Topic:  Defence Strategic Review

08:30 AM ACDT
Wednesday, 26 April 2023


David Bevan: Simon Birmingham is the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, he joins us now. Good morning, Senator Birmingham.


Simon Birmingham: Good morning. It’s good to be with you all.


David Bevan: It’s easy for us ordinary people to get lost amongst all of these projects. I thought the frigates were about they were on the cusp of something great, as in that they were actually going to start building things that you could go down and have a look at. And yet on Monday, we were given a review and inside that review is another review. What do you say?


Simon Birmingham: Well, I do think we are being reviewed into potential paralysis if we’re not careful. This Defence Strategic Review that the new Albanese Government commissioned almost a year ago was designed to be in many ways the review to end reviews. That’s certainly how the defence industry and others saw it as being, and yet it’s been now released with a whole series of other reviews flowing on from it. Some into guided missiles, some into future defence strategy, some into recruitment and facilities and importantly for South Australia, another review into the naval surface fleet. And David, you’re right, that comes at a really critical and concerning time for defence industry in SA because the building of the Hunter Class frigates is just at this point in time moving from the prototyping phase that it had been in to the first block that is actually designed to go into the first of those nine ships for the future. And so certainty to invest and to plan is critical right now and that is being removed when people least expected it because they thought this Defence Strategic Review released on Monday was going to be the line in the sand and give people certainty for the future. And yet it’s just resulted in more reviews.


David Bevan: The thrust of Monday’s announcement was a greater focus on smaller ships. Is that correct? And the smaller ships were always going to be built at Henderson and the big ones at Osborne. So that’s not good.


Simon Birmingham: So, when it comes to that naval surface fleet, yes. I mean, there were many things to Monday’s announcement, including a number of areas of cuts to army and areas of concern that we’ll continue to prosecute. And my colleague Andrew Hastie, the Shadow Defence Minister, will dig into more deeply now that Anzac Day is behind us, given the very unfortunate timing of the way the Government released this. But when it comes to the Navy fleet and to South Australia, the language seems to be that the Government is looking at moving from big ships to smaller ships, o put it in simple terms, as Richard Marles sought to do when he was pressed on it, the Defence Minister. And that’s really concerning for SA because when we went through the process under the Coalition government of saying we want to establish a continuous shipbuilding strategy to have an effective and efficient continuous shipbuilding strategy in Australia, we had to consolidate the number of shipyards and we made the difficult decision that we wouldn’t have shipbuilding in Victoria anymore and we would consolidate around South Australia and Western Australia. And the plan there was that Osborne and SA would be the home to large ship building and submarine building and Henderson in WA would be the home to smaller shipbuilding activities. And if the Albanese Government is now looking at moving from large to small and potentially axing some of the Hunter Class frigates, that potentially means work shifting from SA to WA.


Stacey Lee: So, you mentioned the continuous shipbuilding strategy. That was the plan for South Australia. How confident are you now that we will have a continuous workforce here in South Australia needed for shipbuilding?


Stacey Lee: Well, it is really concerning, Stacy. If the Albanese Government is looking as media reports suggest, of cutting the number of Hunter Class frigates by three down to six, or some reports are even suggesting they could cut it by six down to three, that certainly wouldn’t give the type of certainty for the different parts of the supply chain to invest. We’re not just talking about the prime manufacturer here, BAE Systems Australia. They, of course, are critical to this. But crucially, they’re trying to build a supply chain of South Australian and Australian businesses supplying the different components and parts, and those businesses need to be able to invest to be able to supply those components and parts for the ships. And you’re not going to invest a lot if you think that the order of nine ships is going to be cut back to six or even three.


Stacey Lee: It’s 20 minutes to nine on ABC Radio Adelaide. That’s the voice of Simon Birmingham, the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs. Simon Birmingham. While we’ve got you, have you decided yet how you’ll be voting in the upcoming Voice referendum?


Simon Birmingham: Well, look, I respect and understand and won’t be acting contrary to the to the party position that was taken, but the government is still going through a parliamentary committee process on voice. That committee hasn’t reported yet. It may or may not recommend changes to the words that may give cause for some reconsideration. So, there’s a way to go on that one yet.


Stacey Lee: So, when you say you’re not acting contrary to the party’s decision, the party is advocating for a no vote. That means you’ll be voting, no?


Simon Birmingham: At this stage that’s the party position and that’s how I would expect it to stay unless we saw dramatic changes. I hope that the Government do consider dramatic changes to take up Peter Dutton’s offer of bipartisanship for constitutional recognition of first Australians or to look at addressing the concerns that have been raised by many people-


Stacey Lee: But at the moment, as it stands, the Liberal Party’s position is to advocate for a no vote, and you will be doing that.


Simon Birmingham: Well, Stacey, every Australian gets their vote in a secret ballot around the country. I won’t be acting contrary to the position, but frankly for South Australia’s future I’m more interested in the topic we were talking about before, which is the Defence Strategic Review and its implications. I think that and many other things will have a more profound-.


Stacey Lee: But you still won’t, you still won’t be campaigning with other members of your party for a no vote?


Simon Birmingham: I think there are more important things to work and campaign on and that’s where I’ll be focusing on.


Stacey Lee: Can you understand why there’s frustration within the Party when you won’t publicly release what position you’ll take?


Simon Birmingham: Well, people can be frustrated, Stacey, as I just said, I think there are far more profound and important things for Australia and our nation’s future. In my portfolio, in the defence portfolio, in terms of the economy and cost of living pressures Australians face, there may be many people on all sides of politics who want to spend much of the next six months campaigning on the Voice. I won’t be. I’ll be focusing on things that I think have a more important focus on the impact of Australians and their future lives.


Stacey Lee: Simon Birmingham, thank you for your time.


Simon Birmingham: My pleasure.