SENATOR THE HONOURABLE CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS
i3Net Defence Industry Breakfast Speech Closing Remarks
11th March 2022
Defence Industry, Small Businesses, The Illawarra and Shoalhaven Area, Naval Base, Port Kembla
Can I just start by thanking you, David; to you and to your i3net team, to your CEO, to all your staff. Thank you for the opportunity to participate this morning but more importantly for bringing this event together.
Can I acknowledge the Lord Mayor, he had to leave; to Councillor John Dorahy; and also can I acknowledge Michael Cains, the Liberal Candidate for Whitlam; the many distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
Can I first start, on behalf of the Government, to acknowledge the long history of continued industrial support that businesses in this region have provided to Defence over a long period of time.
The Illawarra/Shoalhaven is home to a small yet diverse and mature defence industry. Capabilities include naval aviation, land deployable infrastructure, electronic warfare, steel manufacturing and professional services and of course, the growth of innovation which we have seen through the University of Wollongong.
Now the companies such as are here this morning are excellent examples of the diverse nature of this local industrial capability that continues to support and grow the defence sector.
This morning we have witnessed an excellent overview of defence capabilities in the Illawarra and the Shoalhaven area. It confirms our ability to facilitate the advent of nuclear-powered submarines at Port Kembla.
Each of the speakers gave a very good synopsis of the capabilities and potential opportunities in the Illawarra. This has stood us in excellent stead to have been named one of the three preferred sites for the location of the submarine base.
It would also result in increased opportunities should Port Kembla be the successful choice by Government.
Let us be comforted by the fact that Port Kembla is reported to be the preferred option of the Department of Defence.
However, we must not be complacent and indeed, we must keep up the pressure on the political component of this very important campaign.
I first raised the issue regarding a naval presence at Port Kembla in 2006. Now that was a long time ago. Since 2015, I have been actively advocating for a drawdown of the Garden Island facility in Sydney.
More particularly, to relocate the refit facility and dry-dock components in order to establish a naval base at Port Kembla.
Further, my proposal received considerable political bi-partisanship and has been supported and advanced by the RDA and local stakeholders.
Can I take the opportunity to commend RDA CEO Deb Murphy—Deb where are you? Over there—and her team for the fabulous work that they’ve done.
And I have to say Deb, your op-ed piece in the Sydney Morning Herald on 8 March is an excellent summary of the case for Port Kembla, especially how the nuclear risk can be managed.
We ought not to allow the emotive nuclear factor to derail our efforts because the emotive nuclear weapons argument has already been used as a vehicle in an attempt to derail this mission.
You may recall John Howard tried to establish a nuclear waste dump in a geologically stable area in South Australia to resolve our nuclear waste problems.
Some in this room, throughout their lives, will survive cancer because of nuclear medicine—one of the benefits of the Lucas Heights reactor.
Of note, every hospital around Australia is a nuclear waste dump, albeit low level waste.
Now the detractors continued to pursue their agenda to block such a waste facility. However, recent legislation—and it’s only been in recent months—for the establishment of a low-level waste facility in South Australia means that we are closer to fruition.
Of note, Australians are becoming more receptive to such facilities and the debate is well and truly underway for nuclear power to help bridge the gap for 2050 ambitions.
Now Steph Steel—thank you—has provided an update on some of the Government’s initiatives in the defence industry area and I’m sure that her location in this area and other government bodies, AUS Industry, and their presence here in the Illawarra will continue to support and enhance the work that you do.
There is no doubt that our region will stand to benefit from the Australian Government’s investment of $270 billion dollars to develop defence capability over the next decade and yesterday’s announcement to grow the defence workforce by about 18,500 personnel by 2040 adds to this.
So, this is a significant investment in Australian skills, infrastructure, and technology.
And since the Australian Government announced its priorities for supporting defence industry in September 2020, Defence has been working to deliver greater support for small business and to build programs that ensure that our large suppliers are held to account to deliver on their contractual commitments and as a result, build a stronger and resilient defence industry.
Now as Sarah has mention earlier today, from the defence industry perspective, these priorities have focussed on strengthening Australian industry capability.
But one thing that COVID taught us, and certainly some of the work that I’ve done as part of the Defence, Foreign Affairs and Trade Joint Standing Committee, is that sovereign capability is vitally important.
One of the things that COVID taught us was how difficult supply chain and supply chain management is, particularly in times of a pandemic.
And so therefore, there is now greater focus on sovereign capability, on Australian manufacturing, on doing more in Australia. And that means that, whereas before, as was mentioned earlier, price was often the most important determinate, now there are other factors that are going to ensure that we have to become more self-reliant.
We cannot, we cannot continue to depend as strongly as we have in the past, on overseas dependence, especially where those supply chains come from markets, particularly markets that are controlled by totalitarian regimes and I’m on the record as making comments in relation to this. But I think now, and particularly in relation to an area like this, I think that we will see the benefits of that greater reliance in Australia.
What is also clear from today’s conversation that we’ve had is that there are issues, there are challenges and despite the Government’s programs, particularly in the defence industry space, have been very good at times, well aimed, there is scope for us to improve and I am sure that Steph and her team and all the other Government representatives in the area certainly heeded your comments this morning and will be there and available to assist you as is required.
So, I would like to conclude, if I may, to say to you—Port Kembla is my vision. It has been my vision for a long, long time.
I know that Port Kembla is the best option now to base submarines on the East Coast and potentially, I would like to see into the future, a broader naval base. But that’s something for the future.
It is a secure, protected, deep-water port that is not weather limited. It has easy access to the deep waters beyond the continental shelf. It is proximate to Navy’s East Australia Exercise Area and once again, the Port Kembla option we know is further enhanced by other aspects including an existing manufacturing base, a very highly skilled workforce, a world-class tertiary education facility in the university and other facilities in the area, enormous R&D capabilities and most pertinently, the skills, expertise of our local defence industry.
Ladies and gentlemen, we do live in a very troubled world and the geopolitical situation that we face today and into the foreseeable future, must be a catalyst for the acquisition of our future submarines and for them to be based on the East Coast and to be based in Port Kembla.
This is vital for the defence of Australia.
Can I thank you for your kind attention. Can I thank you for your participation and I know that we have so much to offer in such an important space for Australia, and that is the very defence of Australia and its people.
Thank you very, very much.