Radio interview, 5AA - Mornings

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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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12 December 2023

SUBJECTS: Defence Industry in Adelaide; AUKUS Defence Ministers’ Meeting; AUKUS submarines; Skills; Nuclear waste; Migration review

GRAHAM CORNES, HOST: The Acting Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles is in town today and has taken the time to have a chat with us. Acting Prime Minister, thanks for your time today. What brings you to Adelaide?

ACTING PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Well, nice to talk to you, Graham. I'm here at the end of a pretty big year in relation to defence and defence industry in Adelaide. So, I'm doing a defence industry roundtable pretty well straight after this interview, but it really comes off the back of the announcements that we made earlier in the year in relation to AUKUS and the building of nuclear-powered submarines here in Adelaide, and then more recent announcements around training places at universities for that, the land swap, which will see this happen. So, it's really about talking to defence industry here about the opportunities that come from that.

CORNES: You've just come back from an AUKUS Defence Minister's meeting in the US. What was the outcome of that meeting?

MARLES: Well, we were focused on both the submarine component of AUKUS and that is moving along at a pace. We were also talking about what we described as pillar two, but it's really looking at other innovative defence technologies that we are working on developing with both the United States and the United Kingdom. And that too provides a whole lot of opportunities for Australian defence industry companies. And in many ways, the heart of Australian defence industry is right here in Adelaide. What we are seeking to do with both the UK and the US is to, it's almost like a defence free trade arrangement, but to build a seamless defence industrial base across the three countries, which will make it much easier for companies in Australia, here in Adelaide, to supply into the defence industrial base in both the United States and the UK. And there's just huge opportunities that arise out of that. And all of those issues are in front of the United States Congress as we speak.

CORNES: Are those submarines guaranteed to be built in Adelaide?

MARLES: Yeah, I mean, the announcement that we made earlier in the year was that the first three would be Virginia class submarines that would be coming from the US. But as quickly as we can, we are establishing a production facility here in Adelaide at the Osborne Naval shipyard, which will see Australia building nuclear-powered submarines with the first coming off the line in the early 2040s. And you'll see the beginnings of that manufacturing at the end of this decade, but the construction of the facility, the actual production line itself, is happening as we speak. So, really all of that is playing out right now. And in time, this is going to be thousands of jobs here in Adelaide, but really high skilled jobs, tertiary level jobs, but also very particular trade skills. And so one of the real challenges, but it's a good challenge, is about building the workforce that will be required to produce the production facility and then the submarines themselves. And that's very much the focus of our thinking right now.

CORNES: There is a long lead up time, but as you said, the skills required don't exist at the moment. So, the infrastructure for that really needs to get underway very soon.

MARLES: 100 per cent. And we're building the facility as we speak. So yes, it's the early 2040s when you first see one of these submarines produced here in Adelaide. But the work that needs to be done to get to that is starting right now. And one of the big challenges is around making sure that we have the skills that are needed. So, in the last couple of weeks, we've announced tertiary places- a thousand here in South Australia, 700 at University of Adelaide and 300 at Flinders. It's about getting people now doing the courses that are going to be required to be able to produce this facility. And at a trade level, we've made a commitment that we will be building a skills academy out at Osborne. The land swap with the South Australian government to enable that to happen has been done. Construction on that is starting, and that will be operational in the next few years. So, the work is already being done. And one of the really interesting things, I was in Britain a couple of months ago at the Rolls Royce facility there, and they're the facility that make the nuclear propulsion plant, which is in that submarine- there are people there now working on long lead items as what's been described, but parts of what will eventually be in the submarines that come off the production line in the early 2040s. And that work is happening right now.

CORNES: What are the environmental implications of acquiring and operating nuclear powered submarines?

MARLES: Again, good question. They're significant. One of the things that's really been impressed upon us by both the US and the UK who do this work is that there's a very big job in becoming what we describe as a nuclear steward, making sure that we have the regulation in place, but the facilities in place to properly handle nuclear material. Now, to be clear, the building of the reactor is being done at Rolls Royce in the United Kingdom, so we're not building the nuclear reactors here, but we will obviously be handling those reactors and putting them into the submarines. So, there will be nuclear material that forms part of this and making sure that we have all the facilities in place which need to be rated to a much higher level- the security, physical security, and the cybersecurity around the Osborne shipyard are going to need to be much bigger than what they have been. And in time- and to be clear, this is kind of in 2040s and 2050s, we're going to need to work through a process of disposing of those reactors as well. So, there's a significant uplift which is required to walk down this path. But in the process, what will happen is we are building our technological capability as a nation, we're building our skills as a workforce. So, this is going to have a huge flow on benefit to the broader Australian economy and the broader South Australian economy.

CORNES: And as you alluded to, we're going to have to find somewhere to get rid of this nuclear waste. We don't have a dump in this country as yet.

MARLES: We don't. And that is a big decision that will need to be made. And there's a process that we will need to go through. The one bit of good news in relation to that is that we've got time. It's probably not until the 2050s that we will actually be needing to dispose of the first of the nuclear reactors. So, we have got time to work this through. We've made it clear that this will need to be done on a defence site being either part of the existing defence estate or future defence estate. And we're already beginning the work of how we identify that site and how we move forward in relation to that. It is a big decision and it's certainly a very big responsibility, but we have got time to get this right.

CORNES: While there are obvious economic benefits to building the submarines in South Australia, does that make us a target?

MARLES: Not particularly, is the answer to that question. I mean, I think in a cyber-sense, we do need to be- we'll need to have much greater cybersecurity. We already have very significant cybersecurity around a lot of our critical infrastructure, but there will need to be a different order of magnitude when we're talking about the cybersecurity that will be required here. But if you look at these facilities elsewhere in the world, there is certainly a need to be putting in place security measures, cybersecurity measures, but there's not an obvious sense in which those sites become a greater target.

CORNES: Finally, Acting Prime Minister, a question on the migration policy. The government has finally acted to overhaul the immigration policy. Is it too little, too late?

MARLES: Well, it might have been better for this to have happened a decade ago, but it's important that it's happening now, given that it hasn't happened in the past, because we do need to have focus in respect of how we go about our migration system. Our migration system is a really important economic builder for the country, and so we need to be maximising it and to be really thinking through our strategies in relation to migration so that they do contribute in the most significant way to the economy. And that means thinking about the skills that we particularly need and where we need them. And that's the basis on which we are working this through, so that our migration system can be the economic builder for our nation. That, in fact, it has been really, over a long period of time, and particularly since the Second World War, so it is long overdue. You're right in saying that, but we are very mindful of its importance now and it will have a big impact, I think, in the functioning of our economy.

CORNES: Richard Marles, thanks for your time today. Enjoy the rest of your stay in South Australia.

MARLES: Look forward to it. Thanks for having me.


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