Radio Interview, ABC RN Breakfast

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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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9 April 2024

SUBJECTS: AUKUS, Turnbull Government’s MOU with Israel, Record spending on defence industry.

SALLY SARA: Japan will join part of the AUKUS agreement, the Submarine and Technology Pact between the US the UK and Australia, slated to cost hundreds of billions of dollars overcoming decades. 

So AUKUS will likely become JAUKUS, just for the part of the second pillar agreement which aims to develop advanced military capability. 

It marks a significant shift for Tokyo, which has previously rebuffed overtures to become part of the agreement. It's also likely to provoke a strong reaction from Beijing, a vocal opponent of AUKUS. 

Pat Conroy is the Minister for Defence Industry, and he joined me earlier from Washington DC. Pat Conroy, welcome back to RN Breakfast. 

PAT CONROY: My pleasure. 

SALLY SARA: What could Japan offer the AUKUS partnership, do you think? 

PAT CONROY: Well, we've been very clear in the last year since we announced AUKUS that we are open to partnering with other nations on specific projects under AUKUS Pillar II. 

AUKUS Pillar II is about using the combined industrial base of all three countries to develop greater capability and deterrence, so of course we're always interested in partnering with other countries where it benefits both the AUKUS partners and the country in question. 

SALLY SARA: There are reports that this move was spear‑headed by the US. Is Australia totally comfortable with Japan's involvement? 

PAT CONROY: Well, Japan is a close bilateral Defence partner with all three AUKUS nations; there's a strong foundation of trust and cooperation, and Japan is at the forefront of developing cutting‑edge Defence capabilities. It's got one of the most advanced economies in the world, so it is a logical country for us to partner with. 

SALLY SARA: Will Japan be privy to intelligence that's shared by the Five Eyes nations? 

PAT CONROY: Well, let's be very clear what this is. This is collaborating on technology development under AUKUS Pillar II on a project-by-project basis, this is not about Japan joining AUKUS, it's not about Japan being part of the Five Eyes intelligence community. It's about technological collaboration where it makes sense for all parties involved. 

SALLY SARA: You've touted the jobs opportunities that AUKUS will provide, but late last week, Deputy Secretary of State, Kurt Campbell, who you were meeting with in Washington, said AUKUS is not a jobs program. Are you seeing this issue differently from Mr Campbell? 

PAT CONROY: Not at all. I think Kurt was making a point that he's made repeatedly, that at the heart of AUKUS is increasing our deterrence across the three countries, building a greater industrial base by the three countries working together, and in the case of AUKUS Pillar I, moving [indistinct] capable of producing nuclear‑powered but conventionally‑armed submarines. 

So the strategic impact of AUKUS is massive, and that's what Kurt was alluding to. Obviously as part of that process, we're growing the industrial base and creating 20,000 secure well‑paid jobs in Australia doing the most technically advanced work in the world. 

But that's a by-product of the strategic arrangement we've entered into, and what Kurt is saying is perfectly consistent with the utterances of both President Biden and Prime Minister Albanese. 

This is about building the alliance, increasing deterrence in the Indo-Pacific about furthering support for a stable and prosperous region based on international rules. 

SALLY SARA: Minister, from the briefings and meetings that you've had, are the projects, the major projects that are unfolding in the US in regards to AUKUS, are they behind schedule compared to where they're supposed to be? 

PAT CONROY: No, nothing's changed from what our common understanding is. I was on a panel with the Head of the US Submarine Fleet and the Second Sea Lord of the UK Admiralty, and we're all really committed to the timetables that are involved, that is having Submarine Rotation Force West established by 2027, and where visiting US and UK nuclear submarines will be based at SURF‑West on a rotational basis. 

In fact, we've got our first maintenance period of the US submarine happening in WA later this year, and that's on a lead‑up to Australia acquiring our own very advanced Virginia‑class submarines in the early 2030s on the way to us building the most advanced submarines in the world in the early 2040s. 

This is all on track, and we're building steady momentum towards that, and this is all contributing to a safer and stronger Australia. 

SALLY SARA: Minister, on a separate issue, Australia's Defence Department has refused to publicly release a copy of the deal struck with Israel on Defence Industry cooperation, because it could harm Australia's international standing and reputation. What's happening there? 

PAT CONROY: Well, you're referring to an MOU signed between former Prime Minister Turnbull and the Australian Government in 2017. I wasn't the FOI decisionmaker, so those questions are best directed towards the Department. 

But what I can assure your listeners is that we have not exported a weapon to Israel in the last five years, and that's the most important fact in this debate. We have not exported a weapon to Israel in the last five years, and that should be in the forefront of people's minds. 

SALLY SARA: The Israeli Defence Force says it first learned of the appointment of former Air Force Chief Mark Binskin as a special advisor via the news. What assurances has Israel given about the access that he will have? 

PAT CONROY: Well, I think we would hope and expect that the Israeli Government will support the engagement of Air Chief Marshal retired Mark Binskin. He's there to provide advice to our government on what further representations and actions that we should be taking to ensure that there's a full and transparent investigation into what occurred. 

I think the Australian public would expect that from us, and we would hope that Israel would engage in that process. We've made it very clear that we expect full accountability and transparency in an investigation, and we haven't got that yet, and Mark Binskin will do a fine job, I'm sure, pursuing this. 

SALLY SARA: When we're looking at Defence Industry, the industry has been waiting for almost a year for the Defence Integrated Investment Plan. That plan has been through multiple iterations. Why is it taking so long? 

PAT CONROY: Well, the plan always was to release it with the National Defence Strategy, but what we've been very clear with Defence Industry is that we are investing record amounts in the Defence of the nation. We've added $11 billion to the Defence budget over the next 10 years, that will lift the ‑ sorry, $41 billion ‑ to Defence budget over the next 10 years. That's an increase in Defence spending of the percentage of GDP to 2.4 per cent compared to 2.1 per cent which was the trajectory under the last government. 

Last year we spent $31 billion on acquiring and sustaining platforms for the Australian Defence Force, and we're spending record amounts in Australia on that, and we're supporting over 100,000 jobs in the Defence Industry. 

So we are spending record amounts to protect our nation and we're spending record amounts in the Australian Defence Industry to protect our nation and support jobs, and that goes up every year under the Albanese Labor Government, and we'll hit 2.4 per cent of GDP. As I said, $41 billion of additional money is no small thing, and I'm constantly meeting with Australian Defence Industry, and they're welcoming of our increased resources and our increased transparency. 

SALLY SARA: But how can they know what kind of staffing they'll need, the relationships they'll need, if they don't have that Defence Integrated Investment Plan? This is really giving them the detail that they need. 

PAT CONROY: Well, they've already received significant detail through the Defence Strategic Review, the release of the Surface Fleet Review which charts our plans to more than double the Australian Navy surface combatants fleet and the Defence Industry Development Strategy. 

You're right that the Integrated Investment Program is a next step in the process and that will be released shortly. 

But what's really important is the focus on applying adequate resources. The last government added $42 billion of spending commitments to the Integrated Investment Program between 2019 and 2022 and didn't add a single cent of money or cut any other programs; they perpetuated a fraud on the Australian industry and on Australian taxpayers. 

SALLY SARA: Minister, thank you very much for your time from Washington. 

PAT CONROY: My pleasure. Have a good morning. 


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