Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Friday, 17 September 2021
Simon Birmingham:. Yesterday's announcements mean that ASC is well-placed to build on its proud history of building and sustaining the Collins class submarines, contributing to the air warfare destroyers and to move ahead in making sure our Collins class continue to be some of the best conventional submarines in the world. They are upgraded in the most extensive and comprehensive way possible to be able to support and sustain our Navy over the next couple of decades. And at the same time contribute to the new work on the nuclear powered submarine programme. ASC's work in that taskforce will be an important element of ensuring that the decisions we make alongside the United Kingdom, the United States are decisions that best enable Australia to make sure we get designs, skills, Capabilities and infrastructure here at the Osborne shipyards in Adelaide to effectively build and deliver those new nuclear powered submarines. Alongside the upgraded Hobart Class of warfare destroyers and the ongoing work on the Collins class fleet. Importantly, more jobs will be needed at ASC to do that work just as we see ASC and BAE taking on more people as part of the delivery of the future frigates program and indeed other companies such as Saab and Raytheon employing more people as part of our overall scaling up of investment across Australia's Defence industry program. To make sure we have the skills we need its crucial we support those people working on the current attack class program transition into new roles. We have many good, great South Australians and Australians have been doing a good job here and in France, in terms of developing the attack class program. We want to ensure their skills are captured and there to support the ongoing work of possible different streams of our Defence industry program. That's why the government has tasked ASC with leading work in creating sovereign shipbuilding talent for Australia. All of those affected by yesterday's decision in relation to the attack class program will be in a position to register their interest their skills their details with ASC, and from that, we will be delivering on the commitment we've made as a government to ensure that skilled designers, skilled shipbuilders, those who have been working so hard on that programme are able to transition into other parts of the Defence industry program. This is about providing a jobs guarantee for the skilled workforce so that we can maintain and keep those skills to deliver all of many other aspects of our shipbuilding programs in the years and decades to come. We'll also make sure that all of those affected have opportunities and knowledge of other jobs that may be there, whether they be in corporate or other lines of work to guarantee at lease assistance for them in seizing whatever opportunities are available, Knowing these are challenging time for those individuals. On the whole this is an incredibly big opportunity for South Australia and for the defence industry right across Australia. More work will be needed in WA as it will in other states in terms of the opportunities for contractors supporting these different streams of these programs and we are thrilled to see with ASC such enthusiasm in delivering that.
Journalist: Can I get a response to an article in the China Global Times, it says military targets in Australia will inevitability become a target for Chinese missiles. Australian soldiers are likely to become the first patch of western soldiers to waste their lives in the South China Sea?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I've seen the Global Times make many reckless comments over the years, and these are in line with that type of recklessness.
Journalist: [inaudible question]
Simon Birmingham: I'm not going to speculate in terms of internal discussions with the Chinese government or the Chinese media. I reinforce that Australia makes these sovereign decisions in relation to our defensive capabilities, the same as any other nation that makes such decisions, including China. And we do so in a spirit of seeking to ensure security across our region. Our desire is to see peace and security across the Indo-Pacific region, because that is what is so crucial for the sovereignty of Australia and the sovereignty and protection indeed of our many other fellow nations across this region.
Journalist: Have there been any threats of China imposing higher tariffs on any of our products in response to this?
Simon Birmingham: Australia's decisions in relation to the type of defence materials and equipment we procure are no different to China or any other nation making sovereign decisions about their procurement activities.
Journalist: What sort presence of US troops will we see on Australian soil now?
Simon Birmingham: Well, we already have US troops who work alongside Australian troops in a range of different ways, and we have a 71 year old alliance that is as strong as ever, and that we will continue to build upon in years to come. Yesterday's announcement in relation to the establishment of the AUKUS trilateral security partnership is a huge step in strengthening that alliance even further, particularly when it relates to our defence industries and the abilities for them to share technology, designs, details and to collaborate, not just not just on naval shipbuilding, but across a range of different platforms. We have US troops who rotate through Australia in different ways already, that has been a long standing arrangement, and that no doubt will continue,
Journalist: They're going to increase? Will we see some of U.S. troops in South Australia?
Simon Birmingham: No doubt, collaboration in terms of naval shipbuilding will be a key part with UK and US partners. And of course, it's not just building future Nuclear powered submarines that happens, we have to be able then to operate those Nuclear powered submarines in the future. That means that over the next couple of decades, once we progressed beyond this 12 to 18 month planning period. We'll have to look at how we skill our sailors, our crews that will involve collaborative activities, no doubt with the UK or the US. We'll have to look in terms of the shipyards in Fremantle at which Collins class fleet operate out of at present, the types of enhancements that are necessary in Western Australia for them to be able to accommodate much larger submarines, much larger crew numbers and the opportunities that come from that.
Journalist: Minister, are you able to shed some light on this issue about the local jobs component, you sort of scoffed at the suggestion that it was 40 percent instead of 60...
Simon Birmingham: I think I was scoffing at the source
Journalist: Well regardless of the source, you’re ruling that out, you’re going to be going for 60 per cent?
Simon Birmingham: The UK and the US have embraced this at a country to country level, not at a company to company level. A country to country level because they want to see the capabilities established in Australia, not just to own and operate Nuclear Powered submarines but to be able to build and sustain them. So I have absolute confidence that the partnership with the UK and the US will deliver the maximum possible industry content for Australian bushiness in terms of that submarine build because that maximum capability is essential then to the sustainment and operation of them in the long run which the US and the UK know we need to be able to do effectively.
Journalist: Having committed to that. Have we then lost the flexibility to demand a certain number of local jobs?
Simon Birmingham: No, because we go into this, with shared ideals across the three nations. For Australia to effectively have the capability to build to sustain and to operate.
Journalist: [inaudible question]
Simon Birmingham: We've seen some decisions over the last couple of years from China in relation to trade policy, that were not justified, that we are challenging through the World Trade Organisation. I would urge China to respect Australia's sovereignty in making decisions around our Defence procurement just as we respect the sovereignty of other nations, and certainly there should be no need to conflate other issues with that.
Journalist: Senator. Will the government have a closer look at the Chinese consulate here? Are you concerned with the size of it and, you know, considering this project? What's your position on it?
Simon Birmingham: Diplomatic missions in Australia operate in accordance with international protocols and conventions and our Department of Foreign affairs and trade manages presence of Diplomats in Australia and those missions in accordance with those international commitments we've made. Thanks Guys.