South Australia and its “transformative” shipbuilding industry under the AUKUS security pact will be central to the nation’s diplomatic mission of countering China’s rising belligerence in our region, Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong has declared.
The South Australian senator says a lot is riding on her home state’s ability to construct a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, of which the acquisition will become crucial to achieving peace in the Indo Pacific.
“South Australia is not just part of a global shipyard (with the US and UK) and not just part of a transformation in the Australian economy,” Senator Wong said.
“We’re also contributing to stability in our region.”
By constructing nuclear-powered submarines at Adelaide’s Osborne shipyard, Senator Wong, who did not mention China by name, said SA would be entrusted with countering increased “competition in our region”.
“We know we live in challenging times and by being part of this, we (South Australia) are contributing to a more stable, more secure region in which the sovereignty of all countries can be respected, including our own,” she said.
“This is not just an economic endeavour and not just a manufacturing endeavour – it’s ultimately a contribution to balance and stability in our region.”
Under the “optimal pathway” announced on Tuesday, a fleet of new ‘SSN-AUKUS’ submarines will be constructed in Adelaide, with the first to be completed in 2042 and subsequent boats finished every three years thereafter.
Senator Wong’s status as a South Australian is expected to be beneficial in overseas diplomatic trips, as she assures neighbouring Pacific and Asian nations that submarines built in her home state would be designed to uphold peace in the region.
“We have said to our friends, partners and neighbours, our intent and motivation in acquiring this capability is to help keep the peace,” she said.
“Australia doesn’t seek to dominate, we seek to contribute to a region where no country is to dominate.”
A fleet of Australian nuclear-powered submarines would act as a deterrence to any nation seeking to harm the country’s vulnerable trade routes and undersea cables vital to its connection to the global economy.
Senator Wong said the opportunity to build the submarines in Adelaide would be “transformative for our economy”.
“It is similar to the sort of transformation that defined our economy for decades, which was the auto industry here in South Australia,” she said.
“All of us know first-hand how that changed our economy … (but) this is of a different order, this is of a different scale and this will transform our economy for decades.”
Senator Wong said purchasing US Virginia-class nuclear submarines in the 2030s did not change how she explained the objective of the AUKUS pact to Asia Pacific nations.
“Transparency is key here, and we were transparent that we wanted to avoid a capability gap which the previous government’s decisions and lack of decisions had left,” she said.
“We were really clear in our consideration and how we talked about it.”