Topics: Albanese Government axing Naval Shipbuilding College without replacement; PM to PNG; Exclusive Sam Smith concert costing taxpayers;

12:35PM ACDT
13 January 2023


Simon Birmingham: Thanks very much for coming along and Happy New Year. Pleased to be here today with state counterparts John Gardner and Stephen Patterson, John, the Deputy Liberal Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Education Minister. And Stephen is the Shadow Minister for Space and Defence Industries.

This is a serious issue today in terms of the revelations that the Albanese Government was seemingly complicit with the Malinauskas Government have decided to axe the Naval Shipbuilding College. If they were going to axe the Naval Shipbuilding College. It’s fair to ask why didn’t they announce it themselves? And where is the replacement? Because what’s occurred is the Government has been shamed into owning up to the fact that they are axing the Naval Shipbuilding College. They’re doing so without seemingly having told the employees of the Naval Shipbuilding College, 6000 registered workers pursuing naval shipbuilding careers in Australia or indeed the South Australian public. So why have they kept this a secret and why don’t they have an effective replacement in place lined up, ready to go? Because we know that one of the biggest risks to successful naval shipbuilding in Australia are workforce challenges. That having enough people with the right skills in the right place at the right time is one of the biggest challenges for naval shipbuilding enterprise. And that our capacity to build the ships and subs that our Navy needs for the future will be thrown off course if we don’t have people with the right skills in the right place at the right time.

The Naval Shipbuilding College was established in 2018 as a collaborative venture working between industry, universities, TAFEs and other education institutions to make sure that they were delivering people with the skills that industry needs. Now, of course, it was always going to be subject to refinement and improvement over time. But instead, the Labor Party has axed it without telling anybody and without a replacement. And that just increases the uncertainty that industry faces in terms of its capacity to get the workforce it needs for the future.

We call on the Government to urgently clarify what it is they’re going to do. What will the next steps be? And to front and explain this decision that they appear to think they could just sweep under the carpet.

I invite John and Stephen to say a couple of words and then happily take some questions.


John Gardner, South Australian Deputy Leader of the Opposition: Thank you, Simon I agree with every point that Simon has made. We have a need in the coming decades in South Australia for a strong workforce to deliver the ships that we are able to build here in South Australia. But there are going to be skills needs and growing skill areas of skills needs the Naval Shipbuilding College was established to prepare for. To ensure that we had the training organisations, delivery of education courses that were needed, and to advocate and recruit the workforce into those courses that were going to do those jobs.

It’s quite clear that this decision has been coming clearly now months. What’s unclear is what did Peter Malinauskas know. When did he know it and what did he do to try and stop this decision by the Albanese Federal Government?

The South Australian Labor Government has absolute responsibility to our community and to young people in South Australia to ensure the position is in place for our young people to get training for these jobs. What the Malinauskas government should have done last year was to advocate for the Naval Shipbuilding College, to advocate for South Australia’s young people to ensure that this pipeline of job opportunities was not going to be damaged by the decision that’s been made today. And what we know now is that the Naval Shipbuilding College is going to be ending. We have no idea what the state or federal Labor Government’s plans are to replace it.


Stephen Patterson, South Australian Shadow Minister for Defence Industries: Thank you, John. And thank you, Simon, as well. Certainly, the Naval Shipbuilding College is critical to South Australia’s vision to have a pipeline of skilled workers to make sure that we can further build on South Australia’s reputation and ability to be the home of naval shipbuilding here in Australia. Whenever I’m out meeting with these big, large defence primes, they’re always talking as their biggest challenge as workforce, placement, skills and needs and making sure they’re at the right time when required.

We know that there’s a massive shortage in the skills required at the moment and the Naval Shipbuilding College is put in place to be able to provide that pipeline of talent and workforce to get them from being trainees into the workforce. And so, this cut to the Naval Shipbuilding College is a huge concern to defence industries here in South Australia. We as the State Opposition want to know what Peter Malinauskas is doing. Why has he been silent on this and what is going to be put in place to urgently address the cutting of the Naval Shipbuilding College?


Journalist: Senator to you. Could this just be a case of it not delivering what it was set out to deliver when it was created back in 2018 and the time has come for a fresh approach?


Simon Birmingham: The Naval Shipbuilding College was a start-up. Started in 2018 and we’re just a few years down the track and it is always going to evolve over time to meet the needs of the different industry players and to do so in a manner that worked as collaboratively as possible with universities, TAFEs and other education providers. Now if improvements are necessary, then of course those improvements should be made. But what has occurred instead is to axe the College and have no replacement, obviously ready to go. And that is where the Government is creating massive uncertainty for those employed by the college, for those looking for the college to give them training and skills and for the industry needs of the future workers. That’s why the Albanese Government needs to come clean about what its plans are, because clearly they have for months been preparing to axe this college. It was only when the Opposition started to ask questions through the media that they admitted the axe was falling over the Naval Shipbuilding College. Well, if they’re cutting it, what’s the alternative? How are they going to ensure that young Australians get maximum access to shipbuilding jobs in the future and that shipbuilders get access to the skilled staff they need.


Journalist: How far back could this set our target program to continue to build these machines in the future?


Simon Birmingham: Right across Australia, employers are crying out for skilled workers. We hear it constantly and particularly hear in the defence industries. And so to make sure we minimise the risks to successfully building ships and submarines, having skilled workers is a top priority and not having a clear strategy and pathway to train and skill those workers is one of the biggest risks to building of ships and subs could face. That’s why the government needs to provide certainty around this and a clear strategy with answers sooner rather than later.


Journalist: Was it actually doing anything this college?


Simon Birmingham: The Naval Shipbuilding College, was working with the different industry players, the big primes and others to assess what their needs were, working with the universities, TAFEs and education providers to help frame and the different training programmes that they deliver for students and was helping to marry and match up thousands of students with training and ultimately with employers. That’s what its purpose was for, and that’s indeed the it was getting on and doing.


Journalist: Just to pivot to the Prime Minister’s trip to PNG. Is this is the sort of outbound engagement he should be doing at this point in time?


Simon Birmingham: Engagement with our region is critical, and I welcome the fact that Prime Minister Albanese has been invited to address the Papua New Guinea Parliament, that he’s undertaking this visit building on the Comprehensive Strategic and Economic Partnership that Australia and Papua New Guinea signed in 2020 under the Coalition government. That partnership agreement kicked off further discussions about how to deepen trade ties, the establishment of security treaty. And while it’s disappointing that treaty is not being signed on this visit, I look forward to it being signed in the coming months as per the commitment that’s been made between the two governments. We have to make sure we work as comprehensively as possible with these regional partners. And it’s why we continue to give bipartisan support to the work of the Government, just as indeed we did in a very obvious and public way when Minister Wong and I visited three different Pacific Island nations late last year together.


Journalist: With that in mind, just how important is it to deepen those ties and considering the current geopolitical climate?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Papua New Guinea is important to Australia in so many different ways because it’s a genuine partnership between two countries, with close geographical proximity, with tied and interlocked history in many different ways. We are after New Guinea’s largest trade partner, largest investment partner, largest development assistance partner. And with all of those different partnerships, it’s logical that we should seek to build on those ties as well as security, business, cultural and other people to people links, and to do that as comprehensively as possible.


Journalist: John can I ask you about an event that took place this week down in McLaren Vale which involved British artist Sam Smith flying out here and hundreds of influencers being sent down to a concert that he put on down there. The Tourism Minister this morning wouldn’t say how much South Australian taxpayers contributed to that particular event. Do you think taxpayers should know what that cost?


John Gardner: Look, I think most South Australian taxpayers would think they had every right to know how much the Government was spending on the Sam Smith’s concert and in fact what they were getting for it. So otherwise, how can taxpayers make an assessment as to whether we were getting bang for our buck, whether in fact taxpayers were getting bang for their buck? What we know is that there was a concert that social media influencers and some other lucky few were able to attend. We know that there has been some social media by Sam Smith. I saw a photo of Sam Smith in front of a tree Cleland. I I think taxpayers would want to know how much we’ve spent and what we’re getting in return.


Journalist: Does it surprise you that the Minister seemed unable to explain the metrics that would be used to measure the value for money?


John Gardner: Look, I think that the state governments first position should be to be as open and transparent as is possible. And I think the taxpayers would expect the state government to be upfront and honest with them so the taxpayers can make an assessment as to whether they’re getting bang for buck. It’s disappointing that it appears the Minister is seeking to hide the cost. And hide the deal from the people of South Australia. I hope the Government will have a change of heart.


Journalist: With regards to the Shipbuilding College. At a state level how important is it that there be a replacement structure put in place as soon as possible to limit any sort of slippage in the timeline when it comes to preparing the workers needed for the shipbuilding program?


Stephen Patterson: The Naval Shipbuilding College certainly provide a really good body for industry and workers to engage to make sure that skills are being matched to workforce needs. And so this decision by the Albanese Government certainly has dudded South Australia and in its place we need something that really can help grow our workforce needs because we know that South Australia really is the home of the nation’s surface and submarine fleets and we want to see that continue. So any replacement is vital to make sure that South Australians can really participate in what is an industry that has prospects of over 10,000 jobs over the next decade. We want to make sure as many South Australian jobs are created as possible.


Simon Birmingham: Thank you very much. Thanks, guys.