House debates

Tuesday, 23 May 2023


Defence Legislation Amendment (Naval Nuclear Propulsion) Bill 2023; Second Reading

12:24 pm

Photo of Andrew HastieAndrew Hastie (Canning, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Defence) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Defence Legislation Amendment (Naval Nuclear Propulsion) Bill 2023. In less than a decade we will receive our first nuclear submarine, a Virginia class submarine, from the United States. This country has the task of becoming sovereign ready in that decade, which means we must be able to own, operate, regulate, maintain and dispose of a nuclear reactor. But that's in the early 2030s.

The first gate we need to get through is 2027, with the establishment of Submarine Rotational Force West, which is the uplift of HMAS Stirling in Perth from a conventional base to a nuclear base, to receive on a rotational basis up to four US and one UK nuclear submarine in Perth. During that time, we will be building our own sovereign capacity—first from an industrial perspective, second from a technological perspective—and of course building the workforce to support those two projects. We also need to build up our expertise and experience in the Royal Australian Navy and build our workforce so that we can actually crew these submarines in the future.

Admiral Mead, the commander of the submarine task force, at the News Corp Defending Australia forum last night stressed the importance of establishing Submarine Rotational Force West by 2027. He stressed the importance of establishing the workforce to support it, the infrastructure and also the regulatory framework. This bill is the first small step in the giant leap that we make towards becoming a nation that can operate nuclear submarines. It's a step towards becoming sovereign ready by the early 2030s.

Last night's Defending Australia forum was also attended by US Ambassador Caroline Kennedy and UK High Commissioner Vicki Treadell, good friends of our country. Their presence reflected their countries' keen interest in and support for AUKUS, and we can't let them down nor breach the trust that they have invested in Australia with the transfer of very sensitive technology in the form of nuclear reactors and all the attendant technology that will be resident on the Virginia class submarines.

Speed is of the essence, so we support this bill unamended as we see this bill as vital to the national interests and our long-term defence capability. What does this bill actually do? This bill will ensure that the relevant regulators, the CEO of ARPANSA, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency, and the Minister for the Environment and Water can exercise their powers if and when required in relation to Australia's nuclear powered submarines without the risk of litigation. We are turning the sod, as it were, in establishing a regulatory framework for our nuclear submarines. It's the first of many steps required to implement and support AUKUS.

The coalition wants to see works to prepare our nation for the arrival of nuclear submarines underway as quickly as possible, especially before 2027. Changes to legislation are required to start these urgent works, specifically in Western Australia at HMAS Stirling but also in South Australia in Osborne. The coalition has unequivocally supported the continuation of AUKUS and has committed to working on a bipartisan basis with the government to see it through to completion. So to play around with this bill, to play politics with this bill, to not support this bill is not in the national interest. I urge all members of this House to support this legislation in the best interest of our country.

This is a multigenerational task. It is truly a national endeavour. One of the people who made a speech last night at this Defending Australia forum was the South Australian Premier, Peter Malinauskas. It was a great speech, I've got to say. I do compliment him on it. I did so personally last night, but I do so in this House. In it he said:

AUKUS is a national endeavour. This is not just about expecting the Commonwealth to provide—state governments have to step up as well. SA is the defence state—we always have been, and we always will be. It is an honour and a responsibility that we do not take lightly, and we are already stepping up.

It's great to see the Premier accepting the responsibility of this national endeavour and driving it forward with leadership, and I wish the Western Australian Premier, Mark McGowan, would do the same, because quite frankly he has been absent from the discussion on AUKUS. It's a huge opportunity to diversify our state. I am a member from Western Australia, and Stirling is about 35 minutes north of my family home. I have a lot of naval personnel in my electorate and a lot of submariners. It's a huge opportunity to diversify our state. We're going to have to uplift our educational institutions. We're going to have to support an industry around the base. We're going to have to build an industrial base. We're not just a resources state. We're also embarking on this huge project and there is a lot of opportunity for Western Australians, so we need Premier Mark McGowan doing his job, leading and getting us ready.

There's also a huge need for more investment in housing. There's a massive shortage in Western Australia. There are children in my electorate living in caravan parks because their parents can't get a home. This is unacceptable. And we're about to see 1.5 million people migrate to this country, many of whom we'll need for this project. We're also going to see US and UK personnel, and their families, come to WA. Where are all these houses coming from? These are the sorts of things that the Premier must turn his mind to and start leading. I'm urging him to get on with the job and to show the sort of leadership that we saw from Peter Malinauskas last night.

I also want to make a comment on the parliament, and how we will make sure this legislation—this is just the first of many bills—will successfully find its way through both houses. I've written to the Minister for Defence, and I've asked him to establish a parliamentary joint committee for AUKUS, with statutory authority, secrecy provisions—a committee that would operate, in many ways, like the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. It'll be a committee where we can debate important legislation behind closed doors, as we have done for many years in the PJCIS. We could also hold hearings in camera, hearings that it's necessary to keep out of public view, with defence industry and defence personnel. And like the intelligence committee, we need to have some of those discussions out of view from our strategic adversaries.

I would encourage this government, given there is crossbench opposition to this, to reconsider the proposal to establish a parliamentary joint committee for AUKUS. I think it's a wise move and it will demonstrate that this parliament can adapt to the changing challenges before us. There will be turbulent times ahead, there always are, and we want to protect AUKUS from the turbulence of Australian political life.

Finally, while the coalition supports this bill in full and without amendment, it should be noted that the coalition is currently examining the merits of zero emissions nuclear energy forming part of our future energy mix. We want to see low emissions. We want to see reliable baseload power. And we want to see the cost of energy come down—not just for families, not just for small businesses, not just for industry, but specifically for the delivery of AUKUS. As seen in other countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, there are significant benefits to civilian nuclear-powered programs in strengthening support for navy nuclear programs in areas such as workforce development and sustainment. My colleague the shadow minister for climate change and energy shall address some of these issues in his contribution to the debate on this bill. He and I will continue to work closely together as the coalition's assessment of next-generation nuclear technology continues. We do support this, and I look forward to working with the government on the many other bills that will come before this House. Thank you.

Debate adjourned.


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