Press Conference, HMAS Stirling, WA

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The Hon Matt Keogh MP

Minister for Defence Personnel

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

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Stephanie Mathews on 0407 034 485

Defence Media

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22 March 2024

SUBJECT: AUKUS Submarine Announcement

MINISTER FOR VETERANS’ AFFAIRS AND DEFENCE PERSONNEL, MATT KEOGHWell welcome everybody down to HMAS Stirling Fleet Base West and it's great to be here with the WA Defence Industry Minister as well, Paul Papalia. We're also joined by Matt Buckley from the Australian Submarine Agency and also our local Consul Generals from the United States and the United Kingdom. 

And it's great to be joined by everybody to talk about the very important announcement being made today for Western Australia that the Australian Submarine Corporation, ASC, will be the sovereign sustainment partner for our Nuclear Propelled Submarine Program. This is an important step in our progress in implementing our pathway towards becoming a nuclear capable nation with nuclear propelled submarines. And that's not something that is way off in the distance.

We are going to be having United States submarines rotating through Fleet Base West here in Western Australia from 2027, as well as visits leading up to that. From those rotations onwards, Australia is going to be involved in the sustainment of nuclear propelled submarines. That is why we are making critical investments right now. Here at HMAS Stirling Fleet Base West, we're investing $8 billion. It's 3000 jobs involved in upgrading the facilities here at HMAS Stirling. 

But crucially by bringing on and selecting ASC as our sovereign sustainment partner that will be creating 500 additional jobs in the sustainment of our nuclear propelled submarines. But this is work that is already starting now. Not only do we have naval personnel already undertaking training in the United States to become nuclear technicians to be able to work on nuclear propelled submarines, we have naval personnel in Guam right now learning the skills necessary, obtaining that experience.

This is the first time that Australians have been involved in learning and working on American nuclear propelled submarines. They're picking up those skills so that later this year they can work on an American submarine that will be coming here to Western Australia and undertaking sustainment and maintenance work here in Western Australia. It is the beginning of our journey towards building that nuclear capability, to be sovereign ready, to have our own nuclear propelled submarines and with the sustainment work that will be happening here under ASC that will support Defence Industry as well, some 2500 jobs there will be across Defence Industry supporting that sustainment work. Not only in existing industries but in new skillsets as well that need to be developed to support this new sovereign capability for Australia. As part of that, we are already pre-qualifying some 26 Australian businesses to be part of the United States supply chain for submarines. There'll be a new opportunity opening in the middle of this year with three further opportunities over the next 18 months, as well as opportunities to pre-qualify to be part of the UK supply chain as well.

This is about growing the industrial pie in the United States, in the United Kingdom and here in Australia. That will mean that Australian businesses will be able to participate in supplying into the United States submarine endeavour, be able to participate in the new build that will be happening of submarines in the United Kingdom and be ready to join, not just the build of submarines in Australia, but the crucial sustainment work that will be happening here in Western Australia.

It involves over 100 people from ASC who will be going to Pearl Harbor in the next year to build those skills about how to sustain nuclear-propelled submarines. It means we will be doing train-to-trainer programs, picking up staff from places like South Metro TAFE here in Perth, taking them to the United States, taking them to the UK to learn how to train people to do that work back here in Australia. This is an historic event and a milestone in our steps towards being nuclear capable here in Australia. It's a great step for ASC here in Perth, 500 additional people working in that work and it will build on the existing capability that they have in sustaining our existing Collins class submarines as well.

It means we're growing that capability and sustainment, growing that skill, growing that workforce, making sure that we continue to maintain the existing capability that we have with the Collins class and growing that into sustaining our own nuclear propelled submarines, which will start with the rotations coming through Stirling from 2027, then Australia taking on American nuclear-propelled submarines from the early 2030s and then moving to the AUKUS class of submarines after that.

As the Deputy Prime Minister has said, this is a forever partnership that we are building in AUKUS. This is going to be a many, many decade ongoing endeavour, not just in the build, but particularly in the sustainment of submarines, starting with a rotation of forces, then the Virginia Class submarines that Australia will start operating from the early 2030’s and then the AUKUS class of submarines that is an ongoing endeavour for generations to come.

And like we have seen in the United States and the United Kingdom, the people who come to work, not just in the Navy operating these submarines, but the people who work in the businesses, sustaining these submarines, multi-generational jobs, grandfathers, fathers, sons and daughters working in these industries. That's such an important element of this. We think about the great resources industry we have here in Western Australia.

Many people reach a point where they want to be able to go home every night to their own bed to see their kids to spend time at home and the jobs that will be made available for the expansion of not just ASC here in Western Australia but also the industry jobs that we'll be supporting that will provide those great multi-generational, ongoing jobs that will be well-paid, highly technical jobs that people will be able to come to and they'll be looking for those opportunities.

WA MINISTER FOR DEFENCE INDUSTRY AND VETERANS’ ISSUES, PAUL PAPALIA:  Wonderful to be here this morning. As Minister Keogh has just said, Western Australia is where AUKUS is real right now. It's going to be waves of Western Australians going to Hawaii to train to maintain our nuclear submarines in the not too distant future. Right this year, in the early, early in the second half of the year, we will be doing the very first nuclear submarine maintenance period in Australia, which will happen right here at HMAS Stirling.

This is the place where Western Australia, where Australians can get involved in an entirely new industry. Our industry players that currently are involved in maintaining and sustaining Collins class submarines will be expanding their capability, growing their numbers and building new skills so that we can maintain nuclear submarines.

Between now and 2027, only three years, there will be more of these visits by the US Navy. There'll be more opportunities for our industry to build their knowledge and to build their capabilities and to build their familiarity with the nuclear task. And then from 2027, this place becomes a central location for forward operating of as many as four Virginia fast nuclear submarines from the US Navy, and Astute class submarine from the British Navy, from the Royal Navy.

This is the place where AUKUS is real right now. Western Australians should think about getting involved in this industry. There's opportunity. As you heard, ASC will be doubling its workforce in the next five years. There are huge opportunities for young Western Australians to get involved in an industry that will be generational. There will be generations of jobs in this sector for Western Australians, it's an incredible moment, it is a pivotal moment in history for the nation building a huge sovereign Defence capability and a lot of it the sustainment of nuclear submarines will be resident here in Western Australia.

JOURNALIST: Donald Trump called Ambassador Rudd a little bit nasty and not the brightest ball. But how confident are you that this forever partnership may not be at risk from a more isolationist and unpredictable United States? 

MINISTER KEOGH: Well, certainly I'm not going to comment on the internal politics of the United States, but I think it's worth pointing out that both Kevin Rudd, Richard Marles, Anthony Albanese, the Australian Government have built great relationships across both sides of the aisle in the United States Congress.

We've seen the support from Democrats and Republicans for the AUKUS relationship for the legislation that's been required to back it in which has gone through the United States Congress. That's because there's bipartisan support for this forever partnership, which builds capability across all three countries, particularly here in Australia, but it's supporting that capability expansion in the United States and the United Kingdom as well.

JOURNALIST: Minister, what did you make of the suggestion from the Greens this deal is less about security and more about how the Australian Government is?

MINISTER KEOGH: I generally ignore the Greens when I talk about national security issues.

JOURNALIST: How confident are you in being ready within that timeline?

PAUL PAPALIA: Yeah, it's a huge task. We're absolutely focused. We have been focused for some time on this. Before the Defence strategic review, the State Government made a submission which included the potential for Western Australia to be a location for operating our allied nuclear submarines and it's come to pass.

We have a Defence Industry pathway program developed here in Western Australia, funded jointly by the State Government and Federal Government to encourage and assist people to get into the Defence Industry, we will be expanding that, growing it and very much focused on building the workforce. But it is a huge task. We're dedicated to achieving it, as are the Federal Government, and it's an exciting moment.

JOURNALIST: How big is the challenge of securing the workforce, which has been a challenge?

PAUL PAPALIA: Yeah, look at the thing about Western Australia is we have a proven capability to train tens of thousands of skilled people for our massive resources sector. We've done it before. We do it, we'll do it again. We have an excellent Department of Training Workforce Development, who will model the requirements in terms of skill sets and then we will deliver the funding and the resources to ensure that we train enough people.

South Metro TAFE is the premier Defence technical training outfit in the entire country. It's recognized by everyone. It's won awards. They are the best in the country, best at the job. Our Department of Training Workforce development is excellent at modelling and then delivering programs to grow workforce at short notice, we can do it.

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