Tuesday, 14 March 2023
David Penberthy: Simon Birmingham, long standing Liberal Senator for SA and the Federal Opposition Leader in the Senate joins us now. Birmo, good morning. What’s your take on this? It seems to be pretty much to be unadorned good news, does it not?
Simon Birmingham: Good morning guys. Good to be with you. Look, we welcome the next steps in progress of AUKUS – it was one of the most important things that I was ever been a part of as a member of the previous government to make the decision to go down the path of getting nuclear-powered submarines. And we were only able to do that because we restored the defence budget to 2 per cent of GDP and made Australia a credible partner for countries like the US and UK to go down this type of path.
So, it’s good news to see that the now Government has continued with that – has delivered on the task force work that we set in place – is undertaking these next steps and the investments attached to it. Of course, there’ll be plenty of questions that we want to make sure we understand and get to the bottom of including from an SA perspective – there’s now that the first Australian-built submarine won’t be coming out until in the 2040’s – we had hoped to have that achieved in 2030s. So understanding in terms of the timing issues there; understanding just what that means for investment in SA and critically also understanding whether or not the full life-of-type extension will occur to all of the Collins class submarines – all six of them at present – which is a very big driver of jobs in SA or whether this acquisition of US-built Virginia class submarines earlier means that some of those Collins class submarines don’t face that extension which would have real impacts for SA as well as where the sustainment work for the Virginia class subs will be undertaken.
Will Goodings: Your leader expressed a preference for an evolved Virginia class rather than an evolved British class of submarine that SSN AUKUS will ultimately be derived from. Are you supportive of the model that was announced today whereby it’s something that will be bult by Britain first, us next with US parts?
Simon Birmingham: Well, Will we’ll again be looking to step through all of the detail there – there are some very significant changes that the UK are adapting in terms of access to US nuclear reactor technology; US weapon systems which are also the same weapons systems that we use. So the new SSN AUKUS will be, I think, an evolution of potentially the best of the Astute class and the best of the Virginia class is what we should be aspiring for – the best of British and best of US if you like, and that’s certainly what we should be driving for and from an Australian perspective, we should make sure that just as this has been a true tripartite partnership to date, in the design of that new vessel, we would want to make sure that we have the US as deeply involved in that design process as the UK.
Will Goodings: Just going back to the start of this, this announcement that was made when you guys were in government, and something that hasn’t been explored as much as you might imagine for an acquisition of this size and scale – the strategic imperative behind the nuclear submarine program. We heard Phil Coorey talking about well yeah, if you’re going to start building submarines you want those that are going to be future proof and that’s nuclear, not conventional subs, but the actual strategic reasoning behind why Australia needs to spend this much on this particular defence platform? Can you give us a bit of an insight into what the thinking was then?
Simon Birmingham: Absolutely, so I mean, firstly, why submarines? Well that is answered by virtue of the fact that we’re a maritime nation, an island continent with vast ocean access points in all directions; that we are in a region of Indo Pacific which has seen significant military build up. But as technology has changed, the conventionally powered submarines, the diesel-powered submarines that we currently operate and were going to build more of, will become more detectable. One of the most critical aspects to submarines is the stealth – the undetectability with how they move beneath the ocean and the fact that diesel-powered submarines have to come and snort as they call it, means that over time, they were going to be more easily tracked and traced and detected whereas nuclear-powered submarines and the modern generation of nuclear-powered submarines we are accessing are able to spend 30 years operating and the only reason they have to come up to the surface are literally the human reasons in terms of recrewing, restocking for food or supplies, those types of aspects – the actual powering of them can go endlessly throughout that 30 year life of the sealed nuclear reactor that fuels them.
David Penberthy: Good stuff Birmo, Senator Simon Birmingham, the Federal Opposition Leader in the Senate thanks for joining us this morning on 5AA.