Opinion Article – The Weekend Australian – Australia’s Future Submarines

The safety and security of our nation is the first responsibility of Government and as

the newly appointed Defence Minister I take this responsibility very seriously. We can not be complacent – Australia is not immune from real and emerging global threats.

The Government recently announced an acquisition plan for the future submarine that has injected clarity and certainty into the project, while at the same time maximising Australian industry involvement.

This announcement represents a $50 billion investment in our safety and security – the largest Defence procurement investment in Australia’s history.  There will be more than 500 new high-skill jobs in Australia for the life of Australia’s future submarine programme; decades into the future.

Importantly for Australian industry, this decision provides a clear pathway so that involvement in this programme can be maximised.  There will be more jobs, more opportunities and long term certainty.

The Government expects that significant work will be undertaken in Australia during the build phase of the future submarine including combat system integration, design assurance and land based testing.

There will be significant opportunities arising from the support and maintenance of the submarine for decades through its life.  In dollar terms, this often accounts for two thirds of the total investment.

As a Government and as a nation, we have one chance to get this decision right.

Geographically we are an island continent, the world’s sixth-largest country by area. This unique geography means we have special requirements for Australia’s future submarines.

Australia’s national security and $1.6 trillion economy depends on secure sea lanes. Seventy per cent of Australia’s exported goods and services, by value, travel by sea, an export trade worth more than $220 billion in 2012-13. We are a maritime nation and we need maritime security.

By 2030, half of the world’s submarines will be in Australia’s broader strategic region.  We can not ignore the rising wealth of Indo-Pacific nations who are expanding their number of submarines.

For this reason, Australia’s submarine must give us a significant capability edge in our region as well as fulfil our unique geography and complex strategic outlook.

Submarines are the most complicated, sensitive and expensive Defence capability acquisition a Government can make in meeting that responsibility.  They are an essential component of Australia’s naval capability.

Australia needs submarines that are capable of stealth operations at long range over extended periods because they defend our interests far from our shores. They need to be powerfully armed and are an essential part of our national security capability now and into the future.

The complexity of Australia’s strategic environment means our defence planning has to cater for a range of possible contingencies, but particularly focussed on maintaining stability in our region. Submarines remain a logical and necessary investment in Australia’s wider defence capability.

By the Australian Submarine Corporation’s own admission they do not have the capacity to go it alone and build Australia’s next submarine.  That is one reason why the Government has announced that France, Germany, and Japan have emerged as potential international partners. All three countries have proven submarine design and build capabilities and are currently producing submarines.

The competitive evaluation process will ensure that capability, cost, schedule, and key strategic considerations, along with Australian industry involvement, are carefully and methodically considered, and avoid unnecessary delays to Australia’s Future Submarine Programme. Interoperability with our alliance partner, the United States, will also be a fundamental consideration.

A competitive evaluation process is the only way forward that ensures the best possible capability for the Navy and value for money to Australian taxpayers.

Because of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government’s refusal for 6 years to make a decision on the replacement for the Collins class submarines, we have a looming security and capability gap.

Labor’s Shadow Minister recently ‘upped periscope’ and called on the Government to undertake “a competitive tender process” for Australia’s future submarine.

In a sign of just how out of his depth Senator Conroy is, Defence has advised that the Programme could be delayed by at least five years if it were to go through a formal tender for the design and build.

So Senator Conroy would now add five years of delay to Labor’s six years of procrastination? He should explain how he would plug the capability gap created by his plan for further delay.

After six years of Labor inaction on Submarines, surely Senator Conroy does not want to risk Australia’s safety and security by delaying this programme further?

But it doesn’t end there.

Over the last six years, Defence spending dropped to levels not seen since 1938 – a cut or deferral of some $16 billion.  Under Labor defence spending as a share of GDP dropped to 1.56 per cent in the 2012-13 Budget – the lowest level since before WWII.

Under Labor the Australian defence industry shed more than 10% of its workforce because of budget cuts and deferrals, procrastination and lack of opportunity for Australian suppliers

Labor’s decisions led to 119 defence projects being delayed, 43 projects being reduced and eight projects cancelled, risking critical capability gaps

Labor’s ‘valley of death’ could be felt for years to come and, once again, it is up to a Coalition Government to fix Labor’s disaster.

I make this solemn pledge: this Government will not leave Australia undefended.