LIAM BARTLETT: We’re joined this morning by WA MP and Defence Industries Minister, Melissa Price. Minister, good morning.
THE HON MELISSA PRICE MP, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE INDUSTRY: Good morning, Liam.
LIAM BARTLETT: Lots of push back on this, isn’t there?
MELISSA PRICE: Yeah, I seem to be the only one in Western Australia, according to Mark McGowan, who’s happy about some of these decisions. And I’m sure your listeners, like me, are a little bit sick of this political spin we’re getting from the McGowan government. Honestly, it is all good news down in Henderson. I think maybe some of our state politicians need to get out of West Perth and venture down south, because I think if they did that they would see what all of the fabulous opportunities that are on offer in Henderson. And one of them I wouldn’t mind mentioning, Liam – and Prime Minister did mention this in his address yesterday – is a new project which relates to the potential for another eight vessels being built down at Henderson for a value of $5 billion. Now, why wouldn’t the Premier mention that?
LIAM BARTLETT: Yeah, that wasn’t –
MELISSA PRICE: Honestly, that clearly doesn’t suit the narrative.
LIAM BARTLETT: No, that –
MELISSA PRICE: I’m the Minister for Defence Industry; it suits my narrative. What I’m interested in is developing an incredibly worthwhile defence shipbuilding industry in Western Australia. And hearing what you were saying about, you know, being that nuclear submarine building be a national endeavour, well, we have got incredible opportunity in Western Australia and we all should be talking about that what the opportunities are. I mean, honestly, it’s fanciful to say – I think there was a figure of $9 billion that was bandied in the media yesterday by the Premier and some of his ministers yesterday. I mean, that is just a joke. I mean, they just make these numbers up. And I checked this with the department yesterday, and if we had got full-cycle docking here in WA – and don’t forget, we are already doing what’s called intermediate and mid-cycle docking of the Collins Class here in Western Australia up until 2040, which is supporting approximately 500 West Australian jobs – but the value of that work could have been around $100 million a year. Now, that’s still significant. I get that.
LIAM BARTLETT: Yeah, yeah.
MELISSA PRICE: But compare that to the new $5 billion investment, I would have thought the Premier would focus on that.
LIAM BARTLETT: Well, no, you’re right. That wasn’t on the media release. But I just want to unpick this a little bit with you, because your position is unique in this because you straddle both those things. So, as I say, you’re the member for Durack here in WA and you are Federal Minister, you’re the Minister for Defence Industries. See Mark McGowan’s position attacking the Liberal-Nationals on this, that’s clearly designed to hurt people like you specifically at the ballot box?
MELISSA PRICE: Absolutely. It is just political spin. And, I mean, we’ve seen this constantly. And, you know, even the language. It’s now the Liberal and National Party that have done this. It’s not the federal government, it’s not the Morrison government. But this is what we’re seeing time and time again. And what I care about as the Minister for Defence Industry is young people in Western Australia knowing that we have got opportunity here in Western Australia. That’s what I’m driving.
And even as we speak there’s about over 100 shipbuilding jobs that are going unfilled in Western Australia because we don’t have the skilled workforce. Now that’s just one industry. We could be here all day talking about the challenges that industry is having here in WA. But in terms of shipbuilding and defence industry, which is what I’m particularly interested in, there are many opportunities, and that’s what we should be focused on. And including what this nuclear submarine project will actually do for Western Australia and what the opportunities could be for us here in the West.
LIAM BARTLETT: Okay, but let’s concentrate on that. Let’s try and nail that down, Minister, because obviously there’s going to be politics in any sort of announcement – Liberal or Labor. But back to the language on this – so Mark McGowan says the Morrison government has let our great state down and you’ve turned your backs on Western Australia. Just on the subs deal, is there any truth in that?
MELISSA PRICE: Well, firstly, there this assumption that Western Australia was getting the full-cycle docking work. That was never, ever the situation. The government for the last two years we have said very clearly that we have not made a decision. And people will have seen through the prism of the nuclear subs deal yesterday and also through AUKUS that clearly there was something very significant going on in our country and we had to nail that before we were in a position to make the decision on full-cycle docking.
LIAM BARTLETT: Okay, which brings us –
MELISSA PRICE: But we have not lost anything. We have not lost anything. And to suggest that the Morrison government is not backing Western Australians, frankly, is insulting.
LIAM BARTLETT: All right. Have we gained anything? Is there any net benefit to the WA shipbuilding industry from that announcement yesterday?
MELISSA PRICE: Are we talking full-cycle docking or the nuclear sub deal?
LIAM BARTLETT: The nuclear sub deal?
MELISSA PRICE: Well, what have we gained? Well, the reality is we are going to need a brand new nuclear engineering industry right here in Western Australia. I imagine if they’re not already, the university sector must be getting very excited about all those graduates who are going to be wanting to study nuclear engineering, nuclear science. Look, WA can expect to be home to some or all of the new subs, and, of course, that will be determined. There’s going to be eight nuclear subs. And although the nuclear reactor itself – people probably played along yesterday and heard – you know, that itself will not need to be maintained because that effectively a plug and play system. But we will still need an industry here in Western Australia that can maintain that other sort of supporting non-nuclear infrastructure. We need to be able to monitor the reactor, because we have to be incredibly good world-class stewards of that nuclear technology.
LIAM BARTLETT: Yeah.
MELISSA PRICE: And we must understand the technology. So what this means for Western Australia – and we didn’t hear this from the Premier yesterday; that’s the missed opportunity. Why weren’t we talking about that? We actually need a new industry that’s going to be able to support those nuclear submarines right here in Western Australia.
LIAM BARTLETT: So you think this gives us the sort of green shoots of the very – you know, the very start of a nuclear industry?
MELISSA PRICE: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I did hear a few people on the airwaves yesterday suggesting that.
LIAM BARTLETT: Yeah.
MELISSA PRICE: But we didn’t hear the state government talk about that yesterday.
LIAM BARTLETT: Does this open the door, then, for a discussion about nuclear power?
MELISSA PRICE: Well, I’m sure others will continue to talk about nuclear power, but think you will have seen that the Prime Minister made it very clear yesterday that this announcement with respect to AUKUS and the nuclear submarines is not what we’re talking about. You know, we’re not talking about the development of a nuclear power industry.
LIAM BARTLETT: No, no, but I’m just wondering –
MELISSA PRICE: But I’m sure others will continue to discuss it. I’m not suggesting it opens the door, but that’s not going to stop people from talking about it.
LIAM BARTLETT: All right. And on nuclear, these nuclear subs clearly are capable of carrying nuclear missiles. I mean, will we arm them with those eventually, with the help of the US?
MELISSA PRICE: No, that is not our intention. The Prime Minister made that very clear yesterday.
LIAM BARTLETT: It’s not on the table at the moment?
MELISSA PRICE: That is not on the table at all.
LIAM BARTLETT: Minister –
MELISSA PRICE: That is not our intention. We’ve made it very clear that we will not be carrying nuclear weapons.
LIAM BARTLETT: Okay. The reaction from China, in some ways obviously very predictable, but are we continuing to poke the bear or are we responding to a real threat?
MELISSA PRICE: Look, our region – you will know this as good as I do, Liam, as will your listeners – our region is in the midst of the most consequential strategic realignment since the Second World War, and it’s significantly complicating our nation’s strategic circumstances. And the leaders of Australia and the United Kingdom and the United States, we all share a mutual interest in maintaining that security and stability in the Indo-Pacific.
And I think if you look at our strategic – the 2020 strategic defence update, there’s three planks there. The first plank being shape, and that’s to shape the environment you’re in; the second is to make sure that you are able to deter those who might choose to do you harm; and the third is to be able to react. Now, I don’t think anyone is suggesting that Australia is not entitled to protect its interests, to act with its own values and principles. And that’s what AUKUS represents.
LIAM BARTLETT: Gee, there’s a lot of ill-feeling there though, isn’t there?
MELISSA PRICE: Well, yeah, of course. Well, if you read the media that’s coming out of China. But I think the Prime Minister said it best yesterday – and if I could just quote him – he said, “There is an open invitation for President Xi and I to discuss these and many other matters. And that has always been there. Australia remains open to discuss these and all issues that are important to the Indo-Pacific.” That’s the end of the quote.
LIAM BARTLETT: Well, the PM’s on the nose there. I’ve had a couple of photos, Minister, sent to me from a businessman visiting a Chinese porcelain factory, and I put them up on our website, 6pr.com.au, in case our listeners want to have a look. There’s a couple of China plates that have been produced by this factory depicting a Chinese boot kicking Scott Morrison in the head. He’s depicted as a kangaroo sitting at the feet of China. I know our producers have sent you those to have a look. What do you think of that?
MELISSA PRICE: Well, I think they’re utterly ridiculous. Quite frankly, Liam, someone’s got too much time on their hands. Maybe the best place for these is at a Greek wedding.
LIAM BARTLETT: Very good. I like it. You know, the French think we’ve betrayed them. What do we do to make it up to the French?
MELISSA PRICE: Well, the decision to cancel the attack class submarine contract, clearly there are consequences. And for someone who is the Minister for Defence Industry I’ve worked very closely with Naval Group, I’ve met many of their staff, been over to France to meet our Australians who are over there learning about the new submarine that they were going to build for us. Clearly there is some damage. Of course there is damage to our French relationship. But I know that our Foreign Minister Marise Payne, her and her team will be able to work very hard together with our ambassador in Paris – they’re going to have to work hard to be able to mend that.
LIAM BARTLETT: Yeah.
MELISSA PRICE: But, on saying that, there is also a number of other French defence industry players in Australia and they’re supporting our defence capabilities very well. And, you know, we continue to have a good relationship with them.
LIAM BARTLETT: They’ve taken it very personally, by the sounds of it. And I don’t blame them.
MELISSA PRICE: No, I mean, these are human beings, people who’ve got, you know, families. They’ve got mortgages. They’ve joined Naval Group to be part of a world-class shipbuilding enterprise. And, as I said, clearly there are consequences, but we are the government and we have made a decision that that no longer suits our strategic needs. But there are consequences, and, as I said, the consequences involve human beings.
LIAM BARTLETT: I’ll tell you what, if they hit back with trade sanctions and cut off the cheese and the wine, you’d definitely lose government.
MELISSA PRICE: We – well, I don’t think that’s about to happen, but thankfully we’ve got an excellent cheese industry here in Australia – and wine as well.
LIAM BARTLETT: Well said. Touché. Minister, look, just finally, on a serious note, the Americans overnight have hinted that we’ll get more troops in the top end as part of in-principle agreements, perhaps more military hardware. I mean, what is the quid pro quo here with the Americans?
MELISSA PRICE: Well, firstly, we already have American troops. People will know that they are already based up in Darwin. I personally – I’m not the Minister for Defence; I’m Minister for Defence Industry. I don’t have that detail so I can’t share that with your listeners. But, you know, there’s no doubt that we have a very close relationship with the US – and many of our partners in the region, by the way. And, you know, I represent Durack, as you said at the outset, Liam, and I’ve got a fabulous base in Curtin and also in Learmonth near Exmouth. We’ve got many opportunities for various training exercises et cetera to happen here in Western Australia. And, you know, I’m sure the people in Durack would welcome that.
LIAM BARTLETT: Are you personally worried about the local sort of reaction, the West Australian reaction, in terms of the way the Premier is running the argument and what could happen at the next election, you know, for your own electorate?
MELISSA PRICE: I’m not personally worried. I believe that West Australians can see spin when they see it. West Australians know that Scott Morrison, he was the architect to save the GST deal, and we know about how much cash we’ve got in Western Australia, the enormous surplus we’ve got, largely due to the hard work of Scott Morrison. Western Australians are grateful for that. And if we talk about the impact of Covid and how we’ve been able to ride the storm of Covid and the economic impact, people are sitting at home thinking, “I got JobKeeper.” Now, we may not have had to lock down here in Western Australia for some time and, by and large, people feel fairly confident in the economic situation in WA, but there are a lot of people sitting at home that know that Scott Morrison’s JobKeeper saved their family.
LIAM BARTLETT: Minister, we’ll have to leave it there. Thank you very much for your time this morning.
MELISSA PRICE: Good on you. Thanks, Liam.
LIAM BARTLETT: Melissa Price, Defence Industry Minister and, of course, the member for Durack here in WA.