Marise Payne: Thank you very much, and good morning ladies and gentlemen. Let me also acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to their elders past and present, and thank Susan very much for her welcome here today, her welcome to country, her acknowledgement of country, and her delightful story about the Platypus. Thank you very much.
There are very many special guests here today, as you have heard, and I suspect I won't be able to repeat all of them. But let me start with my friend, Deputy Chief of Navy, Rear Admiral Michael Noonan; representing the Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Tim Barrett; my very good friend and colleague, the Member for North Sydney, Trent Zimmerman; and the Member for North Shore, Felicity Wilson. To the former Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ian MacDougall; Rear Admiral Peter Briggs; the President of the Submarine Institute of Australia, Commodore Mark Sander; President of the Submarines Association of Australia, Commodore Bob Trotter. To Captain Bill Owen, who I've seen down here this morning; to Mary Darwell and to Kevin McCann, to Chris Skinner who I can't see, but I know he's here somewhere. Chris Skimmer, who is a great mate, lovely to see you, Chris. To the very many former serving members of the ADF and current serving members, welcome and thank you for your service.
It's wonderful to see so many of you here today. To Kevin McCann – I'm in a place of old friends, it's fair to say. We're friends of long-standing. Neither of us is going to call each other old, but Kevin, thank you for your very, very lovely remarks. We appreciate enormously the respect and the support that the trust gives to important Defence sites around the harbour – those you have now and those I'm sure you'd like to get your hands on – and we very much appreciate the work that the trust does. Did I just send a shiver down your spine, Deputy Chief of Navy? It’s possible I did
Can I acknowledge also the Navy band who, here this morning under difficult circumstances, are doing a fabulous job. Thank you very much for welcoming us and making this such an impressive occasion.
I'm immensely proud of the military bands, and the Navy band just edges up there further in my estimation every time I hear them. So thank you for what you do.
Ladies and gentlemen, it's an enormous pleasure to have received the invitation to be here today to celebrate the 50th anniversary of HMAS Platypus and the dedication of the Submariners Memorial. It is also important that we are here today on 18 August on what is now Vietnam Veteran's Day. To those of you who are veterans from Vietnam, thank you for your service also. We acknowledge and remember the extraordinary contribution that you and your fallen comrades made.
It was indeed 50 years ago today that HMAS Platypus was commissioned as Australia's new submarine support facility, and HMAS Oxley – Australia's first submarine for 36 years – arrived in Sydney. Now, the very authoritative Navy News – which continues to be very authoritative, of course – on 18 August 1967 described Oxley thus: luxurious, lauding its air conditioning, its bathrooms, its fully-equipped galley, and even piped music. I'm not sure whether the piped music was used as an instrument of torture or an instrument of pleasure. That remains to be seen – or heard, I suspect – in the memories, but I'm pretty sure that most of you who are here today who may have served on an Oberon-class submarine would probably not have often used the word luxurious.
But there are other words that do come to mind when I think about those who have served on the Oberons, their predecessors, now in our Collins submarines, and they are in fact engraved on the wall below us here: strength and stealth. Stealth is particularly apt because it is a by-product – unfortunate or otherwise – of what we need our submarines to do. In fact, very few Australians will ever really know exactly how our submarines and submariners have contributed and continue to contribute to the safety and to the security of our nation. I know that that can be difficult for those whose contribution to that capability is invaluable, but it's not able always to be acknowledged in the same way as other ADF capabilities and therefore contributions are, but it is one of the reasons why I am very proud therefore to be here today, to remember, to acknowledge, and to celebrate the contribution made by submariners, by submarines, by all the supporters of that process, to the history, to the defence of our nation.
Another interesting by-product of that stealth or silence – in the silent service – is that I am still today asked whether we really need submarines. And I did want to take a minute for what would appear to be an appropriate occasion to make an observation about why this Government continues to recognise the requirement for an Australian submarine capability. Self-evidently, as an island nation, one of the largest maritime domains in the world, facing three oceans – the Indian, the Pacific and the Southern – with a coastline of more than 32,000 nautical miles and a population of only 25 million people, it is your Government's obligation to take every step that we think is prudent and appropriate to ensure that we can defend ourselves and our people.
The proportion of the world's trade that passes through Australian ports is enormously significant. We ourselves rely on the sea for 99 per cent of our exports and for a substantial proportion of our domestic freight. Our prosperity, our $1.6 trillion economy, is dependent on secure and open sea lanes, and the work of the submarine fleet is key in ensuring that shipping is able to freely navigate the oceans and to conduct maritime trade, especially through the massive economic trading artery that runs from the Middle East, across the Indian Ocean, through the South China Sea, past Japan and on to North America. They also play a key role in defending and furthering our efforts to enhance stability in our region by providing Australia with a strategic capability to reinforce the rules-based order in our region, and it is a rules-based order which reduces the risk of regional disputes, reduces the potential for armed confrontations.
Ultimately, there is no other platform that can do what submarines do. As our White Paper said as recently as 2016, submarines are a powerful instrument for deterring conflict, and a potent weapon should conflict occur. For those reasons and many more, submarines aren't an optional part of Australia's strategic capability. They are essential. And in that order, Australia needs the best possible submarines and submariners to support our maritime security, to ensure that our nation continues the way of life that we are privileged to enjoy – to be safe, to be free and to be prosperous.
We've committed to this very solidly through the Future Submarine Program – a program that will deliver an affordable, regionally superior conventional submarine capability which is sustainable into the foreseeable future. We also committed to doubling the size of our submarine fleet to 12 in recognition of that more challenging maritime environment that our nation will face in the decades ahead.
And importantly, these submarines will be truly a sovereign capability. We won't only construct them in Australia, but we will operate them, sustain them, and maintain them in Australia. We're not going to rely elsewhere for any of that. We're going to harness and develop the skills and talents of Australians here in Australia. We're going to develop the national naval enterprise so that we have a sovereign submarine capability that will ensure we are able to build and sustain our fleet without unnecessary reliance on anyone else.
As it occurred, when HMAS Platypus was commissioned on the arrival of the Oberon submarines in 1967, our future submarines will also be supported by upgrades to supporting infrastructure, whether it's wharves or port facilities, as well as simulators and training and submarine rescue systems. The lessons that were learned here on this very ground, over years of basing the Oberons here, with the Collins-class at HMAS Stirling as well, those lessons will be very important to making sure that the future enablers and facilities are best placed to support our future submarines.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, part of that is building a cohort of submariners that will see us into the future. So gentlemen, form a line over there if you feel like coming back and giving us a hand.
Before I close, I really do want to take a serious opportunity to express my thanks to all of the submariners who have served in Oberon and Collins-class submarines. Your contribution to Australia's defence, your real contribution to our national security, is greatly appreciated.
Fifty continuous years of the Royal Australian Navy operating submarines – among the most advanced conventional submarines in the world – continues a tradition that dates back to before the First World War and it will continue, as I've just outlined, for many decades to come.
I know that the memorial that we're here today to dedicate on the 50th anniversary of HMAS Platypus will remind everyone who comes here of the unique and dangerous nature of the work that Australian submariners undertook and continue to undertake for our region. This is a very important memorial, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for the honour of participating with you here this morning.