Press Conference with the Minister for Defence, Senator the Hon. Marise Payne, the Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin AC, and Lieutenant General Angus Campbell AO, DSC, Parliament House Canberra
SUBJECTS: Chief of the Defence Force and other appointments, Operation Sovereign Borders, Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting and foreign interference laws.
Good afternoon, I’m joined by the Defence Minister Senator Payne, the Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshall Binskin and the Chief of the Army, Lieutenant General Angus Campbell.
Now as you’re all aware, Air Chief Marshal Binskin’s term as Chief of the Defence Force, a four year term, is shortly coming to an end in July as is the term of Vice Chief of the Defence Force, Vice Admiral Ray Griggs. I’m announcing today that I’ll be recommending to the Governor General that Lt. General Angus Campbell be appointed Chief of the Defence Force and that Vice Admiral David Johnston be appointed Vice Chief of the Defence Force.
Now the leadership renewal of the Australia Defence Force that we’re announcing today will ensure that we have a seamless transition in the uniformed leadership of our Defence Forces at a critical time in our history. Our forces are engaged in conflicts and dangerous missions in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world, where coordination with our allies and partners and leadership at the cutting-edge of technology is more important than ever. We’re also undertaking the largest modernisation of the capabilities of the Australian Defence Force in our peacetime history. It is a massive national enterprise that we are undertaking.
That is why we need to have the finest minds, the finest leaders at the helm of the ADF.
I want to congratulate Lt. General Campbell, the Chief of Army and of course he’s well known in that role and his many other roles including as the Commander of Operation Sovereign Borders. He brings leadership and experience to this vital role. I want to also extend my congratulations to Vice Admiral David Johnston who is currently Chief of Joint Operations and responsible for planning and executing our military campaigns and exercises. I’m looking forward to working with both Admiral Johnston and General Campbell very, very closely. Australian people can have enormous trust and confidence in both of these new leaders of our defence force.
Now, in my time as Prime Minister, it has been a great privilege to work with Air Chief Marshal Binskin who will retire from the ADF at the end of his tenure in July. During his period in command of the ADF, we’ve seen our Defence Forces commence operations in Iraq, Syria, in the battle to degrade and defeat ISIL or Daesh, transition from combat to advise and assist in Afghanistan and play a ‘game-changing role’ in support of the armed forces of the Philippines in liberating Marawi from an ISIL insurgency. That remark about the game-changing nature of the ADF's involvement, that was what the Chief of the Philippines armed forces said to me. So this is a huge esteem and recognition for the ADF's role in defeating that insurgency, so close to home, how important that role of the ADF was.
So, I want to thank Air Chief Marshal Binskin for his leadership. I want to also acknowledge and thank Vice Admiral Griggs and Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Tim Barrett who are both retiring after exceptional careers of more than 40 years. Vice Admiral Griggs has been the Vice Chief of the Defence Force and of course, Tim Barrett has been Chief of Navy, as I said.
Both of have had distinguished careers. Both have played very influential roles in the revitalisation of the Australian Defence Force and in particular, in the massive investment in the new naval capabilities. We wish them all the very best in the next stage of their careers. I hope they'll have opportunities for further public service. Along with Air Chief Marshal Binskin they can be proud that they left our Defence Forces in an even stronger position.
So, I look forward to working with the incoming chiefs when they’re appointed in July, as the Australia Defence Force continues its most significant period of modernisation and renewal in peacetime.
I now ask the Defence Minister to add to my remarks.
SENATOR THE HON. MARISE PAYNE, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE:
Thank you very much Prime Minister, it's a great pleasure to add to your remarks today and let me acknowledge Air Chief Marshal Binskin and Lt General Campbell as well. In addition to the appointments the Prime Minister has announced, we have also indicated today that following confirmation of those appointments, three further senior appointments will be made within the ADF.
The Chief of Joint Operations role will be taken up by Air Vice-Marshal Mel Hupfeld who has been Air Commander of Australia and who has more recently been Head of Force Design for the ADF.
The Chief of Navy role will be taken up by Rear Admiral Mike Noonan known to many as the immediate past Deputy Chief of Navy, but certainly known to me for a long time and particularly during his stewardship of HMAS Parramatta which is a frigate very close to my heart.
The role of Chief of Army will be taken by Major General Rick Burr following the confirmation of these appointments that the Prime Minister has announced this afternoon.
Let me make a few brief comments in relation to some of the appointments. Firstly starting with Lieutenant General Campbell. It's fair to say, as the Prime Minister indicated, that the Lieutenant General Campbell has demonstrated his leadership across many roles in his career. From operational periods of the highest tempo, to what some might call a character-building period in Prime Minister and Cabinet some years ago. He will be superb Chief of the Defence Force and I look forward to working with him.
We are, as the Prime Minister said, in a very dynamic strategic environment. It is vital to contribute with our strong leadership of the ADF exemplified by those who have been holding positions to date. We also have to continue the implementation of the Defence White Paper to modernise our capabilities, to expand our international engagement and to build and reshape our workforce, as the Prime Minister has alluded to.
I add my congratulations to those of the Prime Minister, to the current Chief of Joint Operations as he is promoted to Vice Chief of the Defence Force, Vice Admiral David Johnston. There will be many other opportunities, I am confident, but let me also acknowledge and pay tribute to Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin for his outstanding leadership in the role. Through the processes of the development of the Defence White Paper and the first principles review of the defence organisation, a force structure review and an Integrated Investment Program underpinning all of those, campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan and our border protection activities - just to cite a few – he has brought a couple of very important characteristics to those roles; a calmness and a good humour which are occasionally in short supply at times of highest tension.
He will have more time for flying and riding and not necessarily in that order, I suspect, but also more time with Gitte and his family. We thank your family very much for the contribution they have made over many decades in support of Air Chief Marshal Binskin and indeed in support of the ADF.
I also want to thank and to acknowledge Vice Admiral Ray Griggs and his management particularly of the phenomenal task of managing the Integrated Investment Program that underpins the Defence White Paper. The associated Investment Committee activities, the development of the capability lifecycle, all of which will stand Defence in very good stead for the future.
I wish him the very best and look forward to his continuing contribution to Australia.
I also thank and acknowledge Vice Admiral Tim Barrett. I imagine that for any Chief of Navy, the greatest joy in life must be decisions to commission ships. On that measure, Vice Admiral Barrett, overseeing Government decisions to procure off-shore patrol vessels, future frigates and future submarines will depart his career a happy man. Let alone the LHDs and the AWDs that are already in service.
On my part, it is an enormous honour to have worked with all of the ADF leadership in the last two and a half years. To those who will complete their service in June of this year, Air Chief Marshal Binskin and Vice Admiral Griggs and Vice Admiral Barrett, my very sincere thanks.
AIR CHIEF MARSHAL MARK BINSKIN AC:
Prime Minister and Minister, thank you very much for your kind words.
This is a good day for Defence. It marks the change of the leadership team. It happens about three or four years and for me, I have to say the last four years have not been dull. There has been a lot going on. It is a continued time of high operational tempo around the world, with our forces deployed on exercises and operations, significant investment in the Defence Force for the future and ongoing reform within the Department and within the ADF.
I still have two and a half months to go and I want everyone to know, I will have my full dedication to that job over that two and a half months. But I have no doubt and I have every bit of confidence in the new team when they take over in July, to be able to continue with the tempo, continue with the change and continue to command and lead the Australian Defence Force into the future.
LIEUTENANT GENERAL ANGUS CAMPBELL AO, DSC:
I’d just like to say that I deeply appreciate the confidence and trust being displayed and given to me by the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defence and the Chief Defence Force. It's a great privilege and honour to serve.
It is also an extraordinary responsibility to lead and take care of the men and women of the Australian Defence Force.
I too, I want to acknowledge the continuing service of Air Chief Marshal Binskin in that role. I’ll do everything I can to build on his legacy and to do my very best for the Australian Defence Force and indeed for this great country.
Prime Minister in making your announcement today you’re losing an experienced leader in Mark Binskin and also the Vice Chief Ray Griggs. Has the recent commentary about the Vice Admiral played any role, had any impact on your decision? And what do you see as greatest challenge for Australia’s new Defence Chief?
Well, dealing with the second part of your question first. As we have described, the Australian Defence Force faces an ever more complex operating environment around the world. The challengers and challenges are becoming more sophisticated all the time, particularly in terms of technology.
Technology has given the single actor - whether it is on the battlefield or behind a computer screen with a keyboard - more lethality than ever before, in the history of conflict. This poses enormous challenges for our defence, for the defence of the nation, for our national security and of course, it goes right through the whole national security spectrum, into domestic security as well.
So, it's a very complex environment. But we have in Angus Campbell somebody who, as he has just said, will build on the remarkable legacy of Mark Binskin and his leadership and as David Johnston will on the legacy of Ray Griggs. I know that we’ve got the best people for these vital roles.
Now, in terms of other people, you’ve mentioned Vice Admiral Griggs, an outstanding officer, an outstanding leader. But you know, there is only one person that can be the Chief of the Defence Force. We have a lot of talent in our Australian Defence Force, we really do. We are blessed with a lot of talent.
I have to make the decision ultimately as to who I regard as the best person for the role and my decision has been that Angus Campbell is the best person for this job.
CDF, a question for you or incoming CDF, whoever wants to answer it. What’s the biggest strategic threat facing the Australian military at the moment?
There’s only one CDF at a time and it's him.
AIR CHIEF MARSHAL MARK BINSKIN AC:
From a strategic point of view, I think it's the concurrency of the security challenges around the world today and the diversity of those challenges that we need to be across. Then you look at the change that we're going through, the significant investment in the force and the changing that force to be a fifth generation force for the future, so bringing all those together.
But we're well placed to do it. We’ve got some fantastic people. We're getting some fantastic, top of the line equipment to be able to operate into the future.
So we'll be in a position to be able to handle those challenges for the future.
If you were explaining that to a typical Australian though, would you be saying that a particular country or region posed a particular threat?
AIR CHIEF MARSHAL MARK BINSKIN AC:
I don't think you should focus on a particular country or a particular region, because then you're starting to prejudge what the next challenge may be. I think you need to be broader than that.
The Defence Force, as we’ve been postured in the past and we will be in the future, you’ve got to be capable of handling a multitude of contingencies from HADR - humanitarian assistance and disaster response - right the way through to high-end war fighting and not try and pre-empt the scenario that might be used in.
Prime Minister, in announcing all of those roles there’s a number of consequent promotions that occur as well, Chief Defence Force just talked about fifth generation force, it seemed pretty gender biased towards male. I'm not sure if there was a female name there? I didn't catch one.
Is that something that you're looking to actively address, the gender split in the top ranks of the Defence Force?
Well, the answer is yes but I'm going to ask the Defence Minister to address it further.
MINISTER FOR DEFENCE:
Mark, thank you very much. The situation at the moment is such that there aren't senior women at the very pinnacles of the three services.
But that is, I think, positively described as a work-in-progress led by the Chiefs, the current Chief of Army, the Current Chief of Navy and the Chief of Air Force. They have done a significant amount of work with their senior women to bring them through the ranks and to work with them to ensure that they have the breadth of command experience that adds to their leadership, their existing leadership capabilities.
I have made it my business to make sure that I meet with those people in the last few years. I'm very confident that standing not too far behind the gentleman that you see in front of us, there's an impressive cadre of women coming our way.
General Campbell, can I ask specifically about one country, China? Are you concerned by their militarisation in the South China Sea, the reports they were looking, sniffing around for a presence in the South Pacific and just generally where do you think China is going to end up in the next few years?
LIEUTENANT GENERAL ANGUS CAMPBELL AO, DSC:
Look, I'll just acknowledge the Prime Minister's point, there is one Chief at a time. We have a very constructive relationship with China and that's all I intend to say. Thank you.
General Campbell, can I ask a question in relation to Operation Sovereign Borders or at least your style there? You were very well-known for the phrase "on water matters." Does that give us any indication of the approach you'll take to dealing with the media once you're in the top job? Or are you expecting to perhaps, take a more open approach with information?
I'm sure that my approach will be appropriate to the position and to the relationship between the Australian Defence Force and the media.
Prime Minister, what, if any, difference did your upcoming trip to CHOGM make to the timing of this announcement? Was it important to send a message to other world leaders that the progression is in place as you depart?
No, it's not related. But thank you very much for allowing me to segue to the Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting which I'll be leaving for this week.
That’s going to be a very important opportunity naturally for all of the heads of the Commonwealth countries to meet together in London and the opportunity for me in particular, to discuss security issues with Prime Minister Theresa May. The Prime Minister and I have already spoken, as I think I mentioned yesterday, concerning the very successful, responsible, proportionate, calibrated and very well targeted strike on Syrian chemical weapons research and storage facilities.
I spoke to Theresa May about that two days ago. I look forward to talking with her further about all of these issues. There are range of very important national security issues that we will be addressing in the UK and of course, four of the Five Eyes will be present, naturally, Canada is obviously represented, as is New Zealand.
Then after that, I will be visiting Germany. Again we'll be having very close discussions there on trade matters as well, but obviously security matters and of course we are partnering with Rheinmetall to build the Boxer Combat Reconnaissance Vehicles which are part of the reinvestment in and revitalisation of the Army, part of the Land 400 program.
I'll also be travelling to France to open the Sir John Monash Centre. This is a new museum at Villers-Bretonneux which is named after Australia's greatest general. It is there to commemorate the extraordinary contribution and heroism of the Australians who served on the Western Front in the First World War.
That will be a very, very important and very moving occasion. We will of course conduct the Anzac Day service at Villers-Bretonneux on the 25th. In the course of that visit, I'll have the opportunity to meet with the French Prime Minister. Again security, as always, is a key part of those discussions as they will be when President Macron himself visits Australia in early May.
PM can I ask about foreign inference, a national security question. Will the Government look at giving greater protection to charities? Because without that Labor might withdraw support for foreign interference laws.
Well look Andrew, the bill has gone to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. We always seek to obtain bipartisan and wide cross-party support wherever possible, for national security legislation. I think it's very important.
I don't want to go through particular amendments, but it's a matter of very intense consideration. The fundamental point, however, remains - leaving aside the details of drafting – the fundamental point remains; that we need to ensure that our laws are fit-for-purpose, that they're up-to-date and that they serve to ensure that Australian politics and Australian public administration is not interfered with or improperly influenced by foreign interests.
We are an open democracy and we welcome people having their say, as long as it's open and disclosed. But our espionage laws, our foreign interference laws were written in a bygone era. They needed to be brought up-to-date. That's what we're doing.
We are doing everything we can, whether it's through the legislation and the tranches of national security legislation, one after another, to be brought through the Parliament. Important legislation that in fact, Air Chief Marshal Binskin was responsible for at the outset. I just hope Air Chief Marshal you don't mind me relating this, but it was several years ago now when we were travelling to the Middle East and the CDF raised with me the concern about the way the Australian legal framework - our own criminal laws - made it very difficult for Australian forces operating in the Middle East to target terrorists, unless they actually were engaged in combat at a particular time. In other words, unless they had a bomb or a gun or a sword in their hand.
So, we needed to broaden that and the CDF presented that problem to me, that legal problem to me. The work was done, complex drafting work and we secured the passage of those amendments.
But to the question, you can see there might be some unintended consequences with regards to your foreign interference laws when it comes to charities?
No. Thank you for the invitation to make a sort of general concession, but it’s a detailed drafting business. I can tell you I am committed, the Minister is committed and the CDF and the incoming CDF are all committed - as I hope we all are - to keeping Australia safe.
Our job, our first job, is to defend the security of this nation and to preserve the freedoms that we exercise in this nation. If I may just close on this point given the memorial that I'll be opening in France shortly; If you were to fling open all of the doors behind me, you’d see the Cabinet, go through the Great Hall, go right out the front door of the Parliament and what you would see at the other side of the lake is the Australian War Memorial.
It sits there, a reminder that all of the freedoms we enjoy, whether as Parliamentarians or whether as journalists, as citizens, in every capacity, all of our freedoms were won by the sacrifice of the men and women that are remembered across the lake.
It is a silent reminder that freedoms are hard-won. A high price has been paid for them and that is why our first commitment must always be to preserve them and enhance them and secure them, no matter where or how they are threatened.