Parliamentary Speech: Preparing and Enabling AUKUS


House of Representatives on Tuesday 19 March 2024

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Mr HASTIE (Canning) (12:07): It goes without saying in this chamber that we are indeed living in dangerous times. The government has said as much over the last year, in the Defence Strategic Review and on other occasions. The strategic order that we have enjoyed since the end of the Second World War has broken down into disorder. We see this in the South China Sea, we see it in the Red Sea, we see it in Israel and Gaza, and we see it in Ukraine. It's the authoritarian powers which are the source of this strategic disorder.

Over the last couple of years, Australia has had to rethink our defence posture, to build our capacity to deter an adversary but also maintain our edge in a war-fighting scenario. It is why the former coalition government moved to acquire nuclear powered submarines through AUKUS, and that was supported by the Labor Party.

Last year the Albanese government selected the Virginia class submarines and, as I said, AUKUS as the optimal pathway moving forward.

Today we are debating legislation to enable AUKUS. It's about executing the plan and building out the legislative framework that will bring pillar I and pillar II of AUKUS to life. It's about building a uniform system of export controls and offences across our three countries—the US, the UK and Australia.

The legislation we pass today will interact directly with the United States and the law that was passed in congress last year on 15 December 2023. The 2024 National Defense Authorization Act is hugely significant for Australia. Much of the public missed it, but I just want to restate exactly what that act means for Australia. It established a national exemption for Australia and the UK from US Defense export licensing and adds Australia and the UK to the Defense Production Act.

Specifically, it authorises the transfer of three Virginia class submarines to Australia. It also authorises the maintenance of US nuclear submarines in Australia, which is a critical part of the Optimal Pathway and of establishing Submarine Rotational Force - West. It has implications for small to medium enterprises, particularly in Perth, who not only will be part of the supply chain and deep sustainment of our US and UK partners but also will include our submarines when they pass into our hands.

The NDAA authorises Australian contractors to train in US shipyards to support the development of Australia's submarine industrial base. I know the Deputy Prime Minister would be watching that closely as we send over industry workers and APS and ADF personnel to understand the very complex system that is a US shipyard. It also establishes a mechanism for the US to accept funds from Australia to lift the capacity of the US industrial base, particularly their shipyards, which will increase the submarine delivery cadence, which is below two, to above two. If AUKUS is going to be realised, those submarines need to be popping out at a higher rate than two per year, and the funding to the US helps them to scale up and improve their efficiency in their shipyards.

The NDAA also gives Australia a national exemption from US export control licensing requirements, enabling the free flow and transfer of controlled goods and technology between our three countries, enabling pillar II particularly. It will increase the speed of foreign military sales and exports not covered by the national exemption.

Finally, it adds Australia and UK to title 3 of the US Defence Production Act, opening new opportunities for Australian small to medium enterprises as the US production base expands. But here's the catch: section 1343 of the National Defence Authorisation Act requires that within 120 days the US President determine and certify in writing Australia has (1) implemented a system of export controls
comparable to the US and (2) implemented comparable exemption from their export controls of the USA. The Defence Trade Controls Amendment Bill 2023 and the Defence Amendment (Safeguarding Australia's Military Secrets) Bill 2023 establish that comparable export control system, which is a really important signal we can send to the Americans that we're taking this seriously and that we're building uniformity into our system. Now, not only did this involve us accelerating these bills through the PJCIS for the Defence Amendment (Safeguarding Australia's Military Secrets) Bill 2023, but it also accelerated the Defence Trade Controls Amendment Bill 2023 through the Senate Defence and Foreign Affairs Committee. I commend Senator Fawcett for the work that he
did collaborating with his Labor colleagues in that committee.

For the children sitting up there in the gallery, this is very significant today. We are passing legislation that will bring nuclear-powered submarines to our country. But it's more than just the submarines. It's a massive national endeavour. We're going to rebuild our Australian industrial base. The jobs of the future are going to be incredible for young Australians, whether they're serving in uniform, whether they're supporting industry or whether they start a small to medium or large business of their own that supports our submarines, and of course there will be plenty of jobs in government to make sure this happens. These bills implement the export control regime that is required by Congress. It means that President Joe Biden—kids, you've seen him on the TV!—will be able to sign off and say that Australia met its obligations through this parliament.

Now, I do want to raise that there were concerns with academic and defence industry stakeholders. They have expressed concerns about the regulatory burden and the unintended consequences of these bills, but they appreciate that, in the national interest, we need to move quickly. This year is a big year for Australia, for the US and for the UK. We know there is a presidential election in November. Who knows when the election will be held here—potentially in November. We'll be ready regardless. Of course, we can expect an election in the UK no later than January next year. It is important we establish this export control regime in Q1 and Q2 of this year. It looks like we're going to get there, working on a bipartisan basis.

I also want to acknowledge Ambassador Kennedy and Ambassador Rudd, who provided briefings to the opposition on this. That was helpful as we considered this. During the committee process in the Senate, we were very glad to have received the recommendations that there will be a statutory review within three years of the Defence Trade Controls Amendment Bill 2023 and that industry working groups established by Defence will be used for the codesign of the regulations as well as the transition and implementation of the regime.

And, finally, we're very glad that the membership of the defence industry working groups will be expanded to include Australian owned small- to medium-sized enterprises, which are uncertain about how this will play out and which will also feel the bumps and bruises as we work our way through this. It's important that they have a voice on the industry working group, as they will be most sensitive to the changes, and I'm glad that the government has accepted that recommendation.

I should also note that the Deputy Prime Minister is committed to establishing a joint statutory committee on defence. This has been a long-term project for parliamentarians from both sides. On our side, I acknowledge Senator Linda Reynolds, Senator David Fawcett and the late Senator Jim Molan, who have advocated for this for some years. In the wake of the Brereton inquiry I said that this is a missing piece of institutional architecture.

I think that when Australians go to war we should all support our troops in the field, but there should be a forum where we can ask hard questions of our generals—particularly on strategy and operations. I think that's the missing piece.

I think as well that this sends a signal to the US and to the UK as we go forward with AUKUS, that we're serious about ensuring that we hold Defence accountable—that we ask the right questions but that we do it behind closed doors. That's because our adversaries are watching and are looking for any cleavage they can find. We're seeing that right now in the media, with a former prime minister doing his best to undermine the AUKUS agreement. I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for his willingness to move at speed on this. I also note, of course, the member for Bruce and his work through the 'War Powers' Inquiry into International Armed Conflict Decision Making and his recommendation for the establishment of a joint committee on defence. If I can be so bold, I see this as being a comparable committee to the PJCIS: bound by secrecy provisions, parties of government, sensible people and a training ground for people who might one day serve as defence minister. I think that would be a really important development for a lot of parliamentarians who care about our troops and want to see the best for them. Once again, I'm looking forward to seeing that legislation when it comes.

I just want to mention a few things relating to AUKUS—and thank you for attending the chamber, Deputy Prime Minister, it's a good opportunity for me to mention them! I want to highlight a few things that I think are of concern about Submarine Rotational Force West. We know that the plan to upgrade HMAS Stirling doesn't begin until 2025, so timings are tight and I urge the government to move at best speed to make that happen. I'm also concerned about the housing shortage in WA. Many of us across the country feel the housing shortage; it's acute. But if we're going to have US and UK families coming to WA, it's going to be even more acute. We talk about 'social licence' for nuclear powered submarines; I think there's also a social licence required for foreign personnel living alongside Australians, particularly when there's an existing housing shortage. I know that local governments are quick and very keen to sign off on development approvals; they need leadership from the state government. We need to get more houses built at speed so that we can welcome our friends when they come in 2027.

Another issue that has been raised with me is that the top-two occupations of US military spouses are nursing and teaching. Nurses and teachers: we have a shortage of those in this country and their accreditation is not recognised in Australia, so when they post it will be hard for them to find work. But we need more nurses in WA and we need more teachers. New Zealand recognises those professions and so I'd encourage the government, through whatever mechanism, to see how we can enable families who are posted here to get involved in our economy, particularly in those two areas of health and education, where we have large shortages at the moment.

I also want the government to think about an AUKUS visa. I think that's a really important part of this. We need to be able not only to move technology and equipment quickly between our three countries—and the intellectual property, capital and everything that goes with it—but we also need to move people fairly quickly. So we need people who have visas and recognition of their security clearances. I think those are things that we should pay close attention to.

Finally, I want to mention the recruitment and retention crisis in the ADF. We know the ADF is below strength. We know we're not hitting the targets. Deputy Prime Minister, we want to see more people in uniform serving our country. AUKUS is a great opportunity, kids, so keeping looking up there. You are the future of this country. I benefited greatly from an education in the Australian Defence Force, just over the road at the Defence Force Academy. At every opportunity I get to speak to high school students, I mention the opportunities that will come with AUKUS. The message has to be one of service, one of opportunity and one of aspiration, and we need to get cracking. Thank you for the opportunity to speak. I'm glad we could get this done. I look forward to working to make sure that our Navy personnel and the Australian people have everything they need in the years ahead.

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  • Andrew Hastie
    published this page in Latest News 2024-03-20 17:38:04 +0800