TRANSCRIPT: MINISTER FOR DEFENCE, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE MATERIEL - JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
TOPICS: HMAS Choules; Coles Review; RAND Report; Navy Crewing; LHD’s; Cabinet reshuffle; PNG.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks very much for turning up. This is a great day for Navy and a great day for Navy's future. It's also a great day for the Choules family and a great day for Western Australia.
I've been very pleased to join today the Minister for Defence Materiel Jason Clare and also the Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Griggs to see the commissioning of HMAS Choules. This will be a most significant addition to Navy's capability, particularly in the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief front, but also adding to our ship to shore capability. The HMAS Choules has got a capacity which is larger than HMAS Manoora, HMAS Kanimbla and HMAS Tobruk combined. So this is a very good day for Navy and a very good day for Navy's future.
Jason Clare and I are making a series of announcements and the paperwork has been distributed to you. One of those announcements is that the Government has decided to purchase an additional heavy lift ship, a commercial off the shelf, offshore support vessel. Currently Australia's disaster relief and humanitarian assistance capability is HMAS Tobruk, of course HMAS Choules and we also have additional support through the leasing of the Windermere.
The Government has decided to purchase an off the shelf commercial vessel, the equivalent of the Windermere, an offshore support vessel. This will add to our humanitarian assistance and disaster relief capability, and we expect in the course of 2012 to purchase that ship and have that available for service in the course of 2012.
In addition today Jason Clare and I are making a number of announcements about submarines. We're releasing the Coles Review today, into the Collins Class Submarine, the maintenance and sustainment of the Collins class submarine, and I'm expecting that the Coles Review will provide for the Government, for Defence and for Navy precisely what the Rizzo Report provided for our amphibious ships.
At the beginning of this year we were in a position where we had no amphibious ship heavy lift capability. Now you stand aboard the HMAS Choules, the HMAS Tobruk has come out of maintenance and is available for operations, and I've announced the proposed purchase of a third off the shelf commercial offshore support vessel.
A lot of assistance in the heavy amphibious lift maintenance and sustainment has been found in the Rizzo Report. Earlier this year I commissioned John Coles, a United Kingdom expert, to provide advice on maintenance and sustainment for our Collins class submarine. This has been a longstanding, difficult issue which has bedevilled Defence, Navy and successive Governments over a long period of time, indeed two decades. And that report today is released. That report shows very deep, longstanding difficulties so far as maintenance and sustainment of the Collins class submarine is concerned.
It points to very serious flaws over a long period of time and draws attention to the need for fundamental reform in the way in which the maintenance and sustainment of the Collins Class is effected. The report itself makes very salutary reading and it is a no holes barred report into what I regard as a longstanding systemic difficulty so far as Collins class maintenance is concerned.
Mr Coles' second report will be made available by April of next year and likewise that report will be released publicly together with the recommendations and the Government's response. So I'm confident that the Coles Review into Submarine maintenance and sustainment will provide the same way forward as the Rizzo Report into amphibious ship capability has done.
We're also releasing today a number of studies and a progress report on the Future Submarine Program. As you know the White Paper and the Government are committed to 12 new Future Submarines. Today a number of materials are being released by way of a progress report. Firstly, in the course of this year there has been high level strategic conversations with our alliance partner the United States on strategic matters but also on design and capability so far as the new submarines are concerned. And as the written material released today makes clear that all options remain on the table whether off the shelf or an entirely new design, all options remain on the table other than a nuclear proportion option.
Materials that are released today include the RAND Report which draws attention to the need to very seriously add to Australia's industrial skills basis for what would be the largest capital works program the Commonwealth has seen.
Requests for information to submarine designers, submarine manufacturers, off the shelf designers and manufacturers are also made available, and those designers are from France, Germany and Spain.
It's very important to make sure we get the details right at the outset and a lot of work has gone into the work to date on the Future Submarines program and I'm expecting in the course of the first half of 2012 to be making further announcements about the work we're doing on our Future Submarines.
There's also an update on our Landing Helicopter Docks progress which we are either on track so far as the first Landing Helicopter Dock is concerned, and ahead of schedule so far as the second is concerned.
The Chief of Navy has also instituted a review of our crewing systems to see whether it's possible to combine some civilian crewing with Navy crewing. We've seen some experience from the Royal Navy in the United Kingdom and also from the United States, and so that's also being released today and the Chief of Navy will make some remarks about that.
Finally, together with Jason Clare, we're announcing today four more capability projects - they're detailed for you - which have been the subject of first, second pass approval. At the conclusion of this year we now see 46 projects approved for first, second or other approvals. I'm told that's a record, 46 projects in the order of some $6 billion worth of projects. That beats the previous record, I'm told, which was 2006 some 39 projects. And that reflects the good work that Jason Clare has been doing in this area.
We're also announcing today three projects off the projects of concern list. We now have six projects on the projects of concern list. That is half the number of projects we had at the beginning of this year, and we are starting to see, with the changes we've made to projects of concern and remediation of projects of concern, substantial progress on that front.
The Collins class submarine maintenance and sustainment continues to be one of the projects of concern. I'll finish my remarks on the Coles Report and the Collins class submarine. The report that I've released today from Mr Coles is a very serious report. It draws attention to very longstanding difficulties, it points to the need for fundamental reform which reflects the fact that our sustainment and maintenance problems of the Collins class have bedevilled Governments and Defence and Navy for a couple of decades.
It's also clear that the lessons we learned from Collins have to be incorporated in our planning for the Future Submarine Project. It's quite clear that one of the great mistakes so far as the Collins class submarine was concerned was not taking into account the great burden and difficulty of maintenance and sustainment over decades. And that is not a mistake we will make so far as planning for the Future Submarine Project is concerned.
I'll hand over to Jason to let Jason make some remarks, and the Chief of Navy will make some remarks and then we're happy to respond to your questions.
JASON CLARE: Thanks, Stephen. Well this is my last day in the portfolio of being Minister for Defence Materiel before I move on to the new responsibility of Home Affairs and Justice. So in a sense it's a bittersweet moment because I've very much enjoyed the work that I've been able to do in Defence but also very much looking forward to my new responsibilities.
In the last 12 months we've made great gains in Defence and achieved a lot. As the Minister has pointed out, in the last 12 months we've approved more Defence projects than any Government in the last decade; 46 projects worth more than $6 billion. The previous record was 39.
We've also announced a number of big reforms to the way in which we purchase and maintain military equipment. We've announced 42 reforms, a dozen of them have been implemented now and the rest are underway.
We've delivered a lot of new equipment, new Super Hornets for the Air Force, we're rolling out a new Anti Ship Missile Defence System for the Navy and new protective equipment for our troops in Afghanistan.
If there's one thing that I'm prouder of than most it's the work that we've done to provide new protective equipment for our troops in Afghanistan; combat uniforms, the combat body armour, the longer range weapons, the upgrades to our Bushmasters, all very important to keep our troops safe in what is a dangerous and deadly place.
We've also done a lot of work to fix problem projects. Twelve months ago as the cyclone was about to hit the coast of Queensland we didn't have amphibious ships available. Today, because of the commissioning of this ship, we now have three. Twelve months ago we also had 12 projects on our projects of concern list. We now have six. We've cut that in half through the work that we've done on remediating problem projects, and that shows that the systems that we've put in place are working.
That said, there are still a lot of challenges ahead. The project at the top of the projects of concern is the sustainment of our submarines. And the Coles Report today makes for sobering reading.
There is a lot of work that needs to be done to improve the reliability and the availability of our submarines, and it will require fundamental reform after decades of issues with our submarines, it's going to take the work of Navy - of Defence - of finance and ASC working together to improve the reliability and availability of our submarines.
The other big challenge is building the submarines of the future, and we've taken important steps in the development of that project today too that I'll point out to you - the developmental work on building a land-based propulsion test facility, that will be very important, as well as developing a skills plan, a Future Submarine Skills Plan.
It's going to take hundreds of companies, and thousands of workers, to build the Future Submarines. We have a lot of that capability in Australia now, but not enough. And so next year will be a very important year in building a skills plan for the submarines that we'll build towards the end of the decade.
So a great future ahead for Navy and as I move on to another portfolio I'll look on with envy to Minister Smith and the Chief of Navy as they see the first of the LHDs arrive in Melbourne in August next year.
RAY GRIGGS: Thank you. And as Minister Smith said, it is a truly a great day for Navy today, to commission this wonderful ship, to stand here on the deck of this wonderful ship, named after Chief Petty Officer Claude Choules, the last veteran from World War I and World War II.
The ship is not only named after him - it's named after every sailor in the Navy's 100 year history who has served with distinction in peace and war. I think it's important to acknowledge the efforts of the ship's company of HMAS Choules that they have made in the last few months, in coming together as a team, in coming to a brand new ship with new capabilities that we have not seen in the Navy before, to master those very quickly, to get through the work-up process in the United Kingdom and to bring this ship halfway around the world to Fremantle to commission.
They've done a fantastic job. And I commend them for it. It's an important step in reconstituting our amphibious capability, and our humanitarian assistance and disaster relief capability.
Together with HMAS Tobruk and the Windermere, and as you heard the Minister announce, a third commercial vessel to maintain and assure this capability for us, we now start the journey towards the Landing Helicopter Docks which will enter service in 2014.
That, combined with the announcement yesterday about the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment to become an amphibious battalion - Choules, Tobruk, and the 2nd Battalion will work together to build the core of the expeditionary warfare capability that the ADF is evolving into the Landing Helicopter Docks.
In terms of the Coles Review, like the Rizzo review in July, I see these reviews as a very important opportunity for Navy - and for me as the capability manager - to be able to exercise my responsibilities.
I don't see them as a threat. I see them - and their candour, and their honesty - as extremely useful to me to exercise my responsibilities, and to make sure that we work together to get the sustainment of our Collins Class Submarines right.
Our Submariners deserve it. Our Submariners are first class. They work extremely hard, extremely well. The submarines themselves are a very effective, capable, potent, strategic asset. They need to be supported properly and that's what this review is about.
In terms of the alternative crewing strategy, alternative crewing study that we're about to commence, we've talked about this in Navy for many years - are there different ways that we can run the ships.
We're finally going to do something about that, and have a hard look at what alternatives are available, and see if we can do things in a more efficient way.
Thanks very much.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well thanks Jason, thanks Vice Admiral Griggs, and we're happy to respond to your questions.
STEPHEN SMITH: Yes. We've now got HMAS Choules which in January will become available for service. That will be affected when it gets to Sydney. We've got HMAS Tobruk which is ready for operations. And we've got the Windermere as essentially further support. So yes I am. And that will continue into the future.
JOURNALIST: So there won't be a situation like there was with the Queensland floods; that will not happen again?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well we've worked very hard on our amphibious capability. The Tobruk has undergone some deep maintenance in the course of the year; it's now available and ready for service. This ship - which is the capacity of the Tobruk, the Kanimbla, and the Manoora combined will be available in January, and we've had cover, currently with the Windermere, and I've announced today the purchase, the proposed purchase of an additional off the shelf commercial support vessel.
JOURNALIST: If the Coles Review found fundamental flaws [indistinct] might be a [indistinct], but should we still pursue building these submarines.
STEPHEN SMITH: Absolutely. The White Paper makes it clear that there are strategic, good strategic reasons why we should have a Future Submarine Program. We need to learn the lessons of the Collins class maintenance and sustainment. We're doing that. The Coles Report makes very salutary reading, but we're taking that into account. It points the need for fundamental reform. And that's what we'll do.
STEPHEN SMITH: Yes. The only matter that is off the table is nuclear propulsion. We'll have 12 Submarines; they'll be assembled in South Australia. We're talking about a project that will go for decades. And we're making sure we'll get the early planning right.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well the last advice I had was that he had been convicted, but he was awaiting sentencing. It's not appropriate for me to make any remarks prior to his sentencing.
JOURNALIST: Can you guarantee that his appointment [indistinct]?
STEPHEN SMITH: The Chief of Navy, the Chief of the Defence Force and I as the Minister have a zero tolerance for inappropriate or bad behaviour, and we've seen an example that you've drawn attention to where bad behaviour has been dealt with. The person concerned has been convicted. I won't go into any more detail than that subject to the sentencing which is appropriate, but there is a zero tolerance for inappropriate behaviour.
And the vast bulk of members of the Defence Force conduct themselves in an appropriate way. But where we see bad or inappropriate behaviour there is no tolerance for it, and we make that point privately, and we make that point publicly.
JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] Cabinet reshuffle?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well the Prime Minister has made her decisions about the Cabinet reshuffle known. I congratulate Bill Shorten on becoming a Cabinet Minister just as I congratulate Mark Butler and Tanya Plibersek. They are three very fine colleagues and they'll work very well around the Cabinet table.
There are some Cabinet and other Ministers who are the subject of portfolio change, and there were some who weren't.
I regret very much that Jason is going on to bigger and better things. We've worked very closely together. He's done a very fine job. So Jason said his departure was bitter sweet. I will miss the good work he's done in this portfolio. But I congratulate him on his promotion.
STEPHEN SMITH: I don't anticipate any conflict between any of our Cabinet Ministers. Cabinet Ministers work in the national interest.
JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] HMAS Choules is just a stop gap?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well Choules is not a stop gap. Choules is six years old. It's going to last us for a very long period of time. And it will be used in conjunction with the Landing Helicopter Docks when they arrive in the middle of the decade.
JOURNALIST: And [indistinct] purchasing something now to [indistinct]?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, we are focused on two things, we are focused on getting the maintenance and sustainment of the Collins class submarine right, and making sure that the Collins class submarine is much more available than it has been in the past.
Secondly we are focused on getting the planning for the Future Submarines Project, getting that early planning, getting it right. All of our experience shows that when projects, when big projects go awry, 80 per cent of the problems are caused in the first 20 per cent of the projects.
So we are being absolutely assiduous about the planning for the Future Submarines Project. And a lot of the early planning work has been released for you today.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well a number of remarks. Firstly we expect and hope that Papua New Guinea constitutional and democratic processes will be respected. That's of course a matter for Papua New Guinea and its institutions.
Obviously we watch with interest. There have been some suggestions overnight of protests, and we simply on that front call for restraint and calm, but Papua New Guinea is one of our closest friends, one of our nearest neighbours, and we hope that as they work through their parliamentary, constitutional and legal issues, that these matters will be resolved in accordance with PNG democratic and constitutional processes.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I never get into hypotheticals. Currently we have a high court decision in PNG which the various political parties are in discussions with the Governor General of PNG about. It's simply a matter where Papua New Guinea constitutional democratic processes need to be respected. In the meantime we simply expect that there'll be restraint and calm as those processes are worked through.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well as I said yesterday and some of you were present yesterday, Kim Carr has been a very fine Minister so far as manufacturing and industry is concerned. Very much an important part of Australia's manufacturing industry is those parts of manufacturing which are important, strategically, to defence.
[Indistinct] is one and Bendigo and Thales is another as our announcement made clear yesterday. So I'm looking very much forward to working closely with Kim in an area which has been very much a key longstanding interest for him.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well as you've seen from the paperwork - and as I said earlier and the Chief of Navy said, we're doing, through the Chief of Navy, a review as to whether some components of civilian crewing can be adopted. With the proposed purchase of an off-the-shelf commercial off-shore support vessel for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief purposes, that will primarily be a civilian crew, so we're looking at those options.
As I said earlier we have examples from both the United States and the United Kingdom where the combination of Navy and civilian crewing is utilised. But the Chief of Navy is doing a serious study and we'll make our judgments in due course.
Thanks very much.