Doorstop interview, Port Adelaide
Topics: Naval Shipbuilding in South Australia; SA Liberal Party energy policy; High Dependency Unit at Modbury Hospital

Steven Marshall: Well, good morning and welcome to Port Adelaide. Today we’re at MG Engineering and we’re being hosted by Anthony Brdar, who is the managing director of MG Engineering. They did some of the great work on the three air warfare destroyers in South Australia. In fact, they built the masts on those ships. Behind us is a vessel that is being built here in South Australia for the New Zealand fishing sector.

It’s great to be here today. In fact, I was here only a few years ago when you were celebrating your 20th anniversary. Now in the 23rd year of operation here in South Australia. I’m also joined by Simon Birmingham, the federal Minister for Education.

Today we’re talking about jobs, and in particular we’re talking about the skills, the necessary skills that we need in South Australia to maximise the return to our state from the enormous contribution that the Federal Government has made to South Australia via the naval shipbuilding contracts which are coming our way. In fact, when we look at those contracts, they can really transform our state and send us in another direction. They can do that if we have the skills in place, but the reality is Labor have been asleep at the wheel.

We have a skills shortage in South Australia at the moment and we’re heading towards a skills crisis. The only party which has a credible skills plan for this election is the Liberal Party. What we’ve said is that we will make a focus on making sure that kids get the opportunity to consider a technical career, and not only have this as a fall-back position, but as a first choice. In fact, kids that are finishing school at the moment really could set themselves up for a 30-year career in naval shipbuilding in South Australia.

It’s a great opportunity, but the reality is Labor hasn’t done that macro skills planning that we so desperately need in South Australia. But the Liberal Party does have a comprehensive plan, and today we announced that, when elected, the Liberal Party will do a defence workforce plan, mapping out the skills that are required now and right the way through this contract, and making sure that we can put those skills in place. Importantly today, we are committing another 1200 apprenticeships and traineeships for the defence sector, because we want to maximise the return to our state from this massive contract that the Federal Government has awarded to South Australia.

Journalist: Is that in addition to the 20,000 you talked about …

Steven Marshall: No, this is part of the almost 21,000 apprenticeships and traineeships. At the time that we made the announcement, we said we would talk more specifically about the sectors which would be affected. One of the critical sectors is the defence sector in South Australia. Under a Liberal government, you’ll get a defence workforce plan, and in addition to that, you will have a minimum 1200 apprentices and trainees for the defence sector in place over the next four years.

Journalist: How long will that work take to do, and is it something that actually should’ve been done already, given that offshore patrol boats and others are starting up quite soon?

Steven Marshall: As you would know, Dan, the day that the contract was awarded, the Liberal Party has been calling for a naval shipbuilding skills taskforce. Labor has refused to put this in place. This is one of the primary responsibilities of the State Government, to make sure that we’ve got the skilled workforce to maximise the return from the shipbuilding opportunity that is coming to South Australia.

Now, Labor hasn’t done this work. Our apprenticeship and traineeship commencements in South Australia are at an all-time low. There is a skills shortage at the moment. There will be a skills crisis unless the Liberal Party forms government at this election, because only the Liberal Party has a plan for more jobs, and in particular skilling our workforce for the future to make sure that we maximise the return from this great opportunity.

Journalist: Do you think South Australia can be powered on 75 per cent green energy?

Steven Marshall: Look, the most important issue when it comes to power is its cost. The cost of energy under Jay Weatherill, Tom Koutsantonis, and 16 years of Labor, is sky high. It’s expensive for households and it’s destroying jobs right across our state.

Journalist: Do you stick [indistinct] to scrap the Renewable Energy Target and I gather you’re no fan of a storage target either?

Steven Marshall: Look, the Liberal Party supports a national framework. This is the specific recommendation from the Finkel report. It’s what the Clean Energy Council is saying. A Liberal priority in South Australia is lowering costs, and we’re the only party that has a comprehensive, positive plan to lower costs here in South Australia. A lot of talk from Labor, virtually nothing from Nick Xenophon. The Liberal Party has a plan to lower costs for households and businesses right across the state.

Journalist: Does that, in effect, mean a moratorium on new green power, particularly intermittent green power projects in the state?

Steven Marshall: No, look, we’ve already said that critical to our plan is having greater interconnectivity with New South Wales so that we can bring baseload in to support our intermittent renewable energy in South Australia. The Liberal Party’s plan commits another $150 million for storage, but we’ve got an abundance of renewable energy, but often it’s not available when it’s actually needed.

So, we need to have a situation where we can store that energy. That’s in the Liberal Party’s plan. It’s been independently verified, and the Liberal Party will bring energy prices down in South Australia. Labor doesn’t have independent analysis to show that prices under them will go down, so they’re taking the lazy option of setting a target – five, six, seven, eight, ten years down the track – rather than doing the work needed to lower prices for households and businesses in South Australia. Only the Liberal Party has a positive plan to bring energy prices down, and this will always be the Liberal Party’s priority.

Journalist: What do you anticipate the future investment in the energy sector in South Australia to look like? Do you anticipate that, like Jay Weatherill [indistinct] is going to be renewables, or do you think [indistinct]?

Steven Marshall: Well, it’s interesting, Jay Weatherill says one thing, but if you actually follow the money, look where he’s putting the money from his energy plan. Spell it out for the people of South Australia. I mean, we’re having more than $100 million going into diesel backup generators and $320 million into an emergency standby, backup gas-fired generator. So, he talks a lot about renewable energy, but the vast majority – 75 per cent of his energy policy – goes into areas other than supporting renewable energy.

Look, the Liberal Party is very clear: we want affordable, reliable energy in South Australia. We’ve got a plan, it’s been independently verified; we’re the only party that will actually bring prices down. Lots of talk from Jay Weatherill. I mean, we heard three years ago that prices were going to fall by 9 per cent. Since then, a massive 66 per cent increase, putting real pressure on the family budget and crippling new jobs in South Australia.

If you need any proof – and you’re a stats man, Nick – if you need any proof, have a look at the national spot rates over the course of this year so far. January’s figures are out, February’s figures are out. Who’s the highest in the nation? South Australia. South Australia’s pricing in January and February were approximately double Queensland. The reality is, after 16 years of Labor, all they’ve got is a target and massively high prices for the people of South Australia.

Journalist: Steven, just on another matter, Modbury Hospital: can you just refresh us on what the Liberal Party’s position is on a High Dependency Unit there, and is it needed?

Steven Marshall: Look, a High Dependency Unit is absolutely critical. There are two critical things that need to be delivered, two critical areas where the Liberal Party differentiates from Labor. We’ve got a differentiated position because we’ve listened to the clinicians. We’re going to have a High Dependency Unit, but more than that, we’re going to increase the protocol for the number of hours that patients can stay at the Modbury Hospital from 24 hours, up to 72 hours, and this allows far more complex surgery to be done at Modbury.

The reality is Labor have been closing down services right across South Australia: at the Modbury Hospital, at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, at the Noarlunga Hospital, and right across country SA. The Liberal Party has a strong plan to return those services at our important hospitals so that we’re not just driving more and more patients to the Lyell McEwin, the Royal Adelaide Hospital, and Flinders. Those hospitals are very often over capacity. We want to improve services, especially around hospitals, and only the Liberal Party has a positive plan for the Modbury Hospital, for the Noarlunga Hospital, for the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, and hospitals right across country SA.

Journalist: The Premier this morning said that reinstating …

Steven Marshall: Sorry?

Journalist: The Premier this morning suggested that reinstating the High Dependency Unit at Modbury would be dangerous. Do you buy that line?

Steven Marshall: No. Look, the Premier’s all at sea on this issue. The Premier’s all at sea. The reality is, we had a High Dependency Unit at Modbury. Is he suggesting that that was unsafe when it was there?

Labor is all about cutting services at hospitals across South Australia and driving over capacity at our major hospitals, at the Lyell McEwin, the New Royal Adelaide Hospital, and Flinders. It’s a dangerous situation. Our emergency departments are crowded and people are not getting the service that they demand and that they are entitled to. Only a Liberal Party has a positive plan to restore those services at the Modbury Hospital, Noarlunga Hospital, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, and all of our hospitals across country SA.

Journalist: Just back on this announcement this morning, you talked about 1200 apprenticeships. The Government’s currently cutting 5000 defence Industry jobs over the next couple of years. What’s the actual figure of jobs, not just apprenticeships?

Steven Marshall: Well, the reality is that the current workforce for the defence sector in South Australia needs to double or triple over the next eight years. We reach that peak position by 2026. But we’re not going to be able to fill those jobs if people don’t have the skills, and therein lies the problem. Labor knows about the opportunity that exists, but they’ve got no pathway for us to get there.

Apprentices and trainees under Labor have been falling virtually every year. We’re commencing around half the number of apprentices now than we were three years ago. We’ve got a skills shortage at the moment, we’re heading for a skills crisis, and only the Liberal Party has a positive plan to actually address this skills shortage and create the jobs to keep our young people in South Australia. And our commitment’s very clear: we’re putting in $100 million over and above the existing budget over the next four years to create almost 21,000 new apprenticeships and traineeships over and above the existing level.

The Liberal Party has a positive plan. We want to create pathways for our kids. We want this to be a first choice for many of our kids coming up to finishing their school at the moment, because we know if they get a trade qualification, they’ve essentially got a job for life.

Journalist: You talked about developing a plan for a review; what’s the actual timeline on that?

Steven Marshall: Immediate. I mean, the reality is we’re committing $100 million over the next four years. We want to put on apprentices from day one. We’ll be out in the schools promoting the opportunity, working with the industry to promote that a kid finishing school at the moment has the great opportunity of working in the naval shipbuilding sector in South Australia for their entire working life. There is so much work and the only constraint is the state’s ability to make sure that we have the requisite skills in place. Labor have vacated the field; the Liberal Party will deliver.

I think maybe Simon might say a few things.

Simon Birmingham: Just a quick word. Thank you, Anthony, for having us today, and Steven, it’s great to be joining you today. The Turnbull Government’s $90 billion investment in naval shipbuilding is not just about providing our Navy with the capability it needs for the future, but is also about building a sovereign defence shipbuilding capability for the future. It’s about sustaining economic growth across Australia, and particularly here in South Australia, where so many of the ships and the activity and the investment will be made, will occur. That’s why we have to make sure that the skills are there, because one of the biggest risks to the Naval Shipbuilding Program is a failure to have effective skilled workers in place. The Turnbull Government knows this, which is why we’re making sure at a national level we have effective workforce strategy and capability planning arrangements built into the naval shipbuilding architecture. But we also want to see, in a state like South Australia, the most number of South Australians fill those jobs as is possible, which is where we have to have a state government that is focused on ensuring the skills pipeline is delivering apprentices and skilled tradespeople who are capable of working on the Naval Shipbuilding Program.

Now, sadly in South Australia, with the failures of TAFE, the decline in apprenticeship numbers, we can see that the Weatherill Government has simply dropped the ball when it comes to skills training. We warmly welcome the policy that Steven Marshall has announced, which will ensure that South Australia not only has a plan, but has the investment to back skills training to support and underpin building of naval ships here in Adelaide. And I note that in the $100 million that the Marshall Liberal Opposition has committed to put in place in government to support skills training, they’ll access funds from our $1.5 billion Skilling Australians Fund. They are not only leading the way here in South Australia, but they’re leading all states and territories in seeking to access that federal funding to make sure they get as many apprenticeship and traineeship opportunities here in South Australia as possible.

Journalist: What are the current timelines on cutting steel for the OPVs and for the frigates, and how urgent is the likely skills shortfall between now and then?

Simon Birmingham: The construction of OPVs will commence this year, and from there we will then see the program rolled out. With the Future Frigates, of course, the contracting details for that will also be released this year and determined this year, with then a clear timeline outlined.

So it is very critical, with more than 5000 jobs expected to be created at the peak of our naval shipbuilding activities, that we do see a strong pipeline of people with skills coming through. Turnbull Government’s put some 1200 scholarships in place to help support and target training in South Australia, particularly in the defence industries. We’ve put our $1.5 billion Skilling Australians Fund out there to lift apprenticeship activity across the nation. We’re thrilled to have a state Liberal Party in SA who’s fair dinkum and serious about creating the apprenticeship opportunities here that are necessary to build the ships of the future.

Thanks guys.