Interview with Jane Marwick, 6PR

16 Sep 2021
Prime Minister

Jane Marwick: Scott Morrison, good afternoon and welcome, PM Good afternoon. 

Prime Minister: Good afternoon. It's great to be with you. G'day Western Australia. 

Marwick: Prime Minister, this big announcement from you today, Australia will acquire at least eight nuclear powered submarines in a once in a generation decision that will deliver the nation unprecedented strike capability and a significant boost to defence spending. Now, there has been criticism from our Premier Mark McGowan. I'll play you a bit of that in a moment. But these new nuclear subs will be delivered under this historic defence technology partnership between Australia, the US and the United Kingdom called AUKUS, to meet rising Chinese strategic threats. Now, I know that you did pick up the phone today to Premier McGowan. Let's have a listen to what the Premier said in parliament. 

[excerpt plays]

Marwick: Prime Minister, have you let the great state of Western Australia down? 

Prime Minister: No, of course not. I mean, that can't be sustained. The facts just don't bear it up. Let me run through what we're building in Western Australia. The Arafura class offshore patrol vessels, that's worth $3.9 billion. The Guardian class patrol boats that's, $510 million. The Evolved Cape class boats, they're $343 million. There's the ANZAC Class sustainment. That's $338 million per annum. There's the undersea surveillance support ships. That's between $6-9 billion. There's the future mine warfare and hydrographic vessels. That's between $4.3-6.4 billion. There's the joint support ships, it's a long list, I'm sorry, you'll have to be patient as I run through it. That's $5.1-7.7 billion. There's the replacement LHD landing craft. That's $400-600 million. There's the Ocean Protector replacement. That's $400-650 million. There's a Future Army water and landing craft, there's $1.9-2.8 billion and the forward support vessel between $500-750 million. 

Now, on top of that, there's the Collins class intermediate mid cycle docking arrangement. That's 500 jobs and that goes through until the mid-2040s. And very importantly, a project which the Premier knows full well that we're very supportive of working together with him on. And that is the large vessel dry berth infrastructure, which means that Henderson becomes such an important part of our naval shipbuilding capability. Now, look, this isn't something that we should be playing politics with. Anthony Albanese can make his own points in Western Australia. He doesn't need the Premier to help him do that. I just want to work with the Premier to do good things for Western Australia. We've done that on many occasions. The Premier and I have worked on many great projects for Western Australia and we'll continue to do that. And I look forward to doing that. I rang him this morning out of sheer courtesy because he and I had been discussing the full cycle docking issue for some period of time. I told him on my last visit to WA, that that decision couldn't be made until a higher level strategic decision had been made. We've obviously made that now in relation to the nuclear powered submarines, and that led to us now making the decision on full cycle docking. But of the many other projects that we're going, Western Australia is a massive part of our naval shipbuilding programme. And the Premier knows that. 

Marwick: Prime Minister, are you disappointed that he said that the Liberals and Nationals have turned their backs on Western Australians? 

Prime Minister: Well, it's just politics, that's all it is. There's an election coming up next year. You'll probably hear a lot more of that. But I think what Western Australians want us both to do is just get on with projects that are important for Western Australia. And that's exactly what I've always sought to do. And on so many occasions, I believe the Premier has also. We've done a lot of important work together. And at the end of the day, it was the federal government, my government that delivered the GST deal for Western Australia and has guaranteed that deal. And that's something that the Western Australian Premier would know very well because it's a massive part of his surplus this year. 

Marwick: Prime Minister, this is clearly a lot to do with China. This is clearly very, very strategic. At what point in government did you realise how present and real the threat from China is? 

Prime Minister: Well, that's not what I've said today, and that's certainly not how I’ve couched the announcements today. And nor has President Biden or Prime Minister Johnson. What we've done is announced a partnership between the three of us to ensure that we can contribute to peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific. And Western Australians understand that, probably even more so than right around the country. You're on the Indian Ocean. The Indo-Pacific is very real in Western Australia and particularly our friends and partners up through the ASEAN countries and South East Asia and Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia. These are places that Western Australians know very, very well and have a deep affinity for. And so what we're doing together is providing stability and stability brings the peace, which enables the whole region to just get on with what we all want to achieve. And that is what is the best for our people. 

Marwick: What do we know about these nuclear subs that we're going to order? 

Prime Minister: Well, it's be using technology which is drawn from both the United Kingdom and the United States, and that will be worked up over the next 18 months. What I think is really important about this, is the United States has only ever once enabled access to the technology for nuclear powered submarines, and that was to the United Kingdom in 1958. Plenty have sought this support in the past and the answer has always been no. And indeed, Australia has been keen on having this capability for some time. This is the first time ever that we've been afforded the opportunity to access this technology, and that is a significant leap forward for Australia. 

It is enormously significant for our future defence capabilities, but it's not just about the nuclear powered submarines. I should stress they're nuclear powered, they’re conventional weapons that would be on board the nuclear powered submarines. It does not require us to have a civil nuclear capability here in Australia. That is another key game changing issue that has occurred since 2016, when we previously made the decision about the conventional submarines, the Attack Class from the French based Naval Group. So a lot has changed over that period of the last five years. And so this technology that we'll be able to access will be worked up as to the best pathway forward of the available technologies and designs that are available from the United States and the United Kingdom. 

Marwick: Earlier this week, Anthony Albanese said that he would make climate change a hallmark of the US-Australia alliance if he wins the next election. Does an announcement, an announcement like this blow that out of the water? 

Prime Minister: Well, look, of course, climate change is important. I believe climate change is important, my government does. It's important that we transform our energy economy as the world transforms its energy economy over the next 30 years. We understand that. The Americans understand that, too, and are taking a strong position, as are the United Kingdom. But when it comes to the alliance relationship we have with the United States, it is grounded in one thing first and foremost, and that is our national security. And that has always driven that partnership from when Robert Menzies first secured the ANZUS Agreement 70 years ago, and indeed before that time, when it was Prime Minister Curtin from Western Australia, who really was the first to engage in that pivot towards the United States. So I think I'm in good company with Curtin and Menzies and in so many fine prime ministers since, in particular John Howard. 

Marwick: Well, speaking of fine prime ministers of the past, this French sub deal that we've now just put on the scrap heap under Prime Minister Turnbull and ably assisted by Christopher Pyne has cost us, what, $2.4 billion and many years, how much has that cost us? 

Prime Minister: $2.4 billion. That's why we said today, that was an important investment that has enabled us to be where we are today. And that investment has been building up our people, their skills, their abilities, and much has been gained from that. And we wouldn't be able to be where we are today had we not done so. 

Marwick: So that money was well spent, the $2.4 billion?

Prime Minister: In 2016, the option of having a nuclear powered submarine was not available. It wasn't on the table. We couldn't access that technology. We had to go forward with the best possible conventional submarine that was available to Australia, and that was the Attack Class submarine from France. And a lot has changed since 2016. And I'm sure you would agree, I'm sure your listeners would agree that if we have the opportunity now, you have gates in contracts for a reason and we were approaching a very important, effectively final gate on that contract, from which there was no point of return. And to have that opportunity to go down the nuclear submarine pathway, it was incredibly important. And the decision had to be made to ensure that we did that and to do that then obviously, we couldn't proceed with the Attack Class submarine programme.

Marwick: Prime Minister, we're out of time. Thank you for joining us this afternoon on 882 6PR. Let's hope, let's hope that you and the Premier can be friends again. 

Prime Minister: Oh, we already are friends, we're always good friends and we get on just fine. And politics will go round and round and round. But the Premier and I will keep getting things done for Western Australia. 

Marwick: All right. Good to talk to you. Thank you. There he is, the Prime Minister Scott Morrison.