Today is a very significant, a very exciting day in the ADF, for all Australian Air Force, and all of us who are charged with protecting our nation’s security. And I want to pay tribute to the men and women of the ADF, particularly our Air Force who have taken delivery of this vitally important plane. This is the newest edition to our Air Force.
The Poseidon is a cutting-edge surveillance and anti-submarine aircraft which will dominate the skies around our nation’s coastline. It will greatly enhance our ability to keep our borders secure and guard the maritime approaches to Australia.
This aircraft is one of the key capabilities set out in my Government’s 2016 Defence White Paper. It’s a $4.9 billion investment in our nation’s safety and security. We’ve just had a demonstration of some of the very impressive capabilities on board this morning. It is a potent and highly versatile aircraft, as well as being able to undertake sophisticated surveillance operations at great distances. Patrolling our maritime approaches, assisting with search and rescue – it can also conduct anti-submarine and maritime strike missions. It will replace the Orions that have served Australia so well over four decades, 1968.
We can see the old and the new, the aircraft just behind us there - a truly remarkable effort.
The Poseidon, the P-8s, represent a very significant upgrade over the Orions. For example, the acoustic system on board the new aircraft has four times the processing capacity of the Orion system - which means that it can process the signal traffic, the information derived from more sonar buoys at once, enabling the detection and tracking of submarines over a much, much larger area.
And the crew showed us the extent of that additional surveillance capacity, and it is formidable. This is an enormous step up in capability. Our search and rescue responsibilities cover about 11 per cent of the world's surface. This aircraft can travel further, get there faster and stay on station for longer.
Very significantly, unlike the Orions, the Poseidons, the P-8s will be able to be refuelled by our KC-30A refuellers, meaning they'll be able to stay airborne for up to 20 hours at a time.
This is a significant step also in the ability to collect and disseminate information to other defence platforms. It will enable our ADF to be fully joined up, providing better situational awareness for all of our units, for all of the ADF.
It also represents another example of our very close, indeed intimate, working relationship with the United States. Only by being the very closest and trusted of allies are we able to share the most capable and cutting-edge technology, which provides mutual benefits for both our nations.
So, I want to congratulate the Chief of Defence and all of the ADF for delivering this project ahead of schedule and ahead of budget. It demonstrates our commitment to protecting our national interests and defending our economic security, keeping our borders secure.
I am going to ask the Minister for Defence Industry, Christopher Pyne, to say a few words about this and then the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton, to say a few words as well.
These aircraft will be absolutely critical elements in the work of Australia's border protection forces, our ADF, serving Operation Sovereign Borders, ensuring we can maintain the integrity of our Australian borders, ensuring that we can continue to say that it is only the Australian Government that determines who comes to Australia.
I will now ask the Minister, Mr Pyne, to address you.
MINISTER FOR DEFENCE INDUSTRY:
Thank you very much, Prime Minister and you've covered much of the enhancements that the Poseidon will bring to our defence capabilities, so I'll be brief. I would like to thank the Department of Defence and Air Force, in particular, for the management of this project.
As you said, it is a $5 billion project and it's been delivered on schedule - in fact, slightly ahead of schedule - and on budget, which is an achievement of a project of this size.
It will significantly enhance our military, our reconnaissance, our response capabilities around the northern reaches of Australia and beyond - continuing to underline Australia as a significant regional power. And it is another example of the Government getting on with the job as we have been doing, particularly in recent times.
So the receipt today of the Poseidon, the first of the Poseidons, of which there will be 12 initially, the signing of the contract with DCNS for the design of 12 submarines, the structural separation of the Australian Submarine Corporation, the choosing of Lockheed Martin the combat system integrator for the submarines, the signing of Joint Strike Fighter maintenance and sustainment here in Australia for the Pacific-Asia region for componentry and engines and frames.
All of these different projects in Defence are fulfilling the ambition that you have had as Prime Minister and we have all had to use Defence as a significant driver of our economy in new technologies, in advance manufacturing, in creating the kind of economic activity that we need in our country but as primarily, increasing as the number one priority the capability of our defence forces.
This project, and all the others, add to that ambition. It is a red-letter day for the Air Force but also another one for the Government.
MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION AND BORDER PROTECTION:
Prime Minister, Christopher, thank you very much everyone for being here today.
Can I say firstly, thank you very much to the crew that brought us from Avalon to Fairbairn here. It is an amazing aircraft and crew that all Australians should be very proud of. The work that the RAAF does, the Australian Defence Force does, is second to none in the world.
I want to acknowledge the fact that there are 16 agencies and departments within Operation Sovereign Borders and obviously the work that the Australian Border Force does in concert with the CDF, with the men and women of the Australian Defence Force but in particular, the RAAF, is an integral part of the success we have been able to achieve in stopping boats and stopping drownings at sea.
The fact is that many of the P-3 crew would have been involved at a time when those 1,200 people tragically lost their lives at sea and they were performing surveillance and taskings through Operation Sovereign Borders at that stage, which was of course a very different environment to that which we preside over today.
The work in to the future to stare down the threat from people smugglers will be enduring. The additional capacity with the P-8s will be very much an enhancing opportunity for us in the work we are doing in Operation Sovereign Borders and I look forward very much to the continued cooperation between the ADF and the ABF and the other agencies involved in what has been a very significant success in stopping boats, getting children out of detention, stopping those deaths at sea and now, for the Government, the absolute priority – to get family units and those who are most vulnerable off Nauru and Manus to the United States, to third countries otherwise, or in the case of people that have not been found to be refugees, back to their countries of origin.
The additional assets that we’ve invested, the almost $5 billion, will be an integral part in the fight against people smugglers for a long period to come.
Prime Minister, Labor’s Penny Wong has called for a recalibration, a re-examination of the Australia-US Alliance now that Donald Trump has won the election over there. She says this is a change-moment in history in Australia; she’ll not trade away its values. What kind of message do you think that sends to the US? Are there fractures in the bipartisan consensus on the alliance?
What Penny Wong is doing is sending a message from the left of the Labor Party which has always been uncomfortable with the US Alliance; they've always been uncomfortable with the United States. That is the Labor Party divided on that. You have Penny Wong going in one direction, wanting to move away from our most strongest, most important, most trusted, most enduring ally - wanting to move away, put our nation’s security at risk. And then on the other hand you have the right of the party trying to crabwalk back to where she has gone.
Labor is hopelessly divided on national security. They are hopelessly divided on border protection.
If I may just say this, we have seen the most extraordinary hypocrisy from Bill Shorten on the subject of 457 visas. This, from a man who when he was employment minister issued more 457 visas, more visas to foreign workers than any of his predecessors or anyone that came after him. He is an Olympic-grade 457 visa issuer.
Let’s be very clear about this. This is just a distraction on the part of Mr Shorten designed to cover up the divisions in the Labor Party on the fundamental issue of national security and border protection.
Mr Shorten should stop his hypocritical complaints about skilled migration and stand with the Government in saying 'no' to illegal migration, saying 'no' to people smugglers, supporting our legislation, which will send the most unequivocal message to the people smugglers - your trade is over. He should join us in stopping illegal migration. That's what we ask him to do in Australia's interests.
Prime Minister, are you at all concerned about talk in the US about a giant military force to counter [inaudible] China?
Well, the President-elect campaigned on a promise to increase investment in the US military and we support and welcome a strong United States.
When I spoke to the President-elect last week, we talked about the defence build-up that he is committed to and we discussed, and he was very interested to learn more about our commitments of which Christopher Pyne just spoke a little about, in particular our investment in our capabilities; our Air Force, army, land forces but of course, above all, the massive naval shipbuilding plan that we have. So a stronger United States means a safer world.
You're announcing spending this much money is a sure-fire way to secure our alliance with the US?
Australia has to defend – we have to take our Defence responsibilities seriously. We have to spend the resources that we need to keep our nation secure and do so in the context of our Alliance with the United States. We have to do so in the context of that very strong partnership. And I think the United States is entitled to expect its allies to make a commitment, a significant commitment to their own defence and to that partnership, and Australia does.
No-one can suggest that my Government is not absolutely committed to ensuring that the men and women of the ADF have the capabilities, have the resources, to keep our nation safe.
Prime Minister, how important is it to you that the Government ensures all of our military veterans find a job and keep it and what more can be done on that front?
Sorry, can you ask that again?
How important is it to you that the Government ensures all of our military veterans find a job and keep it and what more can be done in that regard?
Yes, thank you. You've asked about veterans' employment. Let me say - I've said this before, but it's worth repeating. In this - in these centenary years of the First World War, we should never forget we best honour the Diggers of 1916 by supporting the servicemen and women, the veterans and their families of 2016.
We must always be prepared to go beyond the monuments and the cenotaphs, go beyond the commemoration. We have to ensure that our veterans are given the greatest support.
You have seen the additional investment we have made in mental health services, you have seen how we have set it up so that any person who is either in the ADF, even if only for one day, whether they are serving or a veteran, will have access to mental health services to deal with PTSD and alcohol or other substance addiction. We are very focused on that.
But employment is critically important. I have set up a veterans employment initiative, which is bringing together leading employers across the private sector and the public sector to make sure that they are aware of the great skills our veterans have. The great skills, the experience they have of leadership, of organisation, self-discipline - these are skills of enormous value in every other line of work. We will make sure that our veterans are best prepared for them to then go on when their service is finished to great careers in the civilian world.
So yes, it is critically important, it is a very high priority and it is one of my personal initiatives to ensure that we care for the veterans of 2016. We focus on them, here today.
Prime Minister the Reserve Bank Governor is concerned about the level of household debt. Do you share that concern?
The level of household debt is a matter, it is always a matter of concern. I have to say though, because of the very low interest rates, serviceability is not as under pressure as it has been in earlier periods when rates were higher. It is something for central bank governors and those who manage the prudential matters for the banking sector to pay close attention to. That is one of the reasons the Council of Financial Regulators, of which the Reserve Bank is one, changed the rules relating to investment loans so that basically people were not able to borrow as much against the value of an investment property. That has taken some of the steam out of that market.
Prime Minister can we just get a comment on what Australia is doing to help the people in New Zealand? I believe HMAS Darwin is on its way?
It is indeed. We are providing the service of our helicopters to assist.
As I said to John Key only hours after the earthquake occurred, Australia stands to offer and deliver and provide every resource that can be of use to New Zealand. We are, and John understands that, and the Kiwis do the same for us.
The Anzac tradition has a great martial history. But we are mates in peace, we are mates in war and we are mates when natural disaster strikes and we stick together.
Thanks very much.