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Transcript of interview with Linda Mottram: ABC 702: 27 August 2013: Garden Island naval base relocation

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The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP Shadow Minister for Communications and Broadband

Tuesday 27 August 2013

ABC 702 Sydney with Linda Mottram

Subjects: Garden Island naval base relocation



Malcolm Turnbull joins me on the line now, the Member for Wentworth. Good morning Malcolm Turnbull.


Hey how are you?


Not too bad. I just wanted to ask you about Garden Island and Kevin Rudd’s announcement that Labor re-elected would move the base. What’s your response?


Well it’s a classic Ruddism isn’t it? It’s a complete u-turn. The Defence White Paper released in May came to the conclusion that it was too expensive to do that and that they would continue to develop Fleet Base East in Garden Island. This is just another desperate effort to shore up support in Queensland. And it’s another empty promise, uncosted.

Personally, if you want my view as the Member for Wentworth and as a Sydneysider, I would be very sorry to see the Navy leave Sydney. And I think the conclusion in the Defence White Paper was a very realistic one. And Mr Rudd doesn’t have any explanation as to how long it will cost or how long it will take. And there are facilities there at Garden Island.

It’s all very well to say, Oh you can use it to tie up cruise ships. But there’s this gigantic dockyard there. I mean is that dockyard there going to be viable without the navy? I wouldn’t have thought so. And then you’ve got the next question: How do you replace that graving dock? That magnificent, big - you know, that big dry dock at Garden Island. How can you replicate that somewhere else?


But isn’t there - and we will talk to Andrew Davies in a moment about this - but isn’t there a strategic reason for moving this sort of facility closer to Asia, the centre of strategic action in the world?


Well that is the only argument. But you’ve got to weigh that up against the cost. Because obviously the main reasons you have a navy and you have ships is they can move around so they are very mobile to say the least. You’ve also got to remember that you need a huge amount of skills to support a base like that and of course they’re going to be more available in a very big city like Sydney.

So it’s a very, very complex issue and when you consider the sheer flakiness of the Rudd government, the Rudd style, you had this issue, this has been kicking around for years obviously and it was carefully considered by the Government, then the Gillard Government and by the defence establishment in the Defence White Paper published in May this year, so only a few months ago, and their conclusion was no for the foreseeable future Fleet Base East in Sydney can meet our needs. And then suddenly, why is Rudd making this announcement today? It’s obvious it is because he is worried about losing seats in Queensland.


Well that may be the case but on the other side there was a recommendation from the Force Posture Review last year so not that long ago, that there should be a relocation so it seems as though the defence establishment if you like with input into these papers is a bit torn on it.

So we’ll have a chat to Andrew Davies about that in a moment but I’m just wondering also, I mean isn’t it possibly an opportunity for a new direction, a new suburb development, waterfront area, that sort of thing in that area?


Well it could be but you’ve got to ask yourself this question, how much - if you look at that land - how much of it realistically would be able to be redeveloped? There’s a lot of heritage buildings there, there’s obviously Garden Island itself. There would be a huge amount of contamination, the clean up would be very expensive. Are you going to abandon the graving dock completely? That would be extraordinary.

When you actually weigh it up, how much real estate, as it were, are you actually going to free up on Garden Island in real terms? It’s all very well in a breezy kind of way to say, ‘Oh well, you know, a big chunk of real estate on Sydney Harbour it’s obviously worth a bomb.”

Well there may not be that much that’s actually developable and the cost of making it able to be developed would be very considerable. It’s not so much the substance of the decision - I’m not persuaded by it - but leaving that aside, here’s the real thing. You’ve got a considered opinion, the Defence White Paper, that was the distilled, received wisdom of Defence and of the Government in May it said stick with Fleet Base East.

Kevin Rudd, with no costings, with no evidence that there’s been any justification for this change, does a 180 degree turn and he does it for one reason only: Political advantage. Desperate to shore up his support in Queensland.


Okay, good to talk to you Malcolm Turnbull.


See you.

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