The opening day of ADM's 5th Northern Australia Defence Summit featured a very strong line-up of high profile speakers including host NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner and former President of the Republic of Indonesia Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Gunner opened the day's proceedings with a charged speech outlining the potential of the NT to be a key Australian and regional defence space and national security hub and his government's plans to achieve it. He said the vision was multi-layered and at its heart about regional stability and safety.

“It is also about NT businesses and the economy, and building a strong self-generating local defence industry that would see more work in the hands of our local builders and manufacturers.”

Interesting points were the NT's keen interest to base units of the MQ-4C Triton maritime surveillance UAS and future OPVs in the north. Northrop Grumman CEO Ian Irving is due to speak further on the Triton topic during today's program.

Gunner said many national and international companies now operate in the NT and local enterprise is expanding as new areas of opportunity emerge.

“Just one example of this: we could be launching rockets into space from Arnhem Land within a year.”

Gunner had already travelled to the recent International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide to meet with space industry interested in the NT, notably Equatorial Launch Australia.

“Being close to the equator means rockets need less fuel to enter the atmosphere; Arnhem Land's proximity to the sea also allows for safe and reliable drop zones.”

He applauded the pilot project, announced earlier in the year by Defence Minister Marise Payne, ensuring bidders tendering for major projects must demonstrate how local industry would be engaged.

“Defence and Northern development are inseparable, just as northern development and indigenous participation are inseparable."

Indeed indigenous engagement and partnerships are key to the NT's plan to boost the local economy and become a key defence player. This was made apparent by NORFORCE Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel John Papalitsas' keynote on partnering for positive outcomes.

The regiment is taking great strides toward 'closing the gap' and supporting improved opportunities for indigenous Australians. LTCOL Papalitsas explained how he'd often get phone calls from HQ about what NORFORCE was planning for NAIDOC week and that his usual response was “nothing”. 

“In NORFORCE, every week is NAIDOC week – when it becomes par for the course and you accept people for who they are and they're integrated to the point where they form almost half of your workforce, we don't need a special week, or a special flag, it's just business as usual.”

Indonesian perspective

Former President Yudhoyono's anticipated speech referred to the Australian Indonesian partnership as having significant strategic consequence in the region. He drew parallels between the two countries: they are the only two countries that border the Indian and Pacific Oceans; both are middle powers who seek active rules in regional and international affairs; both are members of the G20 and APEC; and in terms of economic size Australia and Indonesia are ranked 14th and 16th respectively.

“This is why I am very pleased to see the progress of our comprehensive partnership and the Lombok Treaty.”

Yudhoyono is concerned to see the declining state of relations between the major powers such as China, the US, Russia and Japan.

“I do not want to echo those who say we are entering a new Cold War but it does seem like we are heading toward a state of geopolitical depression; for middle powers like Indonesia and Australia it is important that we pursue policies that can help ameliorate this worrying state of affairs.”

Despite Yudhoyono's hope that we could expect a more coherant Asia policy from Trump during forthcoming visits to Vietnam and the East Asia Summit in the Philippines next month, news broke almost simultaneously that the US President had pulled out of the talks.

He stressed the increasing need for ASEAN to retain its central influence in the region and maintain its coherence, as rising strategic rivalries posed a risk it would be pulled in different directions by countries outside the region.

“Similar to Trump's 'America First' position, ASEAN countries should adopt an 'ASEAN First' stance.”
The former President and Defence Minister was encouraged by the sight, as he arrived in Darwin, of Indonesian F-16 fighters engaged in an exercise with RAAF F/A-18 Hornets.

“This shows that military-to-military cooperation between partners is needed and it's also a good sign of confidence building measures being taken in our region.”

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