Minister for Defence – Transcript – ASPI Conference

JOURNALIST:

Minister, just on the 12 subs can you see why the people in Adelaide see this as a broken promise?

MINISTER:

No, not at all. It may well be that we have more than 12 subs. What I am looking at is an enterprise, a long term commitment out 20-30 years where we learn the lessons of submarine construction so the astute program, if you were concentrating on what I said, they had a lot of problems at the start of that program because they had stopped building. Now we will have a similar issue to deal with, in our new submarine acquisition. What I am saying is don’t think about numbers, think about a long term enterprise, which in many respects is a much better outcome then putting a number on it.

JOURNALIST:

You specifically used the word sustainment as opposed to build, was that a deliberate choice?

MINISTER:

No, I was talking about the sustainment of the submarine once we acquire them in the long term. Collins was sold to us as easy and cost effective to sustain. The opposite has proved to be the case. So we need to involve strainers at a very early point and we are.

JOURNALIST:

Minister, are you suggesting that we might have a sort of rolling program where we might have a submarine being built as the first one is retired?

MINISTER:

It is the most cost effective way of going forward. Now this will all be set out in the White Paper and Government needs to consider all of these options, clearly, the successful players in this space don’t just go on numbers.

JOURNALIST:

Minister, you are sounding like how other politicians have sounded in 2009 talking about their White paper, five years on nothing has happened. Where are we going to be in five years’ time of your Government?

MINISTER:

You will have some money. The White paper is about money and funding. It is about credibility. It is about a defence capability plan that is actually achievable. Simple as that.

JOURNALIST:

And when you say that, is their some time lines to go along with that?

MINISTER:

We have said 18 months. So March/April/May of next year you will see it all.

JOURNALIST:

And, then we will see the timeline to have the submarines built?

MINISTER:

Absolutely.

JOURNALIST:

What will that be?

MINISTER:

Well, you will have to wait and see. Look, I am not going to speculate. There is an awful lot of expertise that needs to come together to deal with the most effective and the best way forward for this very difficult capability.

JOURNALIST:

You make the point that this is an incredibly complex project that has potential to unbalance the forces, is that going to be a significant issue that you are going to address?

MINISTER:

I am addressing precisely that issue on a daily basis. We have got to have something that fits into, and is cost effective in the overall scheme of our fiscal management. Now you can’t just go out and say that we are going to have this many submarines and have someone pop and say that is 40 billion dollars. That’s just not achievable. Now we need submarines, but we have got to do our homework and get it right. It has to be cost effective.

JOURNALIST:

Minister, there has been a bit of discussion in recent days about the Japanese design. Do you see an off the shelf Japanese model as a viable option?

MINISTER:

Well, the Japanese is the nearest design that comes towards what our requirements are. Now, there are no other Diesel Electric Submarine off that size and dimension. It is extremely impressive that they can get a boat of that size, 4200 tonnes with diesel electric power. Obviously, we must be talking to them, and we are, as to what assistance they can provide us with our program going forward and it would be foolish not to ask them.

JOURNALIST:

Minister, if the Japanese said tomorrow that they would sell you this class of submarine, would you buy them?

MINISTER:

I am not going to speculate on any of those matters, they are commercial in confidence and you will see, and hear and read the aspects of the proposal once we have nailed down all the issues down. Now for me to be shooting the breeze on some of the issues at this point in time is simply not on.

JOURNALIST:

Minister, you said in your speech today that in terms of timing you are up against the wall. Is this Australia’s last chance to table this? It has been going on for a long time.

MINISTER:

Well, you know the Collins can’t go on forever. That is probably what is determining our time frame to some degree. As many of the people involved in this space have said, don’t let Collins dominate your thinking about SEA1000 you have go to get on with that job, and we have got to do our best in a quick a time frame as possible in a risk adverse way. Now, this is an extraordinary task for us. We don’t have our own design house, so we have to get one. We get most of our systems and weapons from the UK or the USA and accordingly they would be nervous as to whom the designer is and our designer would probably not have had much experience with our particular type of weapons our particular type of communications and combat systems, our way of doing business. It is a huge problem. But we need assistance.

JOURNALIST:

Really, doesn’t that rule out the [inaudible] design? Given the time taken?

MINISTER:

Not necessarily. A design house that can meet our parameters, that is what we are working on setting the parameters that must be met in order for us to have a feasible design.

JOURNALIST:

Minister, can I just ask for an update on MH370 and the operation for that?

MINISTER:

We are still looking. The last word that I had was that we are still trying to recontact the Black box pinger that we had contact with two or so days ago. That work goes on. We won’t deploy any subsurface capability until we have isolated and optimised the location of that particular contact and it was at about, 33.2kilohertz and that’s what we are looking for, where also maintaining our 14 aircrafts in the air looking for a debris field, if there is one. We have got, as I said yesterday, more than 20 data buoys, which give us clear indications of the flow of the water, so if we find and positively identify some debris, the point of contact will be quite readily and accurately identified through the data we have already accumulated. So that battle goes on. May I say, the battery life of the transponder in the black box has a long way to go into the future, at least several days and we are just as aggressive as we were last week in perusing, and trying to isolate that signal.

JOURNALIST:

Minister, your view on Steven’s argument that the 12 figure is distorting the whole figure on the ADF and Peter Jennings argument that the 12 number is starting to make the ADF a one trick pony, how do you respond to that view?

MINISTER:

Well, there is a degree in truth to that. But the point is the operational concept for submarines continues to change as technology comes forward, as our neighbourhood changes, so to point a number on submarines is a distraction. What we want is a long term capability that can be sustained as an enterprise, as an asset that can go long into the future building submarines.

JOURNALIST:

And is affordable?

MINISTER:

And, is affordable, I said a lot about cost their today, it is a given.

UNKNOWN:

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you very much.

MINISTER:

Thank you all.


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