Radio interview, Drive, ABC Adelaide

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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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21 February 2024


SUBJECTS: Hunter Class Frigates, Osborne Naval Construction Yard, shipbuilding academy.

JO LAVERTY: Now, the big news of today, of course, is the announcement of just how many Navy ships we'll be building in South Australia, as well as what else is going on in Australia with our defence. And we've been lucky enough to grab a few minutes of Pat Conroy, who is the Defence Industry Minister. Good morning. Good afternoon, Minister.


JO LAVERTY: I nearly got you too by doing that. Sorry about that. So, as part of the announcement, 3,700 direct jobs associated with the announcement. So, how many of those are in South Australia?

MINISTER CONROY: Two and a half thousand. So, the lion's share of the jobs will be in Adelaide, at the Osborne Naval Construction Yard and that's great news for Adelaide.

JO LAVERTY: Now, part of the announcement includes eleven general purpose Frigates, eight of which will be built in WA, which, in the words of the Defence Minister Richard Marles, is yet to consolidate and establish itself in a position to actually build these ships. So, three of them will be built overseas. Why can't South Australia build the first three? We're ready to go.

MINISTER CONROY: Well, South Australia is ready to go and we need South Australia to be building the Hunter Class Frigates. They are an incredibly important platform for the Navy. We intend to sign a contract with BAE this year to start producing them and we want production to start this year on the Hunter Class Frigates, which will be the most advanced anti-submarine warships in the world. So, that's a critical capability that we need straight away.

The general purpose Frigates, which are an important announcement from today, the reason we want the first three built overseas is twofold. We need that capability urgently and the plan would be to select from one of four classes the independent experts selected next year and to start cutting steel in 2026 with the first delivery of that Frigate by the end of the decade. So, it's really important project, but it complements what Adelaide will be specialising in, which is producing what we call the tier one vessels. So, that will be 600 Hunter Class Frigates and then immediately moving on to producing the replacement for the Air Warfare Destroyers.

JO LAVERTY: And how long is it going to take, whichever country is going to build these three Frigates? How long is it going to take them?

MINISTER CONROY: Well, as I said, we intend to start production in 2026, with the first delivery by the end of the decade. So, that's quite a short amount of time for a ship construction. And one of the conditions for the construction deflection is that it's a ship that is already in water, that's in service with another Navy and it's part of an existing production line. That's to derisk the project and make sure we maximise the speed of delivery. And this means that under our plan, by 2034, which is when the first Hunter Class Frigate is scheduled to enter service, which was the last government's plan, we will have four warships in service, quadrupling the number of new warships.

JO LAVERTY: And just to be clear, we're not getting secondhand ships, are we? So, when you say they're in the water --

MINISTER CONROY: No, no sorry, the class of vessel is in the water, it's being used by another Navy. We will get three brand new ships built in their existing production line. It could be in South Korea, could be in Japan or Germany or Spain, and then they will move over to, production will move over to Henderson in WA. So, just south of Perth, who are currently producing or starting to produce our landing craft for the Australian Army. So, we'll have two centres of continuous shipbuilding, Adelaide, that will do the Large Surface Vessels, so the large Frigates and Destroyers with two and a half thousand jobs supported, and then 1,200 jobs supported in Perth, making Army Landing Craft, and then these general purpose Frigates.

JO LAVERTY: It's seven minutes away from five. Pat Conroy is the Defence Industry Minister. This is ABC Radio Adelaide and I'm Jo Laverty. You've said that we need to get this plan going urgently. Why is this so urgent?

MINISTER CONROY: Well, we face very significant strategic uncertainty. We face the biggest arms rise in our region since 1945 and we faced the loss of the ten year warning horizon for a major regional conflict, which the defence of the country has been based on since 1945. So, there is a need to act with urgency, but in a reasoned, well funded way. And that's what we're doing. We're not making promises on the never never, and importantly, we're not repeating the mistakes. The last government, which made promises but didn't actually allocate new funding to deliver them. So, that's why it's urgent and that's how we're getting on with it.

JO LAVERTY: Paul from Brighton has given us a call on 1300 222 891. Go ahead, Paul.

PAUL: Thank you. Minister Conroy I understand the situation of politicians talking about what they are doing and you've got to prove your point and what you do and great for jobs and all of that stuff. Security wise, we're putting out on public radio where we're building, what we're building, when we're building it, telling you exactly where everything is. Surely somebody from overseas is listening to that and saying, "Haha we'll just wait right till the end, thank you very much. Do it all and we'll just throw a bomb in there and you can forget all your security, all your Frigates, they're actually gone we'll just bomb those right at the last minute once you've built them."

JO LAVERTY: Your response to that, Minister Conroy?

MINISTER CONROY: Well, Paul, I appreciate the comment and your concern, in fact, I had journalists this morning saying we weren't providing enough information. We think we've got the balance right. Obviously, what we disclose is based on the advice from security agencies about what is appropriate. These shipyards are known, like anyone who has access to Google Maps would understand where we build our ships and obviously any potential other country would know that. The important thing is to have security around them, to obviously protect the assets. But we take the security of the nation incredibly importantly. It's the number one job of any federal government and we'll always follow the advice of the security intelligence agencies on how to protect that information.

JO LAVERTY: Perhaps one of Australia's biggest weaknesses in terms of its defence at the moment is a lack of skilled, trained, competent people to actually be in the defence forces. What is your plan to make sure that those numbers are bolstered by excellent people to actually do the defence?

MINISTER CONROY: Well, there's two challenges. One's the industrial workforce, and that's where us establishing a shipbuilding academy to train people is essential and giving people certainty and continuity. So, I want to say to your listeners, if you're an electrician in Adelaide, you can start your working life building the Hunter Class Frigates and you can know that you've got decades of work ahead of you building the Frigates and then the replacement Destroyers. You can raise a family, pay a mortgage, send your kids to school in the knowledge that you're contributing to the defence of the nation and earning a good income doing so in a high skilled job.

In terms of the Royal Australian Navy, one of the strengths of these general purpose Frigates is that they require a lot less crew than an Anzac. So, an Anzac requires 180 to 200 crew. The four general purpose Frigates that we're selecting from have a crew of between 80 and 120, so we get two ships worth of crew out of these for each Anzac that we're replacing. So, that's an important factor, but we make no secret that we need to increase recruitment and we're doing that. But one of the ways you attract more recruits is letting them know that they're building the most modern ships in the world, will have the most capable and advanced submarines in the world built in Adelaide --

JO LAVERTY: And where is shipbuilding academy going to be?

MINISTER CONROY: It'll be in South Australia. We're still working through the location with the South Australian Government, but this is one of the key pieces that we announced as part of the AUKUS announcement last year, Jo.

JO LAVERTY: So, that is going ahead still?

MINISTER CONROY: Definitely, written in stone. It will happen and it will train the workforce, not just for the submarine construction, but for the frigates as well.

JO LAVERTY: And just finally, how many warships does Australia actually have at the moment? Defence Minister Richard Marles started by saying, we have eleven right now and that's going to be rod up to 26. But a little later, when he added all the ships up, he said so, adding that number to the three we currently have. So, how many have we got?

MINISTER CONROY: So, we have eleven at the moment. Three Air Warfare Destroyers built in Adelaide, eight Anzac Class Frigates built in Melbourne. The last government's plan was to replace those eight Anzac Frigates with the Hunter Class, giving us a fleet of twelve. Our plan is a fleet of 26. So, three Air Warfare Destroyers, six Hunter Class Frigates, eleven general purpose Frigates and six Large Operationally Crewed Surface Vessels. So, this will be the biggest Navy we've had since World War II when we deliver this.

JO LAVERTY: But it's still just a tiny little thing compared to China's navy, isn't it?

MINISTER CONROY: Well, it will be the largest Navy we've produced. It will be the most lethal and advanced. We're almost doubling the number of missile launchers we'll have compared to the last government's plan. So, I'm confident it's the right plan that protects the nation and delivers 3,700 high-skill, well paid jobs for people in Adelaide and Perth.

JO LAVERTY: But again, it's still heaps smaller than some of those nations which we might be trying to protect ourselves against?

MINISTER CONROY: Well, we're obviously part of an alliance so any sort of hypothetical future engagement should be seen in that context. But all I can say to you is we're more than doubling the fleet and making it more lethal with more modern, advanced chips.

JO LAVERTY: Minister, thank you very much for your time.

MINISTER CONROY: Thanks, Jo. Have a great afternoon.

JO LAVERTY: And you. Thank you for your time. Pat Conroy, he is the Defence Minister, the Defence Industry Minister, I'm sorry. On ABC Radio Adelaide.


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