Topics: AUKUS: Business opportunities beyond submarines

10:00AM AEST


Simon Birmingham: It has been an incredibly exciting time in terms of the Australia-US relationship Now, I know the theme that I’ve been throwing today is AUKUS and the business opportunity potential beyond submarines. But I think it is important, firstly to note, the importance overall of that partnership. A partnership in the pursuit of peace and stability across our region, a partnership that seeks to strengthen the relations that we have at a government to government level, but also through that in a business to business level, the strategic cooperation between our peoples to make sure that through greater collaboration, greater trade, greater investment flows, we are able to enhance and deliver on all of the opportunities of the amazing Australia-US relationship and of course, that partnership involving our great friends in the United Kingdom as well.


The first initiative is nuclear powered submarines, as announced at the time by our three leaders, and we’re already making great progress in relation to that initiative. Late last month, our three countries exchanged an agreement for the exchange of naval nuclear propulsion information. This agreement formally commits the UK and the US to be able to transfer naval nuclear propulsion information to Australia. Nobody should underestimate the significance of that, given how tightly held this information, this knowledge, this intellectual property has been for so many decades. And as Australians, we should be incredibly proud and grateful for the trust that has been shown by our friends in the US to bring that information and knowledge sharing to bear in this partnership. It’s a crucial step in supporting the 12 to 18 month delivery program for decision making around the new nuclear powered submarines. These requirements will include work around submarine design, construction, safety, operation, maintenance, disposal, regulation, training, environmental protection, installations and infrastructure, industrial base capacity, workforce and force structure.


There is a lot of work to be done in a relatively short period of time to ensure we come to the best possible decisions. But I’m very confident that we will be able to deliver on that work and achieve those outcomes because of the willingness of the aspirations that are shared of our partners. In working with the US and UK, we have partners who don’t just want Australia to have a particular kit of military capability. We have partners who know and want Australia to be able to successfully build, operate and sustain that capability at every level. That they want us to be able to build those submarines, to operate those submarines and to sustain those submarines as independently as possible to the greatest degree, to be able to add to our overall shared capabilities. And those capabilities shouldn’t just be viewed in terms of the numbers of defence material that’s available. They must equally be viewed in terms of the abilities to build and sustain those defence materials and well into the future.


It’s going to give our countries an opportunity to better collaborate out of this leading partnership on nuclear submarines in a range of other areas. Collaboration in defence science, research and education, technology, work across our industrial bases. All of the different efforts to build then in cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies and additional undersea capabilities. There are huge opportunities from all of this that of course, flow in terms of business potential and partnerships. Because crucially, if we are to establish that capability in building and sustaining equipment as well as the work in terms of operating it, then we will need to ensure that the supply chains are embedded not just through Australia but across the US and the UK as well.


Now, COVID-19 has highlighted many potential areas of supply chain vulnerability. I lived that as trade minister when we had to intervene to establish the International Freight Assistance Mechanism to help to make sure that key producers, particularly in our agricultural sector, but also others, could maintain access into international markets, including the US, as we saw commercial aviation grind to a global halt. It meant that we were able to keep those supply chains open and building supply chains across all of our industrial sectors, but particularly in the defence industries, is going to be a crucial part of what we seek to achieve through AUKUS.


AUKUS will help to further develop supply chains across three economies. Just last month, we, along with the US, signed a landmark statement on cooperating in quantum science and technology, building on the strong partnership there in terms of science and tech exchange, and showing a further area of alignment in terms of research and development technological capabilities that we seek to build together.


It’s a statement that will strengthen our ability to exchange quantum knowledge and skills and creates more opportunities to promote R&D and encourages greater market access for quantum businesses in both our nations. We know that quantum technologies, a key part of what we seek to pursue under AUKUS, will help us to overcome significant challenges that current generations of computers struggle to solve.


It’s why our government stepped forward in investing a further $111 million to support the commercialisation, adoption and use of quantum technologies to create jobs, to support Australian businesses and to build these sorts of partnerships. The quantum investment includes $70 million for quantum commercialisation hub to foster strategic partnerships with like-minded countries like the US. That is going to be a crucial part of helping our business to work with other leaders in the technological breakthroughs, but then driving through that innovation pipeline to the point and opportunities of commercialisation. This quantum commercialisation hub will be supported by the development of a national quantum strategy. Quantum technologies prospectus designed to align industry and government efforts in a way that can unlock greater private sector investment, including especially from partners in the US.


Of course, seeking investment and securing investment from the US is nothing new for Australia. Investment is at the core of our economic relationship. The US stands proudly as Australia’s number one investments partner, number one source of foreign investment into Australia. And indeed, over the last 16 years, we’ve seen that two way investment grow more than 180 per cent under the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement. And now we hope with AUKUS operating alongside it, creating these new opportunities in areas such as quantum technologies, that we can see further growth in that investment relationship.


Another area for growth and cooperation in the investment relationship that is so deeply aligned with the principles of the AUKUS partnership are the areas of critical minerals and technologies. This is something that I was very pleased to be able to work previously with Ambassador Culverhouse on in my role as trade and investment minister, and it was a passion that we both shared. I know many in the Australia-US relationship share.


To build our collaboration on critical minerals, which play a crucial role in driving the clean energy transformation that both our nations wish to see in driving our pathways towards net zero emissions, as well as underpinning so many areas of new technology and defence technologies. We’re both committed to strengthening the supply chains for these enabling resources, which are critical inputs for the future.


The work, for example, that is happening now in Western Australia, as Albemarle lithium hydroxide processing plant is well underway. Its construction activities is a practical example of how we are already seeing that investment flow in areas of critical minerals technology making a practical difference, and this must be a priority area for ongoing collaboration between our relative defence industries as well as governments as well as industry overall.


We’re also excited to be exploring opportunities to finance business project throughout the critical minerals value chain, drawing from the new critical minerals facility that we have announced as a government that we hope can be a vehicle to attract further partnering from US government financing mechanisms. So across a range of areas we can see, be it artificial intelligence quantum computing, the opportunities in relation to critical minerals space as others have touched on, where we are seeking to grow and strengthen Australia’s role, particularly as the southern hemisphere power in relation to the space industry. The opportunities that exist in terms of development of our sovereign missile capability in Australia, but which will require significant partnership with US defence industry partners to these are all ongoing, significant and will be furthered and fuelled by the AUKUS  partnership and the close proximity that brings.


Thank you once again for the opportunity to be with you all today and to share these few words.