SUBJECT: Australia’s Future Submarines
KIEREN GILBERT: With me now on the program is the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Defence, Gai Brodtmann. Thanks very much for your time. Labor’s overall pretty positive about this announcement with the French bid securing the contract to build the next generation of submarines?
GAI BRODTMANN, SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY FOR DEFENCE: Well we welcome the news. It’s a victory for the South Australian people, it’s a victory for the South Australian government, it’s a victory for South Australia’s Labor MPs.
The Government has been dragged kicking the screaming to this decision. We’ve always been clear – we wanted 12 subs built in Adelaide.
The Government originally had that plan, but over the last three years we’ve seen them flip-flopping all over the place. I mean, the former Prime Minister was even making these hand-shake deals with the Japanese to say their subs would win the bid.
But we’ve always been clear. Twelve subs. In Adelaide. The Government has been all over the place on this. It’s been very, very badly managed over the last three years. So we do, finally, welcome the news.
GILBERT: Well, it might’ve been the process prior to the competitive evaluation process, but that, you have to admit, was conducted well by defence, wasn’t it? In terms of the way, professionally, it was conducted. So at least they got to a good end point, didn’t they?
BRODTMANN: Well, the original commitment was 12 subs in Adelaide, so the process in fact is that they’ve been through all this over the last three years, creating huge uncertainty in South Australia, huge uncertainty among those workers there and their families, and in the process they’ve been insulted by the former defence minister for not being able to build a canoe.
So, as I said, the Government made the commitment early on to do 12 subs, and it’s been flip-flopping all over the place over the last three years –
GILBERT: But doesn’t that make sure we get to –
BRODTMANN: We’re very glad that they’ve finally come to the decision, and come to agree with Labor’s view that the 12 subs need to be built in Adelaide.
GILBERT: Does it make sure though that the nation gets the best bid, the best submarine for our purposes? That process has achieved that.
BRODTMANN: Of course we want the best capability for Australia and we want those 12 subs being built in Adelaide. And –
GILBERT: With the French bid, though, the fact that it’s won this thorough process in the end, hasn’t the Government achieved that?
BRODTMANN: We just want the best capability, and the fact that there is this commitment to build those 12 subs in Adelaide. That’s the most important thing for us – the best capability for Australia and also those 12 subs being built in Adelaide.
GILBERT: And costing a lot more than it would’ve otherwise with the premium there.
BRODTMANN: Yes, there was an acknowledgement that there would be a premium paid for the build in Adelaide –
GILBERT: Just to secure jobs, is it?
BRODTMANN: Well, no. The knock-on effects of this are extraordinary, not just in terms of the jobs, but also in terms of the boost to local defence industry, not just in South Australia, but right throughout Australia, and most importantly as a technology transfer.
So we gain those skills, that knowledge is transferred, those skills are transferred, and they enhance our ship-building capability here, our ship-building capacity for future generations.
GILBERT: And it’s making up for what the Government describes as the ‘valley of death’ that was essentially created by Labor sitting on its hands for many years on this issue, because obviously the decision on the subs could’ve been made by the former Labor Government.
BRODTMANN: No, I disagree with that, in terms of the sitting on the hands notion. In fact there were a number of things that we were involved in. In terms of the AWDs and LHDs, they were in a very immature state. We were engaged in a number of activities to improve those builds, particularly in terms of the workflow on the AWDs. On the Collins Class, there were significant issues there with its deployability, in terms of how many subs could go out and how often. We commissioned the Coles Review. We also, as a result of the Coles Review, improved the support, the sustainment of those subs that dramatically improved their deployability.
GILBERT: In hindsight, do you believe that Labor should’ve acted sooner when it comes to commissioning the next generation of subs?
BRODTMANN: Just in terms of future subs, we commissioned a range of evaluation processes, we set the framework in place, spending hundreds of millions of dollars getting that framework in place for a future submarines decision. We also created an industry and skills plan, to ensure that we had those skills to meet the demand of a future subs build. In addition to that, we made key decisions on the combat system. So, there were a range of actions that were made. But the Government spreads this fiction, which is complete nonsense.
GILBERT: So what does Labor want to see now in terms of the contract of this? There’s so much detail that’s going to go into this very complex project. How much of the actual final submarines does Australia want from its own produce, materials I should say, in terms of steel and so on? How much does Labor want to see in terms of the final product?
BRODTMANN: I know from being up close in defence procurement for nearly a decade that these things do take time.
But what we want to ensure is, first up, that in the contract there’s a commitment for 12 subs being built in Adelaide. There have been reports, you would’ve seen them, that DCNS had a preference to do the first one or two builds in France, and you’ve also seen the reports of 4000 jobs flowing to France as a result of this.
That’s a lot of jobs that are just coming from the design phase. So, we want a commitment in the contract for the 12 subs to be built in Adelaide.
We also want a commitment for a strong defence industry, a commitment to maximise Australian defence industry involvement in the build as well as the sustainment. Now, I have an unusual passion for sustainment, an unusual interest in sustainment, and that’s where a lot of the money is spent. Quite often ten times more than the acquisition spend is in the sustainment phase. So we want to ensure that Australian defence industry opportunities are maximised in the build phase as well as in sustainment.
GILBERT: Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Defence, Gai Brodtmann, thanks very much for that, we’re out of time. A quick break on AM Agenda, back in just a moment.