Transcript - Radio Interview - FiveAA Mornings with Leon Byner

27 October 2021

SUBJECTS: Nuclear submarine program; South Australian submarine jobs. 
LEON BYNER, HOST: Twenty-eight to eleven. Have you ever tried, when you’ve got a tube of toothpaste and it’s down to its very last content and then you get the handle of one of those toothbrushes and press and as soon as you do that on the tube of toothpaste, it leaks everywhere. Well, sometimes when you try to do something in defence, the same thing can happen. Because we have more than 11,000 [1000] South Australian jobs which includes by the way, 600 shipyard construction jobs at Osborne, these are in doubt because of what's been called the AUKUS announcement. Now the full number of affected workers was actually told to a Senate Estimates hearing yesterday. So for the first time since the $90 billion contract with French shipbuilders Naval Group was torn up last month, so let’s take first of all to Independent Senator for SA Patrick. Rex, did we find out anything in this Estimates questionnaire that we didn’t already know?
REX PATRICK, SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA: Look we found out that in actual fact, the plan on record is totally flawed. It’s totally flawed both in a strategic sense but also from an Adelaide shipbuilding perspective. What we know about the announcement, what’s been uncovered since the announcement, has been the fact that we won’t get a new submarine until 2040. Now if we go back to the 2009 White Paper, by 2039 we were supposed to have 12 new submarine in our Navy to deal with strategic circumstances that were back in 2009 considered to be on the rise in terms of our problems but of course we know that things have got worse since then. So what we’ll actually have in 2039 is five Collins-class Submarines because in the current plan on record, one of them will have to have been paid off by then. That’s the disturbing situation that this…
BYNER: Anything can happen in that timeframe though.
PATRICK: Well the reason we're going to the nuclear is because of the urgency of the situation that’s occurring to our North. That’s the paradox of all of the this. So it has left us with a huge strategic gap, we are naked, we are vulnerable. From a workforce perspective, if we believe the Government when they say that they’re going to build our future nuclear submarines in South Australia, if you work back from 2040, look the furthest I can stretch back is about to 2033 when construction starts. That’s over a decade away, we were ramping up with a workforce to build the Attack-class submarines actually that entire workforce has descended into disarray because of the cancellation of the contract and don’t get me wrong, I support the cancellation of the contract, of the French contract, but we now have an industry that’s in disarray and the first likely sign of a welder turning on a blowtorch would be somewhere around 2033. We’re not dealing with a Valley of Death anymore, this is like a Grand Canyon.
BYNER: Alright Senator Patrick, stay on the line because I’ve got Federal Labor Senator for SA, Marielle Smith. Marielle, what do you think about this?
MARIELLE SMITH, LABOR SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA: Well look, I’m deeply concerned about what this means for the future of South Australian jobs in our state and also for the businesses who are contracted to work on this program and have now lost work. Labor provided bipartisan support for AUKUS, but that doesn't mean that that should come without scrutiny and that's exactly what we were applying to the Government yesterday in Senate Estimates when I was questioning Australian Naval Group. That’s when we discovered that 600 more jobs were now facing uncertainty over at Osborne, bringing that figure up to 1100 and it's not just that they’re facing uncertainty Leon, it’s also that we found out that no government support was being provided at this stage for those 600 workers which I think is deeply alarming.
BYNER: Absolutely, well what’s the reason why?
SMITH: Well this is a question for the Government Leon, I mean we’ve also got this issue with the 546 jobs as part of Future Submarines. Now we were told that non-executives would be offered work who have lost work because of this but then we heard at Estimates yesterday that only 3 months’ worth of funding has been provided so far to cover 300 jobs for that.
BYNER: Does Defence know what they’re doing in this space, in your opinion?
SMITH: I don’t think they’re taking this deeply held concern from workers in South Australia seriously enough and this is a question for government ultimately. When I’m talking to workers, when I’m talking to businesses, while people might support the AUKUS decision, they’re concerned about the uncertainty, they’re concerned about what it means for their future, for their family, they’re concerned about the money already invested. I mean, we want a bright defence future in our state, it’s really important for our future prosperity, but there are some big unanswered question for these workers, and you know what, to be frank, I don’t think it's good enough that we’re finding this out at a Senate Estimates hearing. I think we need the Government to be far more upfront with these workers.