Date: Friday, 8 October 2021

Topic(s): Bullsbrook water supply; Vaccines GST; Nuclear-powered submarines

Gareth Parker: Minister, good morning.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Gareth. Great to be with you.

Gareth Parker: Thanks for your time. You’ve been up to quite a few things. I don’t want to just start with Bullsbrook, where there has been a long running issue around water contamination due to these PFAS firefighting chemicals. Local residents up there have dealt with the stress and the worry of this for many years, many of them drinking bottled water. Yesterday, you announced a fix. What will it be? What does it involve?

Simon Birmingham: So it will be a pipeline going to the Bullsbrook Township and providing essentially mains water supply. Working in partnership with the WA Government and WA Water Corporation and making sure that they have safe portable water piped to their houses just like anybody else across the metropolitan area, essentially. And so this is a solution that Defence has been working on for some time. Defence, as the operators of the RAAF Base Pearce and where this issue has arisen from will pick up the tab for it in terms of the construction of the infrastructure, the costs, etc. But it will give certainty to those residents that they will have safe, clean drinking water like others across the metro area.

Gareth Parker: It’s quite remarkable. It’s taken so long to get sold. We’ve got to say.

Simon Birmingham: Look, these have been issues we’ve been grappling with across the country and issues around PFAS are challenging in the sense that the consequences of it are not entirely clear. But we take seriously the fact that there have been higher levels detected in certain circumstances. It’s been a very small number of properties that have needed to have water provided to them manually, essentially bottled water solutions and so on. But Defence have worked through that solution. The fact that we were now building the extra facility out there has allowed us to align sort of these projects. We’ll still have the facility operational before the pipeline is built, but we hope that we can get the pipeline underway and done during the course of the next year, too.

Gareth Parker: Well, we saw the relief on some of the residents faces yesterday, and you could just tell that it means a lot to them. So I’m glad that it has taken a long time, but I’m glad that we’re moving forward on it. As you’re moving around the state meeting with plenty of people, including business. What are they telling you? What are they asking you about the management of COVID? Because we’ve got this situation at the moment, as you know, from being in South Australia. You know what it’s like to live in an open non-lockdown state like we are. Yet there’s so much of the national commentary is being driven by the realities of Sydney and Melbourne, which are very, very different.

Simon Birmingham: Look, they are quite different circumstances across the country at present that obviously New South Wales, Victoria, ACT are needing to open up from a point of lockdown with COVID in their communities. The rest of the country is needing to get to the higher vaccination levels that will enable us all to eventually live with COVID because there’s no keeping it out forever. I think everybody needs to be mature enough to recognise that fact that eventually somehow COVID will enter all communities. Very few places around the world have crushed any sort of Delta outbreak. New Zealand hasn’t managed to. Canberra even couldn’t manage to. And so, when Delta comes, it’s likely to spread. But if you’re highly vaccinated, then you’ve got the protections in place, and it’s a big message for people across the West. The majority of people are getting out there doing the right thing that some 68 per cent have had a first dose in WA, but it’s well behind the national average of 81 per cent. And so we do need to encourage people to get out there and get vaccinated before COVID comes.

Gareth Parker: But surely you understand the mentality, not just of the Premier. I mean, it’s the majority of the population who say, ‘Well, if you don’t have it, you keep it out for as long as possible.’

Simon Birmingham: And that’s fine, but nobody’s in complete control of that. So a COVID outbreak can come from just one person. The Delta strain is highly infectious. We saw that in relation to New South Wales that it was one limo driver who spread it initially and the consequences have been real. Western Australia, my home state of South Australia, we’ve all got the luxury at present of not having COVID and having the time and opportunity to get vaccinated, but it’s pretty silly to wait until COVID’s here to go and get your dose. You should go and get it done now. There are close to a thousand different supply points, distribution points, pharmacies, doctors, state run clinics and hubs that are available to people. And they should get out there if they haven’t had the first dose and get it done ASAP. And remember, it’s now available for everybody from the age of 12 up to, so take advantage. If you’ve got high school aged kids, take them along and get them done at the earliest opportunity. And if you’ve got a booking in a month’s time for somewhere, don’t necessarily wait for it. Go and get it done at the local pharmacy if there’s a spot available this weekend.

Gareth Parker: Dominic Perrottet, the new New South Wales premier, wants to make noises on reforming the GST agreement. The Prime Minister told me on this programme on Tuesday he’s not going to change it, but your home state of South Australia, I mean, we sort of have to fight and claw and scratch for an arrangement that guarantees the 70 cents in the dollar. Your home state, I think, over a dollar 20 or thereabouts in the GST. Is he going to come after you as well in South Australia, Don Perrottet, do you think?

Simon Birmingham: Well look, states asking for more money is of course as old as the federation really and squabbling between one another over money is something as predictable as you could possibly have. But we’ve been crystal clear. Scott Morrison negotiated the deal that gave the guaranteed floor of 70 cents in the dollar to WA, but it’s guaranteed floor that applies to every state and territory, too, in fairness. And I reckon if New South Wales were facing a situation where their share of the GST was going to drop below 70 cents in the dollar, they’d think that a guaranteed floor was fair, too. So Scott Morrison, having negotiated that deal and put it in place, is rock solid in the fact it will stay in place at the floor for the GST funding that exists. That benefits WA right now will stay there, but who knows what will happen with economic circumstances in the years to come. Maybe at another time it will benefit a state like New South Wales or somebody else. So I think everybody should come back to the first principles there, which is it’s a pretty fair and reasonable proposition to have 70 cents in the dollar returned to you of the tax that you’re paying in a different state or territory.

Gareth Parker: Just very briefly, Minister, in what year do you think that Western Australia will have a nuclear powered submarine based at Garden Island at HMAS Stirling?

Simon Birmingham: So our hope is to see construction happening by the end of this decade and first sub produced by the end of next decade. Now, if we can bring any of that forward earlier, we will certainly do so. There will be training demands for skilled submariners, the submariners that we have based in WA running the Collins class fleet at present. They have working alongside those who maintain and sustain that fleet ensured we’ve got one of the most capable, powerful and reliable, conventionally powered submarine fleets in the world. And what we want to make sure is that we train them up, which means there’ll be a need for some of them to spend time on nuclear powered submarines. We’re going to need bigger crews to be able to run them, which means there’ll be more submariners likely needed in the West in future. And we’re going to need new infrastructure to be able to berth what are much bigger submarines. So there’s plenty of work that’s going to come to the West over the period of time, bringing these subs on board.

Gareth Parker: Minister, thanks for your time this morning.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Gareth. My pleasure.