MONDAY 13 MARCH 2023
SHADOW MINISTER FOR DEFENCE, THE HON. ANDREW HASTIE MP: Good afternoon, everyone. I just wanted to make a few comments on AUKUS before the Prime Minister announces it formally tomorrow morning in San Diego. We are working closely with the Government on this and this is something that must be bipartisan because we cannot fail. It's really, really important that once we embark on AUKUS, that it is actually delivered on time. I want to say that from the outset because AUKUS is truly a multi-generational nation building task for the Australian people. It's going to impact the Australian Government, Parliament, the private sector, industry, Defence itself, education and a range of other areas and so it's important that we work together on this. So far, we have only had reports in the media of a few things but I just wanted to say that the Opposition welcomes the rapid acquisition of the Virginia class submarines from the United States, particularly because it deals with the immediate risk here in the region. We all know that our region's strategic situation has deteriorated significantly over the last few years and so the rapid acquisition of Virginia class submarines will deal with that.
We also welcome reports that there will be a greater presence of the US Navy in Australian waters, particularly their nuclear submarines. That means, of course, increased investment for Western Australia, particularly with HMAS Stirling in Rockingham and that will, of course, build our submarine base there which will ultimately house our own nuclear submarines. But of course, that will help with the local economy, create jobs and opportunities for Western Australians.
One of the things I'm most excited about is the opportunity in education that this presents for young Australians, I want to see primary, secondary and tertiary educations sending a signal to young Australians that AUKUS is something that they should pursue as a career. I mentioned those young Australians who will be cutting steel on the submarines, I mentioned those who will become experts in nuclear science, those who work in advanced technology and of course, we're going to need a lot of engineers. We really do need to recruit a lot of young Australians, not just for the Navy who will be needed as submariners, but also for those who work in this industry.
As the Opposition, we will be working on a bipartisan basis with the government. Of course, it was the Coalition government 18-months ago that set this in train. We took the hard decision to cancel the Attack class submarines with the French government, we entered into AUKUS with the US and the UK and so we want to make this happen. Of course, tomorrow morning, we'll be very interested in the timing of this, how long it will take to get those first Virginia class submarines, how long it will take to build the joint submarine with UK and of course, we're also going to be looking for significant budget investment. The Prime Minister said this will cost $200 billion. We know that money doesn't grow on trees - this will take some hard choices - and it's important that we make clear that we're going to work with the Government bipartisanly in making sure that we can deliver these submarines. I'll now take some questions.
JOURNALIST: Mr Hastie, I note then you didn't welcome one of the other reports that's emerged which is of that in a third phase of AUKUS we'd acquire some kind of new generation British Astute-class submarine, something that some members of the Coalition have been critical of since those reports emerged. In not acknowledging that report, do you still have reservations about that potential element of the deal and would a future Coalition government potentially not pursue that option?
ANDREW HASTIE: No. I should clarify, I welcome the investment in an industrial base in South Australia which would, of course, be set in place to build the joint submarine with the United Kingdom. So, of course, we're going to wait for the report to come out, we don't know the final details, but certainly, we're going to need significant investment in South Australia if we're going to build this joint submarine and that's what I was hinting at when I mentioned that we welcome that investment.
JOURNALIST: $200 billion, as you acknowledge, that's a lot of money. Do you have any concerns that the amount already seems to be kind of slowly increasing through these reports we've been seeing over the last few months?
ANDREW HASTIE: Again, we're dealing in hypotheticals. Let's see what the Prime Minister says tomorrow. But certainly, if we're committed to AUKUS, then we've got to get it done and the Prime Minister himself said last year, in an interview with Greg Sheridan in The Australian, that the Government would spend whatever it needed to spend to make sure that AUKUS was realised and we have nuclear submarines as part of our fleet.
JOURNALIST: Do you think Australia has what it takes to get the Defence Force to be able to realise this [inaudible] and what does defence need to do to make it more attractive for young recruits?
ANDREW HASTIE: I have confidence that we can do this as a country. Building submarines is one of the most ambitious things a country can do and I think it's good that we're setting our goals and ambitions so high. But it's going to take leadership - political leadership - not just from the Government, but also the Parliament and that's why we need to work together to make sure this happens. It's going to require leadership from Defence itself, from the private sector, from the education sector, from industry. We all have to work together to make this happen. We can't fail.
JOURNALIST: You said money doesn't grow on trees but to date, the Coalition has opposed some very modest changes on superannuation. Where on earth is this money going to come from and are you going to be more open in a bipartisan fashion to be able to make the savings to fund this?
ANDREW HASTIE: Let's see what the costings are when we get to tomorrow and potentially the Budget. But of course, we're going to work with the government to make sure that we can finance this because as as you know, it's a very competitive environment, there are a lot of wants out there, we can't fund them all and if we're committed to AUKUS then we need to make sure that we finance it properly.
JOURNALIST: You're very committed to bipartisanship, does that mean you won't be critical of anything along the way in terms of how this is realised?
ANDREW HASTIE: No, we will always do our job in a robust way in the best traditions of the Westminster system. So we will be at Opposition and as I said, we'll be focusing on timing, sequencing and budget. But of course, when we're stepping out into the world like this with a very critical task ahead of us, it's really important that we don't make these submarines a political football. It's a multi generational task before us, and it's going to require maturity, it's going to require prudence and it's going to require a level of bipartisanship which we probably haven't seen in a generation.
JOURNALIST: Does the Opposition have a preference for where the submarines are ultimately based, you know, east coast, Western Australia, what's the preference?
ANDREW HASTIE: There's going to be a second submarine base and of course, this will be a decision for the government. So, let's wait and see what happens.
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that the hybrid designs could lead to delays given they will be technically complicated?
ANDREW HASTIE: There are always risks in any endeavor. There are certainly risks in this joint sub but let's see what happens. Again, that comes down to political leadership and leadership from those other sectors that I mentioned - industry, the private sector, the education sector. Of course, our relationship with the US and the UK is going to be very important and so young Australians need get familiar with a couple of locations in the world - Barrow-in-Furness in UK is one of them and of course, Rhode Island and Connecticut in the US where Electric Boat makes the Virginia class operators. Thank you very much.
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