Kieran Gilbert: And the French President Francois Hollande has described the deal as historic, this awarding of the contract to DCNS, a French company, a $50 billion contract to produce 12 new submarines for the Australian Navy. Now Japan meanwhile is demanding answers over why it missed out, it says the decision is deeply regrettable. To discuss this and the other issues of the day I’m joined by Adelaide-based Liberal Minister and Senator Simon Birmingham the Education Minister. Thanks very much for your time. Senator Birmingham this must come as a great relief to your Liberal colleagues in South Australia because this is such a pivotal industry to that state.
Simon Birmingham: Kieran this is very good news for Australia as a whole, and yes it’s great news for South Australia too. It’s good news first and foremost because it cements our Defence capability well into the future and that’s critical to our national and economic security into the future. But of course it also feeds very strongly into the jobs growth and innovation agenda of the Turnbull Government, that we want to make sure that at every possible juncture we are supporting Australian industry to innovate, to shift into high advanced manufacturing technologies and industries, and of course there is nothing more advanced, highly technical, than the building of submarines, and this is a great opportunity for South Australia and all of Australia’s Defence industry.
Kieran Gilbert: And you’ve had to pay a premium to get it haven’t you, you’ve had to pay more than you otherwise would have if you’d got it off the- the technology off the shelf, say, from this French company. Because they publicly warned the Government, the Commonwealth, that it’d be slower and more expensive to build all of the submarines, all twelve of them, in Adelaide.
Simon Birmingham: So the competitive evaluation process was assessed against a number of criteria. Firstly defence capability, making sure we have regionally superior submarines that will do the job for our Navy. Secondly cost, and thirdly Australian industry involvement in capacity. Now of course that’s a matrix that you assess against all of those different factors. What we are confident of is that the French submarine gives us the best, most regionally superior capable submarine that was on offer, that the French option gives us a great opportunity to build capability within Australia’s defence industries, which further enhances our national security, and our economic wellbeing. And yes that’s worth paying a modest premium for if that’s the case in the final outcome.
Kieran Gilbert: Is it modest though? Because some of the critics this morning are saying that this is a massive industry, or job creation effort, when really if you looked at just purely our strategic and defence requirements we’d be going a different path altogether.
Simon Birmingham: Well no I really reject that, because it’s critical to our national security that we have this capability within Australia. It’s critical to our economic security that we use this type of Government investment in Defence industries to leverage innovation. For a state like mine in South Australia that is at the forefront of transition and transformation in our economy it’s not just about building the submarines, it’s about what we do with the types of industries that that supports in our state. How we use the innovation and industry agenda that the Government has to ensure those companies become part of global supply chains. That they’re not just suppling widgets into a submarine in Adelaide, that they are actually developing product and capability for the rest of the country, and for export around the world. And the commitment from DCNS of France to share and work with us in terms of the intellectual property, the intellectual capital of people and of businesses working on this, will really enhance the ability of Australian businesses right around the country to be part of [indistinct] the contract.
Kieran Gilbert: [Talks over] Well one of the… this is obviously very sensitive politically in this election year, one of the South Australians who’s benefited most to this point on this issue by defending the state’s sector- defence industry is Nick Xenophon. He… one Minister said to me that he could win a handful of lower house seats in South Australia. Will this help stop the Xenophon momentum heading into the election, this decision?
Simon Birmingham: That’s really a matter for political commentators to make their judgement on. I’m confident that South Australians will see that the Turnbull Government has laid out a clear plan for a continuous shipbuilding program that ensures we bridge as best we possibly can the valley of death that was created by six years of Labor indecision where not one shipbuilding decision was made. We have now progressed that to the point where we know that we will work on the AWD program, the air warfare destroyers through until 2018. There will then be a period of time of work in Adelaide on the offshore patrol vessels, then it will transition to the Future Frigates, and then ultimately into the submarine program. A continuous program that, based on the RAND Corporation’s own analysis of focusing work in the Adelaide shipyards and at Henderson in Western Australia will give Australia the best possible chance of being cost-effective and efficient in building ships and contributing to our naval capability decades into the future.
Kieran Gilbert: Onto another issue, and it’s not your portfolio but it’s something of significance in terms of the Government’s platform here, and that’s on border protection. Manus Island deemed unconstitutional by the PNG Supreme Court – can you really fly in the face of that ruling by another sovereign nation’s top court and say that we’re not going to return these 900 individuals to Australia?
Simon Birmingham: First and foremost, the decision of the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court is a matter for the Papua New Guinea Government. The Australian Government was not a party to these proceedings; it was a Papua New Guinea matter and we of course have to await for the response of the PNG Government, who I understand are looking of course at their legal advice and so on at present. We will, as we always do, continue to work with the PNG Government, but what this decision shows is that Australians cannot afford to take a risk when it comes to border security into the future. It is the Coalition Government which has put in place the policies and shown the determination to be able to stop the boats. We saw 50,000 arrivals …
Kieran Gilbert: [Interrupts] But you haven’t- everyone – there’s always this assessment that it’s all finished, it’s done, you’ve stopped it, but the fact is these 900 people are still waiting for resettlement – that has not been achieved yet. It’s not am done deal in terms of the policy.
Simon Birmingham: [Talks over] Well the fact is, Kieran, if we hadn’t stopped the boats we’d be dealing with thousands, tens of thousands more, that we have managed to work through a process of getting thousands of children who were in detention out of detention [indistinct] …
Kieran Gilbert: [Talks over] But it’s still a work in progress isn’t it, this policy?
Simon Birmingham: … any arrivals coming.
Kieran Gilbert: Because it’s still – there’s still not a place for these 900.
Simon Birmingham: [Talks over] And Kieran, it is forever a work in progress, which is why Australia cannot afford to take the risk of a return to a Labor Government, who when they were last in power, unwound all of the measures that had stopped this flow of people to Australia, and therefore jeopardised Australia’s border security. We have managed to turn that back. Yes, there’s continued work to be done, but people can be confident that under the Coalition, there will be no backwards step, and that every possible policy measure will be put in place to continue to stop those arrivals.
Kieran Gilbert: Onto Labor’s climate policy, they’re releasing it today, the Prime Minister previously supported, obviously, an emissions trading scheme, and from what I understand and remember of this issue, that the Prime Minister was opposed to Labor’s carbon tax because it was a fixed price. Labor, in its plan today is actually proposing a floating price, an emissions trading scheme. Why is the Prime Minister not supportive of this?
Simon Birmingham: Well let’s see what Labor’s plan is today. What we do know from the media speculation is that they are proposing targets that are well above the agreement Australia signed on the international stage just within the last week. Now the agreement that we have made to reduce emissions by between 26 and 28 per cent by 2030 puts Australia at the top of the league table in terms of per capita reduction in emissions and emissions reduction as a proportion of GDP. Australia is doing …
Kieran Gilbert: [Talks over] But we’ll still be one of the – if not one of, the biggest emitter in the developed world, per capita.
Simon Birmingham: [Talks over] Well in terms of effort of change, Australia is at the top of effort, and yet the Labor Party is proposing to go even further. Now that of course will have an impact on electricity prices, on the competitiveness of the Australian economy and jobs; it’s a risky and reckless act on Labor’s part.
Kieran Gilbert: Minister, thanks for your time, appreciate it.