House debates

Thursday, 9 March 2023

Questions without Notice

Defence Procurement: Submarines

2:01 pm

Photo of Tracey RobertsTracey Roberts (Pearce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Acting Prime Minister. What is the importance of working with our partners in the United Kingdom and the United States to acquire nuclear-powered submarines?

2:02 pm

Photo of Richard MarlesRichard Marles (Corio, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for her question. Very shortly, the government will be announcing with the governments of the United States and United Kingdom the optimal pathway by which Australia will acquire a nuclear-powered submarine capability. This will bring to a conclusion the 18-month process under the banner of AUKUS which was commenced by the former government. I would like to acknowledge the member for Cook and I would like to acknowledge the Leader of the Opposition, because this is a moment that we want to be and that we know is a bipartisan moment of huge significance to our country. It is difficult to overstate the step that, as a nation, we are about to take.

Australia will become just the seventh country to have the ability to operate a nuclear-powered submarine. We have never operated a military capability at this level before. This will be a massive industrial endeavour which will see thousands of jobs created over the coming decades but, much more importantly, will contribute to the technological advancement of our wider economy. Clearly, these submarines will have the capability to operate at war, but the true intent of this capability is to provide for the stability and for the peace of our region—for the Pacific, for South-East Asia, for the Indian Ocean, for the broader Indo-Pacific region—because the defence of Australia doesn't really mean that much unless we can have the collective security of our region.

As a trading island nation, any adversary can do a whole lot of harm to Australia without ever setting foot upon our shores, which means, as a nation, we are deeply invested in the global rules based order which has underpinned the stability, the prosperity and the incredible economic growth of East Asia. The totality of our strategic intent is to defend that rules based order. I want to say at this moment to our neighbours and to our friends around the world that as Australia invests in its defence, as we acquire this nuclear-powered submarine capability, we do so as part of making our contribution to the peace and stability of our region and of the world.

2:04 pm

Photo of Peter DuttonPeter Dutton (Dickson, Liberal Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

on indulgence—The Acting Prime Minister gave me the courtesy of letting me know that he would make a statement in question time today on what, as he rightly points out, is a very significant step for our nation.

I too want to pay tribute to former Prime Minister Morrison, without whom AUKUS wouldn't have been a reality. The approach to the United Kingdom in the first instance, and through the United Kingdom to the United States, was the vision of Prime Minister Morrison. I pay tribute to him and the work that the National Security Committee did through endless hours of discussion, the work of the then foreign minister, Marise Payne, and the work of others sitting around the NSC table. The work of those who make us most proud, those in uniform, at Russell and in posts in London and in Washington in particular, threaded this together. The work of our ambassador in the United States, Joe Hockey and Arthur Sinodinos, and also of course the work of George Brandis in United Kingdom, all played integral roles.

Our desire, from the very first day of our discussions with our dearest partners in the United States and United Kingdom, was to achieve capability for our country that would underpin the security that we require in the current age in our region for generations to come. As the Acting Prime Minister and the Minister for Defence rightly pointed out, our neighbours should hear the very clear message that this is about providing peace and stability for our future and for theirs. Australia is a friend and partner—a valued friend and partner—to people within our region and across our partnerships, including the QUAD and our Five Eyes partnership, and that will always be the case. We are not an aggressive nation. We're a nation that strives for peace, and we have gone to the aid of allies and people who share our values, including most recently in Ukraine.

I commend the work of the defence minister and the engagement that he has had with our very important partner—with Lloyd Austin and Ben Wallace, two people for whom I have a great deal of regard and with whom I worked very closely. Their systems, the support they have provided us, those people in the White House, some of whom would want to be recognised, others who I suspect are happy to fly beneath the radar—they made this a reality for our country. This is an effort where the Australian public can see the two major parties in this country working together in our nation's best interests. We will support the decisions of government under AUKUS, and we will fight to make sure that the outcome is achieved as quickly as possible.