Radio interview with David Lipson, ABC PM, Washington DC

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The Hon Pat Conroy MP

Minister for Defence Industry

Minister for International Development and the Pacific

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(02) 6277 7840

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14 December 2023

SUBJECTS: AUKUS Legislation in the U.S. Senate, U.S.-Australia industrial base, request for Australian warship in the Red Sea, Israel-Hamas conflict.

DAVID LIPSON: The AUKUS agreement for a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines has passed a major milestone with contentious legislation authorising the United States to build three Virginia-class boats for Australia passing the US Senate. Pat Conroy is the Minister for Defence Industry and I spoke to him from Washington, D. C. Pat Conroy, thanks for your time. The AUKUS legislation has passed the US Senate. It still needs to pass the House. How confident are you that that will happen before Christmas?

MINISTER FOR DEFENCE INDUSTRY: I'm very confident. I think this is a momentous day in the alliance with the United States and with the AUKUS program, and I'm very confident that it'll pass the House of Representatives very shortly. This is a demonstration of the commitment of just not the US Government but the people of the United States to the AUKUS partnership, which is all about increasing and growing the industrial base of all three countries, expanding the capability of Australia to defend itself and contribute to stability and deterrence in the Indo Pacific. And many people were very sceptical that the US system would come behind so quickly and strongly and have been proven wrong. This is a momentous day for the alliance with the United States.

DAVID LIPSON: One of the reasons there were jitters in US Congress about this agreement is that the US has been struggling to meet its own production targets when it comes to building submarines. Is the US $3 billion that Australia has promised really enough to ease those pressures on US shipbuilding?

MINISTER FOR DEFENCE INDUSTRY: Well, the US is making significant investments to increase their submarine industrial basing in their own right. So, investing, on average, about an extra US $1 billion a year. They've committed, through the Biden administration, to allocate another US $3.4 billion in industrial uplift. And we're seeing a turnaround. The production of Virginia-class nuclear attack submarines is moving closer to two per year, which is their goal, and they're lifting their availability rate of in-service Virginia-class submarines. I'm confident that we'll get there.

DAVID LIPSON: On another matter, what can you tell us about this U.S. request for an Australian warship to be sent to the Red Sea, where the Middle East conflict is threatening to spill over further?

MINISTER FOR DEFENCE INDUSTRY: All I can say is that the Australian Defence Force currently contributes to maritime security in the Middle East region under Operation Manitou through staff embedded with the combined maritime forces. And currently there are approximately five ADF embedded with CMF headquarters. And I've got nothing further to add to that story.

DAVID LIPSON: But how unusual is it, more generally for these sorts of requests to come through?

MINISTER FOR DEFENCE INDUSTRY: Well, all I can say is that we currently contribute to maritime security in the region through staff at the combined maritime forces and that's five ADF embedded and that's where we are at this stage.

DAVID LIPSON: But is another warship being actively considered by the government?

MINISTER FOR DEFENCE INDUSTRY: Oh, look, I'm not going to engage in those sorts of discussions. We're making a contribution at the moment through the combined maritime forces.

DAVID LIPSON: Okay. What have you picked up in the corridors of Congress there about Australia's decision to break ranks with the U.S. and Israel and vote for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza?

MINISTER FOR DEFENCE INDUSTRY: Well, I can honestly say not a single person has raised that with me. What I can say is that we were among 153 countries that voted in support of a UN General assembly resolution on the protection of civilians and upholding legal and humanitarian obligations, and that we continue to be gravely concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza. But no one that I've met with over the last 48 hours has raised any issues with me about Australia's position.

DAVID LIPSON: So, you haven't sensed any disappointment whatsoever about Australia's new position?

MINISTER FOR DEFENCE INDUSTRY: All I can say is I've had conversations today in the Pentagon. I had a series of meetings yesterday in the Houses of Congress, both with senators and congressmen and women, both Democrat and Republican, and not a single person has raised this issue with me directly.

DAVID LIPSON: Pat Conroy. Thank you.


DAVID LIPSON: That's the Minister for Defence Industry, Pat Conroy.


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