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Read all the latest news from Brendan O'Connor MP


April 08, 2022

DAVID BEVAN: Brendan O'Connor is the Shadow Defence Minister. He may well be the Defence Minister in a few weeks time, depending on the outcome of the Election. He joins us now. Good morning, Brendan O'Connor. 


BEVAN: Well, what do you make of the Prime Minister's promise? He says, Look, let me make it absolutely clear. And I don't want to be taken out of context by mischievous people. We will build as much of them in South Australia as we possibly can.

O’CONNOR: Yeah, I think he means Ben Packham from The Australian is being mischievous. But the fact is that Scott Morrison is walking away from his earlier commitments. Rex Patrick is correct. They make announcements, and then they renege on those announcements, and therefore, the people of South Australia shouldn't have any confidence that what he now says is going to happen if they're re-elected. The fact is, we've seen a cancellation of a Attack Class which has cost the taxpayers $5.5 billion, with not a sub that has resulted from that investment. We've seen that the delays on the extending the life of type extension to the to the Collins Class submarines, which could have meant more work. By cancelling the Attack Class, there's 470, South Australian jobs lost and businesses have been badly affected.

Labor has sought to be part of the AUKUS process. In fact, we wrote to the Prime Minister saying, given that there is an election that intersects the 18 month review about the subs, let's work together and that was rejected by the Prime Minister. I think that was a disappointing decision by him. So we are left with a situation where Labor's in the dark in terms of the process that's going on under the AUKUS review in terms of which submarine we choose. And we have a government that really doesn't support manufacturing. I mean, within months of being elected in 2013, that long ago, they closed down the car industry, we don't have any confidence they're going to invest in local tenders.

BEVAN: Well, is Labor, promising South Australians, that the next generation of submarines, nuclear powered, will be built in South Australia, to what degree?

O’CONNOR: Yeah, and I think, look, firstly, it's a difficult thing to do from Opposition to know exactly what can be done. But I can give you this commitment, anything that can be capably done here will be done here. And certainly South Australia is the home of submarines. 

BEVAN: Well, that's identical to the Prime Minister. He's saying that we'll do as much as we, possibly can.

O’CONNOR: Well look, let me just finish, please. I'm saying to you that if there's something like the nuclear component of a nuclear submarine, if we don't have the capability of that, at this point in time, it cannot be built here, well that's just a matter of fact. But what we will do, the difference between the contract entered into between the Government, for example, and the French company, on the Attack Class, as Rex just recently said, did not have any enforceable provisions for local content, not one mandatory requirement to have things built here. Whereas we're making commitments, that upon being briefed by all the national security agencies will put into any future contract, enforceable provisions about local content. So if it can be built here, it will be built here. If there are parts that we cannot build at this point in time, well, there'll be built elsewhere. But over time, particularly a 30 year contract, you can increase the local content, as long as you invest in skills and continue to invest in expanding your capability.

BEVAN: So Labor's promise is, if it can be built here, it will be built here?

O’CONNOR: That's correct. 

BEVAN: Okay. How's that different from the Prime Minister saying, and we will build as much of them in South Australia we possibly can? 

O’CONNOR: Well, the difference is the record, the record of the Government is that they don't build things here. They closed the car industry. They walked away from Defence industry. They've, in fact, they've been buying things off the shelf when it wasn't required. They didn't have any enforceable provisions in any of the long term contracts for local content.

BEVAN: Labor's record is you didn't order the next generation of submarines.

O’CONNOR: But we started that. Firstly, we had to renovate all the Collins Class that had been in disrepair under the Howard years. That's the reality, they were not even in the water. So that was our first priority and we did that. And then we made the announcement. But obviously, that was the tail end of our term. But the Government has been in for almost a decade, David, and they've gone to three different countries, now from the Japanese to the French, and now an option between UK and United States. But there'll be no announcement on the submarines, and now there's no clarity as to whether there'll be anything built in Australia.

BEVAN: Is there any is there any doubt over Labor's commitment to nuclear powered submarines?


BEVAN: So, despite $5 billion being wasted. Well, circumstances have changed. The contract with the French has been cancelled, we won't revisit that. We're committed to building nuclear powered submarines.

O’CONNOR: That's right. We went through Shadow Cabinet and Caucus and we adopted that position. It's in our national interest, David. But to that extent, we do agree with the Government. And that's why we're disappointed that Government does not want to include us in in that review, to get to that point of choosing the submarines.

BEVAN: And you're asking people to think there's a substantive difference between the Prime Minister saying we'll build as much as we possibly can, and Brendan O'Connor and Anthony Albanese saying, if we can build it here, we'll build it here.

O’CONNOR: But only if we can. We will also invest so that we can build more of our Defence assets over time and you've got to build up a local industry that has been depleted by lack of investment. And by the way, it's not just the Attack Class that was cancelled, just last week, in the Budget, they cancelled the Sky Guardian, the only armed drone program we have in order to pay for the cyber announcement. You do not cut the Defence asset that's critical to our national security and do it secretly, it was only uncovered during Senator Estimates. And that's another 150 jobs lost in South Australia because of the cancellation of the armed drone program. So it's happening all over the Defence area. But governments are making announcements but secretly cutting other initiatives.