4 September 2023

The DSR—that is, the Defence Strategic Review—highlights the importance of Australian’s northern bases. Our bases in the Northern Territory and in the north-west of Australia in Western Australia are essential for Australia’s capability and are major drivers of economic activity for many communities. It was on this note that I had the privilege of being able to see firsthand the important role our ADF personnel do to protect our country. Last week, I went along with a number of members of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade and had the pleasure of inspecting a number of these ADF sites throughout Western Australia and the Northern Territory with my committee colleagues.

As the Australian Defence Force prepares to assume a historic degree of naval capability, we must remember that AUKUS is about more than just high-profile acquisitions. It is a comprehensive approach to our national security that requires the efforts of everyone involved in defence, from our personnel to industry to policymakers and thinkers. That’s why it is fundamental that across our nation—especially in this building—we have an accurate and holistic understanding of what it will take to enable and support the defence capabilities we need now and will need into the future. It’s for this reason that I’m chairing an inquiry into the capability and capacity of Australia’s defence industry, and it’s for this reason that I’m glad to take part in these site visits.

Our tour began in Perth, at HMAS Stirling—the home port of our current fleet of Collins-class submarines, the future base of Australia’s nuclear-powered submarine capability and the home of nearly 4,000 ADF personnel. Though HMAS Stirling will undoubtedly be a focal point for public and media attention over the coming years, it’s important to consider it in the context of the broader vision for regional security identified by the Defence Strategic Review. Over 1,000 kilometres up the coast, we inspected RAAF Base Learmonth—an integral loop in the chain of the northern Australian air base network. Strong investment by the Albanese government will ensure that RAAF Base Learmonth will continue to provide air and joint capability to the ADF, extending over maritime approaches to HMAS Stirling. Just down the road from Learmonth stand the 13 giant towers of Naval Communications Station Harold E. Holt. It is home also to state-of-the-art space surveillance equipment. The station’s very-low-frequency or VLF transmitters are some of the tallest structures on the continent, with transmission power measured in megawatts. It’s the most powerful transmission station in the southern hemisphere. The station provides vital low-frequency communication to our submarines and those of our allies, particularly the United States, and high-frequency communication services in support of Australian and allied forces within 3,700 kilometres of our coast. Another C-27 flight and 1,000 kilometres to the north-east, RAAF Base Curtin, like RAAF Learmonth, is one of the ADF’s air bases, maintained by small crews in peacetime and kept ready to receive and operate combat and logistics squadrons should the need arise. Travelling north one last time to RAAF Base Tindal, we toured the string of defence facilities that stand guard over the western and northern approaches to our great country over the course of four days.

These bases are essential enablers for Australia’s defence capability, current and future, as well as major drivers of economic activity for many local communities. We had the pleasure of meeting the ADF personnel who work around the clock enabling the operation of our current capabilities and whose expertise will be essential to our successful adoption of the recommendations of the Defence Strategic Review and implementation of the AUKUS agreement. Most valuably, the committee and I were left well-informed about the operation of defence bases in the Northern Territory and the north-west of Western Australia. The sheer expansiveness of our approaches is an excellent natural advantage that aids our defence, and we are investing in technologies and capabilities that will best complement and exploit this advantage. It’s clear to me, after inspecting these bases, that these facilities constitute the backbone upon which we can build and maintain a sophisticated and efficient defence force, a defence force capable of rising to the challenges of an increasingly complex strategic environment.

I want to thank the committee staff who coordinated these inspections and made them possible. Thank you to all the ADF personnel—in particular, Lieutenant Colonel Luke Dawson—who were so gracious in sharing their time and expertise with the members of the committee. While I’m on my feet I want to acknowledge the ADF personnel who are here in the parliament this week as part of the ADF Parliamentary Program—including Lance Corporal Aden Morgan, who’s in my office—and thank Lieutenant Colonel Andy Martin for coordinating the program.