Topics: Land for naval shipbuilding, jobs in SA, border security

Monday 28 March 2022


Minister Birmingham: Thanks for coming along today. I’m thrilled to be back here at the Osborne Naval Shipyards for a significant announcement about the future of these shipyards. Next week in the Federal Budget, the Morrison Government will detail our plans for the potential expansion of these shipyards, particularly as it relates to delivery of the future nuclear powered submarines, which will be built here at Osborne in Adelaide, South Australia, as part of our AUKUS agreement with the United Kingdom and the United States. We are under negotiations with Renewal S.A. to secure access to some 45 hectares of additional land to supplement the existing 20 hectares of land currently available for submarine construction activities here at Osborne. This creates a potential footprint of 65 hectares, a vast footprint of land, reflecting the vast challenge and task of building the nuclear powered submarines for Australia.


Here at Osborne we’ve seen over the years the Collins class submarines built and sustained, Australia’s air warfare destroyers built. The building of our first offshore patrol vessels. And now we have operating here behind me the operations of BAE Systems Australia, undertaking the cutting of steel, the prototyping work around our future Hunter class frigates. We’ve got the work of ASC sustaining the Collins class fleet and they will be undertaking even greater work here with the Life and Times extension of that Collins class fleet and then the Osborne North Shipyard, which had been earmarked for construction of the attack class and the decision to suspend that. We’ve now had visits over recent months from UK and US officials looking at this site as part of the agreement under AUKUS, undertaking the work to see what is necessary for the future. And that is led us to take, as a government, the decision to secure the extra land that may well be necessary for future submarine construction. This is an important decision because it is a vast undertaking for Australia’s national security to build these nuclear powered submarines in Australia. And we know that just as the undertaking to build them is vast, so to the needs of the land, the needs for the workforce, the technical skills and operations, the work in terms of decisions that are being taken is a significant one working by the nuclear powered submarine task force, addressing all of the different needs from infrastructure, from workforce requirements and of course, the decisions about which boat will be built here in Adelaide, working with the UK and US to best understand that. That work of the task force is continuing very, very effectively.


We are six months in to the 12 to 18 month process and Australians should have confidence that decisions like this are a demonstration that this project is on track and that we are working quickly with our international partners to make the decisions necessary. As that work concludes, we look to be in a position to make final decisions in cooperation with Renewal S.A. and the South Australian Government about the precise long term needs in terms of the size of land and assets required here at Osborne. Pleasingly we’ve been able and are working through securing this land to date and to provide for the bigger footprint that’s there. But in the future we look to make sure we move into that lease arrangement to making it a permanent part of Australian naval infrastructure and the operations that we have here. I acknowledge the work that we will need to do continuously with the South Australian Government there and that we have made sure that they are briefed around this announcement and of course we’ll work closely with them to the decisions necessary in the future.


Journalist: It’s a huge amount of space. Why do we actually need this much land?


Minister Birmingham: So there are lots of additional factors to consider when it comes to the nuclear powered submarines, and these will be much bigger votes by an order of magnitude significantly larger than Collins class, larger than the attack class would have been. They also come with the responsibilities of nuclear stewardship responsibilities and that we put at the forefront, as do the UK and the US of all considerations, when it comes to the build and the operation of that future fleet. So with that, we’re taking all contingencies necessary to make sure that land can’t be seized by other players in defence industry, can’t be hived off for other purposes, but is available to make sure that we can put every proper system in place, every process in place and every safeguard in place for the construction of those submarines.


Journalist: What’s the timeframe as well? When can we expect this lease to be signed?


Minister Birmingham: So we’re working through the final arrangements there, but that’s a matter of weeks or months from here. It’s not a long term process to set that in stone. Then, of course, the taskforce will report effectively within the next 12 months in terms of their work. Once they’ve reported, we’ll be in a position to finalise discussions with Renewal S.A and South Australia about the precise footprint that is needed as part of what will be a very significant build of infrastructure on this site. If people think that the current facilities that were built, the frigates are large, wait until they see how big the facilities will be required for the future submarines.


Journalist: Given the timing, with the federal election coming up, is this a bipartisan project?


Minister Birmingham: I acknowledge the fact that the Labor Party have indicated their support for the AUKUS arrangement and for these submarines to be built in South Australia. As I indicated, we’ve reached out to the South Australian Government prior to making this announcement today as well. So we’re aware of the progress that is underway and things finalised. So these must be a bipartisan undertaking. But I do make the point that when it comes to defence spending and defence investment, when we came to office it plummeted to its lowest level since 1938. We restored defence investment in Australia and if we hadn’t taken those decisions to restore defence investment from the lows the Labor Party committed to, there would be no opportunity to make these decisions because the budget wouldn’t be there and our credibility wouldn’t be there for partners like the US and UK.


Journalist: With us to increase land does that have any direct impact on jobs here in South Australia or be the same number of jobs?


Minister Birmingham: So ultimately what we will see here is an even bigger shipyard requiring even greater infrastructure and an even larger workforce that would have been the executive and previous arrangements. And so, yes, we’re going to see a huge uptick in activity on this side of the line. Think it’s about making sure we’ve got all the land, all the facilities, all of the infrastructure to safely, effectively build nuclear powered submarines in the future. And there’s going to be a huge workforce required both to build the infrastructure and I think the submarines.


Journalist: Does the Solomon Island decision to sign a deal with China, show a failure in our own investment and relationships in the Pacific?


Minister Birmingham: Well, I’d firstly say that Australia respects the sovereignty and independence of all Pacific Island nations, including the Solomon Islands, and we have been very proud to partner with the Solomon Islands in responding to civil unrest and difficulties in Solomon Islands and to be their partner of choice to send in our Federal Police to work with other Pacific Island nations to do so. We would be very concerned to see any developments or construction of things that undermined peace, security and prosperity of our Pacific region. And we believe that our partnership with the Solomon Islands is evidenced by their request to extend our bilateral security treaty and agreements with one another and the work that we and other Pacific Island countries play in a Pacific led response to the difficulties in the Solomon is the best approach for the future of the Pacific. Pacific Island nations working with other Pacific players are the ones who can best secure the peace and security of our region and ensure that continues.


Journalist: But should we be worried now that China can dock naval ships within striking distance of Australia?


Minister Birmingham: Well, we don’t want to prejudge outcomes in relation to links in that regard. We’ll continue to engage closely with all of our partners across the Pacific, urging them to work prudently in ways that underpin their security and sovereignty, that underpin the peace and security of the Pacific by putting Pacific nations first and foremost in working together. But of course, we do face a very significantly changed security environment than the nation is facing. In every security environment we face is one that is being threatened by regional expansionism as well as in Europe, showing what increases. (Inaudible)


Journalist: (Inaudible)…considering running in that seat. Are you concerned about Rowan Ramsey’s prospects there?


Minister Birmingham: Rowan is an incredibly hard working MP who takes nothing for granted. Rowan Ramsey clocks up more kilometres driving across that vast electorate encompassing around 90% of South Australia than I suspect virtually any other politician in the country in terms of the distance he travels to connect with tiny, tiny communities hundreds of kilometres apart from one another in some instances. I have confidence that Rowan will continue to provide passionate, hardworking, effective representation. But I know he won’t take anything for granted and he will work hard to demonstrate a reason for supporting him in the future. The other point that I’ve provided right across the country is to make sure that Australia has the certainty of things that we need to face the most uncertain times, the aftershocks of COVID-19 or in Europe or a resurgence in China. The last thing the country needs is to have an unstable coalition parliament that least with any more independence for others who could provide an unstable government that didn’t allow us to respond effectively to the challenges, as our government has demonstrated in this.


Journalist: We’ve seen in the state election though recently, how concerned are you though that seat could be at risk of not being a safe liberal seat? It’s always been.


Minister Birmingham: State and federal elections are always determined on different matters and even as you’ve lived through the recent state Election, would be hard pressed to say that that in terms of the Labor campaign, there was much in play rather than one single issue. In terms of the federal election the seriousness of the issues we face in global uncertain times, a seriousness in keeping Australia’s economy strong, taxes low, jobs secure and national security safe, very real issues and Australians do need to make sure that government can keep that economy strong but also not threatened by the instability of a minority parliament situation. Certainly not in government would be threatened by an alliance with the Greens and all of the instability.


Journalist: Do we expect to see a lot of election promises here in South Australia this upcoming election?


Minister Birmingham: Well, we will have, the Liberal National Parties have policies right across the country and I have been out and about in South Australia as my colleague is making sure that we understand the issues here. We’ve already announced investments in relation to satellite construction in South Australia and new software manufacturing capabilities in SA, the upgrading of manufacturing capabilities in our agricultural sector. As I announced big infrastructure projects such as the final stages of the north south corridor and here we are with a demonstration investment in defence. So yes, SA play a key role and we will be firmly demonstrating our commitment to South Australia. We’ll be doing that across each and every state too.


Journalist: Why has government suddenly backflipped on a deal that was formed nine years ago. And how exactly will you stop refugees from resettling back in Australia after fleeing to New Zealand?


Minister Birmingham: Look, the arrangements with New Zealand have been some long period of time, years in, in discussions. We welcome the fact that New Zealand has been constructive in those discussions. We always said we wanted to get maximum leverage from the agreement with the United States first and foremost. That’s what we’ve done in terms of resettling. But when it comes to the need to resettle people, that’s only necessary because we’ve had the illegal maritime arrivals happening before our government was elected. We’ve stopped those illegal maritime arrivals and once the final individuals from that sorry period of public policy failure in Australia are resettled, there won’t be a need to do that again unless the boats start again. And the only risk of the boats starting again is if there is a change of government that weakens our border protection policies. Anthony Albanese is the only leader running for Prime Minister at the next election who has said he doesn’t think he could turn boats back. Scott Morrison has demonstrated he can, he will and that has kept Australia’s borders secure and stop the humanitarian tragedy of people drowning at sea. They’ll have to be placed in temporary detention facilities.


Journalist: The second part of my question was how are you going to in the future stop those people from moving back to moving to Australia and New Zealand?


Minister Birmingham: Well, we’ll continue to work through those issues in terms of the details of the arrangement with the New Zealand Immigration Minister. Thanks.