Doorstop Interview, Perth

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The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Defence

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02 6277 7800

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16 March 2023


RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well welcome everyone. Can I firstly start by saying what a pleasure it is to be here with the Premier McGowan, Minister Paul Papalia. It's been fantastic to speak with them about the announcement that we've made. And I'm also here this morning with our federal ministerial colleagues, the Minister for Defence Industry, Pat Conroy, the Minister for Defence Personnel, Matt Keogh, and the Minister for Resources Madeleine King. And what that actually also means is that we are here today with both the state and federal members for HMAS Stirling which is at the forefront of the announcement that we made on Tuesday.

Tuesday's announcement places Western Australia, Rockingham, HMAS Stirling at the very forefront of the AUKUS announcement. Starting immediately we will see an increased tempo of American and British submarines visiting Western Australia and indeed, immediately after this press conference, we will be heading down to HMAS Stirling where we will be visiting USS Asheville, an LA class submarine in the US Navy. From 2027, HMAS Stirling will become the home of a forward rotation of American and British submarines that will be operating out of HMAS Stirling. And from the early 2030s we'll be operating our first Virginia class submarine with an Australian flag on it out of HMAS Stirling.

Fleet Base West is the home of the Collins class submarines. And while there will be an East Coast base at some point in the future, Fleet Base West will continue to be the home of our future nuclear powered submarine capability. And what all of that means for Western Australia is investment and jobs. Over the forward estimates we will see a billion dollars invested into this state. Over the 10 years, we will see $8 billion invested in this state. More than 3500 jobs created, high skilled, high tech industry, which will have a huge impact on the Western Australian economy. And we're really pleased to be announcing that today. But we're also very aware that Western Australia is going to be at the forefront of delivering this capability for our nation. And none of that will happen without the closest cooperation between the Commonwealth Government and the Western Australian Government. And I really want to acknowledge Premier McGowan and the way in which he has engaged with us on this project. Western Australians, indeed, Australians can feel very confident that our two governments are working as closely as possible to work, which is going to be absolutely central to delivering this capability for our nation and this economic benefit for Western Australia.

MARK MCGOWAN, PREMIER OF WESTERN AUSTRALIA: Thanks, Deputy Prime Minister. And it's good to hear those words. Obviously, we've had conversations over the course of a long period of time, but certainly over the last couple of days, about maximizing the opportunities in terms of employment and training for Western Australia and also ensuring that there is the appropriate infrastructure built here.

The investment of $8 billion in new infrastructure is a big investment. That is a lot of jobs and a lot of opportunities, a lot of apprenticeships and training for West Australians. And then the ongoing sustainment, both of the rotational force but also the Australian submarines due course will mean 500 jobs initially, but I expect that will grow significantly. But on top of that there's provisioning and supply and all those sorts of things that go with Defence assets, which is a major expenditure within Western Australia. So overall, the state government will work cooperatively with the Commonwealth Government to maximize the benefits for Western Australia, certainly in terms of jobs, employment.

In terms of training people to work in this field, it is high tech. And therefore, our South Metro TAFE will be a central proponent of it, but I suspect our universities as well to make sure that people are appropriately trained up for all the jobs that come with this. And so that will maximize the skills and opportunities for Western Australians, particularly those graduating high school, even some of those who aren't even born. And it'll mean that those skills and skill sets will be transferred to Western Australians. And that will allow them to work not just in this field, but a range of fields around the state around, even around the world.

We're very focused on the economic and training benefits for Western Australia. We have the strongest economy in the nation. Obviously with this announcement, it'll get even stronger. And that's something I look forward to doing, maximising the benefit for our state. And back to the Deputy Prime Minister.

MARLES: Thank you. So we'll take questions in a moment, but I just also do want to acknowledge Vice Admiral Jonathan Mead, who is with us today. Admiral Mead has been at the head of our taskforce and has been completely central to negotiating this outcome with the United States and the United Kingdom, And we are very much indebted to Admiral Mead for the fantastic work that you have done. Happy to take questions.

REPORTER: Paul Keating was really scathing of this deal. Is he out of touch? And what do you know that he doesn’t about the security risks?

MARLES: Ah, look. I made comments last night in relation to what Paul Keating had said yesterday. Let me reiterate, Paul Keating and the Hawke-Keating Government is the great peacetime reformists, long term government in our country's history. Paul Keating has a great legacy. It is a government which finished in 1996. And our obligation, the mandate with which we were elected back in May of last year is to maintain the national security of our country in 2023. And that's what we're focused on in relation to this announcement. What we have announced is about providing for a much more self-reliant nation that we're able to hand to our kids and to our grandkids, in a way which will keep Australia safe for decades to come. And what I'm really focused on today is obviously explaining what that will mean in terms of economic benefit and the jobs benefit for Western Australia.

REPORTER: (inaudible) decision in terms of World War One being the worst decision since then. Could his views be framed in the context of World War Two, Neville Chamberlain and appeasement towards Hitler in Germany? We know how that turned out.

MARLES: Yeah, look. I'm not going to go further into commenting on-

REPORTER: It’s like that, isn’t it?

MARLES: I'm not going to go further into commenting on what Mr Keating has said. I made that position clear. Our focus right now is on explaining the benefit of this, obviously to our national security, but particularly today to the Western Australian economy.

REPORTER: He labelled you and Penny Wong unwise ministers. Would you like to respond to that? Are you unwise ministers?

MARLES: Well, again, I made a statement in relation to this last night. When we came to government, many of our international relations were broken. Penny Wong has done a remarkable job in repairing them. We've never had a Foreign Minister who has placed the Pacific so centrally in terms of our engagement with the world, and that is profoundly important. And I think within a year of taking office, we can really say of Penny Wong that she is one of the great Foreign Ministers that we've had. And from my point of view, it's really one of the honours of my professional life to be working closely with Penny, and I've seen Penny up close in terms of what she's done as Foreign Minister more than perhaps any other person.

REPORTER: Should we be asking Paul Keating who his military and intelligence advisors are?

MARLES: Paul Keating can speak for himself and clearly does. But you know, as I say, our focus is on explaining the benefits of this to the Western Australian people today and explaining the importance of this Australian people in terms of our national security.

REPORTER: Paul Keating’s view is that there is no threat from China and we will be no threat. Is that wrongs and is he living in the past?

MARLES: We live in an era – and we often say this – where we are experiencing the most complex, in some ways the most threatening set of strategic circumstances that we have since the end of the Second World War. And the reason we say that is because around the world, we're seeing the global rules-based order being placed under pressure. We see that obviously in Eastern Europe, but we are seeing it in the Indo-Pacific as well. And we see that against the backdrop of the largest conventional military build-up that has occurred since the end of the Second World War. Now, our obligation is to take account of that. Our obligation is in the face of that, to work out what Australia's response should be. And to not respond would be to see us condemned by history. What we are doing, is understanding that Australia's national security lies in the collective security of our region. And it lies in the maintenance of the global rules-based order. Because in this day and age, as a trading island nation, where so much of our national interest is grounded in our connection with the world, the defence of Australia doesn't really mean that much unless we live in a world where there is the collective security of the region and a strong global rules-based order.

Now the capability that we are acquiring under this arrangement is about Australia's contribution to that collective security of the region and that that regional expression of the global rules-based order. And I want to say that between myself, the Foreign Minister, the Prime Minister, the Minister for the Pacific, which is what the Minister for Defence Industry also is, over the course of the last week and a half, we've made more than 60 calls to leaders in the Pacific, in ASEAN, around the world to explain what our strategic intent is. And, and I think those calls have been well received.

REPORTER: How do you respond to Malcolm Turnbull’s comments that the UK economy (inaudible) might not be up to the task of being a partner in this deal?

MARLES: We're very confident about the partnerships that we have with both the United States but also the United Kingdom. We will be working very closely with the United Kingdom, in terms of standing up the capacity for us to build a nuclear-powered submarine in Australia. That will happen at the Osborne naval shipyards in Adelaide. We are very confident about the UK’s ability to do this, but also the UK’s ability to work with us, enabling us to be able to stand up that industrial base. Last year I visited the facility at Barrow-in-Furness, in Great Britain, where the British nuclear submarines are made. It is a state of the art facility. And that is exactly the kind of facility that we will be establishing at the Osborne naval shipyard in Adelaide.

REPORTER: Did the French offer Australia a new nuclear submarine deal? And how did your government respond?

MARLES: Look, in respective of France, the obviously all that played out with the Attack class submarines under the former government has been there for people to see. Since we came to power in May of last year, we have worked very hard to rebuild our relationship with France. And the entire dialogue with France has been about that – looking forward in terms of rebuilding the relationship with France. I’m very grateful to my counterpart, Sébastien Lecornu, for his friendship, and for the way in which he has engaged with me, which I think is emblematic of where we are taking our relationship with France.

France is fundamentally important to Australia. We don't often think about it in these terms, but France is a neighbour. And New Caledonia is right next to the east coast of our country. The longest border that France has with any country in the world is its maritime border with Australia. And we want to increase the tempo of our military exercises with France and our engagement with France, both in the Pacific and the Indian Ocean. And we will be doing that, and I'm very optimistic about where our relationship with France is going.

REPORTER: But did they offer you a new deal?

MARLES: Well I’ve just answered the question. The totality, the totality of our dialogue since the election with France has been about rebuilding our relationship with France, and I'm confident that they've not offered that. But that's not been the subject of our conversation. The subject of our conversation has been about rebuilding our relationship with France and we are doing that.

REPORTER: In the 80s there was a very vigorous and lively anti-nuclear movement in Australia, particularly here in Western Australia. With this announcement of more visits by nuclear submarines, are you expecting to see opposition grow to those sorts of visits by American nuclear submarines and the fact that Australia is going nuclear?

MARLES: Many people are obviously free to express their views in our country and we expect the full expression of those views. But I also think that people will see what the opportunities of this represent in terms of jobs and investments in Western Australia. And I would, I would – in respect to that question, which is an important question in relation to safety. Neither the UK or US have ever had an incident in terms of their naval nuclear propulsion. That's that is a, an unblemished record. And that is what they bring to bear in terms of stewarding Australia to a point of being a custodian of a nuclear enterprise. We see our responsibilities as a nuclear steward in the highest terms. We will be working very closely with the US and the UK to replicate their high standards of safety in respective of this. And it is a really important question, but I think people in this state and in Australia more generally, should have a complete sense of confidence that we will be able to put in place the highest standards of safety in relation to our emerging nuclear enterprise which will reflect the standards of safety, the unblemished standards of safety, which have existed in the US and UK.

REPORTER: (inaudible)

MARLES: Well part of being a responsible steward is having responsibility of the nuclear material throughout its lifecycle. And that includes its disposal. So that's a responsibility which as a nation we accept. It's a completely reasonable question that you ask. And this is a significant step that we will be taking. It's going to require us to build a purpose-built facility in order to dispose of the spent nuclear reactors at the appropriate time.

I'd want to make clear that the first of those will need to be disposed in the mid-2050s. So we have time to deal with this. We've made clear that we will be dealing with this on Defence land in an appropriate place. And that obviously means a place which is remote from populations in this country. We've got time to get this right, we will get it right. What we've made clear is that within the next year, we will announce the process by which that site will be identified and the kind of facility that we will need to put in place.

REPORTER: The West Australian Government has approved–  it privately operates a nuclear waste facility, is that something you’ll be watching closely in terms of how successful that is? And does it make it more likely that the military one might be in WA?

MARLES: Well, I don't think it has any bearing on the military facility at all. And obviously, as you identify that the state facility is not on Defence land. Well, obviously, we have a keen eye on the way in which all of our facilities are operating in Australia and the way in which we can learn from them.

REPORTER: Have you had any interest from any particular state?

MARLES: Well, we made this announcement on Tuesday, today's Thursday. There is a long way to go between now and the mid-2050s.

REPORTER: (inaudible) had a conversation with Mr McGowan about WA?

MARLES: I have had a chat with the Premier, but it is very early days, and, look, in the next year, we will be announcing the process, not the outcome, but the process by which we will determine this facility and we'll let that process run.

REPORTER: Can you explain in more detail the jobs figures related to this announcement for WA? And do you anticipate that full cycle docking might happen here?

MARLES: Well, in terms of the new submarines?


MARLES: Well, okay, well in terms of that we're talking about an event in the 2040s and beyond. In terms of the jobs that are here, I said there'll be more than 3500 jobs. 3000 jobs in the construction of infrastructure. We're anticipating 500 ongoing jobs in relation to building a sustainment facility, or sustainment capability here for submarines that are operating out of Western Australia, so. And I think beyond, over the longer term, you'll see those job numbers grow. The point I really want to make about is we're talking about high skilled jobs. This is driving the highest technology industry, which not only creates opportunities for- really good opportunities for people in terms of their careers, but makes a huge contribution to uplifting the technological capacity of the Australian economy and particularly the west Australian economy.

REPORTER: These Australian nuclear subs, will they just be a proxy fleet for the US (inaudible)?

MARLES: I want to make really clear that at the moment there is an Australian flag on the first of these submarines in the early 2030s is the moment that becomes a sovereign capability of our country. A completely sovereign capability of our country, where the tasking of those submarines and what they do will be a decision of Australian Governments at the time. And so this is a really important point to make, given the commentary that we've heard. This is a completely sovereign capability we are acquiring. In the period during the forward rotation here of the American and British vessels, this will be an important time in which Australian crews, or Australian submariners, will have the opportunity to train on those American vessels and on the British vessels, and so you will see a growing crew based on their submarines as part of training. But from the moment an Australian flag is placed on these submarines, which will be in the early 2030s, they become an Australian sovereign capability.

REPORTER: It’s likely that Australia will need its own nuclear training school, similar to Charleston in the US. Do you have any thoughts on where that might be? Does Western Australia makes sense because it already owns Fleet Base West?

MARLES: I might actually ask Admiral Mead to supplement the answer to this, but, right now we're working very closely with both America and Britain in terms of training our own submariners, and those involved with, with nuclear submarines. And it's happening literally right now – there are Australians in America doing that training as we speak, and there'll be the opportunity for that to happen in the UK as well. And that is, that's what's initially going to be at the forefront of growing those skills and that capability. Going forward, we will obviously have parts of that enterprise in Australia as well, but, Admiral Mead, did you want to..?

VICE ADMIRAL JONATHAN MEAD, CHIEF OF THE NUCLEAR POWERED SUBMARINE TASK FORCE: I've been to the Charleston facilities there, I’ve also been to the UK training facilities. We’re fully working out a plan to repatriate training back to Australia. I think the focus is going to be on high-tech simulation around Australia where we can actually train and help train US and UK colleagues who are here as part of the rotating force, but then clearly, the Australian sailors as well.

REPORTER: And do you think Western Australia will play a role in that?

MEAD: I think we need to look at where, you know, clearly, we need to do provide training facilities for those US and UK people as part of the SRF-West. So there needs to be something set up, probably HMAS Stirling or the Henderson precinct that can help them train. We’ve already got good facilities at the moment. I think we just need to expand on that; then we need to get into the deeper training of the reactors specific, which is as I said, a high-tech simulation.

JOURNALIST: Can I just ask on another issue. The superannuation, we found out today that a lot of the lower socio-economic areas are the ones with the highest withdrawal rates of their super. Is that concerning? And in August, the Prime Minister said that we should be doing a federal review of the COVID measures. Has it happened? When do you think that should happen?

REPORTER: Oh look, I think I'll leave commentary on that to the Treasurer. All I would simply say is that what's been evident in the decisions that we have been making in relation to superannuation is to make sure the superannuation system is one which is sustainable, and sustainable for everyone. And that means people with low balances.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask a question of Minister King? How big of a risk is there that forecast gas shortfalls in the east coast in the depths of winter?

MADELEINE KING, MINISTER FOR RESOURCES: You’re referring to the AEMO report, which was released overnight? The value of these forecasts reports is that we can take action and work with the gas suppliers, state governments and regulators to make sure that we in fact do not have a shortfall of gas. And that's what we will be doing.

REPORTER: What assurances can you give Australian households that there will be enough gas in the system and do you need to bring more gas supplies into the domestic market?

KING: Well, firstly, the first assurance I can provide to consumers, particularly on the east coast where this is more of an issue than here in Western Australia, is that I did negotiate the heads of agreement when we first came into office after May of last year, and that did secure an extra 157 petajoules into the east coast system. So we have achieved that in the last year. And we will work to do that again on the basis of this AEMO report. But there will be other reports; the ACCC does its regular reporting on the state of gas on the east coast. So we work together with those two regulators, with the suppliers and we will work to ensure that there will be enough supply and with the intervention the government did we make sure that prices remain sustainable and affordable for ordinary Australians on the east coast.

REPORTER: What powers do you have outside of the gas trigger to ensure that exporters put more gas into the domestic market?

KING: Well we work with exporters on the east coast. There are three facilities in Gladstone, we work with each and every one of them, have very constructive discussions about what supply they can provide to the southern states. The fact of the matter is that Bass Strait is declining after since its production started in 1965. And this is a natural state of affairs for a resource that it doesn't last forever. And so the Gladstone facilities are doing the hard yards to make sure the southern states have sufficient gas supplies for their power needs. But we’ll work- we work together, we've done this successfully in the past and will continue to do so.

MARLES: Great, thank you everyone.



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