Press conference, Adelaide

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The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Defence

Media contact

dpm.media@defence.gov.au

02 6277 7800


The Hon Pat Conroy MP

Minister for Defence Industry

Minister for International Development and the Pacific

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media@defence.gov.au

(02) 6277 7840

General enquiries

minister.conroy@dfat.gov.au


The Hon Mark Butler MP

Member for Hindmarsh


Peter Malinauskas

Premier of South Australia

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21 February 2024

SUBJECT/S: Findon Technical College; Surface Fleet Review announcement; Visit to Indonesia by CDF, Julian Assange, AUKUS

FEDERAL MEMBER FOR HINDMARSH, MARK BUTLER: Thank you, everyone. It’s an absolute delight to be here at the new Findon Technical College, which has only opened this year. And I’m sure the Premier will want to say a couple of words about this exciting development – building the workforce of the future for South Australia’s defence needs.

But I know also health and social support and also early childhood education. I’m Mark Butler, I’m the local member in the federal parliament for this area – the electorate of Hindmarsh – and I’m delighted to be joined today by my friends and colleagues in the federal government – the Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister, Richard Marles and also the Minister for Defence Industry, Pat Conroy. Obviously we also have the South Australian Premier Peter Malinauskas here, the Deputy Premier Susan Close, the Education Minister, Blair Boyer, and also the local member and Minister for Police, Joe Szakacs as well as a host of defence officials and officials from the South Australian government.

So without further ado I’m going to hand over to the Deputy Prime Minister to talk about the exciting announcements over the last 24 hours which promise such a strong future for South Australia’s industrial base. Before I do that, though, can I as the local member thank the Premier for his leadership and his vision and extending the hand of partnership to the federal government.

We know in South Australia, particularly in the area of defence, that a strong Premier and strong state government is vital to South Australia being able to attract the investment and the confidence of a federal government from Canberra. We saw that with John Bannon’s advocacy of the Collins submarine project in the 1980s. We saw it through Mike Rann’s advocacy with South Australia playing the central role in the construction of the air warfare destroyer program.

And we’ve seen it with Peter Malinauskas’s advocacy over the last 12 months. So Premier, thank you. But without further ado I’ll hand over to the Defence Minister.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Well, thank you, Mark. It’s wonderful to be here at Findon Technical College in the heart of Australia’s defence industry right here in South Australia. Yesterday in announcing the government’s response to the Surface Fleet Review we have made an historic announcement to grow our surface fleet from 11 warships to 26. We’ve made an announcement to accelerate the acquisition of our warships, seeing the first of the new surface combatants come into operation this decade.

We have provided the money such that we are paying for it which sets this announcement apart from the announcements that we’ve seen in the past - $54 billion, of which $11 billion will be new over the course of the decade. We made that announcement in terms of increased defence spending yesterday – an increase of $1.7 billion over the forward estimates. But critically, the announcement that we made yesterday underpins continuous naval shipbuilding right here in South Australia at the Osborne naval shipyard.

Of the $54 billion that will be spent over the course of the next decade almost $30 billion of that is here in South Australia with the Hunter frigate program and in preparation for the replacement of the Hobart class destroyers. That is an increase of $3 billion over what had previously been planned, and that includes increases in the forward estimates. And so we will see that money flowing as of the next budget in May. And that really gives a sense of certainty for the Hunter class program but for continuous naval shipbuilding here in South Australia.

But we also understand that one of the critical challenges around building ships and, indeed, building submarines in South Australia and across the country is making sure that we have the people to do it with the skills that they will need to do it. Which is why what we’re seeing here at Findon Technical College is so important. Back in 2022 the South Australian Premier was leading the advocacy around investing in skills and coming out of the Jobs and Skills Summit we established the taskforce jointly between the Commonwealth and the South Australian government around developing skills here in South Australia, which actually has been a model for the way in which we’ve gone about this across the country. And in that time we’ve seen 13,000 – more than 13,000 new fee-free TAFE places right here in South Australia, because we understand that building submarines for our nation, building ships for our nation starts right here at Findon Technical College.

It starts with the people that we’ve met this morning. And, indeed, those young people who are looking at starting out in a career in building ships, in building submarines, now as a result of the announcement that we made yesterday can do so knowing that there is a pipeline of decades of work at the Osborne naval shipyard, which will mean entering this job now is actually a lifetime career. And these are high-skill jobs – high-skill technical jobs right through to high-skill engineering jobs through to PhDs.

This will be the highest tech industry that we see in Australia. And that is great for the South Australian economy. It’s obviously great for our national capability. It is great for our national industrial capability. So I really want to thank everyone here at Findon Technical College for the work they’re doing. I want to thank the young people for making the decision to walk down this path. It is a very exciting future that is being mapped out for the country but for South Australia yesterday.

PREMIER OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA, PETER MALINAUSKAS: Well, thanks very much, Deputy Prime Minister. To you, to Minister Conroy. I also want to sincerely thank the whole South Australian parliamentary Labor team who represents our state with such passion and vigour in Canberra. Mark’s advocacy for the shipbuilding industry is well known, and it’s important because he understands the value that this industry brings not just to his community but also to the state writ large, as does Penny Wong, Don Farrell and Amanda Rishworth.

Sitting around that Cabinet table, having them there always gave me a degree of confidence that the Commonwealth would arrive at the point they have today, which is actually not just in the state’s interests but it’s very much in our national interest. Now, this is a case of how South Australia can contribute to the national endeavour of making sure we have a continuous naval shipbuilding industry in our nation to preserve our sovereignty for decades to come. Mark mentioned I’m also here with the Deputy Premier who was central to the formulation of the policy that led to this technical college being built along with Joe’s advocacy and also Blair as the minister responsible for it.

Yesterday brought a degree of relief for our state, but today it’s all about excitement. Excitement about tackling head on the central challenge we now have before us. It’s no longer a question about where is the work coming from; it’s a question about how we make sure we get the work done. And nothing is more important than investing in our people, investing in the skills of young women and men who want to contribute to this nation-building effort. I can’t think of a more exciting opportunity before our state than the one before young people today. They can come to a technical college like this knowing they’re going to acquire their higher school certificate and also earning a credential that guarantees them a job for life. A well-paid job, a secure job but most importantly a purposeful job.

Imagine the responsibility that all the young people here today will have in building the machines that keep our country safe into the future. There is no greater privilege. And now we have those opportunities before us. This technical college makes a difference. We need our young people in every regard fulfilling their potential if we’re going to be able to meet the challenges before us. The surface ships as well as the submarines represents the most substantial industrial challenge that our nation has ever seen. And it’s going to be being built right here at home in South Australia. The whole exercise represents the single biggest opportunity our state has ever had to take a step up in terms of our economic complexity. That means more prosperity. That means a better standard of living for countless South Australians.

But we only realise that moment if we invest in young people getting skills at their earliest available opportunity. And that starts in year 10 at our technical colleges. You know, we talk a lot about the Commonwealth’s investment. And it is humungous. I mean, it’s eye-watering. But it’s also true that states have to step up to the plate. If South Australians want this work to come our way – as we clearly do – we’ve got to accept our responsibility to invest in our young people to get that work done.

And that starts right here at Findon and technical colleges that we’re building throughout the state. We have built these facilities for a reason – not just to look good; we have built them for a reason. And central to that has been the collaboration of industry itself. To that end, I want to acknowledge BAE. All of the layout, the course design, the physical infrastructure, that has helped being delivered through the assistance and collaboration of BAE Systems. Craig and his team have helped formulate an advanced manufacturing course here that results in the most extraordinary of career pathways before young South Australians today.

They can come to Findon Technical College, enrol in the advanced manufacturing program and leave with their high school certificate, a credential and then a guaranteed job at BAE Systems. I mean, that is the trifecta. I can’t think of a better opportunity for parents across the state. They can now provide their young people an opportunity to finish school and walk into a guaranteed job that sets them up for life. We’re going to be doing a lot more of this. This is just the beginning, whether it be our technical colleges, whether it be about dramatically investing in a publicly run TAFE or, critically, the really high-end exercise at our universities.

We are all-in to make sure we’ve got an education system that delivers the workforce that’s required to build the machines that are required to keep our country safe. To that end, I am very grateful to the federal government for the certainty they have now provided. This is the certainty that we’ve been crying out for ever since the Howard government committed to the original air warfare destroyers. Well, now talk of a valley of death is no longer a fear we need to be concerned about.

Nothing has been built in Scotland or Glasgow; it’s all happening here. It’s real. BAE are doubling their workforce in South Australia over the next two and a half years, and all South Australians will be able to see that with their own eyes. That only happened because of a decision from the federal Albanese government. We’re grateful for it. It sets us up for the long term, and I want to assure the Deputy Prime Minister and the Defence Minister South Australia won’t let you down. This industry won’t let you down. But, most importantly, we can draw confidence from the young people that are here today.

MINISTER FOR DEFENCE INDUSTRY, PAT CONROY: Thank you, Premier. And the Albanese government is committed to a future made in Australia. When it comes to defence, it’s a future made in Australia by South Australians. This truly is the defence state, and yesterday’s announcement secures the future of thousands of high-skill essentially needed advanced shipbuilding jobs. South Australia will be a home of construction efforts to build the most advanced submarines in the world and the most advanced anti-submarine warships in the world. The Australian Defence Force depends upon the Australian defence industry for support.

You cannot have an ADF without a defence industry, and you cannot have an ADF without the South Australian defence industry. So thousands of jobs created supporting these incredibly advanced endeavours. And as the Premier said, a young student today learning a trade – whether it’s an electrician or a pipe fitter or a welder – can know that they can spend their entire working life at Osborne helping defend the nation.

They’ll be building the most advanced anti-submarine warships in the world and then will seamlessly flow into the replacement for the air warfare destroyer. That gives them certainty, to plan their life, to buy a house, raise a family. It gives the industry certainty to make the investments and it gives the defence of the nation certainty that we can always rely on South Australia to support the defence of this country. And I want to pay tribute to the Premier and his government for their strong support, their strong investment, their co-investment in this future in training students, in supporting these endeavours. Thousands of jobs will be created. We’ll have a future made in Australia by South Australians.

And this is a great day for the South Australian defence industry.

JOURNALIST: Deputy Prime Minister, the first ship won’t arrive till 2030. What happens if there’s a major conflict in our region between now and then?

MARLES: Well, actually, the first ship arrives in this decade, in the 2020s. It is true that we’ve inherited a declining Navy. I mean, we inherited the oldest surface fleet from the former government that the Australian government has run since the end of the Second World War. And it’s precisely because of that that we have accelerated the acquisition of a general purpose frigate into the Navy’s surface fleet. I mean, the plan that we inherited from the former government was that the first new surface combatant would be in operation in 2034, which would have been the first of the Hunter class frigates.

That time line will remain in terms of that ship, but in acquiring a general purpose frigate we will have four new surface combatants in operation and under the same period of time which we inherited where the Opposition had planned to have one. And it's precisely because we know that we need to accelerate the acquisition of surface vessels into our fleet. We get the strategic challenges that we face. There is an urgency, and that is why we are getting those ships into operation as soon as humanly possible.

JOURNALIST: Given those challenges, can you rule out any changes to the mix of tier one ships? Could there be any sort of change to that? Any air warfare destroyers that may be built in SA – I think it’s three at the moment; I’m not sure – but another six frigates off limits to any potential changes if there is a conflict?

MARLES: We have mapped out a plan and we have funded a plan which will build the most capable, the most lethal Australian Navy that has ever existed full stop. And it’s really important that governments of the future stick to this plan and realise it. We are utterly committed to it, which is why in making the announcement we made yesterday it wasn’t just a case of articulating that vision – as important as that is – we have funded it. The announcement that we made is separated from all the announcements that we saw under the former government because the money is there.

And because the money is there people can have a sense of confidence that what we have mapped out is what will occur. But it is critically important that we are acquiring our surface fleet as quickly as possible. It is critically important that that first Hunter frigate is in the water and operational in 2034. And in announcing that the successor build here in Adelaide to the Hunter frigates will be the replacement of the Hobart class, we really have mapped out a multi-decade pipeline of work which enables us to actually invest in the continuous naval shipbuilding ecosystem here in South Australia, which has been called for for so long and which is so important to give certainty to our Navy, give certainty to industry, but to give certainty to South Australians who are looking at pursuing a career in this industry.

JOURNALIST: The ship is not entering the water until the end of the decade. With China being aggressive now, what’s the plan for the next five years?

MARLES: We are working to evolve our naval capability right now. We obviously are in an alliance with the United States. We are building our relationships with countries in the region like Japan, like Korea, like Indonesia. The diplomatic effort in terms of that in aspect of defence-to-defence relationships has never been more intense. We do have a capable Defence Force right now. We need to grow that capability, and we are doing that. I think it’s important to understand the strategic complexity that we face is great power competition where the outcome of that is uncertain. And it is really planning for that uncertainty by building a much more capable Navy over the course of the decade that we are seeking to pursue. But we are doing that from this day both in terms of the capability we’re acquiring but also the relationships we’re building.

JOURNALIST: Just on workforce, does the federal government have any reservations about South Australia having or finding enough workers to deliver the programs that have been committed to? For example, we know that BAE Systems needs another thousand workers over the next two years or so.

MARLES: No, we don’t. But we understand that this is a real challenge. It’s a good question, and I really do want to acknowledge the Premier’s leadership in respect of this question and more generally. When we had the Jobs and Skills Summit in Canberra in 2022, just after coming into government, the Premier spoke to me about exactly this challenge of making sure that we have the workforce in South Australia necessary to build our submarines and our surface fleet. That’s why we established a taskforce at that time to look at how we can develop and invest in skills here in South Australia, which has been a model for the way in which we’ve engaged about this throughout the country. And while it is a challenge, I’m confident we can meet the challenge.

What we’re seeing here at Findon Technical College is a perfect example of it. And it is about ensuring that those young people who are looking at a future career have the certainty of what that career will be, which is why we need to make that multi-decade commitment that we have. But it’s also about investing in skills and training at university as well, and we are seeing that across the board and we are seeing it here in South Australia. And that’s why I actually have confidence we can meet this challenge.

JOURNALIST: You referenced it yesterday – the training academy that’s going to be built at Osborne. Do you know with the land swap that’s just occurred the state of play with that at the moment, as in the land swap and the training academy, how that is looking?

MARLES: Well, the land swap has occurred and we are underway right now in terms of that training academy being established. And it is a critical part of the – what we need to do to make sure that we have the workforce in place. It really does go to the last question. That training academy based at Osborne on site is going to be critically important in terms of building the cohort of skilled people required to build a nuclear-powered submarine and, indeed, to engage in surface shipbuilding. I think it – the extent of what we are doing here, particularly in terms of both production lines, is to really build the most advanced industrial undertaking that our country has seen. And in the submarine production line it will really be one of the most high-tech production lines that exists in the world. And so to get on that horse is a hard thing to do and it’s why we really need to be investing in training and why that skills academy is so important, and so important that we’re able to start the process of that right now.

JOURNALIST: Angus Campbell met Indonesia’s President-elect. Was Operation Sovereign Borders discussed, and was there any call from Australia for Indonesia to step up maritime patrols?

MARLES: Well, I’m obviously not going to go into the discussions that occurred between the Secretary of Defence in Indonesia, Subianto Prabowo, and our Chief of Defence Force. But it was a very good meeting and it follows on from meetings that I’ve had with Minister Prabowo. We have never been closer I think in terms of the way in which we are working with our Indonesian counterparts. And I say that in terms of the defence cooperation. There have been really big steps taken forward in that relationship and I look forward to being able to renew my engagement with Minister Prabowo in the near future. I had the opportunity of speaking with him last week after the election, and obviously congratulated him on his election to becoming the next Indonesian President. Between now and October he will remain as the Minister for Defence, and there is much work we have to do with Indonesia.

JOURNALIST: Do you think Indonesia should be increasing patrols, given this latest arrival?

MARLES: Look, firstly, in terms of Australia’s actions, I want to make clear that we have maintained all the border security settings that were in place when we came to government and we understand the absolute imperative of maintaining border security and including on our north west coast. And we are doing that. Even in the Surface Fleet Review that we announced yesterday there are measures there around making sure that we have the appropriate constabulary vessels, offshore patrol vessels going forward, for both our Navy and Australian Border Force. So we are acting with absolute endeavour to make sure that our borders are safe and secure, and they are. We are very happy with the level of cooperation that we have with Indonesia, including in terms of our defence engagement and our defence exercises. And that includes joint exercises that we have done with Indonesia south of the Indonesian Archipelago.

JOURNALIST: Julian Assange was too unwell to attend his court hearing in London. Does that show just how desperate the situation is with Mr Assange? And what do you hope the outcome will be?

MARLES: Well, obviously the British judicial system is independent and I’m not about to comment on its processes. And we very much respect the independence of the British judicial system. But I would say this: I mean, it is appropriate that an Australian government advocates on behalf of its citizens, and we have been doing that in respect of Mr Assange. Irrespective of what views people might have on what Mr Assange has or hasn’t done the past, this is not a situation that can be allowed to continue. Our advocacy to both in the United Kingdom and the United States in relation to Mr Assange is that his situation needs to be resolved. It’s not acceptable that somebody just be incarcerated indefinitely. We want to see his circumstances brought to a resolution, and that’s the advocacy that we’ve been maintaining to both the UK and the US governments.

//South Australian local issues omitted//

JOURNALIST: Just back on the training academy, given the need to fast track (indistinct) we’re going to fast track these ships, do you think there’s a need to fast track the training academy given the, I guess, sense of urgency around particularly BAE needing a thousand workers –

MALINAUSKAS: Well, I think it is being fast tracked. I mean that land swap that we were able to land – that land swap we were able to deliver last year – do you like that? – that land swap was really important. That had actually been talked about for years. And we got it done in a short time with this federal government working collaboratively. It now sets up for the training and skills academy to be pursued. Naturally, as far as the state government is concerned, we want that built ASAP because we know the challenges before us. But the Commonwealth is doing everything they can to realise that ambition. I know there are a range of options that have actively been contemplated in that regard. But I know the Deputy Prime Minister and I have had the opportunity to see the academy in Barrow at work. There is a model there that we know delivers a pipeline of a highly skilled workforce. We don’t just need it for the surface ships; we desperately need it for the submarines – and steel is being cut on those – by the end of the decade. So the clock is ticking and that’s why we’re moving as quickly as possible.

CONROY: Premier, can I supplement that from a federal point of view?

MALINAUSKAS: Absolutely.

CONROY: The Premier is absolutely right – we’re moving with all haste to establish the skills and training academy. But we’re not waiting for a bricks and mortar building to be built. Training is occurring right now. We’ve got Australian workers both naval personnel and defence industry personnel working with the US Navy learning how to sustain their submarines and also working with the UK, the United States submarine builders to develop the skills they need to build our own submarines in South Australia. In fact, we deployed – there’s a couple of hundred Australians through the sovereign shipbuilding pool that have already started that training and you’d expect that to ramp up this year.

So my message to South Australia is that shipbuilding academy will be a national asset with its heart here that will do great work training thousands of South Australians, but that training is starting before that building is being built. Just to supplement your earlier question, one part of the announcement yesterday was we’re also up arming our existing naval vessels. So we’re equipping the Anzac class with naval strike missiles, the most advanced strike missile in the world. The Deputy Prime Minister brought forward the acquisition of those strike missiles so that our Anzac ships are equipped with the NSMs. We’re also equipping the Air Warfare Destroyers with a Tomahawk cruise missile, the most advanced cruise missile in the world.

We are only the third nation in the world to deploy the cruise missiles. That will be happening very shortly. And the other part of the announcement yesterday is that the South Australian industry at Osborne will be upgrading their warfare destroyers to the most advanced US combat system, the Aegis Baseline 9, working with BAE, Lockheed Martin, and Saab to do that. So we’re up arming our current vessels as well, as the DPM said, bringing forward construction of vessels as soon as possible.

JOURNALIST: Can I just ask one further question just on ships? We’ve spoken about manufacturing jobs, but what about the people to sail them when these come into operation? You know, do we have the current Defence Force, the naval operations to do that, or where are those people going to come from?

CONROY: I’ll see if the Chief of Navy wants to supplement. But what we’ve been very clear is that the policy we’ve announced is consistent with the Navy’s 2040 workforce strategy that actually won’t require more sailors than what is already been planned to grow. The Chief of Navy rightly is very proud of the fact that the retention rates – sorry, the separation rates are below historical averages. So that’s great news for the Navy. And, importantly, the new general-purpose frigates we are building have much lower crews than the Anzacs. So to give you an idea, an Anzac requires 180 to 200 crew; the four vessels that we’ve identified have crew ranges of between 80 and 120. So potentially you get two crews for our more modern, lethal general-purpose frigates than one crew for the Anzacs. So that’s been part of our decision making as well. Chief of the Navy.

CHIEF OF NAVY, MARK HAMMOND: No better place to talk about Navy workforce than Adelaide where I joined the Navy as an electronics technician straight out of high school. So thank you for the dixer. But, seriously, as the Minister has just mentioned, our separation rate is 8.2 per cent. That is – and falling. That is substantially below the historical average of about 9.5 per cent. We are crewing the same number of ships this year as we did last year and the year before. It is a tough recruiting environment, and that’s what we are competing in.

So whilst we are investing in new ships, new warships over the next decade, we’re also investing in new crewing models. So smaller crews, autonomous systems with small crews embarked etcetera. So we’re absolutely alive to the challenge. And I think this is another great opportunity to double down on the fact that if there are young Australians out there looking for meaningful employment, looking for an employer that underwrites their cost of living and looking for an opportunity to see the world, come and join the Royal Australian Navy.

We are recruiting. We do need to grow, and we’re competing in a tough market environment against a direction from government to grow from our current force of about 15,000 – which is about 1,300 stronger than five years ago – to an objective force of about 20,000.

JOURNALIST: Sorry, just quickly to the Minister, I’m sure you’re probably aware Rolls Royce was here last week. Is it safe to say that given they’re actively looking at setting up an office in South Australia that they will be the company that brings in the nuclear reactors for the subs?

CONROY: Well, we’ve been very clear about that. In fact, the Deputy Prime Minister announced it, that the model is partnering with Rolls Royce reactors. Those reactors go into the Astute class for the British nuclear attack submarines, the nuclear-powered submarines, and for their future submarine. We’ve been very upfront that we’ll be partnering with them to supply those naval reactors.

JOURNALIST: I mean, that –

MARLES: I had the opportunity last year of visiting the Rolls Royce facility in Britain. Rolls Royce will be the builder of the nuclear propulsion system which forms part of the nuclear-powered submarine. And, indeed, there are parts being fashioned, built, in the UK right now at Rolls Royce which will be on the Australian nuclear-powered submarines. So that construction work is actually already happening. And, you know, we are playing a part in contributing to that, but they will be a critical partner in terms of delivering Australia’s nuclear-powered submarines.

JOURNALIST: And they’ll be based down in Adelaide, from what it sounds like?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, the nuclear reactors will be built in the UK. We made that clear from the outset. So we’re not going to be constructing the reactors here; they will be constructed in the UK. They will obviously come here and will be placed in the submarine here.

SPEAKER: Thanks, everyone.

ENDS

MEDIA CONTACT:

Deputy Prime Minister’s Office: dpm.media@defence.gov.au | 02 6277 7800

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