Related ministers and contacts
The Hon Peter Dutton MP
Minister for Defence
Defence Media: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Hon Melissa Price MP
Minister for Defence Industry
Minister for Science and Technology
Vicki Treadell CMG, MVO
British High Commissioner to Australia
Vice Admiral Michael Noonan, AO, RAN
Chief of Navy
29 October 2021
Joint press conference with:
- Minister for Defence Industry and Minister for Science and Technology, the Hon Melissa Price MP
- British High Commissioner to Australia, Vicki Treadell CMG, MVO
- Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Michael Noonan, AO, RAN
It’s a great honour to be back in WA and to welcome HMS Astute. We have just visited the boat and have spoke to the crew there – they are very keen to get out into Perth and spend some money in the local community and we hope there’s a lot more of that over the coming years.
The whole idea of AUKUS is that we can bring a lot of investment to the West and to the rest of our country and we have the ability to see sustainment, to see repairs, to see replenishment and obviously there is a massive infrastructure build.
I want to say thank you very much firstly to Melissa for all of the work that she's done in driving, in particular, Australian industry content. We're going to have more work than we have workers in the foreseeable future, both in the extension here at Stirling, what we're seeing at Osborne, what we see on the East Coast, and that is a major investment as the Government commits now to beyond two per cent of GDP as a direct result of wanting to support the Australian Defence Force and their job in keeping Australia safe.
We know at the moment it's a very unsafe period and it's an uncertain period in the Indo-Pacific, and that situation has deteriorated as we know in recent years, and it's why it's incredibly important for us to have our partners, particularly in AUKUS. I want to say thank you very much to the High Commissioner for being here today.
Vicki has had very significant involvement in AUKUS and has been really central to the Brits' side and their argument for making that investment into Australia for us working even more closely together and I'm very, very grateful that the High Commissioner is here.
I also want to pay attribute today to the Chief of Navy, Mike Noonan, for his work and for his leadership within Navy. As we know, the Government's made a commitment to at least eight nuclear-powered submarines and that work is being overseen by the Chief of Navy. It's a very significant bolstering of the Collins class, which is best in class at the moment, but we need an additional capability, particularly in 2030s and 2040s, and that will be a nuclear-powered boat because of its stealth capability and because we want to continue that regional superiority which we have with the Collins class at the moment.
So I just say those few brief remarks and I will ask Mel to say a few words and then we'll come back for some questions shortly.
Thanks very much, Peter, and it's great to have you here in the mighty state of Western Australia. Great to be here. It really is a great privilege as a proud West Australian to be able to welcome the crew of HMS Astute. I have no doubt that they are going to receive an incredibly warm welcome from Western Australia and we've just been discussing all the things that they're going to do.
Anyone's got any good golf ideas? They'd like to go and play golf. That was the number one priority. So I'm sure they're going to have a fabulous time.
As the Minister for Defence Industry and as a proud Western Australian, I'm particularly focused on the what the opportunities will be when we have a nuclear submarine capability. So the message to those small and medium sized West Australian businesses, you need to understand there will be opportunities for you. There will be many jobs.
So when you're thinking about your career in the future, I encourage people to think about what are the opportunities when we have our nuclear capability for this country. And for Western Australia, that will be incredible. Thanks everyone for being here.
Thank you. I might ask the High Commissioner Vicki Treadell to come forward please.
Thank you very much, Ministers. It's wonderful to be here and a huge privilege that the crew of HMS Astute could bring that wonderful vessel into port here. It's a statement of our intent, as Britain, with our great partners and mates here in Australia, our commitment to this region of the world, the Indo-Pacific. Some of you may recall we produced our integrated review this year in which we said that we would be tilting, leaning into the Indo-Pacific. This is a vital part of the world where Britain intends to be yet more engaged.
And the trilateral partnership that we have with Australia and the US, a development of our longstanding historical relationship, two of our closest defence and security partners, this is a logical next step for us, as we look at shared capabilities and the mutual opportunity that lies ahead for us. This is Britain in the world playing our part for peace, for stability, for prosperity, for the interests not just of the people of our country but our friends and partners in this region; ASEAN, other like-minded countries like Japan and India.
So we will play our part and as we do the work ahead of us to find those other opportunities to work yet closer again. And it's great that we can bring 120 crew here to enjoy all that Western Australia has to offer. I know that the guys are really looking forward to having a bit of R&R. That's why they've come into port. They've been at sea continuously for 51 days. They've been part of our Carrier Strike Group into the Indo-Pacific, led by HMS Queen Elizabeth. We've been exercising across the region, not just with Australia but many other friends and partners. And this is part of our persistent and consistent presence in the Indo-Pacific. Two of our offshore patrol vessels, HMS Tamar and Spey, will be spending the next five years in the Pacific where we look forward to have doing yet more with our partners and friends in this region.
So Britain's engagement is not stepping down. Indeed, it is stepping up. And with our FTA with Australia, you will know that we have big plans for this part of the world. Strategic partnership, economic and defence partnership is fundamental to our vision for the future of our participation in this part of the world. Thank you very much.
Thank you. On behalf of the men and women of the Royal Australian Navy, I'm delighted to welcome the ship's company of HMS Astute here to HMAS Stirling. We have a very long and proud history in terms of our interaction with the Royal Navy and in particular our submarine force. And while I can't go into the details of what our submarines have been doing over the last few days, I can assure you that we've had some great experience operating with our - with our colleagues in the Royal Navy and I expect that to continue to grow as the strength and partnership that we have available to us now through AUKUS comes to life.
So I am hoping that this will be the first of many visits that we will see from the Royal Navy and your submarine arm to the wonderful shores of Western Australia. Thank you.
Thanks very much Mike. Any questions?
Minister, what is the actual infrastructure announcement here today?
Well obviously as part of AUKUS, firstly going to see coming into service eight – at least eight – of the new nuclear-powered submarines and that's what we're in discussions with the Brits and the UK about, and the US about at the moment, as to what that boat will look like and that's the first element.
But there are many other elements of AUKUS. There's significant investment by us into space, into every element that you can imagine, including guided weapons, hypersonics. So there will need to be a lot of visits from the United States and from the United Kingdom, from their boats, from their carriers, from their aircraft, and that presence is going to require infrastructure.
So the first point I suppose to make is that we need to upgrade the infrastructure that we've got, including here at Stirling. As you can see by HMS Astute behind, she's a bigger boat than the Collins-class. It's about 97 metres in length; as the High Commissioner pointed out, in excess of 100 crew. So we need to make sure that we have an investment in the infrastructure when we have these visits.
And for Western Australia it means the capability is going to be there for the boats to be sustained, to be repaired, in some cases to be upgraded. So that's the work that we undertake now. We’ll work obviously closely with the Western Australian Government, our partners in the US, and the UK, but it extends beyond the US and the UK as well. I should make that point. I mean recently as you would know we had a German frigate in the region. We have a very close relationship with India, with Japan, and there will be many other visits.
So we'll continue to work on the infrastructure spend, but as I said before, the Government's committed now to spending more than two per cent of GDP which is a dramatic increase and Melissa, obviously, has been working very closely on how we increase the Australian content, how we get more jobs, how we help small businesses and that will be a feature here in WA.
So it's a billion dollar upgrade here?
It will be, I suspect over time, it will be north of that figure, and we'll provide further detail of that in due course, but I think today is a day to concentrate, frankly, on the Astute, on the program, on our investment into infrastructure and how that's going to employ locals, young trades people and investment into their own businesses, and obviously the multiplier effect that that delivers into the WA economy. As we know, there's already a very significant investment that we're making into shipbuilding into WA and that will continue.
The AUKUS alliance [inaudible] the French having a sook and now the responsibility of Australia to mend that relationship?
Well a couple of points. We have a very close relationship with the French, and obviously they are understandably upset at the fact that we cancelled the contract with them. We cancelled the contract because the advice to us was that that boat was not going to be sufficient for our needs to keep our country safe into the 2030s, 2040s and beyond, and when we received that advice we looked at what options we would have for a nuclear-powered submarine. The technology in this vessel, for example, means that the reactor can remain on that boat ,intact ,for 32 years – essentially for the life of the vessel and that wasn't available from the French. We had, obviously, a tough decision to make, but when it's cast in the terms as it was by the Chief of Navy and others that we needed to have the protection from a nuclear submarine to maintain that superiority in our region, then that became an obvious choice to us. So the Prime Minister, as you know, has spoken to President Macron overnight and we'll continue to work very closely with the French to mend that relationship, but that will take time and we accept that.
Well, I think it sends the message that we are serious about keeping our regions safe and secure. There are many near-neighbours who are, you know, very mindful of the fact that they are in a position of stability today; that millions of people in our region have been lifted out of poverty because of that security, because of that safety and because of that peace in our region, and we want that to continue. The French are a very important partner in that cause. The French have equities, including of course in New Caledonia in our region, and they have an interest like the Brits and like the Japanese and the Indians and the Americans to make sure that we all work very closely together. There are many areas where we have a very close relationship with the French and that will continue.
Is there [inaudible] time line when we will actually have the new submarines and what that will look like [inaudible].
I had another update yesterday from Admiral Mead, who obviously has led our effort with the UK and the US, and the only thing I can report at the moment is that there is just no hesitation from our partners about making sure that we can get this capability as quickly as possible. I know there's been speculation about, you know, dates out into late 2040s and all of this, but that's not going to be the case.
We're going through a period now of 18 months and we're sort of a month into that. So we haven't got an announcement to make about the outcome, but every discussion is targeted around how we can achieve the capability as soon as possible. It's important for us to have that capability to defend our country.
The submarines, for an island nation, are incredibly important for the protection that they provide, for their ability to collect intelligence etc. All of that's well known. We'll work closely with the Brits or with the US, depending on which boat we go with, but that's just one element of AUKUS. As I said before, there are many other elements to the agreement and we'll continue to work very closely on that and we'll make further announcements in due course.
Do you know how much it will cost?
How much it will cost? No we don't and that's part of the discovery process that we're in at the moment. But it's going to cost a significant amount of money. There's nothing cheap in the space of defence, unfortunately, and if you want to be in a position of strength and provide deterrence to those that would seek to do harm to our country, you need to make sure that you can invest and argue that from a position of strength and that's exactly what we're in the process of doing.
Is all of this new money or is part of the announcement [inaudible].
Some of it will be part of the announcement and, as I say, I think since AUKUS we're reassessing now what that investment looks like. I think there's now…
…I think if you look at what we've provided in AUKUS, we'll have a more significant investment. We'll make further announcements about that in due course.
What do you think of your colleague, Eric Abetz, suggesting we should diplomatically recognise Taiwan and be prepared to defend it from China [inaudible].
I think the Government's position at the moment in relation to Taiwan, which has been longstanding, is not changing. I understand Senator Abetz and many others are worried about the situation in Taiwan and within our region. Many people have described the situation in the Indo-Pacific at the moment as the most uncertain period since World War II and through China's own comments, as we know, their intent in relation to Taiwan has been very clear and unambiguous. From Australia's perspective, we want peace to prevail in our region. So our position in relation to Taiwan hasn't changed and we'll continue to work very closely with our partners to make sure that we have that peace and stability in our region.
Minister, what about Malaysia and Indonesia, they have recently raised some concerns about AUKUS, and obviously we have very friendly ties with those countries. How are these concerns going to be addressed and what are those concerns from Australia's perspective [inaudible].
It's a good question. We've got very close relations with both Singapore and Malaysia. Obviously, we've provided support in wartime before the alliance, and the friendship runs extremely deep with Singapore, for example, but for Malaysia as well. I had a video conference only last week with my counterparts from those two countries and elsewhere and, again, their desire is to make sure that there is peace and stability in our region. But we need to recognise also that China is, is a country that has significant economic investments and equities across countries in the region.
So there will be nuance in language. But all I can say to you is, in the discussions that I've had with our partners across the region, there has been support for AUKUS and support for a greater presence from the UK, the US, Japan, India and others. There are many people in this equation and, you know, we have a lot of alliances, a lot of partnerships. We know, through the Quad, that we're working even more closely than we have in the past with Japan and India, and we'll continue to work on those relationships.
In hindsight, do you regret not bringing the French into the fold sooner?
No, I just think you need to look at the timelines that were involved. Obviously there's a lot of discussion in a very tight compartment within the Government about the nuclear decision and we have a regional superiority with Collins class at the moment. It's an incredible boat, and we should be very proud of that, but for a diesel electric into the 2040s, that's not going to keep our country as safe as we want it to be, and we had to make a decision. We advised the French, I think at the appropriate time. There was never an easy time to tell friends that we were going to terminate a contract and I can understand their concern, but we continue to rebuild that relationship.
Why isn't it possible for the Henderson shipyard here in WA to construct the large hull vessel for the Pacific, rather than purchasing one from overseas?
There's a couple of points to make there. I mean one is that we want to achieve that capability. I think what we've seen during the course of COVID and what we're seeing play out in Papua New Guinea at the moment, is that we want more capability, not less, and we want that sooner and that's what we can achieve, as opposed to an immature design or starting a process that might take a couple more years than what we would want.
We're obviously providing support to PNG and other countries in the region at the moment through the delivery of vaccines. We've got AUSMAT teams providing support, advisory work that's going on so that we can get that rolled out; and we wanted that capability sooner than what we could achieve it domestically.
But when you look at what's being built here in WA in terms of the Guardian class, you know, just by way of one example, I mean, a very significant investment that's employing hundreds of Western Australians and I think the key point here is that over the coming years, the Federal Government is going to invest more into WA and create more jobs here in WA, than I think we've got workers. The problem is going to be where do the workers come from; and we know with border restrictions at the moment that there are some companies who are struggling to bring those workers in, and we're working very closely with the WA Government to bring those workers in and some are coming in, which is great.
I think that's going to be the problem, not that we're not building enough, but where are the workers going to come from? Melissa might want to add to that.
Yeah, for sure.
I think if we just look at some of the announcements that the Prime Minister made around the time of the AUKUS announcement, significant more work; I added it up the other day, it's somewhere between four and eight billion dollars worth of work and we have got issues right here right now.
We need at least, on my last count, around 80 engineers to work in our incredibly ambitious shipbuilding program. So Minister Dutton is absolutely right: t's not going to be a shortage of work here in Western Australia. And we're just talking shipbuilding here; there's significant other defence industry work here that's available as part of our $270 billion investment in defence industry.
So it's not a shortage of work. It is 100 per cent going to be a shortage of workers. And I mean we're doing everything we can to actually encourage this generation of students and the next generation and the next generation to actually think about what life would be like, and I can assure them it will be an incredibly rewarding career working in our nation's shipbuilding industry.
Can I just ask you a question on another topic?
South Australia's commissioning a probe into the GST. Have you any concern that the Productivity Commission's review into the GST could be brought forward from 2026 to [inaudible] WA?
I'm going to leave other people to comment on these things about, you know, who is fighting for what. But I think it's pretty clear that our Prime Minister was the one that actually set a course for us to resolve the issues with GST, to make sure that Western Australia does not miss out and nothing has changed from that perspective.
Minister Dutton, do you still support Gladys Berejiklian?
Yes. I've known Gladys for a long time and I've found her always to be a person of the highest integrity, the highest personal standing. Obviously she's had difficulty in her personal life and I would feel for anybody in that circumstance. I feel for her because it's played out on the front pages of newspapers and I know that she's a very private person. But obviously there's a matter that's before ICAC at the moment and I don't want to make any further comment in relation to that.
You mentioned here about one month into an 18 month process, what sort of announcements should we expect at the end of that?
Well we can expect an announcement in relation to the design that we're going with. We can see the Astute behind us. There will be a new class that will come from the UK within only a few years. There is the Virginia class out of the United States would be the other option for Australia to use that design and to build those boats and to have that capability. As we say, at least eight boats, and for an island nation, that's incredibly important. So that's going to be the main outcome.
There's a lot that goes behind that. If you look at the US nuclear boat program – nuclear submarine program – t's now had in service something like 7000 years of service across its fleet over a long period of time; not a single accident. So the safety program is second-to-none.
And similarly with the UK, they've been involved in the US program since the mid-1950s: not a single accident. So the whole issue of nuclear stewardship is very important and making sure that we put in place all of those protections, the training, to make sure that we don't have any accidents either and that's a very important point to make.
So the Americans want assurances around what our program will look like, how the training will take place and that's all involved in the discussion over the course of the 18 months.
Sorry, just about what's being announced today, there's no dollars or figures being announced today in terms of the infrastructure upgrade nor about the Astute coming here?
I think it's about both. I think it's a statement about this vessel visiting and many, many more like it in the years to come. The reality is that we are going to need to be able to perform maintenance, to perform repairs, to make sure that we can refuel in the case of other vessels outside of the nuclear submarine fleet. We know with the Americans, for example, when they're in town they're spending about a million dollars a day. I think the message today is that there is a very significant upgrade to this facility coming.
There is a very significant investment to be made in infrastructure in the West, in the East and in the South of our country to accommodate these port visits. I don't think you should underestimate the significant economic impact of these port visits – not just the crew spending money locally – but the reprovisioning of these vessels. These are major enterprises and for them to pull up alongside here for maintenance to be conducted, for upgrades and other investments, it's going to take a very significant investment into the infrastructure like here at Stirling. That's, I think, you know, the main message. We're very proud and pleased that the Brits have decided to join us here in Perth.
We hope that they have an incredibly successful stay. They're excited about being in Perth, but they're the first of many, and we will see many visits over the coming months and years, and the benefit to the broader economy here in WA I think is going to be phenomenal.
It's just that there was a report in the paper about an announcement of a billion dollars for the base here, but that's not right?
Well it is right. We are investing, but I think the point that I'm making to you is that I think it's going to be beyond what people are expecting now and beyond what's spoken about. We're in a planning stage of what that looks like off the back of AUKUS and we'll have more to say about that.
So, yes, north of that, as I said to you before, and I think in terms of what people are imagining now, I'd imagine bigger. That's what's going to happen and that's what's going to be required here and on the East Coast, in South Australia, across the country. We've got to make sure that we can find the workforce, I think that's the biggest challenge. Yes, mate?
About Force Posture, you talked about defence industry investment but what about the Force Posture, the Army, we're noticing that there are some changes to the Army in WA, the future of the Navy in terms of Force Posture personnel and Air Force.
And also can I get a statement from you about how you interpret the strategic importance of WA in the coming decade ahead?
Again, a couple of very good questions there. So Force Posture is a very significant part of the AUKUS announcement. So we will see more troops here. We've got something like an $8 billion investment across the North of Australia, upgrades and facilities, airfields, storage of fuel, making sure that we've got all of that in place to support these visits and basing of additional troops that we will have here. As we announced in Washington, essentially, every aircraft type in the US Defence Force will visit Australia at some point, will cycle through and when you think of the scale of that US machine, you can get a grasp of the significant investment that will be made. So, you know, I think that's quite a phenomenal outcome of AUKUS for our country and we'll see that play out over the next few years.
Just on another note. Your thoughts on anti-vaxxers out this morning. There was only about a dozen, but [inaudible] as well?
I just think the message that we need to be putting out there at the moment, you know, particularly in my home state of Queensland, and in WA, is that we just need people to get out and be vaccinated. That's the message. There's a small percentage of people that don't believe in it for different reasons.
We know that there's a lot of disinformation on the internet: it should be discounted. We should listen to the advice of the medical experts. Every medical expert in this country is saying get vaccinated.
We want to make sure that people do that, because we can't keep the Delta strain out forever. Where again, in Queensland today, like WA, no cases, but if it gets in through, you know, a delivery driver, through a transport worker, an air crew, whatever it might be, we know, as we've seen in Victoria and in New South Wales, it's highly contagious and we want to be prepared for that. If the vaccination rates are low, it makes it very difficult. We just want to see more people get vaccinated.
Quite frankly I don’t think we should be reporting on a dozen people gathering to express their arguments.
[inaudible] Astute mingling with the community?
I acknowledge the Premier and the WA Government for the accommodation of the crew here. They’ve done 14 days of isolation before they got in, they have been tested, they have been cleared by WA Health to go out and spend their British pounds in the city of Perth – and good luck to them. I think they'll have a fun time and, you know, if you're at a bar tonight in Perth, I'd look out for some of these guys because I suspect they'll be having a drink and playing a round of golf as Mel pointed out and they're most welcome guests. They're our closest friends and allies and we're really proud to have them here.
Have I? I've been to Canberra and I think their vaccination rate's something like 120 per cent at the moment. It seems to keep going north. It's unbelievable. They've done an incredibly good job. But, again, we have got an exemption to be here today and I'm grateful for WA Health for that. I've been double jabbed. I think I've had 19 tests now in the past three weeks. I had COVID in February of last year, so I don’t feel under threat from you, hopefully you don’t feel under threat from me. It’s just great to be back in WA. I hope I can bring my family back here to holiday once borders open, it’s a great state.
I’m happy to be here with my close friend and great colleague in this portfolio. Mel and I work very closely together and we're keen to do more for WA and create what I think is going to be quite a staggering development that will be a major asset for WA.
Thanks very much.
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