Doorstop interview in Hobart, Tasmania

CAROL BROWN: Thank you for coming and welcome to Minister Conroy to Tasmania and to our beautiful city. Mr Conroy is the Minister for Defence Industries and we're here today in Hobart to have a look at those industries that work in manufacture and in particular in the defence sector. So we're here at Taylor Brothers, a ship fit-out firm, and also we'll be going to look at PFG who uses recycled plastics to build droll boats.

We're very happy for Minister Conroy to come and have a first-hand look at what Tasmania has to offer, what our industry has to offer. We believe that we really are a state-of-the-art premium product that is offered by the industries here. And I'm very grateful for Minister Conroy to come along.

Tomorrow, Minister Conroy will be heading up north again to have a look at some of the industries that Tassie has to offer. So I'm going to hand over to Pat to talk about what he's here to see and what's on the itinerary for tomorrow.

PAT CONROY: Well, thank you Carol, for that warm introduction. It's a pleasure to be back in Tasmania and it's great to work with such great advocates for this fine state with Senator Carol Brown, Julie Collins, Anne Urquhart and Brian Mitchell. They really are a force of nature in Canberra fighting for Tasmania to get its fair share. And it's great to be visiting Taylor Brothers and I'm really looking forward to PFG later in the day. Taylor Brothers have had a key role in every single naval ship-building project over the last 20 years. I remember they got very significant multimillion-dollar contracts under the last Labor government to fit out the air warfare Destroyers and they do brilliant work. We had a great conversation with the management about opportunities for further work for them. Because the truth is, we face the greatest strategic uncertainty since World War Two, and Australia must re-arm, Australia must invest in greater defence capability. And you'll see that in the Defence Strategic Review that we will be announcing shortly, and the submarine announcement.

We're already committing to spending over $270 billion over the next ten years on building and maintaining defence equipment. And Tasmania is in a great position to win further work in that, driving well-paid, secure jobs in Tasmania in companies like Taylor Brothers. So it's exciting to be here, exciting to work with great advocates like Carol to build a future for all Tasmanians.

Can I just say on a separate issue, which I'd like to update people about, which is the tragic circumstances in Vanuatu. Obviously, we're dealing with the aftermath of tropical cyclone Judy that has gone through Vanuatu, and unfortunately, another very big storm is due to hit Vanuatu in a couple of day’s time. Sadly, Vanuatu is the country most impacted by natural disasters. We are very concerned about the situation there and our thoughts go out to the people of Vanuatu. I'm also announcing today that the Foreign Minister, Penny Wong and I have authorised a humanitarian response. We have authorised a Disaster Assistance Response Team to head to Vanuatu to conduct the initial assessment of damage and to work out what more is needed. And I can assure the people of Vanuatu that Australia stands with you and the Australian Government will support you in whatever is required. I'm very happy to answer any questions.

JOURNALIST: Senator Gavin Pearce sent me - is calling for the combat rations pack contracts being redone. Is that something that you would consider doing?

PAT CONROY: Well, my question to Gavin Pearce was where was he in 2018 when this contract was last awarded to the New Zealand Company? I didn't see him resigning from the Tasmanian Liberal Party when the Liberal Government awarded the contract to that New Zealand company. The truth is, under the Australian New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Treaty, we are obliged to treat New Zealand companies as Australian companies for tenders, just as they're obliged to treat Australian companies as New Zealand companies for their defence work. And to give you an example of that, PFG, which is the company we're going to next, won a [$6 million] contract with the New Zealand Navy. So is Gavin Pearce, advocating that contract be teared up - torn up, and for PFG to lose that work?

The truth is, this is grand standing by someone searching for relevance. If you're so agitated by this, he should have stood up in 2018, when the last government awarded this contract to Prepack. The truth is, there are two options here. Either he admits that he's just being mischievous or is advocating for tearing up the close economic relationship in New Zealand, which has delivered untold economic benefits to Australians and Tasmanians.

JOURNALIST: He wasn't a local member of 2018 - Braddon was held by Labor.

PAT CONROY: Well, I didn't hear it running on a platform of overturning his government's decision. If you're serious about it, why didn't you resign from the Liberal Party then? This is just grandstanding from Gavin Pearce. This contract is won by the company that won this contract in 2018 under the Liberal Government.

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct].

PAT CONROY: No, the last contract was signed in 2018, but either way, it doesn't actually matter because in both cases, under the last Federal Liberal Government, and to be fair, the last Federal Liberal government, they were obliged to treat the winning tenderer as an Australian company under that treaty. And so I think that Gavin Pearce is just trying to do some grandstanding about something that has been in place for some time. And I'd urge him to be more constructive in his contributions.

JOURNALIST: Was this contract awarded [indistinct].

PAT CONROY: It was awarded on value for money. So when contracts are awarded by Defence, it takes a whole of life value for money. So it looks at price is one factor, it looks at quality of the products being offered, it looks at relationships, and have they been consistent? If it's an existing tenderer, have they been good as a reliable supplier for the ADF? And as I said before, the treaty with New Zealand obliges us to treat New Zealand companies as Australian companies, just as New Zealand treats Australian companies as New Zealand companies. So, I understand why people are disappointed and I respect that. But again, Gavin Pearce was very solid in 2018 when the last contract was.

JOURNALIST: Are you able to talk about some other contracts that are apparently very close to being - were coming up - the Land 400 Phase Three and the 870 ten Landing contracts? [Indistinct].

PAT CONROY: Yeah, no, I understand the interest, and there is significant opportunities that are associated with both those contracts. I can't talk about them specifically because obviously we've got live tenders out there and it would be inappropriate. And quite frankly, I could be accused of pre-judging the tender out there, given I know some Tasmanian companies associated with specific tender components. But what I can say to you is that the Australian government is committed to growing the Australian Defence Industry. We have 100,000 workers who rely on defence - the Australian Defence effort. As I said, $270 billion worth of work being fed into that area over the next ten years. And I'm very confident that that number will only increase given our strategic circumstances.

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] Tasmania's defence manufacturing to actually increase over the coming ten years, like you mentioned before, like shipping [Indistinct].

PAT CONROY: Well, I think there's great opportunities for companies like Taylor Brothers. As I said, they've been a very successful supplier on previous projects, whether it's the Air Warfare Destroyer or [Indistinct] that are being built in WA and South Australia right now. They're supplying key parts of componentry and I think that they've got a really good chance to compete and win further work. We'll be making an announcement shortly on the optimal path forward on our nuclear-propelled submarines, and that will be the largest, not just defence, that will be the largest nation-building project this country has ever done. And there'll be real scope for companies to compete and win work in those projects. And it's an exciting time to be in the Australian Defence Industry. Exciting time to be in Australian manufacturing. We've got the $15 billion National Infrastructure Fund that is committed to really growing manufacturing in Australia.