• Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Submarine Maintenance Jobs; SA’s Water Security.
09 December 2019

David Bevan: Simon Birmingham is the Federal Minister for Trade but he’s South Australia’s leading Liberal MP. He joins us now. Good morning, Simon Birmingham.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning, David and Ali.

David Bevan: Well on the subs, West Australian Premier Mark McGowan says he’d be happy for Adelaide to retain some of the office back work on the Collins-class submarines. That’s big of him, isn’t it?

Simon Birmingham: Well look, Mark McGowan ran an entirely political campaign on this issue. I can assure listeners that both publicly and certainly privately, Prime Minister Morrison has been emphatic in his position that he wants this determined purely in the national interest, purely on what is going to support our Navy and air capability needs most effectively and efficiently for the long term and that he hasn’t been interested in politicking from anybody on this topic.

David Bevan: Are you expecting a decision soon?

Simon Birmingham: David, I’m not sure of that and that depends very much on the progress that the Department of Defence and the Navy have made in terms of their analysis of this issue. It’s one that is crucial in terms of making sure that we have submarine capability into the future with appropriate guarantees that those vessels will be available as required while we await the new attack-class submarines that are going to be built in Adelaide to come on stream.

David Bevan: But while you’re not a member of the National Security Committee, that’s correct isn’t it, that will be making this decision?

Simon Birmingham: That’s correct.

David Bevan: Right.

Simon Birmingham: The Trade Minister is not a member of the National Security Committee.

David Bevan: No. So while you’re not on that committee, you are the leading South Australian member of Cabinet. You – if a decision was going to be made in the next 24 hours, out of courtesy, they’d let you know, wouldn’t they?

Simon Birmingham: David, as I said, it depends very much on the analysis that comes forward; just how credible everybody sees that to be. And so these matters have been looked at for a while. Now, my view has been very clear publicly that as long as the land, facilities and skills are available to continue to deliver the major sustainment work in SA in addition to the $89 billion worth of new ship building work that will be led in SA, then it ought to continue to happen in South Australia. But that is the prime question that Defence is answering. And now, of course, I’ve had discussions with the Prime Minister and my other relevant senior cabinet colleagues and members of the NSC on this matter and will continue to do so.

David Bevan: Gee. If I- listening to that, Simon Birmingham, if I had a job down there on the maintenance program at the subs, I’d be thinking I might need to get a new job.

Simon Birmingham: Well no, people certainly shouldn’t be thinking that.

Ali Clarke: Can you understand though why they might be?

Simon Birmingham: David, I- Ali, I understand the concerns, of course, of the workforce. We all want to secure every single job we can for South Australia but we also need to make sure that we’re not just doing work in places for political purposes that we are getting the best outcome for taxpayers, the best outcome in terms of capability of our Navy. And that’s the question that has to be answered through this process. I want the work to continue in SA as long as it stacks up. As certainly the Premier and others firmly argue it does; that it all can be done in SA in the best possible way.

David Bevan: Now, we’ve been trying for days to get an interview with the Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud. I’m not sure if he knows where South Australia is. The reason we were asking for that is of course because of the protests that were held outside of Parliament House last week and the increasingly shrill calls to remove the barrages down at the lower lakes and to install another lock – a lock zero or perhaps around Wellington. That would be where- where it would go. What’s your message to Littleproud?

Simon Birmingham: Well my message to anyone is that I would not support in any form any action that would reduce effective water security for South Australia or would undermine in anyway the delivery of the Murray Darling Basin Plan. And now, I think you’re characterisation there of David Littleproud is unfair. He has been strongly defending the full implementation of the Murray Darling Basin Plan. We do need to appreciate the dire circumstances that many upstream communities face as a result of drought at present and that doesn’t mean that shrill calls for a lock zero or those types of actions are at all justified. But I think we should give credit where it’s due that ministers like David Littleproud has been defending sound policy that underpins the Murray Darling Basin Plan against intense and emotional pressure from communities who understand that we’re feeling a lot of pain right now.

David Bevan: Well because we haven’t been able to get an interview with the Minister, we’ve got to ask you, are you sure that South Australia’s interests will be protected?

Simon Birmingham: Well I am emphatic that I won’t be supporting in any form, anything that would undermine South Australia’s water security. I’m confident that David Littleproud has been strong in his support for the Murray Darling Basin Plan and that nothing I’ve seen changes that.

Ali Clarke: Okay. Senator Birmingham, thank you very much.

Simon Birmingham: My pleasure. Thanks guys.

Ali Clarke: Senator Simon Birmingham there. South Australian Liberal Senator and Minister for Trade.