Press Conference, Henderson, Western Australia

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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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22 February 2024

SUBJECT/S: Surface Fleet Review; Missile Manufacturing.

MADELEINE KING, MEMBER FOR BRAND: Thanks very much everyone for coming here to Henderson today. My name is Madeleine King. I'm the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, but more importantly, in this perspective, I am the Member for Brand. And whilst we are here today in the seat of Fremantle and the state seat of Cockburn, we know that the workers from right around both of these areas, all of these areas work right here in Henderson. And thanks to the Federal Government's announcement that there will be continuous shipbuilding here in Henderson, in Western Australia, we now know we will have that continuous capability and continuous jobs to support our naval defence of this nation and the work that needs to go into that. So I'm here today one, to say thank you very much to the Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister, Richard Marles, but also to introduce him and thank him and his team. Minister Pat Conroy is here as well, and local Minister for Defence and member for Warnbro, Paul Papalia, and Member for Cockburn, David Scaife, as well as some others from the industry itself. So, I'm going to hand over to Richard and while I do, also say thanks so much for coming back to Perth so quickly, for the work you do for the naval defence shipbuilding program, but also for our naval personnel at HMAS Stirling, around the corner from my home in Rockingham. So, thank you, Richard.

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, thank you, Madeleine. And it's a real pleasure to be here in Western Australia for the second time this week, after a very important announcement was made yesterday. Yesterday’s announcement represents for the first time a commitment by an Australian government, a real, funded commitment to the establishment of continuous naval shipbuilding in Western Australia, here at Henderson. And in order to do this, yesterday's announcement will see the establishment of the Henderson naval precinct, where this naval shipbuilding will be undertaken. Last year, the Government announced that it would establish in a pilot program Austal as the strategic shipbuilding partner for the Government, in Western Australia. I want to acknowledge the presence of Austal here today and thank them for their extraordinary work both in terms of contributing to Australia's Navy, but navies in the region, and of course the American Navy. This was done through initially commissioning Austal to, through this partnership, undertake the construction of the Army Landing Craft Medium, with a disposition to move on to the construction of the Army Landing Craft Heavy. Austal will also be building two evolved Cape class patrol vessels. We have Luerssen building six Arafura class offshore patrol vessels, four of which are being built here at Henderson. We have BAE continuing to work on the sustainment and upgrading of the Anzac class frigates. All of this work forms the immediate pipeline of work for this precinct. But once the precinct is established, and once this work is done, eight of the 11 new general purpose frigates that have been announced as part of the announcement yesterday will be built here at Henderson. And beyond that, the large Optionally Crewed Surface Vessels will also be built here at Henderson in the 2030s and 2040s. Together, this represents a multi-decade pipeline of work for the Henderson naval precinct. In total, it is a commitment of $15 billion of work at Henderson over the next decade, that's $3 billion more than what was provided by the former Liberal government. And we will see that money begin to flow in the Forward Estimates, in the Budget which is handed down in May of this year. Now we understand that as a result of this, we will see more than 1,000 jobs on an ongoing basis, operating at the Henderson naval precinct. And for that to happen, there is a huge emphasis that we need to place on training. One of the real challenges that we will have is making sure that we have the skills necessary to undertake this endeavour; from PhDs, through to engineering, through to trades training. And we're working very closely with the Western Australian government, and I want to acknowledge the presence of Minister Papalia here today in delivering that training. Indeed, we have seen since coming to government, in working with the Western Australian government, almost 19,000 fee-free TAFE places being established here in Western Australia, and that is going to be utterly critical to delivering the Henderson naval precinct. What this means now is that for parents of kids going through school, for those kids themselves, they can look to working in an exciting, high-tech industry, and having work in that industry for the entirety of their working life. That is the kind of certainty which needs to be provided and which now is being provided through a funded commitment, which will enable this national asset to grow. Henderson is a fantastic asset for Western Australia and for the country. But the Henderson naval precinct will become completely fundamental to Australia's industrial base, but much more importantly, to Australia's national security.

PAUL PAPALIA, WA MINISTER FOR DEFENCE MINISTRY: Thanks, Deputy Prime Minister. This is an extraordinary day. We came last year with Minister Conroy and announced the Federal Government was committing to continuous shipbuilding in Western Australia. What you see today is real substance to that commitment. An extraordinary amount of money, $15 billion over a decade. I can guarantee the Deputy Prime Minister and the federal government that Western Australia will step up to the mark in providing the training that is necessary. We now have certainty, we have continuity, we have the ability to sell to our young people the opportunity for generations of future work. So when you go to shipbuilding towns in the UK or the US, you will find families whose grandparents worked in shipbuilding. We can now look forward to that sort of outcome here in Western Australia. Western Australia is the can do state, we regularly train tens of thouands of skilled labourers, skilled people to meet the demands of the resources sector. We’ll do it for defence. This is a wonderful moment. Western Australia is now delivering on diversifying the economy. This builds on our plan for diversified Western Australia to build beyond just resources, we've got other sectors that can contribute. But it is a moment to be celebrated. Western Australian young people can consider having an entire career in this sector, one that will contribute so significantly to the national endeavour of a sovereign shipbuilding capability. I’d just like to thank the Deputy Prime Minister for making that that huge effort of coming back in only about two days, or three days. Flying over there to make the announcement on the east coast, but recognizing that this is so important, an announcement for Western Australians, that he has returned to personally deliver that message to our state and I very much appreciate it.

PAT CONROY, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE INDUSTRY: Thank you. The announcement we made this week is a good announcement for the Australian Defence Force and the Royal Australian Navy, but it's a great announcement for the Australian defence industry, particularly in WA. This is about providing certainty to a critical input to the Australian Defence Force. We cannot have an Australian Defence Force without an Australian defence industry. And the Albanese Government is committed to a future made in Australia. When it comes to the defence of our country, it’s is a future made in Western Australia. And I want to pay tribute to Minister Papalia and the WA Government for their staunch advocacy for the WA defence industry, their strong investment in its future and their commitment to the defence of the nation. As the Deputy Prime Minister said: 1,200 high-skilled, well paid jobs that will be supported through our announcement. 30 years of naval construction work locked in, in the Henderson strip. And my message to kids training today and their parents is: we need you. We need you for the defence of the nation. We need you to do traineeships, apprenticeships, uni degrees, we need you're working at the Henderson strip, building some of the most advanced capability – all here in Henderson. Building our Medium Landing Craft, our gigantic Heavy Landing Craft that will be critical to the transformation of the Australian Army, then building our general purpose frigates, which will be critical to the future of the Navy. And then the very advanced, Large Optionally Crewed Surface Vessels, that will provide real strike for the Royal Australian Navy. So this is a great day for the WA defence industry. It's all about securing the nation, which is the paramount requirement of any federal government. And again, I want to thank the entire WA population for their support for this national enterprise.

JOURNALIST: Just on the Optionally Crewed Vessels, the drone ships – they’re obviously still in the testing stages in the US. What assurances can you give them they'll be ready to go by the mid-2030s, 2040s.

MARLES: Well, this is a program which is being developed in the United States, there are prototypes which exist at present. We're talking about putting them into operation, as you say, in the late 2030s through the mid-2040s. And so, there is time to see this happen. But it's really important that as we are thinking about the plan that we have for our surface fleet, that we have a mind to the present, which is why we are looking at buying off the shelf, a ready-to-go general purpose frigate, which is in construction in the world today. But also, an eye to the future, making sure that we, over the course of the next couple of decades, are acquiring the kind of high-tech capability that we will need to make sure that our Navy is indeed the most lethal and capable that it has ever been. And ensuring that we have increased vertical launch capacity, much greater strike power, is a critical component of that. And so the LOSVs will be a really important part of this. And we do feel very confident based on the development to date that that will be ready in in the timeframe that we've described.

JOURNALIST: Will we buy those off the shelf as well? And if there are issues in development of those ships, is there a plan B?

MARLES: Well, the proposition is to purchase what is developed in the US. And so in that sense, it is a known quantity. But it is to build them here. I mean, the important point to make in the context of Western Australia is that the LOSVs will be built here at the Henderson naval precinct. But they will be built based on– exactly based on what has been developed in the United States.

JOURNALIST: There has been some criticism that in the short term, the number of navy vessels in Australia goes backwards. China wants to have its navy ready to potentially invade Taiwan by 2027. How do you respond to that?

MARLES: I think it's a mistake to link our surface fleet requirements to any particular scenario and certainly a mistake to link it to that particular scenario. We have inherited a declining Navy. That is the sad fact. The Navy that we've inherited is the oldest surface fleet that has been operated by the Royal Australian Navy since the end of the Second World War. HMAS Anzac, which is on the strip, is in a particularly bad state and will not be able to sail again, and that formed part of the announcement that we made yesterday. And indeed any government governing on this day would need to make that decision. But it's precisely because of that, that we are seeking to accelerate the acquisition of surface combatants into our Navy. It is precisely because of the complexity of our strategic circumstances that we are doing that. And so in accelerating the acquisition of the general purpose frigate, we will have frigates operating in the Navy, in the Royal Australian Navy this decade. New surface combatants operating this decade. And what we inherited from the former Government was that our first new surface combatant that would be in service would be the first of the new Hunter class frigates not due to come into operation until 2034. That timeframe stays the same. But by that time, under this plan, we will have four surface combatants in operation. And so we are accelerating acquisition, because of both what we've inherited and the strategic circumstances that we face.

JOURNALIST: In doubling the size of the fleet, is there concerns about finding crew, given the Navy recruitment shortage we’re seeing in Australia?

MARLES: There is definitely a challenge in ensuring that we have the numbers of people that we need to, to serve in the Royal Australian Navy and for that matter, in the Australian Defence Force. But I would make this point: we are seeing real steps being taken forward around the issue of retention and recruitment across the Defence Force and particularly within the Navy. Navy separation rates today are below the long-term average and we are starting to see recruitment numbers turn around across the whole of the Defence Force. But I actually think yesterday's announcement, what we're talking about today is a really important part of that. I mean, for somebody who is seeking to join the Royal Australian Navy today, they can look forward over the course of the next decade or so to be serving on an Australian flagged nuclear-powered submarine, or to be working on a state of the art general purpose frigate, or to be serving on the most advanced anti-submarine warfare capability that will exist in the world. I mean, that is an exciting prospect. The nation needs people to serve, but there's never been a more exciting time to serve. And these decisions ensure that our serving men and women going forward will be doing so on state of the art equipment.

JOURNALIST: Why can’t all the frigates be built at Henderson?

MARLES: Establishing the Henderson naval precinct will take time. And what we are seeking to do here is establish continuous naval shipbuilding, which lasts over the decades. There is a pipeline of work which exists today, which I've outlined at the start and it's really important that that work is done. We need those evolved Cape class patrol vessels, we need the Arafura offshore patrol vessels, we need the work done on the existing Anzac fleet. The establishment and the consolidation of the Henderson precinct will take some time. But as soon as that is done, we will see the new general purpose frigate being built here.

JOURNALIST: And cancelling six of the 12 Arafura offshore patrol vessels, doesn't this create a sovereign risk issue for Australia, in terms of contracts?

MARLES: No, and we obviously will be working with Luerssen in relation to this decision, but also in relation to seeing the completion of the construction of the six Arafura class offshore patrol vessels. But it's important that what we do is make decisions around our national interest and the surface fleet that we need for the future. The Arafura class vessels will have an important role to play. But as we look forward, we do see that the evolved Cape class patrol vessels will be at the heart of our constabulary work across both the Navy and Australian Border Force.

JOURNALIST: Minister Papalia’s – a question for the Defence Minister, or Minister Conroy maybe – Minister Paplia is keen to manufacture torpedoes–

MARLES: I was trying to work out what was going on.

PAPALIA: I’ll just sign us up.

JOURNALIST: Torpedoes to be used on nuclear submarines in Collie. Do you think that idea has merits?

CONROY: Well, we're always keen to work with the state government on these sorts of ideas, We've established the guided weapons and explosive ordnance enterprise and unlike the last government, we've actually funded it, and we've announced we'll be making missiles in this country in 2025. Australia will be making missiles in 2025 and we're pursuing a range of options of what ordnance make sense to manufacture in this country. Really importantly, what Minister Papalia is talking about is a great strategic asset, which is the work that already goes on in HMAS Stirling around the Mark 48 heavyweight torpedoes. So the maintenance facility over the other side of the water not only maintains our torpedoes, it maintains torpedoes for the US Navy. And last year we had a visit by a US submarine that swapped out its torpedoes that needed maintenance with Australian torpedoes maintained here. And I visited similar facilities at the Pearl Harbor naval base, and I can say what is going on at HMAS Stirling is world’s best. So we will continue to work with the WA Government on their plans there, we're committed to the guided weapons and explosive ordnance enterprise and we'll be making missiles in this country in 2025.

JOURNALIST: Just more generally, on the manufacturing of weapons, do you think it makes sense to sort of split that between the east and west coasts, strategically?

CONROY: Well, I think at the moment, there's lots of work to go around. Workforce is an issue that we're really focused on. So it absolutely makes sense to identify where the centres of excellence. So we've got a clearly a great centre of excellence here in shipbuilding, but also there’s strong tradition in terms of explosive ordnance handling, and so forth. So we're always open to good ideas and we work really well with state governments. And the WA Government not only is a fierce advocate for jobs and industrial opportunities in this country, they’re patriotic and they match their advocacy with resources. We're standing just down the road from a common use facility funded and owned by the WA Government, because they're committed to a naval industry in this state.

MARLES: I can add that I think Paul has Pat and I on speed dial and you don't get a stronger advocate for Western Australian industry and defence industry than Paul. But to be serious, you know, we are lucky as a Commonwealth Government to have such an active state government in this government and an active minister in Paul which gives us an enormous amount of confidence about the ability to establish Western Australia as a centre of shipbuilding in the country.


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