Doorstop Interview, Australia House, London

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The Hon Pat Conroy MP

Minister for Defence Industry

Minister for International Development and the Pacific

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(02) 6277 7840

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22 February 2023

SUBJECTS: Munich Security Conference; visit to UK shipyard at Barrow-in-Furness; nuclear submarine workforce; meetings with the UK Government; Ukraine; Defence Strategic Review

PAT CONROY, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE INDUSTRY: Well good afternoon everyone. Thank you for joining me. This afternoon I've just come to report in on what's been a pretty successful bilateral trip. First, I represented the Australian Government at the Munich Security Conference, which really is the premier security conference of Europe, if not the globe. And in representing Australia I came with two key messages for the rest of the world. One is that Australia will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes. And secondly, while we maintain that commitment, we will need to keep a focus on the challenges of the Indo-Pacific. And those messages were well received. And I was quite surprised by the level of engagement the rest of the world has in the Pacific and their interest in the Australian experience. But I was really inspired by the strength of conviction to support Ukraine. I didn't detect any flagging of intent of supporting the brave people of that country and their struggle. Subsequent to that, I had a trip to Barrow-in-Furness where BAE on behalf of the United Kingdom Government produce their nuclear submarines both in nuclear Attack class and their nuclear ballistic missile submarines. And I'm incredibly impressed by the scale of the enterprise there. They've been making submarines for 120 years and they've been making ships for 150 years. And there are some great lessons for Australia out of that experience, particularly when they saw a workforce fall from 12,000 to 2000 in the late 90s. And now they've grown that back to eleven and a half thousand. In fact, they've been adding one thousand workers each year as part of that national endeavour. And now there are many lessons for us out of that. Firstly, the need to really invest in skills and the pipeline of work to provide and grow those jobs. And that's something we'll have to do as we start the endeavour of producing nuclear powered submarines in Adelaide. This truly is a national endeavour. This endeavour is the greatest industrial undertaking Australia has ever conducted and we will see tens of thousands of jobs. And as I said recently - an apprentice starting their trade today could work their entire working life on those submarines and retire. And so, there are some really important lessons and discussions there. Continued with bilateral meetings today, particularly with ministers from the United Kingdom Government, where we talked about opportunities for shared cooperation, and also the shared challenges we face, and the challenges to a rules-based-order faced by the aggression and unprovoked illegal invasion by Vladimir Putin. I'll finish tomorrow with more bilateral meetings and meetings with CEOs of major defence industry companies that we have contracts with. So it's been a good visit - one that builds on the visits by Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles and Penny Wong a couple of weeks ago.

REPORTER: Can I ask, Mr Conroy, your reaction to the news that President Xi is likely to travel to Moscow in the next couple of weeks to meet Vladimir Putin?

CONROY: Oh, well, I hadn't heard that news. It's probably not my place to comment on that. We've been very clear that we oppose the illegal and unprovoked attack in Ukraine and we urge everyone to respect international rules and norms, and obviously we stand by the other countries supporting Ukraine.

REPORTER: At the security conference, how great was the concern that China would weigh into the war with Russia and start providing things for Russia?

CONROY: Well, I think people were focused on how we could support Ukraine further, I was in the audience for the presentation by the Chinese Foreign Minister. The questions that were put to him were not about Ukraine, they went to the spy balloon and the future of Taiwan. So there might be concerns, but they certainly weren't on the public record.

REPORTER: Hi, Danielle Gusmaroli from Newscorp Australia. Your trip to the BAE - did you find that there were, did you want to grow the workforce in Australia? So what does that mean for home grown contractors back in Australia? Will you be taking or recruiting from different countries in an effort to sort of strengthen the alliance between Britain and Australia or will you be still focusing very much on home grown contracts?

CONROY: Well, I think ultimately AUKUS and particularly AUKUS pillar-one - the commitment to build nuclear powered submarines - is about growing the industrial base of all three countries. If in the end, we take workers from the United States or the United Kingdom in any significant portion, that doesn't result in growing the industrial base of the three countries. So what we are trying to do is grow a home grown base. That will be, I think, complemented by skilled migrants, as you would expect. But the lessons I took out of the visit to Barrow is the need to start that pipeline right now. We've got a reservoir of workers in ASC working on the Collins life-of-type extension, or will work on the life-of-type extension, and working on full cycle docking now. We've got a few hundred workers, 200 workers, that have been retained from the cancelled Attack class submarine, but we need to grow more. And as Richard Marles has said, we need 2000 skilled workers in the next five years. And that's our initial commitment. But we'll see tens of thousands of workers working in Adelaide on this nation building project. And there's many lessons out of Barrow, as I said they sank below 2,000 workers, and now they're up to eleven and a half thousand workers. There's some great lessons there around bringing through apprentices every year. They train 350 apprentices each year come through.

REPORTER: Is that we want to do in Australia?

CONROY: Oh, well, we want to train apprentices as part of this project, we're going to have to grow the workforce organically. We can't poach it from somewhere else. And that's really a key focus of mine as the Minister for Defence Industry, is how do I rise and how do I drive that workforce challenge. But as I said, an apprentice starting work in Adelaide tomorrow, in this area, could work 40 years on this project, and that's a great message. You'll be working on the most advanced technology in the world. You'll be helping make Australia a safe and secure place and you'll be able to raise a family, having worked in a job your entire work life.

REPORTER: But it's predominantly homegrown talent?

CONROY: Yes, yeah. As I said, AUKUS is all about industrial collaboration. It's all about growing industrial capacity of all three countries. The goal is at the end of AUKUS pillar one is that we've come from three shipyards - in the United Kingdom, Australia and the [US] capable of building nuclear submarines - to four. Two in the United States, one in the UK, one in Australia.

REPORTER: Are you expecting that out of the Defence Review that we will cut the order for 160 tanks?

CONROY: It'd be inappropriate to comment on specifics from the Defence Strategic Review. As is being announced today by Prime Minister Albanese, you can expect a public version of the DSR and the Government's response before the budget. So you'll have to wait to see that. But it's very clear that we've been very focused on what we're calling the impactful projection. The porcupine strategy as the Deputy Prime Minister talks about, which is all about long range strike. And we're demonstrating that commitment for example by our recent announcements of the HIMARS acquisition from the United States and the naval strike missile from Kongsberg in Norway. So you can expect an emphasis on long range strike. But as for speculation about other platforms, it would be inappropriate to comment.

Thank you, everyone




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