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Read all the latest news from Brendan O'Connor MP


December 16, 2021

TONY PILKINGTON, HOST: Brendan, good morning and welcome to Five AA.


PILKINGTON: Now tell us, okay, you agree with the idea that we go nuclear subs. I think a lot of people are saying this is the logical thing to do. You, the Opposition, have got no objection to that?

O'CONNOR: No we don't. We support the AUKUS announcement we're getting. We just want to make sure it's properly implemented. And we want to make sure, Tony, that we get as many Defence jobs, Defence industry jobs, from the arrangements we put in place, whether it's AUKUS or other Defence decisions.

PILKINGTON: What feedback are you getting? What are you hearing from the Government? The Government seemed to be a bit willy nilly on this, not quite prepared to come out and guarantee the jobs in South Australia. What are you hearing?

O'CONNOR: Well, I think, as we know, the Government can announce things, but it doesn't always follow through. What we're asking the Government to do, to be clear and to be upfront about what it means for the Defence industry, whether it's in Adelaide or other parts of the nation.

What we do know is if we have got the challenges that the Government suggests we do, and I agree that things have changed quite rapidly in the region, then we should be probably talking less and doing more. We should be, for example, ensuring that when we have Defence contracts, especially the very large, expensive taxpayer paid for Defence contracts, we need to leverage those contracts for more local jobs.

Why? One, of course, it's good for our economy and employment, but it's also important that we have the capability to build and maintain Defence assets here. That's critical. I think if the pandemic has shown us anything, supply chains can be affected any time, and particularly if there was a time of conflict. So we need to be able to do more, build more, and we'd like to see more enforceable provisions in those contracts so locals get jobs. We're talking about well-paid high skilled jobs, as you know, and I'm seeing them in Adelaide. I was at BAE yesterday, I'm at Lockheed Martin and Saab today, three prime Defence industry companies employing Australians in well paid, highly skilled jobs.

PILKINGTON: We heard in the Senate estimates that there are as many as 1500 Adelaide workers on the Future Submarine program who no longer have a job. Now, that really bothers us here in South Australia. It really does.

O'CONNOR: And it should, and what we've asked the Government to do is to provide a clear view as to what's to happen. What will happen for those workers? So what they've done to date is they've given some support for 300 workers, but only for three months. The remainder have not been provided any support. Now we cannot afford to lose those skills. We do not want to see those workers and their families heading into Christmas without work.

We know how much money we spend in Defence, surely, we can keep attached to the Defence industry these highly skilled, hardworking, Defence industry workers. That seems to be something that Government needs to commit to.

As I understand the Minister might be in town this week, he might be here today. He's around anyway. He should be asked what is going to happen to those workers? There's no point talking up a big game if you're letting go and making redundant and sacking Australian workers in the Defence industry.

PILKINGTON: We're talking with the Shadow Defence Minister who's here in Adelaide, Brendan O'Connor, at 13 past 10. Brendan, do you agree with Greg Sheridan, we talk to Greg regularly on the morning show, and he says the there's a real significant capability gap for these new submarines between now and when they eventually get in the water in perhaps 10, 15, 20 years’ time. Do you agree that we've got this, as he calls it, a significant capability gap?

O'CONNOR: I do think there are capability gaps in our Defence Force and I do think it's important therefore - So for example, let's just take the submarines, we went to the Japanese, then we went to the French, and we then terminated the French contract, which of course has had adverse impacts on workers and businesses here. Now we've engaged with the US and UK under AUKUS, which again, Labor supports, but we need to know more of the detail. We've yet to hear that.

What Greg Sheridan has made clear, though, is there's a yawning gap between the war rhetoric of the Government and their delivery of Defence assets. And one of the reasons for that is the current Minister is the sixth Defence Minister in eight years. In fact, under Scott Morrison, he's had four Defence Ministers. Therefore, there's been a lack of continuity and focus and coherence in terms of Defence planning. And we need to see the Government do better here.

We just can't see them delivering. If you think about it, we have spent billions on the Attack Class, which was the French contract. That's gone by the wayside. They're $10 billion behind in the frigate program. These have got delays and then you talk about the gap between the Collins Class, even if there is a Life of Type Extension to them, and whatever comes out under AUKUS there does seem to be a gap.

Obviously, we need to be briefed fully. And if we were elected, if there's an Albanese Labor Government after the next election, we will be immediately briefed about what we need to do between the Collins Class, and anything that's coming out under the AUKUS announcement.

PILKINGTON: If you're elected to Government, will you guarantee that the jobs will stay with us here in Adelaide here in South Australia? Will you guarantee?

O'CONNOR: I can guarantee you this, we want to see the Defence industry grow. We want to see the Defence industry grow for national security reasons. We want to see the industry grow so that we've got highly skilled, well paid jobs in Adelaide.

PILKINGTON: So will all of that mean that the jobs will stay here in Adelaide, here in South Australia?

O'CONNOR: I think you're going to see, because there's $270 billion down the pipeline, we should be seeing an increase - a maintenance and an increase - to local employment. What should have happened, these contracts Tony, there should have been enforceable local Defence provisions inside the contracts when they're negotiated. Our commitment will be to increase local employment and local businesses.

PILKINGTON: That's what we want to hear, that's what we want to hear.

O'CONNOR: Obviously, for the workers it's critical, for the businesses that are here, the small and medium enterprises, I like to think one day we can have prime Defence industry companies that are Australian companies. And I also think it's not just for the economy and for employment. If, as we know, as the Defence White Paper and the Strategic Update has made clear, things have got more challenging in the region we need to talk less and do more. And one of the things we need to do, Tony, is we need to build better sovereign capability in this country so we can make things here and maintain them here. Even export things.

Yesterday, I was at BAE looking at a Defence product that we export to the United States. We need to be doing more of that. We sometimes doubt ourselves, we should not. We've got a great record and Adelaide has a remarkable record in manufacturing. We should be encouraging that and cultivating that and that's what an Albanese Labor Government will be doing.

PILKINGTON: I like the idea of talk less and do more. Brendan O'Connor, the Shadow Defence Minister in Adelaide at the moment.