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From Step-up to stepping up capabilities: Northern Queensland’s contribution to defence

The view from the rear of an Australian Army CH-47 Chinook as it flies above Townsville, Queensland. Image courtesy of the Department of Defence.

How Northern Queensland is supporting Australia’s defence capabilities to promote long-term security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

How Northern Queensland is supporting Australia’s defence capabilities to promote long-term security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

As Australia’s focus on building its sovereign capability and supporting its partners in the Indo-Pacific grows, so does Queensland’s role in supporting our national defence capabilities.

With a long history of military presence and a strategic geographical location, Queensland is a natural partner for the Commonwealth to help promote long-term security and stability in the region.

Queensland is home to more than a quarter of all Australian Defence Force (ADF) military personnel with around 24,000 uniformed and civilian positions and 14 significant defence facilities with several of these located in the northern part of the state.

Defence industries support thousands of jobs in Queensland with more than 30 of the top defence suppliers located here. 

Queensland’s defence capabilities and connections are underpinned by a strong and growing industrial base and world-class capability across a number of areas.

These include aviation and ship maintenance, repair and overhaul, heavy vehicle manufacture, support and upgrades, command and control systems, reconnaissance and surveillance systems, space systems, hypersonics, robotics, unmanned systems and artificial intelligence and cyber security.

Queensland’s traditional defence industry strengths have allowed the state to contribute significantly to the Commonwealth’s sovereign capability endeavours.

And our focus on growing new and emerging defence capabilities complements the Sovereign Industrial Capability priorities outlined by the federal government to help build a robust, resilient and internationally competitive defence industry in Australia. As a nation, our defence priorities are expanding and transforming, but Queensland is future-focused and ready to respond.

Guided by a series of strategies and roadmaps that seek to strengthen and diversify Queensland’s economy, the state government is heavily invested in growing the defence industry ecosystem. 

And with more large regional centres than any other state, Queensland offers a decentralised network of capability with specialised local knowledge to contribute to the needs of the nation’s defence sector.  Cairns, Townsville, Rockhampton, Bundaberg, Gladstone and Toowoomba all support a significant ADF presence nearby or provide port and freight access for Defence.

Port of Townsville. Image courtesy of the Department of Defence.

Townsville is home to Lavarack Barracks, Australia’s largest Army base in close proximity to High Range Training Area and the new Greenvale Training Area.  

Rockhampton is the primary point of entry to the Shoalwater Bay Training Area, the ADF’s most diverse training area and home to multinational exercises such as Exercise Wallaby and the biennial Talisman Sabre.

HMAS Cairns is the most northern naval base on the eastern seaboard and is recognised as a strategic ‘gateway’ to the Pacific. 

Its historic ties to Pacific Island nations and cultures will play a vital role in the success of the Pacific Step-up—one of Australia’s most significant foreign policy priorities for the 21st century and beyond.

Far North and North Queensland are the ideal locations from which companies and services can contribute to the agreed re-build of the Lombrum Naval Base on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

Strengthening and supporting existing partnerships and building new ones to ensure that we meet emerging and future defence needs, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region, is a priority for Queensland.    

Through careful strategic planning and targeted investments in Northern Queensland, the state government is helping to develop and boost our technological edge and to build the necessary infrastructure to enable the Australian Defence Force to carry out its missions and support our communities in both peaceful and unstable times.


Defence industries in Queensland can’t grow at its current rate without significant investment in infrastructure and capability.

So, what are the game-changing defence projects underway north of the Tropic of Capricorn in Queensland? 

  1. A major $155 million refurbishment of the HMAS Cairns naval base over the next 10-15 years. This investment is part of the Australian government’s $270 billion commitment to Australia’s defence capability under the 2020 Force Structure Plan. The facility upgrade will also support the Arafura Class offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) with HMAS Cairns to house at least four of the 12 new OPVs. To complement this upgrade, the Queensland Government is supporting wharf upgrades through a $30 million investment in infrastructure and the identification of future opportunities at the Cairns Marine Precinct to improve industry’s ability to sustain Navy and Border Force capabilities. 

Cairns Marine Precinct 

  1. The establishment of a Regional Maintenance Centre in Cairns to coordinate the delivery of maintenance initially for the Navy’s new Evolved Cape Class Patrol Boats and building resilient local and regional supply chains.

  2. The announcement of TAFE North Queensland as the successful tenderer for a $36 million Navy contract to deliver training for Pacific Patrol Boat crews in Cairns. 

  3. Several initiatives are underway in Townsville, leveraging its close proximity to large field training areas and supporting its key role in mounting overseas operations.  A major expansion of the Port of Townsville has commenced with dredging of the main shipping channel to start soon, allowing it to accommodate vessels of up to 300 metres in length. The Port Authority is also working closely with the Department of Defence to accommodate future needs associated with Army watercraft.

  4. The Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), in partnership with the Queensland Government, is extending its unique tropical marine technology testing infrastructure and capability to support autonomous marine vehicle testing from its facility at Cape Ferguson/Cleveland Bay, near Townsville. Known as ReefWorks, the facilities are designed to test marine technologies and unmanned systems at different levels of technology readiness

Survey trials of the AIMS-QUT WAM-V autonomous surface vessel at the ReefWorks tropical marine technology test range near Townsville. Image courtesy of AIMS.

  1. Queensland has established a Flight Test Range at Cloncurry which is Australia’s first commercial drone flight testing centre and the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.

  2. As part of the Australia Singapore Military Training Initiative (ASMTI), Queensland is supporting the establishment of a large new field training area at Greenvale. This will complement other training areas at Shoalwater Bay (which is also being expanded under the ASMTI) and the Townsville High Range.

  3. The Queensland Government also recently announced that a strategic assessment would be undertaken to investigate suitable sites for a munitions testing range and capacity for the supporting storage, maintenance, disposal and logistics.

The Queensland Government is committed to working with its industry partners to support the defence sector, so Queensland remains the front line for Australia’s defence industries. The northern part of Queensland will continue to offer strategic infrastructure and expert industry capability along with world-class technology, innovation and training to advance Australia’s sovereign capability. 

When it comes to supporting national defence priorities, Northern Queensland’s on top.



From Step-up to stepping up capabilities: Northern Queensland’s contribution to defence
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