Mornings with David Bevan, ABC Adelaide

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The Hon Melissa Price MP

Minister for Defence Industry

Minister for Science and Technology

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2 March 2020

Subjects: Attracting automotive workers to the defence industry, submarine maintenance jobs


DAVID BEVAN: Melissa Price is the Defence Industry Minister.  She joins us now.  Good morning Melissa Price.

MELISSA PRICE: Good morning, David. 

DAVID BEVAN: You're spruiking subs jobs in Adelaide for ex Holden engineers, is that right? 

MELISSA PRICE: That's right.  That's right, and it's something that we identified as a government in our 2017 Naval Shipbuilding Plan.  We identified that existing automotive workers, especially those engineering professionals and trade workers, we identified that they were potential sources of recruitment to the defence industry work.  And I think if we have a look at it, those people that are going to be without a job at Holden, there's approximately 240 engineering staff and around 130 design professionals.  And, you know, we know that the majority of the engineering workforce, they're split been mechanical and electrical, whereas the design workforce will include industrial designers and people that are proficient in computer-aided 3D, etcetera, etcetera. 

So, you know, I think that there are certainly opportunities for those Holden workers.  And maybe some of them will need, potentially, a bridging or a conversion course.  But, you know, when you've got an ambitious shipbuilding program like our government has and we've only got at the moment around 4000 - 4000 people working in shipbuilding, we need that to increase to 15,000, I'm going to look everywhere I can to find those… [interrupted]

DAVID BEVAN: Has the Naval Group who are going to build these subs, have they told you that the engineers at Holden who have been based in Melbourne, that - they still kept their jobs long after the factory was closed here in Adelaide - those jobs in Melbourne, that they're qualified to work on a sub? 

MELISSA PRICE: The work that we're doing, together with the Naval Shipbuilding College, the Land Engineering Agency and together with General Motors – we need to obviously do a piece of work where we map the skills and experience of the Holden workforce.  But, you know, we have to keep talking about where is the skill set. As I said, we've only got 4000, we need 15,000. So, as Defence Industries Minister, I'm very focused on where are we going to get that skilled workforce from.  And as I said at the outset, I'm not suggesting every single one of those Holden workers is going to be suitable but I guarantee you there'll be some there that, you know, perhaps with just a small bridging course would actually be capable of working on our very ambitious subs program.  But also don't forget we're also building nine frigates in South Australia as well.

DAVID BEVAN: Those Holden engineer jobs, they finish up what, is it the middle of this year? 

MELISSA PRICE: Um, yes - yeah a little bit later than that.

DAVID BEVAN: A little bit later.


DAVID BEVAN: When will they be needed in Adelaide? 

MELISSA PRICE: Well, some of them, like the engineering and the design professionals, they could be needed within the next 12 months or even earlier.  But, I mean, I'm guessing at the moment because I think we need to do that mapping exercise and obviously once the mapping exercise has been done, clearly we have to be talking to Naval Group as well.

DAVID BEVAN: Right. So we don't really know whether they would be suitable or not, it's just you saying "Oh, they might be"?

MELISSA PRICE: Well, as I said from the outset, under our 2017 Naval Shipbuilding Plan we identified that existing automotive workers, especially those engineering professionals and also some of the trade workers - boilermakers, for example - that they were potentially going to be recruited into the defence industry sector, so we identified that.  I guess what we're saying is we've now got 240 engineering staff and 130 design professionals at Holden, maybe they could form part of our ambitious shipbuilding program.

DAVID BEVAN: Do you think the WA Government has made a good case for it to take the sub maintenance jobs? 

MELISSA PRICE: Well, as you know, David, the issues relating to full cycle docking are yet to be considered and Linda Reynolds, who is the Defence Minister, she is the responsible Minister for that.

DAVID BEVAN: Yeah, but I'm not asking you what the decision is, I'm just saying as an MP from WA, you'd be - and you’re the Defence Industry Minister, so you'd be right across what they're spruiking.  Do you think they've made a good case? 

MELISSA PRICE: Oh I think both States have capability and that they've both put their credentials forward.

DAVID BEVAN: But did you sit back and see their ad or maybe you've read their glossy brochures and think, "Gee, these people, they could do it."  

MELISSA PRICE: Well, yeah, as I said, you know, these are decisions that need to be taken, and it's not my responsibility, it's the Minister for Defence who has that responsibility.

DAVID BEVAN: Yeah, but as a WA MP and Defence Industry Minister, do you think the WA Government has at least made out a case for taking those jobs? 

MELISSA PRICE: Well, as I said, I think both States who are involved in shipbuilding for our nation, South Australia and Western Australia, have both worked hard at identifying their capability, and obviously there's significant work going on in South Australia and there's obviously significant work going on in Western Australia as well.  Civmec, for example, has built the biggest shed in the southern hemisphere down at Henderson. So, there's significant work going on at both those shipyards.

DAVID BEVAN: When will the decision be made? 

MELISSA PRICE: It's not my call.  As I've said, I'm not the responsible Minister, Minister Reynolds is.

DAVID BEVAN: But it's long overdue.  And, again - look, you'd have an idea.  Of all the people that I'm going to talk to today, I reckon Melissa Price, Defence Industry Minister, would have a better idea than anyone else on when a decision is likely.  So, just so the people listening will know, should they expect something before Christmas, before Easter?  When do you think?

MELISSA PRICE: Well, David, I think maybe you're flattering me but I can tell you that it's not my responsibility, it's the Defence Minister's responsibility and it's a matter for her to discuss.

DAVID BEVAN: So you have no idea when a decision is likely on the subs maintenance jobs? 

MELISSA PRICE: No. That decision has not been taken.

DAVID BEVAN: And you don't know when it's going to be taken? 


DAVID BEVAN: Okay. Um, if you were hoping to get work in the sub maintenance area, you should keep an open mind then because you might have to go work in WA? 

MELISSA PRICE: Well, I think what I'm focused on, as Defence Minister - Industry Minister, is we have got 15,000 jobs that we are going to create with our ambitious shipbuilding program.  We've currently got 4000.  And where we get those people from, frankly, I don't care.  And that's why talking to Holden is very important because we know that there's capability with those people who are about to be retrenched.  People will come from all parts of Australia and, of course, I'm not just interested in the subs jobs.  I'm also interested in people working on the frigate program with BAE and, of course, the Land 400 program, currently Rheinmetall based out of Brisbane, but you know there's jobs and there's businesses right across the country who are actually sharing in the defence industry space.

DAVID BEVAN: Melissa Price, thank you very much for your time.

MELISSA PRICE: My pleasure.

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