Urgency motion

20 March 2024

I rise to speak on the urgency motion moved by Senator McKim. The AUKUS trilateral security alliance is a fundamental partnership between Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom. As the Government has made very clear time and time again, AUKUS is the biggest single investment in Australia’s defence capability in our history. It’s a key part of the federal government’s national security policy and one that protects our nation and its interests.

We’re facing the most challenging strategic circumstances since World War II. The federal government’s approach is to build, maintain and operate conventionally-armed nuclear-powered submarines to ensure that our Defence Force is equipped and prepared to confront these challenges. Increasing our military capability is critical, and, put simply, AUKUS is great for our alliance and great for many jobs particularly in the state of South Australia but also right across the country. It will strengthen the ability of each government to support security and defence interests, deepening our ties and providing an added level of deterrence against threats in our region. It allows for deeper information sharing and technology sharing and supports our country’s industrial requirements. It allows for integration across security and defence related science, industrial bases and supply chains, and it allows for more jobs across the country, with South Australia remaining the home of Australia’s next generation submarines. In fact, the AUKUS plan for Australia will create around 20,000 direct jobs over the next 30 years across industries, the Australian Defence Force and the Australian Public Service.

Nuclear powered submarines will be an Australian sovereign capability, commanded by the Royal Australian Navy and sustained by Australians in Australian shipyards. It’s fair to say that the government completely rejects this motion, because the government has not wavered from its commitment to protecting Australian sovereignty. In fact, acquiring nuclear powered submarines strengthens our sovereignty, ensuring that our self-reliance will continue and Australia will remain standing on its own two feet.

The government has already made significant progress in the past year needed to deliver under AUKUS. I want to run through it this afternoon. We passed the first tranche of enabling legislation back in June last year. We established the Australian Submarine Agency. We introduced four more tranches of legislation to support AUKUS pillars 1 and 2. We supported two cohorts of Royal Australian Navy personnel graduating from the US Nuclear Power School. We finalised the land exchange with South Australia to acquire land for the submarine construction yard in Osborne and began early works on the site. We launched the South Australia Defence Industry Workforce and Skills Report and we allocated over 4,000 additional Commonwealth-supported places to universities across Australia to build the skills for our build.

Importantly, the government is making practical progress under AUKUS pillar 2: Advanced capabilities, including 12 new initiatives announced by AUKUS defence ministers last December. This will ensure collaboration on the development of critical security capabilities, including undersea capabilities, quantum capabilities, artificial intelligence and autonomy, advanced cyber and electronic warfare. Further to that, the government is funding AUKUS pillars 1 and 2 to ensure we back in AUKUS with action.

It is important to remind the Senate that the former government wasted the better part of nine years and left Australia with an acute risk of capability gap and no plan to fix it. The Albanese Government fundamentally believes Australia’s interests lie in shaping a region that is peaceful, stable and prosperous, where no country dominates and no country is dominated. We are committed to maintaining peace, regional development, positive relationships and stability across our region, and to a peaceful and nuclear-weapons-free Pacific.

The Albanese Government is using all elements of our national power to shape the world in our interests and to shape it for the better. The government has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to the AUKUS alliance, and sovereignty is at the heart of national security. Protecting this will remain our priority.