Press Conference, Henderson Naval Base, WA

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Senator the Hon Linda Reynolds CSC

Minister for Defence

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Nicky Hamer (Minister Reynolds’ Office): +61 437 989 927

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25 January 2021

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LINDA REYNOLDS: Today is yet another great day for shipbuilding here in the great state of Western Australia. I’m delighted to be back here in the Henderson shipyard in my own home state of Western Australia to make a series of new announcements.

Through the Morrison Government’s unprecedented $183 billion investment in naval shipbuilding, the Henderson shipyard under our stewardship, is fast becoming a sovereign capability powerhouse.

Today, already, around half of Australia’s surface combatants and all of our Collins Class submarines are based here at Garden Island. Just behind me, here at the BAE Shipyard, you can see HMAS Toowoomba – one of our eight Anzac Class warships – which are simply magnificent. She returned from deployment last year and is now undergoing a series of upgrades here at BAE. Naval shipbuilding in Western Australia has gone from zero to boom in seven short years, with a total of 45 naval vessels now to be built here in WA under this Government’s Naval Shipbuilding Plan.

Currently three classes of vessels are under construction here right across the Henderson and also naval base facilities by West Australian companies and over 700 West Australian workers. The 21 Guardian class patrol vessels, 10 of the 12 Arafura class offshore patrol vessels and also the six Evolved Cape Class vessels. Already, eight of these vessels have been built and delivered and another eight are currently under construction.

And I’m pleased to advise that over the next decade the Morrison Government is investing over $20 billion in shipbuilding and sustainment here in Western Australia – $16 billion to build new vessels, $500 million a year to sustain the current fleet here across the facilities and also $1.5 billion to invest in upgrading facilities both at HMAS Stirling and here at Henderson. And recently I also announced a $300 million project to build a new Maritime Underwater Tracking Range. So, we have a great track record to build on, not only across Australia but right here at Henderson.

So now to today’s announcements. Firstly, I’m really pleased to announce that this Government will invest $1 billion to commence the investigation and development of advanced guided weapons for the Navy. This will significantly enhance Australia’s maritime security and it is part of our two-decade $24 billion investment in maritime weapons. This project will provide Navy with some very significant new capabilities. First of all, it will provide leading edge long range anti-ship missiles. It will also provide extended range surface-to-air missiles, advanced lightweight torpedoes, and also greater maritime land strike capabilities.

All of these new weapons will enhance the protection of our maritime resources and also, our nation’s border. They will also hold potential adversaries out to much greater distances – up to 1,500 kilometres. Initially the Anzac frigates, which are already – as you can see behind me – undergoing major midlife upgrades here at Henderson at BAE. These will be the first to be equipped with these new advanced guided weapons. So that’s the first announcement.

My second announcement is that the Government has made a decision to build a variant of the offshore patrol vessel for the new Mine Countermeasures and also our new Hydrographic vessels. This commitment boosts our election commitment from three vessels now to eight. And this is an investment, an additional investment, of up to $5 billion in the build.

And finally, my third announcement today is that Defence has released an invitation for Australian industry to provide us with a toolbox of Robotic and Autonomous systems for these new eight vessels. And the register and the requests for information and details are now on AusTender. And I would encourage all Australian companies – and we have many companies who are at the leading edge of autonomous systems and autonomous vessels and vehicles – to have a look at this and to work with Navy to develop options.

All of these are vitally important to keep our Navy at the leading edge of technology not only to defend our nation but, most importantly, to keep our personnel on board these vessels as safe as we can possibly make them. And today over 1,300 Western Australians are employed in naval shipbuilding and sustainment. And I had the absolute pleasure of meeting many of those of the 500 who are working here at BAE, including Nikita, who has just started this week. She just moved here from Bunbury to start an electrical apprenticeship here. And it was great to hear how much she and the other apprentices here are looking forward to not only their apprenticeships but to a lifelong career here in these trades.

So, all of these announcements are the next steps in locking in the long-term future for Western Australia as one of our nation’s two major national shipbuilding hubs. It is yet another tangible demonstration of this Government’s commitment to building a lethal but also a highly responsive and a safe naval system for our nation’s future.

And I’m very happy to take questions first of all on these announcements today.

JOURNALIST: How long will they take to develop?

LINDA REYNOLDS: Generally it takes about five years to develop new capabilities. But these new upgrades will mean that there will be work for these workers here today on this project well into the 2040s if not longer. So we’re working on the details at the moment, but this really locks in the jobs of, you know, BAE workers here for several decades.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible]

LINDA REYNOLDS: Well, last year I released the Defence Strategic Update which made it very clear that our regional circumstances and our geostrategic circumstances have been deteriorating. A number of nations in our region have been developing their military capabilities, in particular their naval capabilities, their maritime capabilities, but also the development of longer range strike weapons and also launched from submarines, from ships, planes and also from land. So that has increased the range and the sophistication of these weapons.

So as we said in the Defence Strategic Update, we are investing – for the Navy we’re investing $24 billion over the next two decades to make sure that we keep leading-edge sophistication of the technology but also of the range. So these ones are out to 1,500 kilometres, which is a significant deterrence for potential adversaries, but it’s also to make sure that we can defend our people who are embarked on ships. So it is critically important.

JOURNALIST: How do you think China will react to today’s announcement?

LINDA REYNOLDS: Well, these announcements, like all of the other announcements, are not about any one nation in particular. These are about ensuring that Australia has the sovereign capability in the maritime, land and air domains to protect our nation both physically but particularly to protect all of our forces – land, air and sea – from any potential threats. And to do that we need to make sure that we are constantly upgrading the sophistication of the technologies. We need to keep making sure they are interoperable with our allies and our friends in the region and globally. And this is exactly what this project does. And, again, we’ve gone from three under this announcement to eight offshore patrol vessel variants, both Hydrographic and our Mine Countermeasures. So, again, it is about increasing the potency and also the capability of our Navy.

JOURNALIST: You said that this gives us the capability up to 1,500 kilometres. North Korea, for example, has missiles that can fire up to 5,500 kilometres, is it enough, do we need more than that?

LINDA REYNOLDS: Well, that’s exactly why, you know, with the development in our region by a number of nations of weapons that are increasingly sophisticated, also with the development of hypersonic glide missiles in particular we are working in a number of areas. I’ve already announced the LRASM missiles for the Air Force. This is now a program we’re announcing for Navy, and we will have a look at our land-based systems and making announcements about that further.

So, again, it’s not about one country but it is as a result of a very, very clear-eyed assessment of what is happening in our region and the militarisation and increasing early adoption of new technologies into military capability. So we have to make sure that our systems across all of our five military domains, including cyber and space now, that we are at the forefront of technology but that we do so in a way that we are interoperable with our allies, with whom we work very closely in partnership.

JOURNALIST: Before this technology, what was the distance that you could hold them out for?

LINDA REYNOLDS: We never confirm what distances we have with any of our weapons because obviously that is also telegraphing. So we don’t say what we can do with our existing weapons. They do have short to medium range but, as we said in the Defence Strategic Update we now need to invest significantly in new technology for longer range guided weapons in particular. And this announcement today is all about that for Navy.

JOURNALIST: And so it’s a significant improvement?

LINDA REYNOLDS: Its continual improvement, we have our torpedoes, and the missiles that we currently have on our Collins class submarines are the world’s best but we have to make sure that we keep up or ahead of the technology development that’s happening elsewhere.

JOURNALIST: Just on the submarines, is Australia seriously considering ditching its Naval Group contract and replacing the Collins class with an updated version?

LINDA REYNOLDS: Look, I’ve seen those reports, and what I can confirm is that the Future Submarine Program is our nation’s largest and most complex project. We are acquiring the next generation, our future submarines, to replace the Collins class submarine which are still only halfway through their life, so we’ll have the new fleet ready from the 2030s and beyond.

So we are absolutely committed – I’m absolutely committed. I work very carefully and closely with my French counterpart, Minister Florence Parly, and we are both committed to making this project work. And I note today there was a great article that Naval Group Australia is now heading towards 500 Australians working at their headquarters in Adelaide.

So yes, it is a large and complex project, but we are all committed to making this work so that after the Collins we have and we continue to have a regionally superior submarine. Contrary to rumours, it is not over budget and it is not over time.

JOURNALIST: Are you and the Prime Minister frustrated with the cost of the project?

LINDA REYNOLDS: Well, as I’ve just said, it has not – from when we went into contract with Naval Group – it’s not one cent over budget, and I’m working very hard, as are the French, the Government, to make sure that this is delivered on time and on budget.

JOURNALIST: What about deadlines? Are there any failures in meeting early deadlines?

LINDA REYNOLDS: We did have five weeks’ slippage in the design phase early on. Even during COVID, Naval Group have made up some of that time. But again, when you consider this is a multi-decade project, five weeks in the early design phase is, you know, acceptable. But we’re coming up to the next deadline, which is due this month, moving into the next design phase and we are working very hard, as I know Naval Group is, to ensure that they keep meeting their deadlines.

JOURNALIST: And with China sending war planes over Taiwan, does Australia see the US Indo-Pacific strategy [inaudible].

LINDA REYNOLDS: Well, the Australian Government is, and continues to watch very carefully what is happening in the Taiwan Strait. And as the Foreign Minister has said today, we are watching very carefully the relationship between the new US administration and China because it is the most significant bilateral relationship in the world and it has significant consequences, the state of it, for, you know, all of us in our region. But we would say to all parties to settle their disputes peacefully and also to do it in accordance with international law and to take into consideration the wishes of people on both sides of the Strait. So we’re watching it carefully and call for constraint and peace.

JOURNALIST: So there’s no response yet to what’s happening?

LINDA REYNOLDS: Well, that is our response. We continue to monitor and we’re calling for restraint.

LINDA REYNOLDS: Thank you very much. Thank you.




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