Matters of Urgency

20 March 2023

Last week, the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, along with the US President, Joe Biden, and the UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, announced the most significant investment in Australia’s national security in our country’s history.

We will be building eight next-generation nuclear powered submarines here in Australia, in the state of South Australia, in Adelaide. But it will be a whole-of-nation effort, requiring workers in every state and territory. It will create around 20,000 direct jobs, and, with construction beginning this decade, we will train more engineers, more scientists, more technicians, more submariners, more administrators and more tradespeople. At its peak, building and sustaining nuclear powered submarines in Australia will create up to 8½ thousand direct jobs in the industrial workforce alone. With hundreds of thousands of components, nuclear powered submarines will present a unique opportunity for Australian companies to contribute not only to the construction and sustainment of Australia’s new fleet but to the supply chains of partner nations. Australia’s scientific, education and training institutions will also play a central role. Australians have already commenced training and working on UK and US nuclear powered submarines, and in UK and US facilities. This will mean that Australia has a trained and experienced sovereign workforce for the arrival of Australia’s Virginia class submarines from as soon as the early 2030s.

The cost of this endeavour is estimated to be between $268 billion and $368 billion, making it the largest investment in defence ever undertaken by Australia, and it’s something that I think we should be very proud of. Some people may see that figure and wonder if this investment is really necessary, but the short answer is: yes, it is necessary. We are in a situation where we have the fastest and most significant naval build-up that we have ever seen at our back door, in the Indo-Pacific. As Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles said last week, we would be condemned by history if we did not take our changing strategic circumstances seriously and take steps to improve our defence capability. But the Australian Greens seem like they want to disregard protecting our sovereignty and protecting our people, who we are elected to look after.

While I don’t think it is at all improper for people to ask questions about how the government is spending money, it’s important to call out the irresponsible commentary that seeks to downplay the change in strategic circumstances that we find ourselves in. The lines that are coming out from some that AUKUS is somehow unnecessary or even provocative are complete nonsense. We should be very, very clear: Australia and our allies are not the provocateurs here. We are not seeking to change the status quo. We are not seeking to undermine the international rules based order. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for every international actor, and, when these actors commit to unprecedented military spending and naval build-up, it is incumbent upon Australia to respond.

We are increasing our defence capability by deepening our co-operation with our close allies, by working together so that we can design, build and deploy defence assets greater than the sum of our individual nation’s knowledge and capability. It will complement the Albanese government’s wider agenda to revitalise Australia’s manufacturing, ensuring that we are a country that makes things here, including identifying defence capability as a priority funding area for the $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund. Australia’s defence industry and workforce will be vital partners in the AUKUS submarine program over the next four decades and beyond, delivering critical defence capability and supporting an industrial and skills expansion of national economic significance. So, while I think almost all Australians would agree it’s deeply unfortunate that we live in a world where these steps are necessary, we should also recognise the increased co-operation between ourselves and our closest partners as a good thing.