PRIME MINISTER: As you just heard me say to the wonderful troops here from 2nd Commando [Regiment], the Australian Government has committed to $3 billion over the next 20 years and half a billion dollars over the next four years as part of a programme called GREYFIN which is going to significantly upgrade the kit and the other tools and resources available to our Commando and Special Forces teams all around the country. Our Special Forces are at the leading edge of the world and in fact, are sought after both for their expertise and advice with our partner forces all around the world. What I’ve seen on display today is a level of expertise, a level of capability that Australia should feel very proud of in terms of our serving men and women. But equally, one that should also make them feel safe. It’s their job to keep us safe. It’s my job as Prime Minister – our most important priority – is to keep Australians safe. And these are the people who are doing that job, not just overseas, but also through their capabilities here to deal with domestic counter-terrorism. And we want to thank them very much for their service and the best way to do that is making sure that they have the capability to continue to do that job for the next 20 years.
I mean, the sorts of things that you see around me today. These are the sorts of things that are going to be upgraded as part of that half a billion-dollar commitment over the next four years. And over the next 20 years, we will see it go through another generation of heightened levels of technology, heightened levels of research and innovation to ensure that we have the best possible capability for them to do the most dangerous of jobs.
So I want to thank them very much for their service, not only those who are serving here today but all who’ve served in 2nd Commando [Regiment] over the years. They have an impeccable record. The level of rotation of their services overseas, in Afghanistan in particular, has been simply extraordinary. And so we thank them for their service and of course, we thank their families also for the sacrifices that they’ve undertaken to enable their partners to be, and dads and mums, to be able to serve. So thank you to them.
This is going to be a very important part of our commitment, the biggest single commitment to upgrading the capability of our defence forces since the Second World War. This forms part of our commitment to increasing defence spending to 2 per cent of GDP, which is what we need to be doing to ensure that our Defence Forces are ready and fit and able and capable of being able to keep Australians safe in the 21st century.
Happy to take some questions.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, is the extra money a sign that you’re anticipating more deployments? And where would you see those deployments taking place?
PRIME MINISTER: This is about ensuring that our Special Forces continue to be on the leading edge of capability. Because the threats are always there, and the challenges are always there, and we must always be prepared to face them, not just now but for the next 20 years. And so whatever calls are made upon Australia, wherever we’re asked to turn out or indeed where we are taking the lead ourselves then we need to make sure that our forces are in a position to do so and that’s what it does.
JOURNALIST: But how can the extra spending be justified when some members of the Special Forces remain under investigation for war crimes?
PRIME MINISTER: To keep Australians safe. It’s that simple. Those matters you refer to are matters for another investigation because, in this country, that’s how we ensure there’s transparency around these matters. The $3 billion investment is to keep Australians safe, and in particular to keep those who are doing that job on our behalf, putting themselves in harm’s way, safe as well as they go about that task. This is one of the most important investments that I can make as a Prime Minister, to ensure that our Special Forces are equipped to do the job that we require of them to protect Australia and to keep Australians safe.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, have you made a decision on joining the U.K. and the U.S. to police the Persian Gulf?
PRIME MINISTER: Not at this point. We are consulting with other countries that are either already indicated their preparedness to join such an operation and those who are considering it, to ensure that we are fully informed of what the operations are and any role that Australia can play, as I said the other day. This is a very specific task that’s about keeping shipping lanes open, about de-escalating tensions, and ensuring that there is freedom of navigation. These issues are very important to Australia and they’re very important to all peace-loving people.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, do you have any concerns about Healius being taken over by a foreign company?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, they’re questions that go to the Foreign Investment Review Board and ultimately to the Treasurer and our foreign investment laws only allow foreign investments where we don’t think it’s contrary to the national interest. And so you can expect those conditions, those analyses to be done on any such investments to ensure that Australia’s national interest is always first and foremost in any decisions that are taken.
JOURNALIST: Do you support the right of backbenchers like Andrew Hastie to make public comments about… make warnings about China’s strategic advances?
PRIME MINISTER: Well I refer, I made comments comment about that the other day. I’d simply say this – that the Government is fully aware of the complexity that is involved in our region and the challenges that we face in the future. It is a highly complex environment and we are fully aware and doing what is necessary to ensure we can manage those complex relationships going into the future. And we also are careful as a Government to ensure that we don’t seek to make them even more complex than they need to. And that’s what Australians can always count on. We will be measured. We will be careful and we will put Australia’s national interests first. It’s Australia’s national interests that our Government is focused on, in how we manage our relationships, whether it be here specifically in the Indo-Pacific or more broadly around the world. We know who our allies are, we know who our partners are, our strategic partners in the region, and we’re for an independent, sovereign Indo-Pacific. And our judgments and the measures that we’re taking, the comments that we make, the way we engage with our partners are all designed to achieve that. It is in Australia’s national interest to have an independent and sovereign Indo-Pacific where all the nations of this part of the world can engage with each other freely, according to international norms and the rule of law, to ensure each of those countries can pursue their own interests and certainly so Australia can pursue ours.
JOURNALIST: Do you think that Andrew Hastie’s comments likening the rise of China to the rise of Nazi Germany were inflammatory and did make those problems more complex?
PRIME MINISTER: I made comments on that the other day, so I don’t feel the need to anything further to it.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you mentioned it’s the biggest increase in spending since the Second World War. Why is it in the national interest to suddenly up our spending to the 2 per cent of GDP?
PRIME MINISTER: Because when we came to government it had fallen to the lowest level since before the Second World War and it was imperative that we brought our capability of our Defence Forces, whether it’s our Special Forces here, or our naval capability, or Air Force capability. This day last week I was up at the Land 400 project up in Queensland and we are going through the process of upgrading the capability. Because as a sovereign nation, we need to be in a position to pursue our national interests, to defend it where necessary, to join with our allies and partners to do so when called upon. Because this is what keeps Australia free and this is what keeps Australia safe. And my Government will always do what’s necessary to keep Australia free and to keep Australia safe and those who stand behind you right now are involved in that task each and every day and they will always have our full support and backing to do that job. So we’re pleased to make these investments. They’re important investments to make and my Government will keep making them. Thank you very much.