Political leaders took centre stage on the final day of the Submarine Institute of Australia (SIA) 8th Biennial Conference 2016, which was held at the Shine Dome in Canberra.
This was particularly timely given the election of Mr Donald Trump as US President the previous week, which raised debate in political circles about how this would impact on the Australia-US alliance.
In a doorstop at the conference, the Minister for Defence Industry, Hon Christopher Pyne MP, said Australia is very much “linked in to the ‘Trump Team’” and Australians are “not strategic bludgers”.
In his keynote address to the conference, Minister Pyne said the Government is placing investment in defence at the forefront of promoting economic development.
“We want to use defence to underpin our economic prosperity and to put the skills and innovation that characterise our defence industries at work, to form the basis of the smart, high-tech manufacturing of the 21st century,” the Minister said.
The Government will be investing just under $200 billion in the decade from now until 2025-26 in building defence capacity and growing Australia’s defence budget to at least 2 per cent of the nation’s gross domestic product.
Despite the long lead times, time remains critical, according to the Minister.
“Time wasted at the beginning of any project is time that must be made up at the end,” Mr Pyne said. “That means you must get matters right from the start. We must be able to realise our ambitious goals.”
The Minister has a positive view about the election of Mr Trump, saying: “I think it’s fair to say that given the consistent rhetoric around boosting military spending in the US by tens, if not hundreds, of billions of dollars, there will be increased opportunities for Australian defence industry.”
The Shadow Minister for Defence, Hon Richard Marles, delivered the closing address for this year’s conference.
Like many, he is enthusiastic about the increased investment in defence spending, including on the design and construction of the future submarines, and noted that a future Labor Government will be a custodian of the future submarines, given the length of the project.
“On national security, our (Labor’s) first instinct is bipartisanship,” Mr Marles said. “Defence is, generally, not an area of party political divide. Minister Pyne is right to point out the Trump administration will provide numerous opportunities.”
Mr Marles added that despite Labor’s bipartisan approach, it intends to hold the Government to account.
In addition, he said Labor has a “traditional view” about the defence portfolio in that there should be one Minister for Defence.
Mr Marles pledged all existing contracts and undertakings would be honoured – to avoid sovereign risk – under a future Labor Government.
His address completed the most successful SIA conference to date. The event wouldn’t have been possible with the support of the conference sponsors.