Subject: (SA Shipbuilding)


JEREMY CORDEAUX: On the line I’ve got Simon Birmingham … this is all very good news about $89b on the table and it looks like our maritime future … is looking up.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, it’s a brilliant day for South Australia today and it’s long overdue good news for SA and frankly I think it is the best economic news our state has had in decades. We can now have confidence that our naval ship building industry will have certainty and security not just for the next few years, but ultimately for the next few decades. 

JEREMY CORDEAUX: Senator, you can understand us feeling a little bit reticent in the sense that we get the feeling you’ve been dragged kicking and screaming to the table. 

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, not at all. This is the decision about the future frigates program, the offshore patrol vessels, the surface ships that will support our navy and this has been a work in progress for the Liberal Party not just for the last few weeks or months but for the last couple of years. This is a process of developing a continuous ship building program that was part of our policy platform going to the last election that we’ve developed in Government and now are proud to be able to talk about exactly how we’ll be able to roll this out, starting by bringing forward some of the immediate ships that are required by the navy in the next few years to minimise the downturn in the South Australian ship building industry and ultimately to be securing some 2,500 jobs well into the future. 

JEREMY CORDEAUX: Do you think the Government has handled the process well? … what I mean by that is there was the promise to build the submarines and then there was the anxiety, there was the feeling that we’d been let down and then there was a whole lot of prevaricating … if we’re going to get the work … couldn’t there have been a better, more public relations way of handling it?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: We may not have done the politics to the best of our abilities all of the time on this … I’m willing to concede that. But what will matter in the long term is whether or not we get the policies right and in relation to surface ships, we’ve now given confidence to everybody that we do have a clear program in place that … will see some $40b of investment in ships and Adelaide will be the hub of Australia’s surface ship building industry into the future and that’s  great news for SA. In relation to submarines there is a clear and ongoing process underway which is trying to get the right mix between ensuring we have the capability, the technological capability and design that our navy needs for the best next generation submarines into the future, the taxpayers get the best value for money and of course ultimately that we do optimise the level of Australian industry involvement as well. So there are a number of other steps to go in this process, but importantly as the Prime Minister said today, this is the first prize that’s being awarded … being awarded first and foremost to South Australia, which is great news for our state. We certainly all need the pick-me-up after a lot of economic tough time and tough talk over the last few years … I’m very happy and I trust that it really does lift optimism and confidence in the state in the months and years ahead. 

JEREMY CORDEAUX: That’s all very laudable … but … let’s say they do their comparative looksee and South Australia doesn’t come up with the best case for making the submarines here. I can’t see from a political point of view why you would not build them here because it would sort of necessitate all you guys in South Australia … dying in a ditch over it.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, I’m very optimistic and hopeful that we will get a really good outcome in the end on submarines. I think we have great capabilities and I believe that will shine through in the process that’s underway, but we do need to have a bit of competitive tension to get good value for money for taxpayers. When you’re spending up to $50b on buying submarines in the future, you want to make sure you extract as much value for money as you can. We do need to make sure that our navy actually is getting all of the capability they need out of the submarines. There’s no point building second rate submarines that aren’t going to do the job for the navy; they need to actually be fit for purpose. But I think we will see a great outcome for SA from the submarine process. We’re guaranteed of getting the vast bulk of sustainment work, we’re guaranteed of getting the significant elements of the construction work and we should always remember that the current air warfare destroyers that are being built down there … the previous Collins class submarines, all of those projects required international partners. The ASC themselves have said they don’t have the capability to build our next generation submarine from scratch, that they need an international partner. So all we’re really doing at present is going through the process with the Germans, the French and the Japanese to find the best international partner to get Australia the best submarine for the future. 

JEREMY CORDEAUX: Well, once you’ve got that partner it should be a lay down misere from political point of view, from every point of view, to build them here … I don’t even know why there’s the hesitation.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: … I think we all want to see them built here if they possibly can be … I’m very confident they will be, but I don’t think we should spend too much time today dwelling on that issue when we have very good news that should be a confidence booster … 

JEREMY CORDEAUX: … but you can understand we’re greedy … we want it all.

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: And I’m a Senator for South Australia and I want it all for South Australia too, but I also want to make sure that my colleagues in Canberra know that when we do get good news we’re grateful for it and we make the most of it. 

JEREMY CORDEAUX: I don’t believe that the workers of this state will let you down if they are chosen to do this extremely important work … we need this international partner for the submarines; it seems that we don’t need the international partners to build the frigates or the patrol boats or the other hardware. Why is that?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, part of that is in the decision being taken about the type of ships being built and part of it is also the difference between surface ships and submarines. Submarines are a far more complex construction than a surface ship … as Senator John Madigan … famously put it … he said submarines are the spaceships of the sea … they do have a higher level of technical … difficulty to them in the construction and there’s also the fact that we’ve determined as a Government in relation to the future frigates that we will take a mature design … essentially a more existing design to the development of those future frigates, whereas the naval advice and expertise is that for submarines we do need a next generation design … Australia has particularly unique requirements given our location … so they do come with a much higher risk profile that requires them greater expertise in terms of how they can be developed in the future than the ASC has at hand here in Australia. 

JEREMY CORDEAUX: … thank you Senator.