Doorstop interview, Henderson, WA

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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

Josh Wilson MP

Member for Fremantle

Release content

16 May 2023

SUBJECTS: Albanese Government’s investment in Defence Industry Pathways Program; Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide; Soldier On; Afghanistan Inquiry.

JOSH WILSON, MEMBER FOR FREMANTLE: Good afternoon. Welcome to Henderson here in the AMC. It's great to be here on Whadjuk Noongar land with my colleagues, the Minister of Defence, the Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles, and the Minister for Defence Industry, Pat Conroy. This is one of two major shipbuilding precincts in Australia. It's a centre for sophisticated manufacturing and all the things that that entails and supports; hundreds and hundreds of small and medium enterprises, thousands and thousands of jobs. The work that occurs here now obviously involves defence shipbuilding and sustainment, but also support for the offshore resources sector. In the future we expect all those things to expand and for there to be expansion into other areas of the renewable economy, like offshore decommissioning, renewable energy, marine science, and all of those things. There's an infrastructure aspect of that, but most importantly, there's a skills aspect of it, and that's what we’re here to talk about today – programs that support people into high quality, long-term super valuable jobs that are essential to Australia's national interests. And to say more about that I’ll introduce the Minister for Defence and Deputy Prime Minister, Richard Marles.

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Thank you, and it's great to be here with Josh Wilson, our fantastic Member for Fremantle, and also to be here with Pat Conroy, Australia’s Minister for Defence Industry. And it’s been great also to meet participants today in the Defence Industry Pathways Program here at Henderson. They are very much the future of shipbuilding in this country, but specifically the future of shipbuilding right here at Henderson in Western Australia. As Josh rightly said, there are two centres of shipbuilding in this country – one in South Australia, but right here at Henderson in Western Australia. And the Albanese Government is completely committed to continuous shipbuilding in this country, and specifically here at Henderson. But as we think about that, both in terms of the future capabilities we will need around our future submarines, but also our future surface fleet, perhaps the biggest challenge that we face is the human challenge. Finding the people we need to do this work with the skills required to perform this work.

The Defence Industry Pathways Program is a fantastic program and my colleague, Pat Conroy, will be about to make an announcement in relation to that. But it forms part of a commitment that we have made around ensuring that there are the skills for our future defence industry needs in naval shipbuilding, and in our future submarines in Australia. $150 million over the next four years was provided in the Budget last week, which will see the commitment made to ensuring that we have the training required to develop these skills. And underpinning that is a commitment that our Government is making to continuous shipbuilding, so that businesses right here on the strip at Henderson have a sense of confidence about the future pipeline of work such that they can invest in the training and the people needed to do that work in the future. And as I've said to those young people here today, hopefully that is a fantastic opportunity for them in terms of gaining a career which changes their lives. But it is so important for our nation. Making the decision that they are making to participate in shipbuilding in this country is fundamentally important to the defence of Australia, and giving us the sovereign capability that we need to have. They're making an investment in their own futures, but they are making a wonderful contribution to the future security of our nation, and we thank them for that.

PAT CONROY, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE INDUSTRY: Thank you, Richard. And as Richard has observed we need more workers in WA helping in defence. The AUKUS project alone will require 3,000 additional workers to upgrade HMAS Stirling and will create 500 jobs, supporting visiting nuclear-powered submarines. That’s just one project which will rely on the great WA industry and workforce. And as I say wherever I travel, the workers in the defence industry are critical to the Australian Defence Force. Our industry and the defence industry workers are a fundamental input to capability. The men and women of the ADF can't do their job unless they're supported by people in high-vis maintaining the equipment, building the ships, maintaining the planes, manufacturing the weapons. And that's why today's announcement is so important. WA is a critical part of our defence industry – across the country around 100,000 jobs depend upon the defence industry and WA is critical to that. And that's why we're announcing today an $11 million investment in the Defence Industry Pathways Program to extend this program to expand it from a small trial to a program that will run for three years training young Western Australians to enter the defence industry. Giving them a taste of the full gamut of defence industry so they can identify where they can help protect our nation.

This program has already been very successful – it’s trained 125 Australians. This funding will expand it to 150 additional. It’s having real success, almost eight in ten students who start the scheme complete the one year Cert III qualification, and importantly seven in ten then go on to work in the defence industry. And I've met some fabulous people working in defence industry now who got their start in this program. Last year, I met Nicholas, who'd finished up being a Commander, an Army Special Forces soldier, who wanted to continue contributing to our national security. So he came over to WA, entered the Pathways Program, and after a year, he got a boilermakers apprenticeship at BAE. We met some young people here who are now working as fitters, doing their fitting apprenticeship, and one of them is the trainee of the year. So this is a success story, it is a uniquely WA program that really recognises the essential and critical part that WA plays in our defence industry. And it's such a good day for young men and women and more mature workers, because the range of people in this program ranges from 17 to 54. All getting a start in defence industry, all putting food on their table, and contributing to the national defence of Australia.

JOURNALIST: Obviously all industries at the moment are struggling for workers. How are you hoping that this program, or who you hoping to target in this program?

MARLES: Well firstly, that observation is right which is why we are really clear that we're going to need to make the investments from Government if we're going to see the skills develop that are required for this industry. That's a very unique and specific industry, which goes to our national interest. And from that point of view, we need to be drawing from as wide a pool as possible. As Pat said, we've got entrants into this program from ages 17 to 54. That's people coming out of school who see this as the career that they want to pursue, but it's also those people who are looking for a career change and see the opportunities that come from the steady employment that's going to exist here at Henderson in relation to shipbuilding. But we need to be finding those people and we need to be investing in their training and their skills. And that's what we as a government are committed to doing.

JOURNALIST: How do you feel about the fact that this has been announced, this recruitment drive, on the day that the Royal Commission is here talking about high attrition rates at HMAS Stirling and (inaudible) mistreatment at that facility?

MARLES: Well firstly, I mean, the Royal Commission is a really important exercise. It's why we were so committed in opposition to seeing it happen and called for it very early on, and why in government we’ve been so committed to it as well. It’s important that it's here in WA right now getting evidence for its final report from those who served have served here in Western Australia. So on its own terms, it is a really important exercise and we are very committed to it. I think it stands separately to what we're talking about today. Defence industry and naval shipbuilding here at Henderson represents a fantastic career opportunity for Western Australians, but it's also really important for the nation that Western Australians are making the decision to pursue this career. Which is why we have been so committed to making sure that there is funding available to keep the Defence Industry Pathways Program going.

JOURNALIST: Can you confirm that the funding for the Soldier On program has been (inaudible)?

MARLES: The Soldier On program had a four year grant maid to it back in 2019 to look at veterans’ employment and Soldier On had completed its work under that grant. Now as Government we are focused very much on veterans’ employment, which is why in our budget last October we delivered $24 million to a veterans’ employment program and our focus is on making sure that there are opportunities available for veterans in terms of gaining future employment in the civil economy. That's where our focus is at. The Soldier On grant was provided back in 2019. It's completed and Soldier On have done its work.

JOURNALIST: And what's the retention rate been? I know there was a trial previously for this, and I think it was touched on before. But what's the retention rate been with those that started the course, completed it and have kind of gone into the defence industry? Is it quite successful?

CONROY: So 77% of those who start the traineeship finish the year, which is a very high rate when you look at rates around the country for general training. And as importantly, of the people who complete the one year training course, 71% of those then enter the defence industry. So that's enormously important. While we don't mind paying for training for people to enter the resources industry or general manufacturing, this is about the defence of the nation. So the fact that 71% of them choose to enter the defence industry, go into cadetships, take on full time apprenticeships is great for WA and great for Australia's national defence.

JOURNALIST: But how much does the success, I guess, of the AUKUS deal depend on finding enough workers?

MARLES: It completely depends on finding enough workers. So as I said at the start, developing our – the capacity to build our future submarines and to sustain them in this country is a huge national endeavour, and a huge national challenge. And there is no bigger challenge involved in that than human dimension of it. Making sure that we find the people with the skills necessary to do the work. And that it goes to our future submarines, but that applies also to our future shipbuilding, our future surface fleet as well, which is a lot of what is being built here at Henderson. And so we are mindful that we need to be creating the pathways, as we are with this program, but looking at ways more than that in the future, such that we can gain people right across the spectrum of education – trade training through PhDs – which will all be required and what is a really high-tech industry. It is one of the really great challenges here, but we're very confident that we can make that challenge and in meeting it, it is going to provide wonderful, high-tech careers for lots of Australians and lots of Western Australians.

JOURNALIST: On the Brereton Inquiry, what’s your response to the SAS Association which believes some of its members have been denied the presumption of innocence in (inaudible)?

MARLES: This has been a very important undertaking for our nation, both in terms of the conduct of the conduct of the Brereton Inquiry, but also in its response. Due process has been applied in terms of the way in which this has been undertaken. And I want to be really clear on that. But given that there is obviously a process underway, it is difficult to make any further comment on the issue other than that.


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