Interview with Peter Gleeson, Sky News Across Australia
Topics: Defence Strategic Update and Force Structure Plan
***E&OE Check against delivery***
PETER GLEESON: All right, hundreds of jobs have been secured for another decade after the Government signed a new domestic manufacturing agreement with the Australian Defence Force. Joining me now to discuss the billion-dollar agreement, Defence Industry Minister Melissa Price. Minister, thank you for joining us tonight. This is great news. I mean, it comes off the back of that big announcement just a week ago of the $270 billion dollar commitment to upgrading Australia's defence industry capabilities. You must be buoyed by this today?
MELISSA PRICE: Oh look firstly thanks very much for having me on to really talk about some very positive news and we'll see that this investment for defence industry, defence manufacturing. We've already got a number of our programmes underway. But as you said, the Prime Minister has just recently announced that $270 billion dollar programme which will run over the next 10 years, obviously a lot of our programs will continue whether it's submarines, frigates, military vehicles – but lots of other opportunities, there's significant investment in the bases all the around the country. More money for space, more money for cyber. So, you know, it's a really good day and it's good to be talking about positive news.
PETER GLEESON: Well Minister, you mentioned some of the bases, obviously, Townsville and Darwin and, of course, this show goes into all the regions. I mean, that is great news and it also means jobs for those particular communities.
MELISSA PRICE: Yeah that's right, so we've committed another $30 billion dollars over 10 years to upgrade all of our bases. And this is coming off already the last four or 5 years where we've invested a significant amount of money. And what we've seen over the COVID-19 period is that because we've had these restrictions with people moving from one state to another when we've had to work very hard and I'm very proud of defence industry – but ordinarily some of these bases, you mentioned the one in Townsville, sometimes the local tradie or the local baker doesn't always get a chance to be able to provide that service or that product to the base. And because of COVID-19 some of these, the bigger contractors haven't had a choice. So they've actually had to bring up the local electrician or a local plumber or go to go down the local bakery. And the great news for regional operators is that they've been given a chance and they haven't let themselves down. So I'm really buoyed by the behaviour of especially those local contractors located close to the bases. I know now that they're going to get their opportunities and all of the major contractors, they're on notice that we've got the capability in the regions. And my expectation is that those local contractors, so that's the local baker, the local tradie that they will get an opportunity.
PETER GLEESON: And our Benalla viewers will be very happy to know that there is some defence manufacturing initiatives that will come their way?
MELISSA PRICE: Yeah that's right, so last week we announced another agreement with Thales. And those people in Benalla that you mentioned, they are working in a very high-end environment, at a munitions factory. High quality, very, very hard working people and our contract is going to secure some 650 jobs across regional Victoria and also regional New South Wales. So yes, they will be very happy that this, that their employment is secured for another decade.
PETER GLEESON: Now you mentioned the submarines, what's the latest there Minister, the submarine contract?
MELISSA PRICE: So we're talking new submarines? So the Attack class? Where we've committed to building 12 submarines?
PETER GLEESON: Absolutely.
MELISSA PRICE: Yep, so we're on track, on schedule – have been a little behind of late but we're very confident by the end of the year we'll catch up that small amount of delay, and on track in terms of funding as well. So it's very positive news. Our biggest issue really is about making sure we've got the skilled workforce. And you’ll know that we've got a very ambitious shipbuilding plan and we're going to need 15,000 people to work in the shipbuilding industry. Well, across the whole of the country, WA, South Australia and other parts of the country we've only got about 4,000, 5,000 workers. So you can see that's the challenge. So we're working very, very hard to make sure that we've got the skillset. We're working with universities, with TAFE to make sure we've got that good mix of workers, you know, not just – we obviously need good quality welders, but lots of white collar workers as well. In terms of engineering, lots of design, scheduling, project managers you name it, we need those people to be involved in our ship building program.
PETER GLEESON: Minister, a very broad question in the sense that, you know, China have been really hairy chested lately when it comes to rhetoric around whether it's our education, whether it's trade. But they've also been ramping up whether it's our response to the pandemic, they've also ramped up some of their rhetoric in relation to Defence and we've seen some of their fairly bolshie defence statements recently. Are you are you concerned, as one of the Ministers responsible for our Defence capabilities, at some of these comments coming out of Beijing?
MELISSA PRICE: Well, I want to make the point that our Defence strategy, which the Prime Minister just released the other day with the Defence Minister is that this is not just about one country. This is about looking at our whole region and viewers may recall we had the 2016 White Paper and that actually set out what was based on a number of assumptions about what was happening in our region, where were the threats. And what we've done now is we've gone back as the Australian public would expect us to do, we've gone back and we said right, well, those assumptions back in 2015/16 in terms of our place in the region, what's happening in our neighbourhood – are those assumptions still sound, are they still fit for purpose? So we've gone back, we've done the work and we've got a very, very good policy outcome with the strategy document plus also the Force Structure plan as well. And as I say this is not about one country, but we need to make sure that we are able to defend ourselves and the actual strategy has got three planks and we need to make sure that we can deter, that we can also shape our environment. But if we have to, we have to be able to use force when necessary.
PETER GLEESON: Melissa Price. Always appreciate your time. Thanks for joining us tonight.
MELISSA PRICE: Good on you, thanks for the chance.