Press Conference: Surface Fleet Review






ANDREW HASTIE: Good morning. After more than 300 days of waiting, the Opposition welcomes the Government’s response to the long-awaited Surface Fleet Review. 

However, the headline news today is that HMAS Anzac is retiring and will not be replaced until the next decade.

To begin, we welcome the ambition of the Government’s plan to grow the Royal Australian Navy surface fleet. 


We welcome the investment into the Western Australian industrial base and the commitment to continuous ship building. 


We note the broken promise to the South Australia people, with the cancellation of the three Hunter class frigates, and the cost to thousands of jobs, the industrial base, and the increased cost per ship.


In the end, though, this plan from Labor is superficial and has serious flaws. 


There is no larger strategy. 


There is no urgency in the government’s timeline. 


The money is mostly outside the Forward Estimates and into the next decade. 


We won’t see a ship in the water until 2031—assuming this plan stays to timeline. 


It does not meet the urgent strategic challenges posed by this dangerous world. 


We still don’t have a defence strategy from this government, nor an indication of how this surface fleet investment would be integrated into an Australia maritime defence strategy. 


This plan does not deal with the pressing strategic timeline, and we won’t see any Hunter class Frigates until 2034, nor will see any general purpose frigates until 2031.


For our surface fleet, it’s business as usual under this Labor government. 


The government can’t or won’t deploy a single ship to the Red Sea, even though the EU is standing up its own naval taskforce. 


Under this plan, we’ll see HMAS Anzac permanently retired from the water, with no replacement until the end of the decade. 


The tender for the general-purpose frigate won’t be complete until 2026 and cutting of steel at Henderson won’t be confirmed for some time. 


Labor also has a major recruitment and retention crisis on their hands. Morale is at an all-time low. 


They’ve committed to nuclear submarines, and now this surface fleet – what is their strategy to find and hold talented young Australians to crew both our future submarines and our future surface fleet? 


Labor is reaping the whirlwind of their failures during their six years under the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd governments, where they failed to commission a single ship.


The truth is that Richard Marles went to cabinet and lost to Jim Chalmers, Penny Wong and Katy Gallagher. 

He couldn't secure any more money for this over the forward estimates, which is why all the money is over the next decade. 


The money today proves that. 


$1.7 billion over the forward estimates.


$11.1 billion over the next decade. 


Richard Marles loves talking about the former coalition government, and the next decade. Comparing projected defence spend in the 2030s. Anything but the present which are where the strategic challenges are – the most pressing challenges since the end of the Second World War.


Defence is the big league and so failure has consequences for our sailors, soldiers and airmen. 


It has failures for our country – that’s why we’ve got to get it right.


Richard Marles today should be asking himself: what can I fix by 2026? 


Maybe the Prime Minister could scribble that on his arm, too, along with the GST pledge. 


In closing, the Opposition is ambitious for Australia, for our fighting men and women, and we welcome the ambition of this plan – we want to see the surface fleet grow, make no mistake.


But this is a weak government, they are weak on defence. 


This last year has shown that the Albanese government pays lip service to Defence but delivers very little.


Since the Defence Strategic Review, we’ve seen no new money, we’ve seen deferral of tough decisions, and we’ve seen cuts to capability – we’ve seen that in the Army.

There’s a reason why our Anzac-class frigates can’t deploy to the Red Sea and I’m sure it’s not just political will despite the Chief of Navy going in to bat for his sailors.

I think there’s more to it than that and that’s why we need investment now – immediate investment in the near future.


Richard Marles got rolled at Cabinet – he couldn’t secure any more than $1.7 billion investment for the surface fleet review.


I’ll now take some questions.


JOURNALIST: All these things are being heralded as new. To your knowledge, are any of them just being re-announced, or not actually new, as we’re being told?

ANDREW HASTIE: This is a new plan, and I asked the Minister for a briefing and his staff declined to give one to me until tomorrow so as for the detail, I’m none the wiser than the press gallery who enjoyed the benefit of a lock up this morning, prior to the press release.

JOURNALIST: Do you think this will encourage more people to enlist in the Navy as Richard Marles mentioned?

I hope so. I think the Chief of Navy did a great job of pitching servicing the Royal Australian Navy this morning. It’s a great opportunity to serve your country, to see the world. For young Australians who are aspirational, who are struggling with the cost of living and who want a better future – the Navy is a great way to do all of those things. It still remains a big challenge though – recruiting people and then retaining people. A separation rate of 8.2 per cent is still too high, it needs to be lower if we’re going to crew our future submarines, our future frigates, our air warfare destroyers and whatever capabilities that we need.

JOURNALIST: The top of the hand-out to journos says “enhanced lethality” – what does that mean?

ANDREW HASTIE: I hope we can reach out and touch our enemies, so I hope that means more missiles on these future frigates – that’s been one of the challenges, not having enough firepower, so we want to see that. Again, today was very conceptual from the government. There wasn’t a lot of money, there was a lot of talking about the future. As I said, Richard Marles loves reaching out to the 2030s and talking from his crystal ball, but we want to see how this plays out. It doesn’t go to tender until 2026, we won’t see the first frigate until 2031 – even as we’re retiring HMAS Anzac – and we need more detail on what these frigates will be like. I suppose that will come out, there’s four shipbuilding companies that will go to tender – let’s see what happens.

JOURNALIST: Do you think the first three ships should be built in Australia?

ANDREW HASTIE: That’s a decision for government. My view is that speed is of the essence. The government can’t keep The government can't keep getting up and saying, Australia is facing the most dangerous strategic circumstances since the end of the Second World War and do nothing about it – in fact, wait until 2031 to get the next frigate. The Minister should be working out what he can fix by 2026. That's the challenge.


JOURNALIST: What else is needed?


ANDREW HASTIE: I think firepower is something that we need. We need to be able to deter and hold at risk, a strategic adversary. If you look at what's happening in Ukraine, and elsewhere around the world, what's happening in the Red Sea, I think there's plenty of lessons for us to learn. I think low-cost munitions, such as we're seeing in the Red Sea where shipping lanes are being disrupted by loitering munitions, ballistic missiles, cruise missiles. It's somewhat ironic that the Iranian backed Houthis probably have a better strike capability than the Australian Defence Force.

JOURNALIST: Just on the Western Australian built offshore patrol vessels. Do you think companies like Luerssen who's had the number of ships that they now build halved, should they be compensated in any way?

ANDREW HASTIE: That's a decision for government but like I said, I'm not briefed on the inner workings of the Defence Department or where they're at. Certainly, we need to go faster. We need to build our industrial base. Industrial bases are hard to build, they’re like muscles – they can wither away very quickly, but they take time to build up. If you go down to Henderson, it doesn't look any different than what it did a couple of years ago. They keep talking about it being the Henderson defence precinct, well, let's see some action from this government, let's see some investment. What's happening to the dry dock here in WA? That's something that we're absolutely going to need for maintaining our maintaining our surface fleet. These are all things that need to be decided and funded and we're not seeing that. $1.7 billion over the Forward Estimates for the surface fleet – come on, we’re not fools. That’s underinvestment and I think the real truth is that Richard Marles lost at the cabinet table and got rolled by Penny Wong, Jim Chalmers and Katie Gallagher.


JOURNALIST: You say the timeframe in the 2030s is too far away, what's a more appropriate timeframe?


ANDREW HASTIE: What we've got to work out is what can we fix by 2026? This is something the Minister should be going to the CDF and his respective chiefs and empowering them, driving defence and getting us into a position of readiness. The truth is that this government is weak on defence, they’re not serious about it, and I think that's demonstrated in sort of pantomime that Richard Marles likes to do when he gets up and talks about these future capabilities that won't be realised for another decade or so, with money that he doesn't have now. Thank you very much.



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  • Andrew Hastie
    published this page in Latest News 2024-02-21 08:28:18 +0800