Subjects: Announcement of the Future Maritime Surveillance Capability project.
I'm pleased to be up here in Townsville today. Our maritime surveillance is an incredibly important aspect for us in North Queensland, but right across the country. We're worried about illegal fishers, we're worried about all of those threats: incursions across our borders – whether it's drugs, whether it's gun parts, people, whatever it might be – it's incredibly important for Australia, our sovereignty, to make sure that we can keep our maritime borders safe and secure.
Two of the men who lead that cause, I'm very pleased to be here with today; Rear Admiral Peter Laver, as well as Air Vice-Marshal Steve Osborne, two of the men that Australians wouldn't see day-to-day, but they should know that they lead very impressive people who provide support on the front line for us – not just here on the ground in Townsville, in Cairns, Darwin, right across the country – but importantly out of Canberra as well. So it's great to have the gentlemen here with us today.
As some of you would have seen, the Government's very keen to continue to invest in our surveillance assets and we need surveillance assets not just in the air and of course on the sea, but we need to have cutting edge technology available to us and it's very important, in terms of the future capability that we need, in terms of our surveillance, that we are speaking with companies here in Australia, but across the world about cutting-edge technologies, innovations and ways in which we can more effectively and more efficiently cover the mass of water that we need to protect and to defend our borders.
We're going to do that in a formal way with the private sector, asking them to come to us with ideas about how we can use the latest technologies to integrate that in with the assets that we have both in terms of Border Force, but also Defence assets and other civilian assets that we can deploy from time-to-time.
So I'm very pleased to be here today. I might ask the two gentlemen to say some words and then happy to take questions on this and other issues.
REAR ADMIRAL PETER LAVER:
Thank you Minister. I absolutely echo the Minister's comments. Maritime Border Command patrols a vast area of our sea approaches, encompassing nearly 12 per cent of the Earth's ocean surface, ranging from up here – the complex waterways in our tropical North – down to the deep Southern Ocean.
We maintain a continuous presence at sea and in the air to deal with civil maritime security threats, targeted by available intelligence. Those threats include protection of our vessels and offshore infrastructure, protection of our marine environment and our natural resources, and of course the interdiction of illegal attempts to move people and goods across our borders.
Australia therefore needs a complex surveillance capability to respond to these tasks and on occasions, to assist the Maritime Safety Authority to respond to search and rescue incidents.
Of course Defence has provided some of these capabilities, but those new capabilities are optimised for military use and are not always available.
The Australian Border Force therefore needs a complementary surveillance capability to deal with these tasks and that's indicative of the Dash 8 behind us, preparing for a surveillance sortie today, straight after this media conference, that has provided Australia such excellent service in the past and to date.
The FMSC project – the Future Maritime Surveillance Capability project – conducted by Home Affairs and Border Force, will provide that next generation capability. That surveillance effort and the response effort is critical to Australia's interests, both in terms of ensuring the prosperity of Australia and our access – continued access – to natural resources because of our reliance on the oceans for trade and also our national well-being. Thank you.
AIR VICE-MARSHALL STEPHEN OSBORNE:
Thank you Minister for the opportunity to explain the importance of this project to protecting our borders from the people smuggling threat.
Operation Sovereign Borders has been in effect now for almost five years and in that time we've returned something like 827 people from 34 ventures. We've also disrupted over 2,500 people in about 80 ventures that were being planned offshore and we did that with the cooperation of our regional partners and not only that, we've also deterred an unknown number of people from getting on the boats in the first place.
But that threat of people smuggling has not gone away, it remains and certainly up here in North Queensland, I don't have to point that out given the recent events in the Daintree, where we had a venture arrive. Now fortunately, that venture was a failure. Everybody on board that vessel was returned to Vietnam from where they came, but it is a really potent reminder that we cannot take for granted the threat of people smuggling and the threat that's posed by people who still might wish to come to this country illegally by boat.
That's why this project is so important. The people smugglers are criminals who will continue to adapt their tactics and their procedures and how they do their business, to exploit vulnerable people, just to make a buck and we're there to stop them. So we'll need to adapt our methods and our procedures and importantly our surveillance capabilities, so we can stay on top of the threat. That's why I'm very glad to see that this project will make it that much better for us to keep Australia's borders secure.
Minister, what capabilities don't you have now that you think you need and how much of a difference would that make?
Well I think, as Peter Laver has pointed out, just given the vastness of coastline that we need to protect, given the incursion with illegal fishing vessels, the maritime surveillance that's required to be deployed across sea rescues, you know the difficulties that we have across the Torres Strait, across the North and down the West Coast as well – that's not to speak of the complexities around people smuggling ventures – so there are drone technologies and obviously, they have played a significant part in some Middle Eastern operations and there's some deployment of those across the Home Affairs portfolio now, but that technology and the software associated with that technology is advancing rapidly.
Obviously, sonar devices and ways in which we can provide the latest in terms of that software and equipment to our Border Force and Naval personnel and other agencies that are involved in Operation Sovereign Borders and the suite of work otherwise, within the domain of the Home Affairs Department, specifically Australian Border force is important.
So look, there are many ways in which we can learn from international best practice and look at what's emerging in terms of technologies and ask the private sector to come back to us to best explain how that will be adapted into our requirements, and obviously, the Dash 8 and the Orions have provided unbelievably exceptional coverage to Australia for a long period of time and we want to see that continue into the future.
Minister, with the announcement with regards to the private sector; is there a certain amount of money that's on the table for the private sector if they were to come forward with ideas that are actually feasible?
Well yes, there will be and there are already companies that are looking at drone technology. For example at the recent Invictus Games and at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, one of our biggest threat concerns was either a vehicle borne incident, as we've seen in Paris and elsewhere, but also the threat from drone strike and we've seen again, that in other parts of the world. So there are companies already that are working on this to provide the technological response to that threat and we'll work with those companies and many companies, as I say, are working on R&D projects now or are in the final stages of trying to commercialise their particular technology. So we'll look at all of that.
But we've got significant amounts of money in the Budget over the forward estimates and obviously, into the out years, a commitment that will be enduring for us because as an island nation, we need to make sure we've got the best technology available to keep our waters safe, to keep our borders secure and to keep Australians safe and that's what we're investing it.
Minister, you've announced this in Townsville; what opportunities are there for local providers?
Well significant opportunities for companies here in Townsville, but around the country, obviously, there's been a significant investment through our investment into defence technology, into Defence Materiel, acquisitions that now require local content.
So this Government is putting more and more, particularly into defence, which is of great assistance to a city like Townsville, but we're providing it across the board in the ABF where we have a presence in port and I've just met with the ABF staff here, who provide support not only at the ports, but also at the mail centre and here at the airport as well.
So there's a lot of money that we're investing and Townsville's a great place to invest it and we want to make sure that we engage with those local businesses.
Given that we are talking about international best practice and very high-tech developments; is there scope to have local procurement given that Australia isn't necessarily skilled in those areas?
Well there is because there's a lot of investment. If you look around some of the industrial parks, small tilt slab sheds where they're working with some of the smartest minds in the world on this very area and looking at the use of sonar, looking at the use of that drone technology, there's an incredible amount of skill that's built up in a garrison city like Townsville and we want to tap into that skill – whether it's here, whether it's domestic, or whether it's international – we want to make sure that we can utilise that because the threat for us at our borders is only increasing, not diminishing, and so we need to be ahead of the game.
Over what timeline would you like to see the new capability rolled-out?
This will take this out to 2024, so there will be deployment as you would expect year-on-year, but we want to look at the horizon beyond 2024 so that we've got a new wave, a new generation of technology and investment that will see us be able to deal with the reality of the threat over the course of the next decade and beyond.
So this is a very significant investment and we can't keep our borders secured without it.
Thank you very much.