Transcript - In Conversation with Christopher Pyne

Release details

Release type

Related ministers and contacts

The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Defence

Media contact

02 6277 7800

The Hon Pat Conroy MP

Minister for Defence Industry

Minister for International Development and the Pacific

Media contact

(02) 6277 7840

General enquiries

Release content

17 March 2023

THE HON CHRISTOPHER PYNE, HOST: I think the first thing that I’d like to kick off on is why are the nuclear-powered submarine more military capable than any other submarine on the globe?

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think the answer to that is essentially the ability to be time on target – time on station for longer. So – and we should say that the Collins Class submarines are a highly capable submarine in 2023 and they’ve done an incredible service for our nation. Diesel-electric submarines in terms of how they operate can be on target for time measured in, let’s say, days, quite a few days, before there is a need to go off and recharge the electric batteries, and that means going near the surface, taking in air and doing what’s described as snorting –

PYNE: Snorting.

MARLES: I think when Collins came into service in 1997 – I feel that’s when HMAS Collins was commissioned – and the rest of the fleet was commissioned through the last being Rankin in 2004, you know, so if you look at 2005, it was possible in those days to kind of go off and snort behind a bush while you went back and then did your thing –

PYNE: Not on Oxford Street, Darlinghurst.

MARLES: Okay, we’re trying to be serious. I knew this was an occupational hazard having Christopher do this, but anyway.

PYNE: You started it.

MARLES: I did start it, sorry. So, anyway, the way technology is going to go, though, through the ‘30s is that kind of activity will be able to be detected more and more. And what that means is that if you think about a submarine in terms of the size of the question mark that you put in an adversary’s mind, if the last time you see a submarine is leaving Fremantle and you know it can be out there for a long time, it could be anywhere and therefore the question mark in an adversary’s mind is large. But if the last time you track it is from the last time it snorted, well then actually the size of that question mark diminishes greatly. And that is fundamentally the issue that we are going to face as we go through the 20s but then much more into the 30s.

Nuclear-powered submarines are entirely different. I mean, the limiting factor there actually is food for the crew. So a nuclear submarine obviously goes faster and therefore has a longer range, but it can be under water for periods measured in months, and therefore it can be on target for periods measured in months. And, therefore, if you think about what a submarine is – which in my mind is the size of the question mark which you place in an adversary’s mind – a nuclear-powered submarine is of a different order of magnitude to what a diesel-electric submarine will be in the future.

PYNE: And I’m assuming, Jonathan, because of the size of the Virginia Class – which I think is 116 metres or thereabouts – and the future SSN-AUKUS, I don’t know what the size of that is; you might know, I don’t know, it hasn’t been announced?


PYNE: It’s bigger again. I’m assuming because of the size of it can carry a whole range of weaponry and combat systems that obviously the Collins class is too small to carry and give us a lot more versatility. Is that –

MEAD: Absolutely. So, for instance, SSN-AUKUS will have significant capacity to fire long-range strike missiles, including hypersonic missiles. It will have the capacity to launch underwater autonomous vehicles out. And clearly to remain on station – we were down in HMAS Stirling yesterday talking to the crew of USS Ashville, and they were talking about how long they can stay on task. And even when they run out of food, they then have emergency dried food rations there. They had just finished a series of weapon firings with HMAS Rankin. They’d been out at sea off the West Australian coast there and conducted torpedos firings against each other, which they do on a very regular basis.

And it really does highlight, you know, common combat system, common torpedo. We’ve got a torpedo maintenance facility, as you know, in Western Australia that we service the torpedos. The interoperability between Collins and the US Navy is very strong, and as we go forward that DNA lineage with Collins going into Virginias and that, you know, having a common combat system and a common torpedo and then moving into SSN AUKUS that will have a common combat system, a common torpedo, will have common platform of propulsion traits as what the Virginias do – this very much is sort of an aggregated pathway to a longstanding, vastly superior capability that also presents low risk in the transition as well. Because we’ve tried to do this, that the training and supply chain leads on from the previous class of submarine.

PYNE: Will the three Virginia class we acquire from the US early, in one of the first parts of the program, are they capable of firing hypersonic missiles as well, or are you talking only about the SSN-AUKUS submarines?

MEAD: So those submarines are clearly capable of firing Tomahawk missiles now, and certainly the intent of the US DoD to advance the production of hypersonic missiles – I wouldn’t want to get into sort of specifics about what the Virginia can and can’t do – but they are the most formidable and capable submarine, you know, in the world probably right now, along with the Astute class submarines that our UK partners are running.

MARLES: But they have vertical launch.

MEAD: Absolutely.

PYNE: And horizontal launch for the torpedos I assume? And vertical for the missiles?

And you mentioned, Jonathan, about common combat systems and so on. What else will be common between the SSN-AUKUS for the US, UK and Australia? And has the US committed to taking SSN-AUKUS into their fleet as well? Clearly the UK and Australia will. But I haven’t read that the US is going to do that.

MEAD: So it’s the US’ intent that they’ll probably go down – when they cease production of Virginias in 2043 – that they’ll go down a slightly different pathway. It will carry many of the traits of what the Virginia has, including the combat system and the torpedo or successors to that. The submarine that the UK build and Australia builds will be identical and we’ll have obviously production facilities in South Australia and in Barrow that will be building the identical submarine that will be truly interoperable but will have a large, vast amount of traits similar to the Virginia; the propulsion, the platform, the weapons, the sensors, the combat systems.

So by the time that we’ve operated our Collins and then our three Virginias, we will have a very high level of training to be able to move into the SSN-AUKUS Program. And that was the way it was designed in order to try to minimise the risk as we developed a sovereign capability for ourselves.

MARLES: And one of the parts of the commentary over the last week has been, you know, operating more than one class of submarine. I think this point is really important to understand because whilst, you know, we will be at a point in the future running both SSN-AUKUS and the Virginias, in fact, there will be a lot more in common between the two. So it’s less of an issue in terms of managing those two class of submarines than people might expect.

PYNE: And I’m assuming if the Brits are using exactly the same submarine as we are using, then the number of submariners, how we’re going to source our submariners, is not solved because obviously it’s one of the biggest challenges, but a lot of the British like living in Australia, so we might end up picking up some of their submariners?

MARLES: That’s actually happened before. You do hear a lot of British accents when you speak to our submariners. But, look, I think that’s right in the sense – and this is a really important part of why we’ve described not wanting to run an orphan – if you are running a platform in common with another country, it de-risks it. De-risks it in terms of the production line for the manufacture of it, but de-risks it in terms of the actual operation, you know, operating it. And so I think there are a whole lot of opportunities that come in relation to that. And it was an absolutely key part of putting together the Optimal Pathway that we wanted to have Britain operating this, and one of the real achievements here – and Jonathan deserves an enormous amount of credit – is convincing Britain to run with a common platform with us.

PYNE: Why was that difficult, Jonathan?

MEAD: Well, because they’ve been operating different fleets and classes of submarines. The US and UK programs had diverged over many years. And I think that what AUKUS did was brought the three countries back together again from a capability perspective. And the vast advantages in operating similar supply chains – and obviously Minister Conroy knows this far better than I do – but we will be able to feed in our supply chain, we’ll be able to feed into the UK supply chain just as they’ll be able to feed into ours. So that we will optimise the best of what they've got. The shortages and the choke points that they have we will potentially solve and the choke points that we have or areas that we are weak in they will solve as well. I mean, and that’s where the great advantage is – not just interoperability of the crews but of the industry and the supply chain and the training.

PYNE: We’ll get to Pat in a second – he’s the next subject, Jonathan. I’m running this show.

Just finally on military capability, I’m assuming that having a nuclear-powered submarine shipyard in the west, another one – really a fourth one – was a big part of the attraction to the British and the Americans because three nuclear-powered submarine yards is fine, but it gives us a whole – well, it lifts by a quarter, our capability, which is in this situation geopolitically is very important.

MARLES: Look, absolutely it’s really a pre-condition of this happening. So you’re right – right now there’s Huntingtons and Electronic Boat, in the United States, BAE in Barrow in England. And what we will now have in Adelaide will be the fourth production line in the world.

And, you know, as we’ve walked down this path what’s become really clear is that what is really being asked of us by the United States and the United Kingdom and what we bring to the table is to increase the net industrial base of the three countries. You know, people talk about, you know, can’t we get some used Virginia’s off the shelf as though there is this kind of, you know, submarine showroom –

PYNE: Like a Bunnings ordering system.

MARLES: Exactly. And you know, you’ll go down and you’ll see them all on the shelf and say ‘we’ll have that one, please’. Obviously that’s not what it is. I mean, the industrial bases of America and Britain are at their capacity in terms of providing for their own navies. And we don’t get this unless we are making our contribution to that. And that’s why what we will be developing at Osborne is so important.

I mean, obviously we were there on Wednesday, there is a sense of excitement in South Australia. There’s also kind of a ‘will we see this happen’, you know, will the jobs be there. Actually, when we’re thinking it through, the issue is not so much about whether there is enough jobs for the South Australians, it’s whether there are enough South Australians for the jobs.

PYNE: Yes, we’ll have to bring people in, which is great.

MARLES: It is great. But it’s one of the really big challenges.

PYNE: Yeah, no I think it’s terrific to have more people coming into South Australia and obviously homegrown people, too. But, you know, we are a global economy, so why wouldn’t we welcome them.

Just finally – so one of the great frustrations of being a Minister for Defence or Defence Industry is all the experts who comment constantly on defence matters. And in the last several months, of course, there’s been a lot of commentary about how there would never be a submarine yard at Osborne, it was all over. And I used to say, ‘but the Americans and the British like this deal because we’re building a fourth submarine yard’. So it’s amazing how much people like to be negative about these big announcements, big decisions. So, you know, congratulations. I should have said that right at the beginning.

Now, Pat, on defence industry, what’s in it for the Australian defence industry? That’s what they all want to know.

PAT CONROY, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE INDUSTRY: We do get that a lot. And starting at a high level, this is genuinely the greatest industrial undertaking this country has ever attempted. Some people say it’s on par with the Snowy River Hydro Scheme and the establishment of the auto industry. I actually think it’s greater than both of them because of the advanced technologies involved in this.

We will be when we’re getting this up and running the most advanced industrial activity in the world. Building a nuclear-powered submarine is the most advanced activity in the world. Senator Madigan got in a bit of trouble because he mangled the quote a few years ago, but it is more technologically challenging than building space shuttles. It genuinely is. And we’ll be part of that.

And as we said, that will drive 20,000 jobs, and that jobs figure is very conservative. It ignores all the jobs in the supply chain, the tier 2 and tier 3 suppliers, that will not just be supplying the Australian submarines, as Admiral Mead said, they’ll be supplying the UK supply chain where it makes sense, the US supply chain where there’s choke points. Congressman Courtney last week said that there are choke points where we could assist.

And we’re really dedicated to this. We’ve allocated $6 billion in the first four years on what’s called industrial uplift – so increasing training of workers, increasing the capacity of companies to compete and be at the nuclear level of quality, investing in infrastructure. And that’s part of a $30 billion program.

So this will drive – and further to your question, Christopher – we’ll be training people. We won’t be poaching people. We’ll be training thousands of Australians in trades, in science and engineering. Just as the Collins build modernised Australian industry in the 80 and 90s, this will modernise not just Australian industry but the Australian scientific and technical establishment. It’s hugely exciting.

PYNE: It’s true. And, of course, the DSTG, CSIRO, I mean, it just gives work for all these people for decades to come.

But the workforce must be, you know, one of the most biggest concerns. And I assume between the Defence Minister and the Defence Industry Minister the workforce is in Pat’s portfolio? I mean, not that you’re excluded from it, of course, because you’re the Defence Minister. But I assume that Pat has got a lot of the responsibility for making sure that this pipeline of workers is coming through?

MARLES: Well, I mean, we obviously work very closely together on that, and Pat is deeply engaged in it. As Pat said, to make this happen we’re investing in training the workforce. We currently have a taskforce that we’ve jointly set up with South Australia, with the South Australian Government, to progress this. We signed a Cooperation Agreement with the Premier on Wednesday which will see a Skills Academy being built at Osborne. And that’s really understanding that this does represent one of the biggest challenges. I mean, there are lots of risks associated with this enterprise over the course of the next couple of decades. I think this is right at the top of them.

But having said that, we’re confident we can meet the challenge. And as you rightly say, it’s such a huge opportunity for young people coming through, for people being re-trained in the economy. These are going to be high paid, high skilled, high tech jobs.

PYNE: Highly paid, yeah.

CONROY: Apprentices who start this year or science graduates starting at uni this year, could work their entire life on this project. And it’s remarkable. The Skills Academy will be central to it, but obviously uplifting our universities is critical as well. And anyone who is familiar with the UK experience with the BAE academy at Barrow, it’s awe-inspiring. They have 2,000 people being trained there each year. They have an intake of 350 apprentices each year, another 550 grads. The workers are getting re-skilled. I met when I was there last month motor mechanics from the local industry who were getting upskilled to start building nuclear submarines. I met an inspiring young woman called Myra who was from the Isle of Skye in Scotland who was a dental technician and she was training to become a welder because she wanted to actually create something in front of her. She wanted to contribute to something bigger.

So they’ve done a tremendous job, and we’re very clearly going to be inspired by what they’re doing, and the United States. And the economic future of South Australia is looking a lot brighter this week because of the thousands of jobs and the high-tech nature of those jobs. But it’s across the whole country.

MARLES: The South Australian Premier is actually there right now at Barrow looking at exactly that facility.

PYNE: Yes, I saw him on the television this morning. He’s making the most of it. And so he should.

MARLES: So he should.

PYNE: So the sustainment and maintenance and full-cycle docking, I’m kind of assuming will be split between Osborne and Henderson because some of it will be done where the submarines are being based – the new ones that are coming, the Virginia Class, plus the SSN-AUKUS. And so the work, as Pat said, is actually national. But it does lead to the question that a lot of people have asked me; does that mean we will build a new submarine base on the east coast as well? And is that going to be at Port Kembla or Newcastle or Brisbane? I don’t think it will be at Brisbane – there are too many mudflats there. But do you want to comment on that? Can you comment on that?

MARLES: Sure. The last government announced the need for an east coast base and, I guess, shortlisted three sites, which is Newcastle, Wollongong and Brisbane, and had a process for determining them. Even the last government, though, was talking about this really being operational in the mid-2030s, so there’s a long way to go here.

We absolutely do see the need for an east coast base, and one of – I mean, there is a kind of strategic operational need in terms of where you would have submarines operate from. But one of the really big parts to this is having a submarine base closer to the larger population centres of the country, which will help grow the submariner workforce that we need. But it is a fair way down the track. And I think that’s the point that we’d be wanting to make right now. So there’s no additional announcement in the course of this week that we’ve made in respect of that. The process for determining exactly where that base will be has got a long way to run. So we do see the need for it, but there’s a lot of water to go under the bridge.

PYNE: And I notice a big announcement for $8 billion of spending on HMAS Stirling, which I assumed is for the basing of the Virginia Class et cetera, which is an eye‑watering amount of money –

MARLES: Over 10 years.

PYNE: But HMAS Stirling did need to be upgraded anyway, so this is sustainment and maintenance I assume being done on the class there I didn’t see any announcement about a dry dock for Henderson. Has the dry dock for Henderson that we talked about – the previous government talked about – a couple of years ago is that off the agenda? Is that unnecessary in Henderson, or is it still a live option?

MARLES: It definitely forms part of the conversation is the way I would answer that. We’ve done our announcement this week in concert with the Defence Strategic Review, which we will be releasing a public version of in about a month’s time. And there’s a discussion in the Defence Strategic Review about the future of Henderson. And so it forms part of the consideration.

MEAD: Just on the dry dock, the work that we've done with the US is the maintenance that we'll do on the Virginias will not require the submarines to be taken out of the water. So there's not an immediate need right now to build that dry dock. And as the Deputy Prime Minister mentioned, we're working through, you know, what are the options, what's the best – with respect to the whole of the Australian landscape there with Osborne as well, how do we mix all that up, develop, sort of, a capability that can service Virginias and SSN-AUKUS and Collins.

PYNE: Excellent. Pat, you were talking about the defence industry and the opportunities that will be there. Obviously a lot of defence industry companies got the enthusiastic about the Attack class, I'm assuming that they'll all just be able to dust off their previous plans and get back into the system. Do you have a process for Australian defence industry to get into the project through Russell? Is there a task force?

CONROY: I’ll invite Jonathan to make a few comments, but I think what we'll be doing is a parallel process. First is the build strategy for the Australian submarines, for SSN-AUKUS, we’ve said over the next 12 to 18 months we'll identify the builder, and possibly the sustainer, of SSN-AUKUS, and then work towards the build strategy that flows from that in consultation with the British around the design of it. And then we're engaging with Australian industry at the same time. But the first bit of work we're doing quickly and Jonathan's team's leading this, is talking to our AUKUS partners about understanding two things; where are their supply chain constraints? Where are their choke points? And secondly, talking to Australian industry now that we've got the announcement out of the way of what are their core competencies? What are the things that they do great? And then how do we increase their skills and capacity to make them qualified to work on nuclear submarines? Because the first work we'll be doing is working on the supply chain for the United States and the United Kingdom. And that's great because a) it starts getting our companies ready for our build, and then helps build help build the workforce we need as well. Jonathan, did you want to add anything there?

MEAD: One of the key drivers for the SRF-West, rotational forces out of HMAS Stirling, is for Australia to immerse itself writ large in that nuclear ecosystem, having a workforce skilled up having a supply chain, having an infrastructure and a regulatory system that can support Australian acquiring nuclear-powered submarines. And there is a term that I think we've used in the early ‘30s, in conjunction with partners, where we would determine that point in time we will be ‘sovereign ready’. And at sovereign ready, it means that we will be appropriate stewards of nuclear technology, nuclear-powered reactors, nuclear-powered submarines. And so what the US is looking for, particularly from us, is when those Virginias come to Australia, they absolutely want all the work done by Australians, as much of the supply chain done by Australians, because a) they don't want to put pressure on their own system but b) the whole rationale of this is for us to cut our teeth, literally, on nuclear-powered submarines in all those different components I mentioned before.

CONROY: If I can make one final point, it's not well known that Australian companies are already supplying critical parts to the UK submarine industry into Astute. So we've got Pacific Marine Batteries down at Osborne that is supplying the Astute class, and Thales Rydalmere, which is one of the great, sort of, sonar and acoustic supply companies in the world, is providing parts for the sonar arrays for the Astute. So we've already got Australian companies doing great work, and we're looking at expanding them.

PYNE: Just before I shift to geostrategic issues, specifically on Pacific Marine Battery, because you might remember, we moved them out of the old shipyard to where they are today, and Peter Malinauskas did the opening last Friday. Are we going to have to move them again because of the submarine yard? Are you allowed to comment on that? Because they’re right in the middle on the perimeter of where the Hunter class shipyard is, and they’re going to be right in the centre of your submarine yard. Which will be great for PMB, I can tell you. They’ll love it, but they’re only just getting used to being there.

MEAD: So we do have a master plan for production facility for nuclear-powered submarines, taking on board where the original Attack was going to be built and extending land around actually into the ponds area as well. And we’re working that out with the South Australian Government right now.

PYNE: It’s fantastic. You’ll have to keep the Mutton Bird Cove Reserve, though.

MEAD: There’s a butterfly colony there as well that we’re mindful of. But the land will be triple the size of what it was for Attack.

PYNE: Yes – no, it’s exciting. Well, PMB will be happy to say there too. But, anyway, let’s not get bogged down on PMB.

On the geostrategic side of the equation, does this represent the biggest failure of Chinese foreign policy since 1949?

MARLES: Thanks for the question. Look, what we are doing is very much focused on our business and our needs is the way I would answer that question. I mean, we do live in a really complex strategic landscape and a much more threatening strategic landscape. There’s not anyway around describing that. One where the rules-based order that we rely on is under pressure.

I think part of the answer, though, is to think about the changing nature of Australia. You know, we are a trading island nation and we have become much more of that. So trade as a proportion of GDP in 2020 was 45 per cent, you know, back in 1990 it was 32 per cent. When you kind of unpack that and say how have things changed as a result of those numbers, if you take liquid fuels as one example, back in the 1990s we had eight refineries that produced most of our fuel reserves – most of our fuel needs I should say. Today we have two. We import the vast majority of our liquid fuels from overseas, indeed, half of the liquid fuels we use we import from one country, and that’s Singapore.

Now what that describes is a reliance upon the rules of the road. I mean, you don’t have to think too hard about what it would mean to Australia if you disrupted that one trade route between Singapore and Australia in respect of our fuels. And so all of that is driving the different geostrategic requirement for Australia and the different defence posture that we need as a result.

And so we thought in the ‘80s, ‘90s and beyond having a defence posture which was really, you know, defence of the continent, playing into our region, being a good global citizen – three concentric circles, if you like. Now, that doesn’t really describe our strategic landscape. You can do a whole lot of harm to Australia before ever setting foot upon our shores. Our vital national interests are not limited by the Australian coastline. And as a result, we really do need to be thinking about how we project, how we have the capacity to hold an adversary at risk further from our shores, if you like, give an adversary pause for thought if they wanted to disrupt one of those sea routes. And in that context this capability has never been more important.

So I would – you know, in answering why are we doing this and, you know, why is it necessary – yeah, the strategic landscape is a huge part of it. But so is the changing nature of our country and the way in which we interact with the world.

PYNE: That wasn’t the question I asked you. But it was an excellent answer to the question you wanted to be asked – why are we doing this.

I can say that I think it represents the greatest failure of China’s foreign and defence policy because clearly their attempt to challenge the US in the last 10 years has caused the opposite reaction from the Indo-Pacific, which hasn’t been to kind of acquiesce to that, but has been to band together and unfortunately spending a great deal more money on military hardware that we wouldn’t have otherwise had to spend. But that’s –

MARLES: Well, what I would say is that I think what the strategic landscape has done is – I think you’re right that the Alliance between Australia and America has never been more important. But I also think that our relationship with Japan, our relationship with Korea, our relationship with a country like India, we’ve never had greater strategic alignment with those countries than we do right now. And the degree of cooperation that you are now seeing between us and those countries is, you know – I mean, off a relatively high base already for a country like Japan, but is going to a completely different level now.

PYNE: So I don’t want to miss out on a couple of subjects, and I know we’re getting closer towards the end. One of the questions I’ve been asked a lot this week has been, do we have the bandwidth to do Pillar 2 of AUKUS? What happens to AI, hypersonics, laser-guided energy? Are we going to be so consumed with the SSN-AUKUS that that all moves right or becomes less relevant? And you’ll say you have to wait to see the DSR, I guess, but does this mean that projects are going to be pushed to the right or cancelled? Because everyone wants to know about Land 400 Phase 3, which must drive you crazy that you haven’t been able to announce that, but anyway, and all the other different – SkyGuardians, will they be brought back? You know, what’s going to happen? I you know you’ll say you have to wait for the DSR, but can you give us a general view about both of those things – what happens to Pillar 2 and projects being moved right or cancelled to pay for it?

MARLES: Well, Christopher, you’ll have to wait for the DSR. Look, the way I would describe it is it’s a reshaping of the Defence Force. As I gave you that answer about how our strategic posture looks different now and our strategic necessity looks different now to perhaps how it has since the 1980s, that in turn implies a different shape of the Defence Force. So there are things we are going to need more of and there are things we don’t need as much of. Things around projection and high-end capability are things we need more of. Now that’ submarines, but it is also AUKUS Pillar 2. And it’s a good question about do we have the bandwidth to do AUKUS Pillar 2 in combination with what we’re doing with submarines. I mean, obviously submarines in the context of AUKUS has very much been the focus. You know, there’s been a very defined 18-month process which has come to a culmination or a conclusion this week. But Pillar 2 as we go forward is going to grow in importance and is deeply significant.

And so, you know, that is the opposite of being moved to the right. I think there is an urgency about that as well. When you think about – I mean, Jonathan was talking earlier about hypersonics, I mean, the truth about hypersonics is that that is a technology that we need to be working on in a range of contexts, but that is a capability that we, that America, that our friends need to have as soon as possible. Pillar 2 speaks to cooperation on that. But AI, quantum, undersea warfare beyond the use of the submarine, I mean, these are all really, really profoundly important technologies. And so AUKUS Pillar 2 we see as really important.

One of the things that I think is at the heart of AUKUS Pillar 2 – and, really, in some ways the submarine project as well – is creating a seamless defence industrial base between ourselves, the United States particularly, but obviously Britain and Canada ends up in there as well in the sense that there’s a pretty seamless industrial base between Canada and America right now. We need to drive that. And there’s high‑level support in the US around that, but it’s really important that we achieve that if we’re going to give the fullest expression that we would want to AUKUS Pillar 2. But, really the subs as well.

PYNE: So you’re reshaping the military and Pat’s reshaping our strategic industrial base, which is effectively what you’re doing, which is a great opportunity. And I must admit, I enjoyed that a great deal. Who has given thought to the regulatory legislative side? Because will there be legislation? Will there be a treaty that will be required between the three countries? Will that have to be massaged through the Senate?

MARLES: There will definitely be a treaty, and there will be a requirement for legislation really as we establish a nuclear enterprise in this context. Obviously we have Lucas Heights and there are nuclear medicine which is conducted around the country, so there is a nuclear regulator right now in terms of ARPANSA, but this is really very different. And so all of that is going to require legislation and, as you rightly say, there will be a treaty.

Part of the announcement this week and in the detail which hasn’t had as much attention is that we will be establishing two agencies that will not be within the Department of Defence but will be within the Defence portfolio. There’ll be an Executive Agency which will be responsible for delivering the submarines and the entire nuclear enterprise which, if you like, is an evolution of the taskforce that Jonathan has been heading. There’ll also be an agency which will be the regulator of that. And all of that is going to require a legislative underpinning.

PYNE: Have you chosen who’s going to head up the first agency?

MARLES: Look, that’s a process which is still underway.

PYNE: Right. Don’t want to say. That’s fair enough.

So there’ll be an opportunity for grandstanding from some of the minor parties and independents. So you must be glad to have bi-partisanship?

MARLES: I think it really matters to bi-partisanship here. I mean, yes, in terms of ensuring that we can do what we need to through the Parliament, but it’s bigger than that. I mean, this is a multi-decade project. A question we’ve been asked a lot is, you know what happens if there’s a change of government in Britain, what happens if there’s a change of government in America – and all very reasonable questions, as it would be if there was a change of government in Australia at some point in the future.

To deliver something of this scale over that period of time we really the need the parties of government in all three countries to be signed up to this project to give us all a sense of confidence that it can be delivered. And the good news is that they are. I mean, there is bi-partisanship in Australia. There very much is in both Britain and America as well. And so I think we do have a sense of confidence that we can do it. But that bi-partisanship is completely fundamental – not just in terms of the Parliament now but in terms of delivering this over the long term.

PYNE: Yeah. And in the same way as the process in the last five to 10 years has gone through Coalition Governments and now Labor Governments, we worked very closely together when we were both in the same portfolio.

MARLES: We did.

PYNE: There was never a sense of political point scoring – probably from me to you actually as opposed to the other way around. But there will be Coalition Governments.

MARLES: Clambake.

PYNE: I know it seems a long way away, but there will be Coalition Governments at some point, so it is important that it be a bi-partisan program.


PYNE: You’ve never gotten over the clambake in Question Time.

Just finally from each of you, what’s the first thing – now, this will be over, it’s over today. It’s been a great week for the government, for the country actually, for you guys who are at the centre of it. But what’s the first thing you have to do to make this project stay on track?

MARLES: So I think – I mean, the architecture of this is to be immediately evolving an operational capability to run the nuclear-powered submarines out of HMAS Stirling. And so really there is work starting right now in relation to that. And the fact that we had the USS Ashville there today – we were on it yesterday – is an example of that, and we’re going to see more visits from American submarines to HMAS Stirling this year. And each of those sees our sailors do more and more in respect of handling them. So it’s actually happening right now.

And then the second thing is evolving an industrial capability to build these submarines out of Adelaide at Osborne Naval Yard. And, again, the Cooperation Agreement that we signed with the Premier on Wednesday is about getting things moving right now, in terms of exchange of land so that we can expand the land that we’ve got there to actually get this going right now. And both of those things – well, to be honest, they already have started. So that’s where this begins, and it’s pretty exciting.

PYNE: Jonathan?

MEAD: I think my job is just to build this submarine immediately.

PYNE: Pat, any final comment?

CONROY: Well, three things – the first one, which is what Richard said, infrastructure starts right now. Building the dockyard in Adelaide and expanding and upgrading HMAS Stirling. Number two is understanding where Australian companies can fit into the supply chain not just for us but overseas. That analysis is starting as soon as possible. And, thirdly, we’re already starting to train Australians. We’ve got our first intake of Australian apprentices happening in the coming months.

PYNE: Terrific. Well, one of the things that Defence is known for is being terribly secretive, so on behalf of the audience and whoever’s watching, can I thank you for making the time to get around the country all week and finally here in Sydney to talk as much about this as possible. More information is the antidote to all the retired Admirals and Air Commodores and Generals who have views about all these matters. And so more information is great. So thank you for taking the time today. It’s wonderful to have Pat here as a late addition, we weren’t expecting you until yesterday, so thank you for making the effort.

Jonathan, congratulations on the amazing job that you have done. It’s been a huge effort. And I’m sure Secretary Moriarty will be looking forward to some of your 300 people getting back to their old jobs to do other projects. Where is Secretary Moriarty? There he is. He’s got even less hair than last time I saw him.

And, Richard, congratulations to you.


PYNE: It’s a wonderful privilege to be the Minister for Defence. It’s a very, very important job, and you’re at it at an incredible time for Australia, the Indo-Pacific, the globe, and you’re doing a great job.


PYNE: So thank you all.


Other related releases