House of Assembly: Thursday, March 09, 2023


Question Time

AUKUS Submarines

The Hon. D.J. SPEIRS (Black—Leader of the Opposition) (14:04): My question is to the Premier. Has the Premier received assurances from the Prime Minister that at least eight AUKUS submarines will be built at Osborne? With your leave, sir, and that of the house, I will explain.

Leave granted.

The Hon. D.J. SPEIRS: On 26 September last year, the Premier was asked on ABC radio whether Australia would buy submarines off the shelf from the USA and then that the ones after that will be built in South Australia. The Premier responded, and I quote:

I don't think there is any possibility this will occur…the Labor Party went to the May federal election committing to building new nuclear submarines in Adelaide ASAP…as quickly as possible.

The Hon. P.B. MALINAUSKAS (Croydon—Premier) (14:05): I do thank the Leader of the Opposition for his question because this is probably one of the most important projects and topics of discussion that I think we will see in South Australia in decades. The short answer to the Leader of the Opposition's question is: yes, absolutely, I have sought assurances from the Prime Minister of Australia regarding the building of AUKUS submarines here in Adelaide. That's the short, without equivocation, answer.

In respect to the response from the Prime Minister: yes, he has given me assurances that the federal government is committed to building AUKUS submarines here in Australia. I can elaborate with a little bit more detail on the commitments that I have received from the current federal government. I am in receipt of no information that suggests for one moment that the federal government is not committed to building nuclear submarines here ASAP.

I don't mind saying in this forum that I will be completely astounded and totally blindsided if the commonwealth has a departure from that policy. Should they depart from that policy, which I don't believe they will, not for a moment, but should they depart from that policy, then I will be rather forthright in my advocacy on behalf of South Australia, if that occurs.

I am not too fussed about whether there is a federal Coalition government or a federal Labor government in charge in Canberra; building nuclear submarines here in South Australia is the right thing to do, not just for South Australia but for our nation's security. It is a policy that I wholeheartedly support, as I would expect members opposite would wholeheartedly support. We will make sure that we do everything we can to lock that in.

Having said that, I don't think South Australians have any reason for any apprehension that the commonwealth won't deliver on its commitment to building nuclear submarines here in Adelaide ASAP. Naturally, the Leader of the Opposition's question arises at a time that we are seeing media speculation over the course of the last few hours about the prospect of what the commonwealth is doing to plug the capability gap. This is something that is well documented. There is a capability gap from when the Collins class submarine will no longer be able to meet the requirements of the Australian Navy versus when the new AUKUS submarines will start coming off the production line here at Osborne. There is a gap that needs to be filled.

I think it would be irresponsible for anybody, not the least of which the Premier of the state, to not acknowledge that that is a gap that is worthy of being addressed, particularly in the context of the geopolitical uncertainty that now exists, not just globally but right here within our region.

As I made clear in a speech I gave a couple of weeks ago at the Building a Bigger, Better South Australia forum, hosted by the Adelaide Advertiser, I think that as a state it's important that we focus on what matters most to the future of our state when it comes to the AUKUS arrangement. That is to say, we shouldn't be preoccupied about what the commonwealth decides to do to plug the capability gap, although that is of interest. What really matters is what the commonwealth is doing in terms of real action to deliver us the submarine production line here in South Australia.

We know that there is no example anywhere in the world of a nuclear submarine production line commencing the delivery of submarines and then stopping. Once these production lines start, they do not stop, which is why the nuclear submarine proposition is a more enticing one than a conventionally powered submarine proposition. We want that work here in Adelaide, we are ready to deliver that work here in Adelaide, and it's our firm expectation that the commonwealth honour its promise.