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Thistlethwaite calls time-out on submarine base speculation

A concept plan unveiled by NSW Ports, illustrating an offshore wind port facility to be located in Port Kembla's Outer Harbour. Photo: NSW Ports.

Assistant Defence Minister Matt Thistlethwaite has called a halt to speculation that Port Kembla will be the government’s preferred choice of nuclear submarine base on the east coast of Australia.

Assistant Defence Minister Matt Thistlethwaite has called a halt to speculation that Port Kembla will be the government’s preferred choice of nuclear submarine base on the east coast of Australia.

Former prime minister Scott Morrison had previously identified Port Kembla, Brisbane, and Newcastle as potential contenders for an AUKUS east coast base.

The Illawarra Innovative Industry Network, representing 80 industry groups in Illawarra, is one of the local players pushing for that base to be housed at Port Kembla.

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Assistant Defence Minister Matt Thistlethwaite said despite significant positive and negative guesswork, no decision had been made on an east coast base location by the former or current government.

“The former government articulated the need for an additional Navy base on the east coast,” he said.

“Weeks before the commencement of the caretaker period before the last election, former prime minister Morrison announced ‘a new base will be built’ at an estimated cost of $10 billion. The former government did not choose a location for this ‘new base’.

“Following our decision to acquire conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarines, there has been much speculation about where this ‘new base’ announced by the former government could be located.

“I understand this has been the cause for both discussion, positive and negative, and uncertainty in the Illawarra community.

“Let me be clear, a decision has not been made (and) while the former government announced the need for an east coast base, the Albanese government will take the time required to consider all feasible options.

“Our immediate focus for naval shore infrastructure is the work that needs to be done at HMAS Stirling in Western Australia to build the necessary operational capabilities and skills to be 'sovereign ready' so we can safely and securely own, operate, maintain, and regulate a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.

“We take very seriously the responsibility of ensuring that Australia safely and securely operates, maintains, and stewards its conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarines, so we are focused on making sure we get this right.”

A NSW Ports spokesperson said concepts for an offshore wind port facility had recently been unveiled for Port Kembla’s outer harbour, however, there is currently no information about the area housing a submarine base.

“Port Kembla is a key economic driver for NSW; importing vehicles, farm equipment and other machinery, renewable energy components and cement, while connecting farmers and miners to global markets and supporting the BlueScope steelworks,” the spokesperson said last month.

“NSW Ports has not been provided with any information regarding the location and nature of a potential Port Kembla naval base. 

“We are confident that the federal government understands the importance of our ports in supporting the state’s economic needs and the requirement to manage future trade growth in line with a growing population. 

“We encourage any Port Kembla defence proposal to recognise this too, so as not to adversely impact commercial port operations or constrain port growth. This is essential to enable Port Kembla to serve the future trade needs of our state; cost-effectively and efficiently.”

The first AUKUS submarine rolls off the United Kingdom production line in the late 2030s for the Royal Navy, with the first Australian submarine to be delivered in the early 2040s.

Wollongong Against War and Nukes member and Port Kembla resident Alexander Brown said instead of spending $368 billion on nuclear submarines, the government should spend those funds on building a renewable energy industry.

“Acquiring nuclear submarines is taking a step towards war,” Alexander said.

“These submarines are offensive weapons, not defensive, and they signal an intent to act in a hostile manner beyond the waters surrounding Australia. We totally reject this plan and will fight it every step of the way.”

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