Doorstop, Adelaide, South Australia

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The Hon Pat Conroy MP

Minister for Defence Industry

Minister for International Development and the Pacific

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media@defence.gov.au

(02) 6277 7840

General enquiries

minister.conroy@dfat.gov.au

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7 July 2022

SUBJECTS: Australian defence industry; AUKUS.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, it’s fantastic to be here in Adelaide and it’s fantastic to be here with the Minister for Defence Industry, Pat Conroy. We’ve just had a really successful round table with 21 leaders of Australian defence industry. Sitting around that table really was the cream of Australian defence industry. And in so many ways the defence of our nation begins with defence industry. The Albanese Labor Government has committed to spending two per cent of our GDP on defence. Those people sitting around that table this afternoon have a very large say, a very large responsibility, in how that money is being spent. And it is critically important that the relationship that the Government has with them is excellent and that we are fostering the Australian defence industry, and we are completely committed to doing that. 

Australia has some excellent mid-tier companies. Companies which are employing hundreds of people, which are developing products, which are being exported around the world. And, in the process, building Australia’s strategic weight. We also have a number of global primes that are based in Australia and are doing incredible work. And incredible work in terms of projecting Team Australia – Brand Australia. If you think about the Bushmaster, which we’ve been talking a lot about in recent times, developed in Australia, built in Bendigo, exported to the world, done by Thales, a French prime, but which has a really important Australian entity, which has done that. 

Together, all of these companies are doing fantastic work in not only supporting the Australian Defence Force, but in building an industry which takes Australian know-how and Australian technology to the world. I think that’s the point that we really then want to emphasise. This is an industry which supports 100,000 people around the country in terms of their employment. This is an industry which is very high-tech. It’s an industry which is helping the country climb the technological ladder, but it can be so much more. It can be so much more in terms of what it delivers to the country in an industrial sense, but so much more in terms of what it delivers to the country in a strategic sense. And we will be articulating a strategic rationale which underpins an Australian defence industry, because that’s the way we make sure that this defence industry is sustainable over the long term. A defence industry which is engaging in export, a defence industry which helps Australia be at the very core of our friends, our neighbours’ interests, and in doing so helps build Australia’s place in the world and grows Australia’s strategic weight. 

Today, we were talking about how we can do that more, about what the plans are for an Albanese Labor Government in working with the Australian defence industry to develop them in that way, and we certainly look forward to a very exciting future in that respect. I’ll hand over to Pat. 

PAT CONROY, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE INDUSTRY: Thank you, Deputy Prime Minister, and I just wanted to reiterate some of the key messages that we delivered to industry. One of them being that they are critical to delivering the equipment that the women and men of the ADF need. It’s their obligation with the Department of Defence and, in fact, the entire Australian Government to make sure that we get the equipment to the troops when they need it, on schedule, on budget with the promised capability, and that’s something they’re a critical partner in and they’re very committed to doing so. As part of that, we will be seeing greater ministerial energy and leadership in resolving those challenges and making sure that the ADF get the equipment they need. 

The second aspect that we really wanted to emphasise is that over this decade we will be spending – the Australian taxpayer will be spending – $270 billion on acquiring and sustaining weapons for the ADF, and it is critical that through that process, we grow a larger Australian defence industry that is sustainable, one that contributes to national security, one that contributes to the economic potential of this nation. 

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Any questions? 

JOURNALIST: Obviously, the end of the Naval contract was pretty abrupt and in came AUKUS. Has part of your mission here today been, sort of like, slightly diplomatic, if you like, to offer some reassurance in the same way that the Prime Minister did overseas trying to iron out some of the kinks left behind by the previous Government? Are there any assurances sought? 

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: I think there is a sense of wanting to give Australian defence industry the confidence that what they will get with an Albanese Labor Government is a government which has continuity and which has a commitment to the defence industry. We have seen Minister after Minister go through the Defence portfolio over the last nine years in a way which has been a revolving door. And it’s meant that getting any sense of continuity around Government policy in respect of defence industry has simply not been there. For Pat and I, we have both been in this area for a long time. Pat, in fact, was working with Greg Combet when we were last in Government and both of us have served as Shadow Ministers in this space for many years now, and both of us are very keen to be in this space in government. I think being able to assure the defence industry that what they will get with us is a sense of continuity around defence industry – and not just continuity but a sense of intent and purpose about building a sustainable defence industry in this country. And what we need to do to achieve that is underpin it with a strategic rationale which, frankly, was missing over the last nine years and we wanted to give industry a sense that that’s what would happen.

JOURNALIST: A South Australian contractor I know have spent $750K on some heavy manufacturing equipment only to find it redundant after the AUKUS agreement. Is there anything you can say about reassuring these people about the money they’re throwing into investment and whether they’ll see a return? 

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: In terms of South Australia? 

JOURNALIST: Yes. 

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, the point I want to make in respect of South Australia is the reason we are here is because really this is, in so many ways, the capital of Australia’s defence industry. So many of the really big players are based right here in Adelaide, which speaks to the significance and the weight of the South Australian defence industry within the context of our national defence industry. So, in giving a commitment to how we see Australian defence industry going forward, central to that is how important we regard South Australia and particularly right here in Adelaide. And that’s in respect of naval shipbuilding, submarine capacity, but more than that. I mean, this is the defence industry state, not the only state, obviously, that’s involved in it, but South Australia is very central to Australia’s national defence industry.

JOURNALIST: There are concerns – or critics, if you like – of the AUKUS agreement, who aren’t the Opposition, who are concerned that AUKUS is simply a cover for getting a US nuclear submarine station in Australia. How would you rebut that criticism? 

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, it’s just not right. AUKUS is a really important construct in terms of enabling Australia to maintain a highly capable long-range submarine, and in the future that means it’s going to need to be nuclear-propelled. This is a critical platform and a critical capability for the country in terms of building strategic space, strategic space in terms of our trade and our diplomacy. Submarines really matter and having the capability in respect of submarines going forward really matters. And to do that we are going to have to go down the path of nuclear propulsion, and AUKUS is the mechanism which is going to deliver that for the country.

JOURNALIST: So, just to reiterate, is today, then, an effort to reassure the defence industry about the Labor Government’s plans and a smooth road ahead without any sort of catastrophic changes to the defence policy? 

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: It’s absolutely about giving defence industry a sense of confidence of our posture in relation to the defence industry. It’s much more than that though. It’s really about saying how importantly we regard defence industry in terms of the way Australia projects. Now, that’s really when we talk about a strategic rationale underpinning defence industry, that’s the point that we are making. Defence industry is totally central to how we have ourselves as a nation be taken seriously in the world. It plays its part in building Australia’s strategic space. Now, I think in articulating that, it does give defence industry a sense of confidence that we are serious about them. We are serious about the industry, and we want to work with them to build it.

JOURNALIST: And there’s no scope, then, for an off the shelf model in the intervening period between the Collins being retired and the nuclear subs arriving? 

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, in terms of submarines, the point that we’ve been making consistently over the last couple of days is that there is a process that we are obviously going through in terms of working out exactly which option we pursue, trying to work out how soon we can get that option and understanding what capability gap might arise and how we might deal with that. But whichever way you cut it, building industry in this state around submarine capability is going to be fundamentally important to getting that capability and getting it quickly.

ENDS

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