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November 09, 2021

 PATRICIA KARVELAS: Brendan O'Connor is the Shadow Minister for Defence and he joins us this evening. Welcome.
KARVELAS: You've just finished a speech to the Submarine Institute of Australia conference on this topic. The Minister today said the submarines will be built in South Australia. How confident are you that that will be the case?
O'CONNOR: Well, it's a long way off. Obviously, we wouldn't have the capability right now to do that. And frankly, I think it's fair to say that some of the nuclear components of that submarine would be built in either the United States or United Kingdom. So I think the Government should come clean as to exactly what they are proposing.
Now, you know there's an 18 month review. So we might find out more, we'll get information. At the moment the Opposition does not get the same information provided to it as the Government does, so they're better placed. My concern right now though, PK, is that we've got a gap between the existing Collins Class and even getting to the AUKUS submarines. And I think we need to look at that.
As for the Defence industry, the Minister's claim that they're looking after the existing workers, that support is only to a proportion of those workers and for the moment only for three months. That will not keep them attached to the Defence industry if they want to keep them there for them to ensure that they're working on future submarines in the future.
KARVELAS: Okay, there are those significantly concerned in the Defence sector about Australia's capability to build nuclear submarines. As you just said, you know, you think some of that will have to happen overseas. So if it does have to happen overseas, how large is the capability gap? And how many jobs does that leave for Australians?
O'CONNOR: I think that is, of course, an evolving question, depending on what we do to invest in skills. I mean, I think the first thing to say is this, whatever we do, we should be ensuring that those workers and those SMEs that have lost their contracts as a result of the termination of the Naval Group project should be, wherever possible, maintained, that is connected to this industry, that's the first thing.
The second thing is, as you know, the Government should have made a decision on extending the life of the Collins Class, as Defence advised back in 2015. This year they've announced that. That's a delayed decision but it's still important because that means there'll be work that needed to be done on extending the life of the existing submarines. That's also important to maintain the workforce and the skills in this country and in Adelaide in particular. So that's important as well.
Too many Defence experts are questioning whether we can bridge the gap between the existing submarines and these new proposed nuclear propelled submarines. So the Government has to answer that question. It has yet to answer that let alone to answer what to what extent we will build the nuclear propelled submarines in this country.
KARVELAS: The detail about how many South Australian jobs will be affected by the AUKUS deal has been murky. Has there been any clarity on it?
O'CONNOR: We got some information from Senate Estimates. So I'm advised that there's a proportion of those that are losing their jobs because of the termination of the contract with the French government, with Naval Group. But it's about half, and they're only looking after them for about three months. And that was the program that the Defence Industry Minister referred to in the quote you just play at the beginning of this segment. That's not enough to maintain support and maintain the attachment to the industry of those very skilled workers. So we need to look to do more now.
As you know, I think you know this PK, that Labor has sought to be part of the 18 month review. We wrote to the Government and said look, this project will go on for decades. It should be a bipartisan approach. It will be Labor and Coalition governments in that time most likely. Let's try and do that. Now that has been declined and I think that's disappointing. I hope the Government changes its mind and brings Labor in. We said if they were to do that we would do the same if we were to win the election. That would be a useful thing so we've got a bipartisan approach to the largest procurement project in our history.
KARVELAS: In your speech, you state that the onshore and submariner force needs to more than double in size to ensure there is appropriate skills and experience. How did you reach that conclusion and how do we do that?
O'CONNOR: Well, there's a series of experts. Firstly we know we're already down submariners for the existing Collins Class. So we know that we're not even sufficiently at an optimal level if you like to crew these submarines now. So that's the first thing. Secondly, of course, we're looking at more boats, that is more submarines, larger submarines. Therefore, we will need not only more submariners, they will have to be highly trained, at a level that is in excess of the training levels and competencies that is required now of submariners.
So there's a huge task to be undertaken to get us up to speed both in scale and competence to crew those new submarines and that's something we need to start immediately.
KARVELAS: Just finally, before I let you go on another issue, which has emerged literally as we've gone to air. We know that Scott Morrison is on his first trip to Victoria, you're a Victorian MP. That's not really entirely  - in several months sorry I should be clear, not his first ever trip to Victoria. Because of the lockdowns, it's been very difficult. He's here, he made this announcement on electric vehicles today. I know that he's not meeting with Daniel Andrews in Victoria. Does that strike you as unusual that they're not having a meeting?
O'CONNOR: Well, I'm not sure what reason that there would be for them not to meet. It seems to me they've sought to work together through the National Cabinet and they've got mutually overlapping areas of interest and priorities. So I'm not sure if  there was a decline of any invitation but I would hope that the Prime Minister saw that it was important to work with the Victorian Government, as with every state government, to rebuild our economy and continue to deal with the challenge that is the pandemic.
I know we're doing very well, but we've still got some more to do. And I'm surprised that the Prime Minister's chosen not to meet the Premier, if indeed there wasn't an invitation to do so.
KARVELAS: Yeah, so we don't know if it was the other way around either. I mean, we just don't know yet.
O'CONNOR: They should work together. I imagine they do, but I am surprised. It's good to see the Prime Minister in Victoria. It seems to be a long time since he's been here.
KARVELAS: It's not been easy to get here. Thank you so much for joining us.
O'CONNOR: Thanks PK.