Topics: AUKUS one year anniversary; Queen Elizabeth the Second commemorative events;
Laura Jayes: Now to the Shadow Foreign Minister, Simon Birmingham. Good to see you. First on this this submarine development. It does seem like there’s going to be a capability gap. Is it avoidable?
Simon Birmingham: Hello, LJ. It’s good to be with you. Well, first things first in terms of the procurement and build in Australia of the nuclear powered submarines and welcome indications from the government in terms of that clear focus on ensuring that the design is one of choosing, presumably either the Virginia class or the Astute class not seeking to do higher risk bespoke, but actually getting the job done and getting it done as efficiently and effectively as possible with that commitment to build them in Australia, which is critical because that will enable us to have the confidence in terms of the delivery of those submarines, the confidence in terms of the sustainment and maintenance of those submarines and the ability to be able to confidently operate them for decades into the future. When it was announced, this was a 12-to-18-month process of selecting the appropriate boat and design for the submarines. Critically, if the government can do that in less than that 18 months, it’s now the 12 month anniversary they should do so. We should have that confidence around the selection of design and the progress, particularly on the critical shipyard infrastructure that needs to be built to be able to then enable us to start building the submarines themselves. So there are some key things the government needs to make sure it does quickly, early and investment in that shipyard infrastructure is one of them, so that you’ve then got the facilities and the infrastructure in place to enable the submarine build. In terms of whether there is access potentially to nuclear-powered submarines earlier through cooperative joint operations potentially and basing options with the UK and or the US, there are things that we would strongly encourage the government to do. To help ensure capability and also to ensure preparedness for operation of our own subs in the future.
Peter Stefanovic: So, do you prefer? Would you prefer a US design or a UK design?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I’m not going to pick a preference between the two, but that’s ultimately got to come down to the capability they deliver, Pete. As well as, of course, the process that can have the highest confidence around a successful build to cost to timeline to all of those functional issues that need to be assessed. That’s why we embarked on this 12 to 18 month process. But the government shouldn’t wait until the last minute of the 18th month. If they can settle on that design sooner, make progress in the shipyard infrastructure, make progress in the workforce requirements and the like, then all of that should be getting progressed as quickly as possible within the window now we’ve passed this 12 month anniversary.
Laura Jayes: Your government signed the AUKUS agreement. We’re now at 12 months on, surely with the submarines deal, the situation we’re in at the moment. That agreement should make things easier for us, shouldn’t it?
Simon Birmingham: Absolutely. And not just on nuclear powered-submarines. Critically, the AUKUS agreement enables for greater cooperation in areas of missile technology in other areas. In terms of artificial intelligence and technology sharing, there’s a range of different spheres and working groups established under AUKUS to help ensure that we have the deepest military cooperation and exchange possible. And so whilst there is a right and correct focus on ensuring delivery of the nuclear powered submarines, all of these other areas provide the best possible pathway for the Australian Defence Force to have access to the highest capability and the Australian defence industry to be able to integrate more easily in terms of supply chains across the US and the UK. And they are some of the other opportunities that really need to be seized there that our defence industry suppliers need to secure from AUKUS cooperation greater access into some of those US/UK supply chains, just as we will draw on their supply chains for the building of the new nuclear-powered submarines in Australia.
Peter Stefanovic: The Australian Defence Force will have a role to play in the Queen’s State funeral next week. You must be pleased about that.
Simon Birmingham: Well, it’s fitting and appropriate. The death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second has touched many people. There have been many poignant moments of reflection and commemoration since her death. And that will continue through, of course, the funeral in London next week and the memorial celebrations and acknowledgements that will occur in Australia next week. And the role for Australia as a country that has had Queen Elizabeth the Second as a head of state for the last 70 years. It’s fitting and appropriate that there should be those significant opportunities.
Laura Jayes: Yeah. Well said. Simon Birmingham, thanks so much for your time.