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Transcript of doorstop interview: BAE Systems: 3 December 2012: Landing Helicopter Dock; Air Warfare Destroyer; HMAS Coonawarra

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Minister for Defence - Doorstop - BAE Systems

3 December 2012




TOPICS: Landing Helicopter Dock, Air Warfare Destroyer; HMAS Coonawarra.

NICOLA ROXON: Thank you very much for coming this morning. My name’s Nicola Roxon, and today I’m here in my capacity as the Member for Gellibrand, the local Member, very proud to have these Williamstown shipyards here in my electorate.

Thank you to BAE for having us here. BAE employ 1200 people here, they obviously are involved in the building and fit-out of this amazing ship that Stephen and Jason will tell you more about.

My main reason for wanting to come is that there’s a huge amount of history in this site, but there’s also, as well as history that is beyond a century, cutting edge technology that’ll take us into the next century, and to have your electorate be part of that, is something that every local Member is very proud of.

So I wanted to be here to welcome Stephen and Jason to the electorate. They’ve both been regular visitors here already, it’s today’s update for them, but of course also to be here with General Hurley and his team, again it’s something that as a local Member I’m very proud of.

So without further ado, I’d like to hand over to my colleague and friend, the Minister for Defence.

STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks Nicola, thanks very much, I’m very pleased to be here with Nicola Roxon as Attorney-General, and Member for Gellibrand, and can I thank BAE for the tour and allowing us access to the site today.

I’m joined by the Minister for Defence Materiel, Jason Clare, also by General Hurley, the Chief of the Defence Force, and Ray Griggs, the Chief of Navy.

Firstly, what you’ve seen today with the first inspection of the LHD, is the transformation of Navy. The two LHDs, the three AWDs which we’ll see

delivered over the next few years, transform Navy, gives us a modern, ship to shore capability, and the LHDs, this one, which will be the Canberra, and the second one, the Adelaide, will give Australia an enormous ship to shore capability.

As you’ve gone over the ship, you would have seen the capacity for up to 1000 Defence Force personnel engaged in combat activity if required, in peacekeeping, but also most importantly, in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. You see the capacity of the ship to transport equipment and personnel and vital medical facilities, either from vehicles off the ship or helicopters off the deck.

So this, the first of our two Landing Helicopter Docks, larger, substantially larger than our last Aircraft Carrier, the Melbourne, will see Navy and the Defence Force’s ship to shore capability transformed in the next few years.

The fact that we’ve got some Marines in Darwin, 250 this year and next year, moving to over the next five or six years, 2500, will also ensure greater interoperability with the United States Marine Forces on ship to shore missions and exercises.

They are the world’s experts so far as ship to shore capability is concerned, so we will value very much the input and the training that we do with them.

I’ll hand over to Jason, who’ll make some detailed remarks about the ship, and then Nicola, Jason and I and General Hurley and Ray Griggs, are happy to respond to your questions. Jason.

JASON CLARE: Well thanks, Stephen, and thanks, Nicola. The Royal Australian Navy is getting bigger and stronger. This is the biggest warship that the Royal Australian Navy has ever operated, bigger than the last aircraft carrier.

If you lay down Rialto Tower you’ll see that this ship and Rialto Tower are around about the same size. It’s also a floating city, this is a ship which can hold over 1000 soldiers, 100 trucks and 12 helicopters, and it’s got a hospital that can cater for a town around about the size of Warrnambool, and when powered up can produce enough electricity to power a city the size of Darwin.

A lot of work has already happened to build this ship in Spain, and a lot of work is happening here now to complete the ship. We heard a little bit of that just a moment ago, there’s half a million hours worth of work still to go, to

complete this ship, and then it’ll be handed over to Navy, to the Chief of Navy and his team, to operate the ship in 2014.

Thanks very much.

STEPHEN SMITH: We’re happy to respond to your questions.

JOURNALIST: There’s been concerns that several hundred jobs might be lost at the shipyard if Navy or Defence doesn’t give them more work. What’s your response to that, and secondly, would you consider giving back some of the Air Warfare Destroyer blocks, under this scenario?

STEPHEN SMITH: We’ll be doing a lot of work for Navy and for the Government, the two main projects, obviously this one, the Landing Helicopter Docks, the integration work of the two LHDs, this one, the Canberra, and the second one, the Adelaide, and we’ll see on the current schedule that work conclude in around 2015.

At the same time we’ve got BAE doing work on our three Air Warfare Destroyers. It is the case that over the last 12 months or so, there was a reallocation of blocks on the Air Warfare Destroyer project. Since that time, BAE, to its credit, has substantially enhanced and improved both its technical capacity on this site, but also the work that it is delivering.

Jason Clare, as Minister for Defence Materiel, and I, as the Minister for Defence, have been very conscious since we came to the portfolio, of trying to make sure that there is a better flow of work for the Australian Defence industry. Not just for our Naval and shipyard employees and companies, but generally, and one of the things that we are looking at the moment, is whether there is a capacity for more work to be given to this workshop, to this shipyard, in the Air Warfare Destroyer project.

Ultimately, that’s a matter for the Air Warfare Destroyer Alliance, it’s a commercial decision for the Alliance, but that is a matter which the Alliance is currently considering. And that is a direct result of the fact that BAE’s work on the Air Warfare Destroyer project, has enhanced and improved considerably over the last 12 months or so.

JOURNALIST: Stephen Smith, upgrades to Defence base security were on the cards after the planned Holsworthy terrorist attack was foiled. Not all of those upgrades were implemented.

In light of what’s happened in Darwin, what do you think about that decision?

STEPHEN SMITH: I’ve seen assertions that an alleged $200 million cut to base security was the cause of what happened in Darwin and Coonawarra in the last few days. Let’s just very carefully understand what has occurred here.

Firstly, in 2009 when there was a foiled attempt on Holsworthy, the Government immediately committed itself to a review of base security. That was a wholesale review.

There were some 33 recommendations; 31 of those recommendations have been implemented. Not all of those recommendations have been made public for the obvious reason. And there are two outstanding recommendations which are in the process of being implemented.

One goes to the capacity of Defence Force personnel to use arms, and legislation to that effect was recently passed through the Parliament.

And the second is a major infrastructure upgrade over and across 16 priority bases. A tender for that work will go out in the near future, and the Parliamentary Works Committee approved that schedule of work in September of this year, and that work is scheduled to complete by 2015.

Coonawarra is not one of those bases. Coonawarra has had some substantial change made to it, in terms of its arrangement, as a result of the review that we instituted. We saw the terrible breach in the last few days. The Chief of Navy immediately instituted a review of arrangements at Coonawarra, and at the same time, instituted an investigation as to the causes as to that break-in. That of course will be done in conjunction with the police authorities, and I’m happy for the Chief of Navy to add to my remarks if he wants to.

JOURNALIST: A man has been charged in relation to the Coonawarra break-in. Does he have links to the military or Navy?

STEPHEN SMITH: I wouldn’t be proposing to go into that detail. The Northern Territory Police have made it clear that he’s been charged with receiving. They are continuing to pursue their investigations and their inquiries, but I wouldn’t be commenting on the detail other than to leave it to the Northern Territory Police to update the public and the media about the results of their inquiries and their ongoing investigations.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask, Vice-Admiral Griggs, it was reported today that some Navy personnel have stress levels similar to those in war zones but not operation [indistinct].

Can I just ask your thoughts on this, and is there any more that Navy can do to ensure that those stress levels are well managed?

RAY GRIGGS: As I’ve said many times, this is a very difficult or confronting operation, our border protection operations. That’s not new. It’s been going for many, many years and we have been dealing with the mental health issues around that. We’ve been getting better and better at that, as we have across the ADF with dealing with mental health issues.

The first issue for me is always about breaking the stigma of mental health and getting people to talk about it. We had an ADF Mental Health Day earlier this year, and that’s really starting to get some progress on that path.

We have a good briefing process before people go into these operations and we have good critical incident management processes, good, comprehensive follow-up, and so I’m very comfortable that we’re doing as much as we can at the moment to make sure that our people are looked after.

JOURNALIST: And Admiral Griggs, what dialogue will you be having with Government to get better security at bases?

RAY GRIGGS: We’re doing some work at Coonawarra at the moment as a result of what happened last week. I’ve already instituted a number of changes over the weekend, and we’ll continue to work that.

JOURNALIST: Was the offender using some sort of fake pass or valid pass?

RAY GRIGGS: As the Minister said, we’re not going to go into those sorts of details. The NT Police are still doing their investigation.

JOURNALIST: Did the offender target hand guns?

RAY GRIGGS: I really don’t want to go any further into that. I think the NT Police have done a terrific job to date, and let them get on with it.

STEPHEN SMITH: The only point I’d add on that is of course the Northern Territory Police have made it clear that all the weapons which were taken have been recovered.

JOURNALIST: Mr Smith, one way to protect the jobs on shipyards like this would be to commission the Air Warfare Destroyer. What are your thoughts on that?

STEPHEN SMITH: If you look at the 2009 White Paper, the 2009 White Paper committed the Government to three Air Warfare Destroyers but left open the possibility of government consideration for a fourth. The Government hasn’t yet conducted that consideration, but that’s something we’ll give consideration to in due course.

JOURNALIST: How important are projects like this for Williamstown area?

NICOLA ROXON: They’re incredibly important, and both Minister Smith and Minister Clare have had discussions with me about this. It does tend to be work that is undertaken by people that live in this broader region, get a beautiful view here of all of the western suburbs of Melbourne. That’s where most of the employees come from. So it’s vital for us to do what we can to try to smooth the work.

But I think for anyone that’s been following this for some time, I’ve been the Member for this area for just now in my fifteenth year. Work has gone up and down. That happens at all shipyards. The challenge for governments and for those running the shipyards is to smooth that. When you actually have good, strong, qualified, capable staff, you want to make sure that we’re able to use them for the benefit of Australia.

I of course as a local Member, as you would expect, have been discussing with Stephen and Jason any role that we as the Government can play in advocating for using BAE here and the shipyards here for future projects. But ultimately, I also respect that there are commercial decisions that need to be made.

Our job, whether it’s as a local Member or a local business, is to make sure that the strengths of this site are known to all who might do work here in the future, and hope that we are able to smooth that and keep the world-class employees that we have on this site in employment.

STEPHEN SMITH: All right. Can I just finish by again thanking BAE for allowing us on site today. You’ve been able to see the terrific work that they do, and I again compliment them on the work that they’re doing for the integration of the Landing Helicopter Docks but also for the work they’re doing on the Air Warfare Destroyer project.

Thanks very much.

NICOLA ROXON: Thank you.