Transcripts → 2023


Joint Press Conference - Osborne, South Australia

Minister for Finance
Minister for the Public Service
Minister for Women

Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for Foreign Affairs
Senator For South Australia

Acting Premier of South Australia


Date: Thursday, 16 March 2023

AUKUS; China; Budget repair

SENATOR THE HON KATY GALLAGHER, MINISTER FOR FINANCE:  Thanks very much for coming out today. It's great to be here with my friend and colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and of course, the Acting Premier of South Australia as well. It's been a week of big announcements, obviously, the Government announcing the optimal pathway for the AUKUS nuclear submarines. And, you know, the single biggest undertaking of our defence uplift, our investment in our national security and importantly, a huge role for South Australia. And so, it's great to be here, right in the middle of where the action is going to happen here at Osborne, obviously, with ANI playing a big role in developing the nuclear submarine shipyard, which we're standing on today. But also, how we're going to go about building and constructing and sustaining the AUKUS submarines, the Australian built submarines, in partnership with the AUKUS partners. And so today, we are announcing that we will enter into a Sovereign Submarine Partnership, this will guide and set the architecture for how those submarines will be built. It will provide opportunity, obviously, to select the partners but also to ensure that we get a good amount of Australian opportunities for Australian businesses. We have our plans around Future Made in Australia and our Buy Australian plan. And those plans will work in with this partnership to ensure that we are maximising the opportunity for Australian industry content and opportunities for Australian businesses. This is of course, in line with the commitment around the jobs that will happen here in South Australia, you know, 8,000 jobs in building and sustaining the submarines but obviously, a nationwide effort in terms of our industrial uplift, our industrial capability, the jobs that we will see that develop from this important partnership, right around the country. So, there's a massive focus on South Australia, obviously. But this is a nation building project. It's our single largest undertaking of an Australian Government in history, we are determined to get it right. This partnership will set the framework and the architecture to deliver that. Thanks, I'll hand to Penny.

SENATOR THE HON PENNY WONG, MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Hi, everybody, can I say how great it is to be here with Katy and Susan, and be here with all of you and can I thank ANI again for hosting us second day in a row. What you've seen since the AUKUS announcement is a series of announcements which go to the planning work that the Government has undertaken to ensure this optimal pathway can be delivered. I know South Australians have seen a lot of announcements, let me say to you, we are very focused along with the Malinauskas-Close Government on delivering the announcements we are making. You saw yesterday, cooperative partnership, cooperative agreement, announced between the acting Prime Minister, Minister Marles and the Premier here, which went to land swap, which went to the Skills Academy and 800 additional places in universities for South Australians. All about making sure we have the workforce to deliver this once in a century project, the biggest undertaking, the biggest industrial undertaking, the most technologically complex undertaking the nation has engaged in. So today, obviously, we're announcing the architecture to ensure we can deliver that, the Sovereign Submarine Partnership, and I'm very pleased to be here to be part of that. We are committed to making sure we deliver this for the country because of the capability that is required. And we are also committed to delivering the uplift here in South Australia and across the nation, both in terms of jobs, but also in the complexity of those jobs. I said a couple of days ago, when I was flanked by the Premier and the Deputy Premier, South Australians know what this meant to our economy, to our state, to our families, to our young people, when a government decided to ensure that there was an auto industry here. This is a similar undertaking, but at a greater scale and it will transform our state forever. It will ensure jobs in the decades to come for families and particularly for young South Australians. Happy to hand over to the Acting Premier.

ACTING PREMIER SUSAN CLOSE: Thank you and welcome all to not only this South Australian site, but in fact to my electorate of Port Adelaide. The consequences of this project are manifold, but not least is the impact it will have on industry in South Australia. Not only will there be additional direct jobs here, building submarines and also constructing this yard, but there will be jobs that will filter throughout our economy through the supply chain. But for that to happen, we need to have a clear pathway for engagement of the small to medium businesses in South Australia that are highly capable but need to have an opportunity to demonstrate their work in being part of this submarine building program. That's why this architecture is so important, to have a partnership that means that we will know where to go, how to understand what the project will look like, and the ways in which these companies can participate is absolutely essential. And the reason it matters is because that's how we get the transformation of our economy, not just through the direct jobs, but through engineering works, IT companies and service providers, being able to plug into this incredibly demanding procurer: defence. And therefore, being able to demonstrate high quality, high sophistication, high complexity. That's how we lift the living standards for all South Australians. That's how important this project is, it is utterly significant from a defence perspective. But for South Australians, it is going to change our economy and our standard of living. And we're very, very grateful we have a government that we can work in partnership to make sure that that's realised.

FOREIGN MINISTER: I'm sure there are quite a number of questions, but can I just ask, are there any questions on the announcement before we go to other questions?

ACTING PREMIER: As part of this partnership, is there a minimum requirement for either South Australian or Australian products to be in the supply chain?

FINANCE MINISTER:  Well, we want to maximise the opportunities for Australian companies. And this is, you know, quite a unique project. Obviously, massive undertaking, the largest procurement that we will undertake, as a government. Certainly, the largest undertaking in defence's history. So, the partnership that we're announcing today will sort of work through some of those details. But we want to absolutely maximise the opportunities. I should say, you know, the jobs that we already know that are coming with this are significant and significant here in South Australia. So that already is locked away. We know how many, you know, 5,500 building the submarines when they are under underway here in South Australia. So that's massive. But yeah, we want to maximise the opportunities for Australian companies. And we would expect lots of opportunities for South Australian companies as well.

JOURNALIST: But does that include a minimum content for South Australian suppliers? 

FINANCE MINISTER: Well, we want to maximise the opportunities, we haven't worked through all of the details. Obviously, we've made the announcement, we're setting up this partnership architecture now. And we will work through that. It's a bit hard to define all of that ahead of the work that needs to be done over the next 12 months. But I can absolutely guarantee that part of the focus of those discussions over the next 12 months in finalising that the key partnerships will be about how we maximise opportunities for Australian industry content, including jobs and companies here in South Australia. 

JOURNALIST: So, can you put a percentage on how much Australian companies will contribute to the AUKUS supply chain in the US and UK as well as Australia? 

FINANCE MINISTER: Well, I mean, that is again, some of the detail that will be worked through in the next 12 months. But there will be opportunities for and thanks for reminding me, for companies here to feed into opportunities in the UK. I mean, and that's why it's not the same as some of the previous defence projects, perhaps, where targets have been placed. Because the opportunities overseas are real as well. We need to work through that with not only the AUKUS partners, but the partners that we select through this sovereign submarine partnership.

JOURNALIST: Are there any companies where there are discussions already happening?

FINANCE MINISTER: Look, I think there has been, you know, not formally. This is the announcement of the Sovereign Submarine Partnership. Obviously, you know, as the optimal pathway has been developed, defence has been engaging with a whole range of stakeholders as that has been worked through.

JOURNALIST: What guarantees can these suppliers have? There were local suppliers here that were invested heavily in the French steel and then sat on that material for 18 months waiting for this deal to be ironed out. Meanwhile, they put in such a huge capital investment, what guarantees can they have this time round?

FINANCE MINISTER: Well, the guarantee is the project is going ahead. We've made the announcement. 

JOURNALIST: They were told that last time. 

FINANCE MINISTER:  Well, we've made the announcement. We are setting up the architecture to deliver that. I can understand that some of you know some of the issues around the attack have been very frustrating. And you know and have had impact on different companies who were going to have a role. But that is why, and I can't, again, reinforce this partnership and getting this partnership framework right. We are giving ourselves 12 months to work through all of the detail of that, because we're serious about getting this procurement right and not only to ensure that the framework is right, that we are maximising the opportunities for companies here and across Australia.

FOREIGN MINISTER: If I can, I think you asked a similar question yesterday. And I just want to emphasise a couple of points. The first is, I understand both in the South Australian community, but also in the business community, they've seen a Coalition Government announce Japanese submarines and then renege on that. They've seen a Coalition Government make a big fanfare about attack submarines, but not very much happen on the ground. We are absolutely committed to delivering this and the delivery requires so many moving parts. And what you're seeing over the last couple of days is how we are seeking to make sure we deal with all of those moving parts promptly and effectively. Whether it's the agreements yesterday, whether it's the workforce issue, or the sovereign submarine partnership today, because we know business do need certainty, and we want them engaged. The other point I'd make about local jobs, this will deliver many more jobs than the attack class. And the way to think about this is that we are part of a global shipyard. We are part of a global shipyard. So, the opportunities for Australians, for South Australians are not just here. And although there are many opportunities here, it's also being part of a global shipyard and those supply chains and what is the key constraint on that? The key constraint is people. That's the key constraint is workforce, something that the previous government never, ever addressed. And what we have is state and federal governments understanding we have to deliver on these workforce issues.

JOURNALIST: While you're there, Foreign Minister, regarding to Paul Keating's comments yesterday and in describing this decision as "the worst international decision by a Labor Government" on Prime Minister Anthony Albanese's reliance on two seriously unwise ministers. How do you feel about being categorised as unwise and what would you say to his comments?

FOREIGN MINISTER:  What I'd say is this, Paul Keating has his views. But in substance, and in tone, they belong to another time. We don't face the region of 30 years ago, we don't face the region that we hope we had, we face the region of today. And we have to work to ensure the region we want for the future. That's what this announcement is about. That's what all of our work has been about. What I'd say is this: we know there's been unprecedented military build-up in our region. We can't wish that away. And we also know that has an effect on the stability of the region in which Australia lives. So, what this announcement is about, just as our engagement with Southeast Asia and the Pacific is about, it is about ensuring Australia's security and recognising that that security is best delivered in a region which is stable, prosperous, secure, and respectful of sovereignty. So, I'm not going to get into — you asked me a question — I'm not going to get into the personal issues that you raised. What I would say is this. Your government looks to assure Australia's security in the region now and into the future. And that's why we've made this decision. And that's why we do all that we do, both in defence and in foreign policy.

JOURNALIST: Minister, have any Chinese officials been briefed on AUKUS here in Australia? And if so, how was that received?

FOREIGN MINISTER:  Look, I haven't yet had a briefing about how the diplomatic briefing went yesterday. I think, I referenced that previously, that we'd offered a briefing. I understand that there were Chinese representatives, representatives of the diplomatic corps briefing that was undertaken by my department.

JOURNALIST: Do you think, sorry with Keating's comments again, there were some other comments made that were, I suppose personally singling you out. Do you think you deserve an apology?

FOREIGN MINISTER:  Look, I'm interested in doing this job to the best of my ability with my colleagues to assure the prosperity and the security of the country. That's what I'm doing. And that's what this decision is about.

JOURNALIST: Were you aware of any of those views before yesterday, or did he wait till the Press Club?

FOREIGN MINISTER: I think his views are on the public record as are mine.

JOURNALIST: The Chinese Foreign Ministry says Australia, the US and the UK have been coercing the International Atomic Energy Agency over the nuclear subs deal. Has the Australian Government been lobbying the IAEA?

FOREIGN MINISTER:  I do not accept those assertions. Australia has an impeccable record when it comes to nuclear non-proliferation, an impeccable record. And we intend to maintain that. And part of what I have engaged with the region about is our intention to maintain that record and to ensure we work closely with the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to ensure that nuclear propelled submarines that we acquire, are subjected to the most stringent safeguards as required under the NPT. I've also made clear as has the Prime Minister, that Australia will ensure that we comply with our obligations under the Treaty of Rarotonga, which relates to the Pacific and will observe, even though we're not a party, the Bangkok Treaty in relation to Southeast Asia.

JOURNALIST: I'm not sure who's best placed to answer this one. But in terms of Daniel Andrews' comments today that any future nuclear waste from subs should go where the jobs are going, for example, South Australia or WA, has he got a point there?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Look, we are going to go through a process. The Deputy Prime Minister outlined that yesterday, I refer you to that.

JOURNALIST: Just to the Deputy Premier on that, are you concerned about the possibility of nuclear waste or with nuclear waste being dumped in South Australia?

CLOSE: As has been pointed out, there's a process that will be gone through and we'll await how that works out. I would expect that decision is made of the best available science rather than any political considerations. 

JOURNALIST: Do you agree with Daniel Andrews that it's most appropriate that it goes where the jobs [inaudible]? 

CLOSE: Well, I think what matters is that we listen to science, not politicians and political consideration. 

JOURNALIST: And are you concerned any impact on Port River?

CLOSE: There will be some work done in the process of not only the development here, but also some dredging will be required sometime in the future, to make sure that the environment is best looked after. This is a complex bit of land, a lot of different uses in a pretty narrow area. We have people who live here, we have the major export terminal here, we have heavy and very, very sophisticated industrial activity here. And [inaudible], dolphins in the Port River and lots of power infrastructure. It is complex, this isn't new. And we have long been practiced at working through different challenges and making sure that they can be accommodated as best it can be.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]

CLOSE: Yeah, that's right. So, there is just one building, which is the headquarters building... [inaudible].... building 32, which is a magnificent building, you see as you go past the barracks, that is both State Heritage listed, and National Heritage listed. And we can guarantee we won't be knocking that over.

JOURNALIST: A couple of years ago, some of this land was sold through Renewal SA. Do you know, will the State Government have to purchase that back again, for the land exchange here to go ahead?

CLOSE: Look, I don't believe that's the case. But we can look carefully through that. My understanding is this is a government-to-government transfer of land.

JOURNALIST: So that land that was sold to Renewal SA has likely already been bought back?

CLOSE: Renewal SA is part of Government.

JOURNALIST: And just in regard to the Premier's trip, landing in London this afternoon, I understand straight on to Barrow-in-Furness, how important is that trip to getting things moving on the skills frontier?

CLOSE: Look, it's really important that we do everything we can right from the beginning to ensure that we're preparing South Australian people to work here in these incredible jobs that are coming. These are the science jobs of the future. We've been talking about having STEM education for a number of years, we put STEM facilities through the schools when I was last Education Minister and now, we're going to see where there will be real jobs in science, sophisticated, complex jobs. But we need to make sure that we're putting all of those pieces together and learning from those who've been doing it for decades. It's a smart thing to do. I was there a few months ago and spent some time with BAE and talking about the way in which they manage apprenticeships, in particular. And it's excellent that the Premier could get over there so quickly and make sure that we're learning from them. And also, that they're clear what our appetite is in South Australia to fully participate in this interconnected global shipyard.

JOURNALIST: When will the Osborne training academy open and how many people will it train?

CLOSE: That's obviously been committed to yesterday as a partnership between Federal and State Governments and we will now work through, including with industry and the unions to design it in a way that can be effective as quickly as possible. We're likely to start training people off-site slightly earlier than the completion of the building. That is part of the infrastructure build that we're expecting over the next few years. 

JOURNALIST: I just have a question for Senator Wong on that point as well. 

FOREIGN MINISTER: Just on the university places, my recollection is next year. So, we're already getting on with it, yes. 

JOURNALIST: And do you expect Australia will have to rely on students and workers from overseas to help fill the jobs needed for work on the submarines?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Our focus is to maximise local jobs and employment and capacity building here in Australia and in South Australia.

JOURNALIST: And if there are, I guess, students who want to enrol in these 800 places, are there certain students from foreign countries that are excluded from?

FOREIGN MINISTER: As I understand, that's obviously a matter for Minister Clare, but those are Australian places. 

JOURNALIST: One for Minister Gallagher, on a totally different issue, just in regard to the Silicon Valley Bank collapse, are Australian Banks safe from the ripple effect of that?

FINANCE MINISTER: We have a very well capitalised and strong banking sector here in Australia. So, you know, I think the work that's been done in recent years following the Royal Commission, and a whole range of other inquiries has ensured we're in a very strong position. And our banks are profitable, they're well capitalised, they have good liquidity. And all of that ensures that we have a strong and stable banking system, which we're very proud of.

JOURNALIST: So, we shouldn't feel any effects here, any impact on customers?

FINANCE MINISTER: There's none that, certainly none that I've been advised about, you know, obviously, the Treasurer will be engaging, we monitor things that happen across the world, you would expect us to do that. So, I'm speaking from the strength of our banking system, though, the short answer is no. The banking system is strong, stable, profitable, well led all, you know, very, very important, obviously, to the functioning of our economy. But we're obviously keeping an eye on what's happening around the world.

JOURNALIST: Just regarding [inaudible], ACOSS this morning that poverty levels across the country will continue to rise if an increase to JobSeeker is not locked in. How do you justify to people struggling to make ends meet that we need to spend at least $300 billion plus on submarines, but we're not in a position to increase [inaudible]?

FINANCE MINISTER: Yeah, look, I engage with ACOSS frequently. I would say that figure that that you used, and it's been used around the submarines, of course, is the estimate going out to 2050 and 2055. So, it's, you know, I think if you took a number of Government programs and multiplied them over the next 30 years, you will see similar large numbers. So, it should be seen in that context. On the broader point, our Budget which we are putting together now and finalising, we have essentially three focuses. Relief: how we provide cost of living relief to the pressures that households are feeling. Repair: in terms of repairing some of our supply chains, investments in skills, obviously, this project we're talking about today is a big part of that. And restraint: how do we manage the Budget repair and ensure that we are fixing some of the legacy problems that we inherited from previous governments. Now, that means we have to look right across the board, we look at savings across government, we look at the investments that we can afford to make. We have the Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee, which ACOSS is a member of that will be providing recommendations to Government about some priorities and recommendations they have. And this is something that we look at every year, you know, how do we balance up the range of pressures that are facing the Budget and make the decisions based on the right decisions for the economy at the time, what the Budget can afford and what's right in our national interest.

JOURNALIST: Regarding AUKUS, do you think the AUKUS deal will only further strain ties between Canberra and Beijing?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Look, I what I think this has been an announcement that has been a long time coming and I think that the region is very well aware of it. We've done a lot of work to pre-brief to engage with the region and that the important point to emphasise is this. What is Australia's intention in acquiring this capability? Our intention is to help keep the peace, to help keep stability. Australia doesn't seek to dominate the region, Australia seeks to ensure we contribute to a region that is stable, peaceful, secure, prosperous, and in which sovereignty is respected.

JOURNALIST: For the Acting Premier, literally just come through, the WA Premier has said that Woomera in South Australia would be the most logical place for submarine nuclear waste. What do you say to that?

CLOSE: It's not very helpful for other Premiers to start allocating future waste which is some decades in the future. Let's let science lead the way and not listen to political considerations, particularly from state leaders trying to move nuclear waste that doesn't yet exist across the border.

JOURNALIST: Seems like a lot of "not in my backyard". Should we be saying the same thing?

CLOSE: What we should do is allow the science to lead us.

JOURNALIST: What did you make of Paul Keating's comments around China's treatment of Uyghurs?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, he may have his views, but the Government has ours. And we've raised our concerns about the treatment of Uyghurs with the PRC, with China at all levels. I would say to Mr. Keating to consider the evidence that was presented to the UN through the UN report on this matter. But I do want to just say something to the Australian Uyghur community, particularly the South Australian Uyghur community, with whom I've met, I understand this would have been distressing. I recognise the [inaudible].

JOURNALIST: So, we've just heard word that the Education Union Secretary has been stood down — she's resigned, sorry. What do you make of the whole situation?

CLOSE: Look, it's impossible for Government to comment on a situation that is obviously still evolving. As I understand it, the police are looking into the matter. And so, we need to let them do that. And if indeed she has resigned, Ms York has resigned, then she's made her own decision. It's simply not a matter for Government to choose union secretaries or any other office holders. That is a task for union members. And we watch with interest.



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