Carrie Bickmore: On a level of one to 10, how awks is it that the US president doesn’t know our prime minister’s name, Simon?
Simon Birmingham: Well, look, guys, pals, mates, friends, you know Joe Biden is known for being a folksy sort of guy, and that was just his folksy character coming through.
Waleed Aly: Can I ask, do you actually believe what you just said? Do you believe what you just said?
Simon Birmingham: Sorry, who was it there that I was talking to?
Carrie Bickmore: Ok, so let’s talk subs. This is obviously to send a message to China. What’s the message we’re sending will be good in a couple of decades. We’ll be ready for you then.
Simon Birmingham: Look, the message that we are sending is really one that Australia, as the 13th largest economy in the world, is one that invests in our own sovereign capability, invests in terms of ensuring that as a country we are prepared for our national security in the long term future and that we’re willing to do so, investing in the best of class, the best of type to suit the circumstances, but it’s not targeted at any one country our desire is that what we do contributes to the type of balance and strategic relations across the region in the world that maintains a peaceful environment across the region.
Waleed Aly: So we are willing to invest. But this isn’t yet a formal agreement. It’s a plan to have a plan if you like. And if it comes through, the subs won’t arrive till 2040. I mean, there’s another reading of this, which is that we’ve just explicitly sided with the declining superpower as opposed to the rising superpower and in the process ensured that we have substandard submarines for the next 20 years.
Simon Birmingham: Well, we have sided with very long term ally in the 71st year of the alliance and the partnership between Australia and the US. We’ve entered into this agreement with them with the UK because indeed we should always work together as countries who share values, values of democracy, values of freedom. They’re all very important. But also we share trust in the relationship and this is a firm commitment between the three countries for Australia to get the technology, the details, the designs, the know how, the skills, the capabilities to be able to build these nuclear powered submarines and in doing so to give us the best possible subs. But we’re not just doing that today. We also announced that we are upgrading the Collins class, extending their life with upgraded systems. We’re upgrading our air warfare destroyers and we’re investing in new missile and other technological capabilities, underpinned in part by this agreement.
Peter Helliar: Simon, we’ve just paid $2.4 billion for attack class submarines that we’re never going to get. There’ll probably be a breach of contract that some people are saying could cost us one hundred, a couple of hundred dollars million. The PM has described this as a good investment. Put your bare foot investor hat on. How is it a good investment?
Simon Birmingham: What we’re making is a good investment in the future now. It would have been a bad investment for us to go on and spend another $90 billion in terms of developing and sustaining submarines, when the advice we’ve received in the last few years and particularly through the course of the last couple of years, has been that we can and need to do better. Times change, circumstances change, technology changes and the changes that we face in terms of the detectability of conventionally powered submarines versus the capability of nuclear powered submarines, and particularly the capability for us to sustain them without needing to have a domestic nuclear fuel cycle here in Australia is really the game changer. That means we could make this change right now and it was the right change to make.
Chrissie Swan: I’ve got a question. Get ready. One of the big differences about the nuclear powered submarines as opposed to the diesel ones, is that I can stay under the water for longer, sometimes months at a time. What are you going to do about food?
Simon Birmingham: So you’re right. Stealth is one of the big factors and so they can stay a lot longer. Indeed, they can stay as long as indeed those practical considerations of food and managing the naval fleet and particularly our sailors allow. And you know, that’s why part of this whole work will be about training, as Joe Biden said today. You know this is an investment in co-operation between our sailors, our scientists and our industries. And for the sailors, this will mean that we’ll be working very closely with the UK and the US around what it’s like to live, work, sail and work in a nuclear powered submarine.
Chrissie Swan: While we’ve got you. Should Christian Porter be dropped from the frontbench over his anonymous donations?
Simon Birmingham: Look, I’m aware the Prime Minister made some statements today in terms of the fact that he’s asking for advice around compliance with the Ministerial Code of Conduct. That’s precisely what should happen.
Carrie Bickmore: All right. Well, leave it there, pal. Thanks you some.
Simon Birmingham: See you guys, mates, friends, others.