No decision made to base nuclear subs at Port Kembla

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The Hon Matt Thistlethwaite MP

Assistant Minister for Defence

Assistant Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

Assistant Minister for the Republic

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Ben Leeson on 0404 648 275

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5 April 2023

The Illawarra-Shoalhaven region is rightly proud of its historic role in the defence of Australia, and it is also host to exciting innovators who are creating Defence's future capability.

 Local businesses like SMETEC Services, operated by Defence veterans Louise and Tim Smeets, are developing specialised metal cutting and processing capabilities for use with ballistic armour in land combat vehicles.

 The Albanese Government's announcement of Australia's acquisition of conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarines under AUKUS is the biggest investment in defence capability in Australia's history.

AUKUS is a game changer for our national security and also for our national economy.

The Albanese Government is working to ensure Australia has the best capability to defend our nation into the future. When it comes to submarines nuclear-powered submarines are the best option available and will help ensure ongoing stability in our region.

The first submarine will roll off the UK production line in the late 2030s for the Royal Navy. The first Australian submarine will be delivered in the early 2040s.

And it will deliver around 20,000 direct jobs over the next 30 years - with new industries, new capabilities and new opportunities right around Australia.

There will be opportunities for businesses throughout Australia to contribute to the supply chain for this great national endeavour.

HMAS Stirling in Western Australia will continue to be the home of Australian submarines.

It will need to be expanded to support the scale of infrastructure required for nuclear-powered submarines - both for visiting and rotational submarines and for Australia's own nuclear-powered submarines in the future.

Planning has already begun on these works at HMAS Stirling. The works themselves will take a number of years to complete.

The former government articulated the need for an additional Navy base on the East Coast. Weeks before the commencement of the caretaker period before the last election, former Prime Minister Morrison announced "a new base will be built" at an estimated cost of $10 billion.

The former government did not choose a location for this 'new base'. This was typical of the Coalition government's approach that focused on announcements, rather than details or delivery.

Following our decision to acquire conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarines there has been much speculation about where this 'new base' announced by the former government could be located. I understand this has been the cause for both discussion - positive and negative - and uncertainty in the Illawarra community.

But let me be clear. A decision has not been made. While the former government announced the need for an east coast base, the Albanese Government will take the time required to consider all feasible options.

Our immediate focus for naval shore infrastructure is the work that needs to be done at HMAS Stirling in Western Australia to build the necessary operational capabilities and skills to be 'sovereign ready' so we can safely and securely own, operate, maintain and regulate a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.

This is a huge undertaking and a vital one. We are working with our AUKUS partners to make sure that what we build meets the needs of these incredibly complex machines and their crews, and enables their safe and proper maintenance and sustainment.

We take very seriously the responsibility of ensuring that Australia safely and securely operates, maintains and stewards its conventionally-armed nuclear-powered submarines, so we are focused on making sure we get this right.

Between AUKUS and the other investments the Albanese Labor Government is making in Australia's national security, there will be great opportunities for Defence industry in the region to make a contribution to the future of Australia's defence capability.

And most important of all, we will strengthen Australia's national security and promote stability in our region.

This opinion piece was published in the Illawarra Mercury on Wednesday, 5 April 2023.

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