia has a dedicated vessel to deliver our support to our partners in the Pacific. Its duties will include humanitarian assistance and response.
The Royal Australian Navy will also undertake more deployments to the Pacific so that they can conduct maritime training exercises with our neighbours. This will enable them to take advantage of the new Guardian Class Patrol Boats we are gifting to them, to support regional security.
We are also strengthening our links with Pacific police forces.
A new Pacific facility at the Australian Institute of Police Management will help train the next generation of police leadership in the Pacific.
Australian and Pacific police have a long history of working closely together and the new Institute will bring together police leaders from across the Pacific for professional, leadership and executive development opportunities.
We will deepen our already strong people-to-people links with Pacific security forces.
We will establish annual meetings of defence and police and border security chiefs and deepen our collaborative efforts.
We will establish a security alumni network to maintain connections and deepen relationships with the many emerging and senior police, and the civilian and military leaders who have participated in the Defence Cooperation Program over decades. Harvesting their experience learning from the experience, passing on the legacy of their experience.
We’re also expanding our diplomatic footprint. Our diplomatic network is already larger than any other country in the Pacific as it should be and we are going to expand it.
Today I announce that we intend to open diplomatic missions in Palau, the Marshall Islands, French Polynesia, Niue and the Cook Islands.
This will mean Australia is represented in every member country of the Pacific Islands Forum.
Of course, it’s not just about the number of diplomatic posts; it’s about the people we send there. And those working on the Pacific at home.
The Foreign Minister and I have made it clear that we want our best and brightest, our young and experienced diplomats alike, working in and on the Pacific.
We must also deepen our commitment to economic engagement in a way that addresses the specific challenges of the Pacific.
The Pacific region is estimated to need US$3.1 billion in investment per year to 2030. So today I’m pleased to announce two major new initiatives that will help address the infrastructure needs of the Pacific region.
The first is the creation of an Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific (AIFFP).
This $2 billion infrastructure initiative will significantly boost Australia’s support for infrastructure development in Pacific countries and Timor Leste.
It will use grant funding combined with long term loans to support high priority infrastructure development.
This will also enable these projects to leverage broader support. It will invest in essential infrastructure such as telecommunications, energy, transport, water and will stretch our aid dollars even further.
The second major announcement I’m making today is the Government will ask Parliament to give Export Finance Australia, Australia’s export financing agency, an extra $1 billion in callable capital and a new more flexible infrastructure financing power to support investments in the region which have broad national benefit for Australia. It’s in our interest that’s why we need to do it.
These new measures will enhance Export Finance Australia’s ability to support Australian SMEs to be active in their region. Working with the support and aid that we are putting into the region. Private capital, entrepreneurialism, open markets are crucial to our mutual prosperity. These are our beliefs, these are values, they are shared with the Pacific and we stand with those who share our beliefs and values.
It’s my genuine ambition for this work on infrastructure to be a bipartisan endeavour, as indeed should our wider engagement be in the Pacific.
This is something I hope we can achieve together, in our national interest and that of our neighbours.
Not long ago the former Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, led her annual bipartisan delegation to the Pacific.
These visits built on the cross-party visits to the Pacific initiated by Alexander and I want to see more such delegations of politicians and journalists deepening ties with our neighbours.
Our personal ties extend deeply into rituals, pastimes and shared obsessions like sport. You all know that when you would have been up in the region, PNG in particular and other places.
Following the success of this year’s Prime Ministers Men’s and Women’s XIII games against their PNG counterparts which was a topic of discussion when I got in touch with Peter O’Neill recently when we played the Kumuls and the Orchids – a new sports programme will strengthen sporting pathways between the Pacific and Australia.
I’ve been speaking to Free-TV Australia and the commercial TV networks about how we get more of our Australian content into the region. Our pacific family switching on to the same stories, news, drama and sports we are watching at home. What better way of staying connected than through the people, the lifestyle and the every-day experiences we are lucky enough to enjoy.
That’s why I am pleased to announce that the Government will be working with our commercial media operators to ensure our friends in the Pacific have access to more quality Australian content on television and other platforms.
This will include things like lifestyle programs, news, current affairs, children’s content, drama and sports potentially.
This is an initial step towards providing more Australian content that is highly valued by the Pacific community.
Just the other day, Prime Minister O’Neill reminded me that they have a holiday for Melbourne Cup Day as well.
And that it’s very hard to find anyone at work in Moresby the day after a State of Origin game.
These are small reminders of just how much we have in common and the heritage we share, the lives we share, the values we share.
You might ask how we’re going to pay for all of this. The answer is simple. We are doing it from within budget.
We have undertaken a rigorous prioritisation of our foreign policy and aid and defence and police strategies and plans to make the Pacific a priority.
Government is all about making choices, it’s about setting priorities, it’s about focussing on the things that you believe are most important and that’s what we have done as a Government. Not by running up a big bill but by making choices to make a priority of the Pacific, whether it’s in our aid program or elsewhere.
Nothing proves the strength of our people partnership more than the massive welcome the Duke and Duchess of Sussex received in Tonga and Fiji the other week just like they did in Dubbo and Sydney and Fraser Island.
But our connections go so far beyond our shared Commonwealth membership.
We support a fantastic Australian volunteers program, one that translates into thousands of stories of people changing lives.
I recently heard about a young bloke called Michael Nunan. Michael was a volunteer to Solomon Islands and spent two years as a pharmacist there.
He discovered that poor communication meant local health clinics couldn’t do simple things like let him know what supplies and medicines were that they needed, or whether they needed training.
So, with some support from DFAT’s Innovation Exchange, he developed an online tool that’s now being used in six countries to provide timely and reliable data about health clinics and medicine stocks.
His tool, that he called it “Tupaia” now Tupaia was on Captain Cook’s legendary voyages as they particularly went around New Zealand and when they first came to Australia, in a little part I know pretty well in Kurnell in Sydney. He named it after Tupaia because it’s all about communication, Tupaia was a translator or intended to be as he had served with the Polynesian peoples. And this has made a huge difference this translation tool, this communications tool to healthcare in small villages
Over the next five years, another 5000 people like Michael will volunteer in 26 different countries, and the difference they make will be life changing and it will be immeasurable.
Let me tell you about the community in Mundubbera in Queensland. After Cyclone Gita hit Tonga earlier this year, the local community stepped up to send help.
It was a sign of the same community spirit that prompted Tongan seasonal workers to be among the first to help evacuate people and property when the Burnett River flooded in 2013 and a third of the town was underwater.
The local deputy mayor has recently visited Tonga to donate relief supplies. What goes around is coming around. We’ve got their back, they’ve got ours.
These stories are happening right across Australia and in the Pacific. It’s about who we are and what we do.
It’s what I meant when I talk about family. Whanau as they call it in Polynesian and Maori. They are the real ties that bind us. On sports fields and in churches, in schools and universities and between our defence and our police forces.
So in conclusion let me say this for all these great stories of human connection, our relationships with our Pacific friends need to be nurtured and valued.
And if our standing and influence in the Pacific is to grow, our commitment must be genuine, authentic and enduring.
The world is changing, it’s true and we need to ensure that our Pacific partnerships get stronger with time, that we never take them for granted, that we are a reliable and steady member of the family.
I want to see a new level of respect, familiarity and appreciation between us. Where our shared interests sit alongside shared values.
That’s not to say we will always agree. But that’s not the true test of friendship or family. Tell me a family that always agrees.
The real test is showing respect, love, commitment, and knowing that together we can make our region and all of our communities even stronger.
Let me say my final words to 3 Brigade.
I want to thank you for two things, well three you’ve been standing for a little while, thank you.
But on two things, you are known throughout the ADF and government for the way you look after each other when wounded.
Please keep doing what you are doing. “Mates helping mates”. That’s what it means to be Australian. And one of our core values of the Defence Forces and Australian Army.
Second, for most of Australia, summer-time is the time to kickback – cicadas, cricket, the beach – long days, relaxing nights, good times. Times to remember, times that matter.
But it’s wet season up here again, and you are always ready for the people of North Queensland in particular. You were the backbone of the clean-up after Cyclone Debbie. I want to thank you for the sacrifices you make and always being at the ready to help your fellow Australians and to go where ever your need is required, where your service is required.
It’s been an honour to be amongst you once again here today. It is one of the great privileges of being a Prime Minister to be able to thank Australian Service Men and Women whether it’s here at 3rd Brigade or anywhere else around this country or anywhere around the world for their tremendous service. We deeply respect it, we deeply thank you for it and we thank your families and friends for the sacrifices they make to enable you to serve and do the job that you love. It’s an honour to be with you here today you are part of a noble tradition -- here at the Barracks, in the Pacific and beyond.
Thank you for your service.