Press Conference - Queenscliff

Topics: Landing Helicopter Dock; Indonesia and turning back the boats; Border protection

E&OE ONLY

JASON CLARE: It's a big day. It's a big day for Queenscliff. It's a big day for Australia and for the Australian Navy.

The LHD that you can see before you, that's finally arrived here in Australia, that's welcomed by some dolphins out here as well, is the biggest ship ever built for the Australian Navy.

It's bigger than our last aircraft carrier. To give you an indication of the size of this ship, it's the same length as Rialto tower, it's as long as two rugby league football fields end on end. It's flight deck could fit 24 tennis courts. The ship produces enough energy to run a city the size of Darwin and its hospital can cater for a city the size of Warrnambool, so this is a floating city.

It's also a very capable warship. It's an amphibious assault ship. It's designed to be able to deploy a lot of troops over a long distance in a very short period of time. In its belly, it can hold over 1000 troops, over 100 armoured vehicles, 12 helicopters and 4 of our landing craft.

It's the perfect sort of ship to help where you've got a natural disaster like we saw with the tsunami off the coast of Indonesia on boxing day of 2004, where towns have been destroyed, hospitals aren't available, docks have been destroyed. This is the sort of ship, sitting off the coast, that can put people on the ground, equipment on the ground and has hospital services nearby to help in a situation where there's been a natural disaster.

This ship so far is already four years in the making. Over the last four years in Spain, the hull has been built and then has been transported with this large ship, large heavy lift ship, to Australia. Its travelled 13,000 nautical miles from Spain, around Africa to here in Victoria. It's taken nine weeks to make that journey. From here the LHD will come off the heavy lift ship and be towed into the Williamstown ship yard that's operated by BAE.

BAE has already done a lot of work constructing the superstructure that will sit on top of this great hull. They have done about 750,000 hours of work and there's about 700,000 hours of more work still to do on the ship. Building the super structure, putting the superstructure on top of the hull and integrating all of the computer systems, the combat system and the communications system for the ship. So there's a lot of work still to go that will take place over the next 12 to 18 months and the ship will be ready for the Navy to operate in 2014.

But this isn't the only ship being built for the Australian Navy. There's another one of these, a second LHD that's being built right now in Spain, it came off the slipway in July this year and it'll arrive here in Victoria in just over a years' time. So two large ships, next year happens to be the 100 year anniversary of the Australian Navy and these ships, this first ship that's arrived today and the next one that will arrive in just over a year's time are the future of the Australian Navy.

I'm pleased today that we've got Minister Dalla-Riva here representing the Victorian Government. We've also got Bill Saltzer representing BAE, the prime contractor for the construction of this ship and Darren Cheeseman, the local Member for Corangamite is here as well.

Happy to take any questions.

QUESTION: Minister, I guess a fairly significant day for the Navy, getting the new baby into the home port?

JASON CLARE: This is a big day for the Navy, a big day for Australia. This is the biggest warship that Australia has ever operated, bigger than our last aircraft carrier, and it sets us up for the future. This provides us with a capability that the Navy's never had before.

QUESTION: What do you expect it to be doing once it's in service?

JASON CLARE: It means that we can transport soldiers and equipment long distances, very fast. The most important thing that it will do is help to come to the rescue where there's a natural disaster in our region, things like the tsunami that happened off the coast of Indonesia in 2004. When things like that happen, where towns have been destroyed, and people need help quickly, this floating city can sit off the coast, and provide the people and the resources and the hospital care that's needed to help people get back on their feet.

QUESTION: What is really on board?

JASON CLARE: Well, a lot of things. It can carry over 1000 troops, it can carry 100 armoured vehicles, it can carry 12 helicopters and provide that ability to get from ship to shore very quickly, as well as four landing craft that can transport troops and equipment from the ship within a short period of time. But the other thing, just to add there, is that it's got a hospital that can treat 40 people at any one time. The hospital is big enough to look after a town the size of Warrnambool.

This is a giant of the ship. It's got the capability to produce enough energy to power the city of Darwin, and the ability to defend Australia and help the countries in our region when they need it.

QUESTION: What sort of hardware does it have on board in terms of – is it able to attack [indistinct]

JASON CLARE: Well, it's got a combat system, it's got certain capabilities to defend itself, but it will always be moving with the assistance and the support of other Naval vessels. It will be protected by the frigates, it will work closely with the Air Warfare Destroyers that we're building at the moment, to provide protection for the ships so that it can transport the equipment and the troops to get the job done.

QUESTION: Are you going to have to increase the numbers in the Navy to be able to support these two ships?

JASON CLARE: What we do need to do is a lot of training to get our Navy up to speed to operate these ships. We've never operated a ship this big, with this much capability before, and between now and when the Navy starts operating these ships in two years' time, we need to do a lot of training to get the Navy ready to go.

And one way we're doing that is through digital technology. Sailors right now are training to use this ship, by using computer programs that show them how to move around the ship, how to operate the ship, how to move helicopters on and off, trucks on and off, get boats on and off the ship.

So all of that training has already started, but there's a lot of work to go between now and 2014, when the ship begins operation for the Australian Navy.

QUESTION: Just when you talk about ship building, you kind of think of hammer and sheet metal [indistinct].

JASON CLARE: It is, it is a lot of work and as I said, it's taken four years of hard work to build this [indistinct] for Australia, and there's a lot of work going on at the shipyard here in Melbourne to build this superstructure that goes on top.

So, there is a lot of work in building the actual ship, but there's a lot of what you might call white collar work, the production engineers and systems engineers who put the computer system that will operate the ship together, and make sure that the ship building program is highly productive and everything that should [indistinct] has happened. But we've got over 700,000 hours of work just on this ship [indistinct]

QUESTION: And why is it happening in Melbourne instead of [indistinct]?

JASON CLARE: Well, this was a project that was bid for by BAE Systems Australia, and they have got together with Navantia to do this work in Spain and in Australia, and BAE's base in right here in Melbourne.

QUESTION: Can I just confirm what the ship's called?

JASON CLARE: Well, it's currently called LHD 01, but it will be commissioned next year HMAS Canberra.

QUESTION: The Macquarie Dictionary has redefined the word misogyny [indistinct]?

JASON CLARE: No.

QUESTION: [Inaudible question]

JASON CLARE: No, that's a decision for Macquarie to make.

QUESTION: Yesterday the Prime Minister called Tony Abbott a coward over the tow backs policy [indistinct] with Indonesia. What do you think the Indonesian [indistinct]?

JASON CLARE: Well, the point to make here is you can't turn a boat back to Indonesia unless the Indonesian Government agrees with it. Angus Houston, in his report, made it very clear that you can't turn a boat back to a country unless that country approves of that boat being turned back.

We know from public comments that the Indonesian Government has made, that they do not approve of boats being turned back. That explains why Tony Abbott didn't raise this with the Indonesian Government, because he knew he would have been rebuffed and the Indonesian Government would have said no, you can't do that.

The critical thing here to remember is that this is the central plank of Tony Abbott's policy to stop the boats. Of course the Indonesian Government opposes it, that's why he refused to ask the question when he was in Indonesia this week, because he knew they would say no, and that would have torn his policy to shreds. It would have left his policy in tatters.

QUESTION: Will border protection be up for cuts as part of the mid-year economic update?

JASON CLARE: The mid-year economic update be out in a couple of weeks time, we don't rule in or rule out anything.

QUESTION: [Inaudible question].

JASON CLARE: I'm not going to get into a game of ruling things in or ruling things out. Border protection is very important. The border protection budget is bigger now that it was under the former government.

QUESTION: Independent MP Rob Oakeshott says that the Order of Australia is being used inappropriately as a diplomatic tool. Should Sachin Tendulkar have been given the Order of Australia?

JASON CLARE: Look, that's a question you should ask somebody else about. That's outside my portfolio responsibilities.

- ENDS -