Doorstop Interview, HMAS Stirling, WA

Release details

Release type

Related ministers and contacts

The Hon Matt Thistlethwaite MP

Assistant Minister for Defence

Assistant Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

Assistant Minister for the Republic

Media contact

Ben Leeson on 0404 648 275

Release content

8 April 2024

SUBJECTS: Defence Estate upgrades to HMAS Stirling; AUKUS; Hamas-Israel Conflict; Operation Sovereign Borders.  

MATT THISTLETHWAITE, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Well, thanks everyone for joining us at Fleet Base West. I’m joined by Captain Hurley the Commanding Officer here at Garden Island, the western base for Australia's Navy, and the epicentre of the Albanese Government's improved investments in marine capability into the future that will be the home of the Marine Rotational Force and Submarine Rotational Force into the future, and, of course, our enhanced surface fleet into the future as well. 

The Government is investing an additional $8 billion to upgrade the facility here to cater for the Submarine Rotational Force and the enhanced surface fleet. They are big multibillion dollar investments. As well as getting the big investments, right, it's important to do the small things well. Today I'm announcing an $83 million investment by the Albanese Government and Defence in 32 projects here at Fleet Base West to upgrade and maintain important facilities. Important facilities such as the wharf here. We’re in a marine environment and saltwater corrodes things, so to ensure that concrete doesn't crack into the future, that pipes are maintained well, we're investing in these additional upgrades to facilities here. 

We're investing in new sewage and water facilities. We're investing in new electronic and communications facilities, all to make sure that the little things operate perfectly and therefore we get the larger investments, right that will support nuclear propelled submarines and enhance surface fleet capability into the future. 

The wonderful thing about these estate works projects is that we do them in conjunction with and in partnership with local industry. These 32 projects will create about 150 jobs in the local community, from tradespeople right through to engineers - a partnership between the Defence Force and local industry to create local jobs and investment in this local community. Some of those will be indigenous businesses. Many of them will be local small to medium sized enterprises, supporting workers in the local community. So this is further evidence that the Albanese Government's commitment to ensuring that we bolster our defence force here in the West, that we improve the facilities at Garden Island and Fleet Base West and that we make sure that we're prepared for the Submarine Rotational Force when it begins 2027. We're happy to take some questions. 

JOURNALIST: When do you expect construction to start?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: The construction will start in a couple of months and will run through for a period of a number of years. These are small infrastructure projects, but necessary for the upkeep and maintenance of the base here. They're one of the 65 projects the Government is undertaking across Australia. We’re making about $356 million worth of new investments in infrastructure upgrades across Australia in every state and territory. 

JOURNALIST: Will it hamper the operation of the base? 

ASSISTANT MINISTER: These are minor projects, and they shouldn't hamper the operations of the base. We've got some very very large infrastructure projects that are just about to be completed here at HMAS Stirling. The Oxley Wharf redevelopment that I was privileged to have a look at when I was here about a year ago is just about to be handed over to Defence. It’s a massive new living accommodation for troops that I’m just about to go and inspect - it’s just been completed. A new training facility was opened late last year, there's been some pretty big infrastructure projects undertaken here over the course of the last few years that haven't disrupted the operations of the base. 

JOURNALIST: Inaudible. 

ASSISTANT MINISTER: A large part of AUKUS is pillar two. These are the technological and cyber capability upgrades that Australia will need to undertake to deliver this very ambitious project and these are programs that will be delivered in partnership with industry. Other nations and their industries will have the opportunity to be involved in that partnership. AUKUS pillar two concentrates on hypersonics, on artificial intelligence and undersea warfare and advancing Australia's cyber capabilities. So we want to make sure that we're using the best technology available and using those partnerships with our alliance partners to uplift and improve Australia's pillar two capability which will be fundamental to delivering that nuclear propelled submarine capability into the future. 

JOURNALIST: Inaudible. 

ASSISTANT MINISTER: AUKUS is about ensuring that Australia has the ability, in an undersea capability, to defend our nation into the future. We live in one of the most dynamic regions in the world and there should be no surprise to any other nation that our alliance with the United States will be fundamental to Australia's defence, it has been since World War II, and our relationship with the UK military goes back even further than that. So AUKUS is about reinforcing that partnership and that alliance, but we've also been very open and upfront with our region when we announced AUKUS. The Prime Minister spoke with a number of leaders in the Asia Pacific and outlined the reason why Australia has taken this important strategic decision and we do that with consultation with our region. A number of months ago, Australia hosted ASEAN and we had leaders from Southeast Asia come to Australia, and a big focus of that conference was on building and strengthening defence alliances with our partners in ASEAN and AUKUS will contribute to that strength in the future.

JOURNALIST: Inaudible. 

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, we want to be very clear that illegal migrants to Australia will come under the operation of Operation Sovereign Borders and that means that they'll be transferred to a third country for processing, a country such as Nauru. Operation Sovereign Borders is a bipartisan policy and when maintained that policy when we came to office because it worked. And that involves boat turn backs when it’s safe to do so and transfers to other nations. It's about ensuring that we maintain the integrity and the sovereignty of our borders and we’ve committed to increasing the funding for Operation Sovereign Borders through our $470 million investment over the course of forward estimates which means that that policy and that integrity will remain in place. 

JOURNALIST: Inaudible.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: The policy is working, and you have some boats arrive under the previous Governments as well. The majority are turned back, but there are occasions where you do have some arrivals and they’re processed in accordance with Operation Sovereign Borders and that is that people will be transferred to the country, so that the integrity of that policy and that system remain in place. 

JOURNALIST: Inaudible.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Operation Sovereign Borders is working as it is intended. And we're bolstering the funding and the program to ensure that it operates strongly into the future. There's been no change to the operation of that policy when the Albanese Government was elected. 

JOURNALIST: There have also been concerns about the human rights of the people arriving on those boats, that they are being upheld. Can you give assurances around that? 

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Australia operates in accordance with humanitarian law at all times and this policy that's been in place for a number of years now has bipartisan support, it’s been passed through the parliament and ensures that Australia continues to meet all of its international obligations that we are subject to. 

JOURNALIST: Inaudible.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Yeah, we’re obviously continuous discussions with nations in our region about updating them on the progress of AUKUS. It's a really, really important facet of the program that other nations, particularly in the Pacific, are comfortable with the progress that Australia is making on delivery of nuclear propelled submarines. And through forums such as the Pacific Islands Forum, the regular ministerial talks that we have with important neighbours, such as New Zealand, we are continuing to provide those updates on the progress and delivery capability. 

JOURNALIST: On the Australian aid worker killed in Gaza, a drone company (inaudible). 

ASSISTANT MINISTER: The Australian Government has announced that former Chief of the Defence Force, Mark Binskin will be involved in an investigation into what occurred with the death of an Australian aid worker. This is a tragic circumstance, and we want to get to the bottom of what’s occurred. The Prime Minister has said that a breach of the rules associated with the protection of humanitarian workers is unacceptable and that's why we've announced this important inquiry that will take place to ensure that we get to the bottom of what’s occurred and all those issues will be looked at by the Government representative, but it’s a tragic circumstance.

JOURNALIST: Inaudible.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Look they’re national security issues and we'll look at all of these issues that are associated with this tragic circumstance. And that's why the Government has appointed someone with the expertise to look at these issues and to advise the Government about the approach that we should take. 

JOURNALIST: On that again, why hasn’t the Government released the details of any human rights assessment for this contract?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: These are all national security issues, there’s an export approval regime that requires the approval of the Defence Minister and they’re all national security issues, so I can’t go into that any further. But I can say the Government has appointed an independent expert to look into these issues, particularly in the issues associated with the death of an Australian aid worker in those tragic circumstances. 


Other related releases