House debates

Tuesday, 14 February 2023

Ministerial Statements

National Security

5:31 pm

Photo of James StevensJames Stevens (Sturt, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

STEVENS () (): I take the opportunity to talk about defence sovereign capability at every opportunity in this place, particularly as a proud member from the city of Adelaide, and it won't surprise members that I'd like to focus my remarks on naval capability—where we've been, where we are and where we are going to—from a sovereign capability point of view.

It's vital for any nation to have sovereign capability to produce the major assets, the major capabilities that underpin our national security capacity. Not surprisingly, that wasn't always the case in Australia's history. In the early days of the Royal Australian Navy, the United Kingdom was the provider of most of our major capital ships and our technical capability and capacity. The Oberon class submarines that preceded the current Collins class submarines were a British vessel. But it has been the case that over the last few decades we have dramatically developed our own capability in naval shipbuilding in Australia, and this is vitally important for our future.

The Collins class submarines were conceived and built in Adelaide, and that was really the milestone decision of the federal government, the Hawke government—I give them credit for that, of course—to develop a naval shipbuilding capability centred on Adelaide, and the future for that couldn't be brighter going forward. We have six Collins class boats, as they've informed me submarines are called—not vessels or ships but boats—which were all built in Adelaide and continue to be maintained in Adelaide. The full-cycle docking that occurs there is effectively a complete rebuild of the submarine. They take the boat out of the water, crack into the pressure hull, which is a very significant thing to do, and when the full-cycle docking happens every 10 years on each of those six that is a major ongoing piece of engineering capability that we have in South Australia. Frankly, it is as significant, some say even more significant, than the original construction of the submarines themselves, such is the significance of full-cycle docking, which happens a couple of times in the lifetimes of those submarines.

And the Collins? The previous government made the important commitment, which I understand this government is sticking with, to the life-of-type extension to the Collins which we need in order for the Collins to still be the capable boats, the capable submarines, that the Navy need while we transition to nuclear propulsion. This is also happening in South Australia. I was very engaged in the campaign, to make sure the awareness was there within the decision-making structures of Navy, Defence and the then government, that the commitment to keep that in South Australia was maintained. Indeed, that commitment was made at the same time as the announcement of AUKUS.

The air warfare destroyers—all three—were also built in Adelaide, and so from a surface vessel point of view we are also very proud in South Australia of the capability that we have for surface vessel construction. That was underscored by the decision, in 2015, that the nine future frigates would be built in Adelaide. That was a very welcome decision, a very significant decision, to replace the Anzac class frigates. There are nine Hunter class type 26 based variant frigates to be built in Adelaide, by BAE and their partners, including the ASC, and that was a very exciting decision for South Australia.

When you add the extremely exciting opportunity of constructing submarines that now will be nuclear propelled submarines in Adelaide, we are unquestionably the major naval shipbuilding hub of at least the Southern Hemisphere—and, in some metrics, one of the largest and most diverse naval shipbuilding capabilities on the planet. There are not too many shipyards, anywhere, that are building the variety of vessels that we have the capability to build in Adelaide. In the last decade or so, naval shipbuilding capability has completely consolidated to my home city of Adelaide, my home state of South Australia, and it wouldn't surprise the chamber to know I'm very excited about that. It is an enormous opportunity, from an industry point of view, for my home state.

What it also underscores is the significance and how far we've come, when it comes to sovereign capability, in naval shipbuilding. We will have, in the Royal Australian Navy, every vessel—and any decisions, into the future, I am confident, will also involve national sovereign construction, here in this nation, centred in Adelaide. What that means is the Royal Australian Navy's capability is all sovereignly constructed and maintained and means that—whilst we're very committed to the alliances that we have and they are very important to us—the fundamental capability of the Royal Australian Navy relies on no-one but the people of this country. It means that none of the decisions that might need to be made, from a national security point of view, in the interests of our country, are ever going to be reliant on anyone else other than our sovereign capability. That is what this debate is about, in taking note of that statement.

We've all made contributions in committing towards the bipartisan imperative of sovereign capability of our national security. That doesn't mean that we don't want to take the opportunity of acquiring the absolutely best capability that is available. We are very lucky, and it's one of the very significant elements of our important alliances, particularly now within the AUKUS framework, that we will always seek to get the best capability and the best technology for our armed forces, both the technology that's developed here and that which is available from our major allies and partners.

The United States and the United Kingdom have made the decision, through the AUKUS structure, to provide us with an unbelievable capability that we would have no ability to develop ourselves, which is the nuclear propulsion of submarines for the future submarine capability of our Navy, and that is a great example of the benefit of that. But we're equally proud of the technology, research, development and capability that we are creating here in Australia.

We're a valued partner to a nation like the United States, evidenced by their decision to entrust us with this very closely guarded technology around nuclear propulsion and the other partnerships we have with them. The most important thing is that they are also entrusting us, and we are working with them, on developing capability to manufacture that capability here in Australia and have the sovereignty underpinned by that local domestic capability.

We're also investing in and ensuring that the defence sector industry in Australia is capable of meeting those needs and is producing all of that capability here. I've got some great defence firms in my electorate. All members, no doubt, have stories of SMEs and businesses that people have created which are employing people and contributing into the supply chains that are providing that national security capability at the highest standard, but which are also getting the economic dividend that is very important with the enormous amount of expenditure involved in defence capability here within the Australian economy.

We always want to make sure that we've got the highest standard of capability. We also want to make sure, from both a national security point of view and an economic point of view, that the enormous amount of investment we are making is giving the most significant economic dividend and that we've got the security of having that capability within our nation so that we're never reliant on anyone else except for ourselves. That is something that I'm very confident will always be bipartisan in this place. In all the major discussions and debates we have, I'm very confident that there will always be a complete consensus on the importance of Australians having the capability to make our own decisions in our own interests, without having to rely on anyone else. That is what sovereignty is all about, and on that basis I commend this motion to the House.


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