Interview with Jo Trilling, ABC Radio Perth

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The Hon Matt Keogh MP

Minister for Defence Personnel

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

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Stephanie Mathews on 0407 034 485

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14 March 2023

JO TRILLING, HOST: Welcome to Drive, Minister.


JO TRILLING: $368 billion. It's an eye-watering amount of money, much higher than initially anticipated. Just take us through the capabilities of these submarines.

MINISTER KEOGH: Well, certainly this is the biggest ever investment in not just Defence, but any endeavour that the Australian Government has ever taken on. It's bigger than the Snowy Hydro Project, but it is something that is absolutely vital to our national interest and indeed providing stability through our region. So we can't afford to not spend this money. But to put it in context of a Defence budget of around 2.2 per cent of GDP over the course of this program, this will amount to only 15 per cent of GDP. So this is only a small element of the overall Defence budget and there are certainly much bigger parts of the Commonwealth budget providing services such as the NDIS and other elements to the Australian community. But making sure that we acquire a sovereign nuclear-propelled submarine capability is incredibly important and also a great positive step change for our nation.

JO TRILLING: I want to get into the cost in a moment, but it does tie our defence capabilities to the US for decades. How confident are you the US will remain a reliable economic and security partner? I mean, we've seen the rise of former President Donald Trump. Any concerns there?

MINISTER KEOGH: Well, we've seen our alliance, which has been our strongest with the United States since the Second World War, continue through that entire period, regardless of whether it was Republican or Democratic leader in the United States, regardless of whoever's had the majority in their Congress, regardless of whether it's been Labor or Liberal Prime Ministers here in Australia. The alliance between Australia and the United States is an enduring one. And of course before that alliance was our relationship with the United Kingdom. So we are very comfortable and confident that this relationship will persevere, will continue and will stand up to the test of time to make sure that we're able to acquire this sovereign capability for Australia. 

JO TRILLING: It's 11 past 4pm ABC Radio Perth. I'm speaking to Matt Keogh, Federal Minister for Defence Personnel. We've heard the Greens this morning saying AUKUS is going to force deep cuts in critical spending on health, education and housing. How do you sell this to Australians that are struggling? We've got the May budget only a couple of months away.

MINISTER KEOGH: Well, one of the really important things about the cost over the next few years in the budgeting period is that it's entirely within the existing funding envelope for Defence. So this isn't requiring any additional dollars to be spent in the Federal Budget over the next four years. And as the program ramps up, not only is it going to make sure that we've got the defence capability we need, but we've also included in that budget the money that's needed for developing industry, providing the necessary training, making sure that we're building the skilled workforce not just in the Defence Force, but also across industry and in civilian life as well. So it's an investment back into the country which is very much needed for the program, but will provide those ongoing benefits in terms of a skilled workforce for the nation, that advanced manufacturing base that we really need and have lost over the last few years, especially since the car industry was driven out of Australia a decade ago. 

JO TRILLING: Let's talk about personnel in a moment, but my understanding is the Treasurer will need to find 31 billion in savings over the coming decade to offset that medium-term cost.

MINISTER KEOGH: So there will be certainly budgetary decisions that need to be made as budgets roll out into the future to accommodate this spend. But as I said, it's a relatively small proportion of the overall Defence spending budget and we will continue to make sure that we're prioritising, not just defence, but that we're prioritising the services that Australians need and deserve, and especially when they're facing cost of living pressures. So this year we'll see the rollout of the reduction in costs for childcare with the increase of the childcare subsidy. We've already been rolling out the fee free TAFE places, we've already reduced the cost of medicine, we're already doing that work around addressing cost of living pressures that Australians are confronted with right now.

JO TRILLING: What kind of training will the Australian crews need to operate these submarines and how long is that likely to take? 

MINISTER KEOGH: Well, this is a program that has essentially already been started with Australian submariners already doing work on American and UK submarines and we will see the proportion of that continue to increase now that this announcement has been made. But we will also be putting industry workforce into the UK, into the US, so that they can learn the skills that are necessary for the construction and the sustainment of nuclear-powered submarines back here in Australia. So there will be a considerable effort in ramping up our personnel numbers, but in training them overseas and on American and UK submarines. And that's where having the rotating submarines coming through Perth in particular from the United States and the UK, providing that capacity not just for submariners to train, but the sustainment workforce to train as well, for when we take on our own sovereign capability in submarines.

JO TRILLING: Let's talk about that, because those submarines will start rotating through WA from 2027. We know $8 billion will go towards the upgrading of the HMAS Stirling base. What's the priority there?

MINISTER KEOGH: So, in order to accommodate what will be much more frequent visits to Australia by the US initially, and then by the UK, and then the forward rotational deployment of American and English submarines to Australia, we will need to put in additional wharfing, there will need to be additional buildings to support logistics, accommodation, a whole range of other things that will need to be done to upgrade what's there at Stirling now to support having nuclear submarines spending longer periods of time alongside and doing some of their maintenance here in Western Australia, as opposed to at the moment where they might come in for a few days, visit, and then go back off to wherever they're home-based to undergo that sort of maintenance. Some of that maintenance will now occur here and so there will be upgrades to facilities to accommodate for that as well.

JO TRILLING: Just finally, that investment will be doled out over a ten-year period, as I understand it, with only $1 billion in the first four years. Is that enough of an investment given when those rotational Subs start arriving?

MINISTER KEOGH: Well, as you can see, that's a ramp up. So there will be a billion dollars in the first initial four years. It's $8 billion over the decade. It will result in the direct employment of 3,000 people in Western Australia for that infrastructure enhancement down at HMAS Stirling. But there will also be an additional 500 people involved in the sustainment work that will be occurring when those submarines are here. And of course, there's all the indirect jobs and the economic dividend that flows through Western Australia. As a consequence of that, we can't just stand up everything immediately. It needs to be a ramped up process. That's why we'll see a $1 billion outlaid in the first four years and then even more as we go through the rest of this decade. 

JO TRILLING: Matt, thanks for your time.


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